Oslo is a beautiful city with almost a millennium of rich history. And because of how far north it is, the Norwegian capital is also one of the darkest capitals in the world. During the depths of winter, they get 18 hours of nighttime. While that may not sound ideal for people who like to soak up the sun, it could be great for another group: avid readers. What better excuse to throw yourself into books about Oslo than the chilly night sky outside?
With that in mind, we put together 10 of our favorite books about Oslo. They range from histories of the city to world-famous crime novels. No matter your tastes, you should find a good place to dive into the city here. And while all of the books are currently available in English, we encourage you to read them in Norwegian if you’re learning the language.
Nonfiction Books About Oslo
For The Historian: History Of Norway By John Yilek
There’s no better way to prepare for visiting a city than to acquaint yourself with its history. While History of Norway goes beyond the scope of Oslo, the book provides a well-researched story of Norway from its earliest days to the present. While there are books that go deeper into the specific eras of the country, this provides an excellent overview of the whole story (which you can always dive further into later).
For Those Who Want A Deeper History: The Vikings By Else Roesdahl
Oslo was founded in the 11th century CE by Harald of Norway, who ruled as king of Norway from 1046 to 1066. In some ways, Harald was the last of the Vikings, bringing an end to an age. Yet the legacy of the Vikings can still be seen both in Norway and in Scandinavia in general. Else Roesdahl’s The Vikings is a great look at Viking society that goes beyond the sensationally violent depictions you might see in pop culture.
For The Artist: Edvard Munch By Oystein Ustvedt
If you only know one Norwegian work of art, it’s almost certainly The Scream, the haunting and endlessly parodied painting by Edvard Munch. There’s much more to Munch than that, though, and Edvard Munch: An Inner Life is a great introduction to the artist. It combines biography with art criticism to tell the full story of Munch, while keeping the focus on his creative output and contributions to art.
For A Look At A Tragedy: One Of Us By Åsne Seierstad
The most horrific mass shooting in Norwegian history occurred on July 22, 2011. Its impact on the country can’t be overstated, as the country still reels from the deaths over a decade later. The question of “Why?” is never easy to answer in situations like these, but journalist Åsne Seierstad attempted to address it in One of Us. The book looks both at the life of the murderer, as well as the institutional failings that led to July 22. Let the reader be warned, this is not an easy book to read — and the way it focuses on the life of the murderer has fallen out of favor in recent coverage of mass shootings — but Seierstad does her best at taking a sober look at the atrocity.
For The Architect: Oslo By Ulf Meyer And Henning Nielsen
Guidebooks to a city are very hard to recommend, because they quite famously go out of date within months of publishing. It’s even harder for them to compete now because the internet is an ever-changing source of useful travel information. Still, there are some books that are worth buying, and one such option is Oslo: Architectural Guide. Rather than giving you restaurant and hotel advice, this book walks you through over a hundred buildings in the city, providing a unique look at the history and culture of Oslo.
Fiction Books About Oslo
For The Mythology Obsessed: Norse Mythology By Neil Gaiman
If you want to go directly to the source on Norse mythology, you can read the Norse sagas, the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda. But for those looking for a slightly more accessible introduction, you can’t go wrong with Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. Gaiman doesn’t invent or reconstruct anything, but simply retells the old stories with his own writing style (even calling them “retellings” isn’t entirely accurate). We should also note that Norse mythology is part of the heritage of Scandinavia as a whole, even though its name might make it sound specifically Norwegian.
For The Theater-Goer: A Doll’s House By Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen is unquestionably one of the most important writers from Norway (though, because of linguistic history, he mostly wrote in Danish). It’s hard to choose a single work to represent his oeuvre, but A Doll’s House is a good starting point. About a woman who can’t stand the social expectations of being in a marriage, the play was quite subversive when it was first performed in 1879. Then again, even today its message (and the protagonist’s eventually leaving her husband) can seem revolutionary.
For The Historical Fiction Devourer: The Wreath By Sigrid Undset
The Wreath is the first book in the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, a series of books that follows a woman as she lives her life in the 14th century. Admittedly, the book takes place in many places in addition to Oslo, but it’s an important touchstone in Norwegian literature. Sigrid Undset — who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1928 — masterfully intertwines the deeply personal, human story of Kristin with a deep knowledge of Norwegian mythology and history. The book has never garnered too much attention in English, but it’s an excellent pick for anyone looking to get lost in a book.
For The Coming-Of-Age Reader: Beatles By Lars Saabye Christensen
No, Beatles is not actually about the British band the Beatles. It follows four young boys over the course of their youth — 1965 to 1972 — and it just so happens that one thing that brings them together is their love of the Beatles. The book is a look at youth culture during this period, with each of the characters existing and reacting to the social and political upheaval during the time. While the book is the first of a trilogy, it’s the only one that’s been published in English (and it functions fine as a standalone novel).
For The Crime Reader: The Snowman By Jo Nesbø
For some reason or other, Scandinavia has become the world capital of crime fiction. Scandinavian noir is a genre in and of itself. One of the most successful writers within that genre is Jo Nesbø, whose books have been translated into countless other languages. His most famous series is based around Harry Hole, a police officer working in Oslo. The Snowman is not the first in the series, but it’s the most famous (mostly thanks to a 2017 film adaptation starring Michael Fassbender). It’s possibly the best entry point for a new reader of the series, and it stands out as being one of the few that actually takes place in Oslo.