All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days

The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler


By Rebecca Donner

Formats and Prices


  • Sale Price $2.99
  • Regular Price $11.99
  • Discount (75% off)


  • Sale Price $2.99 CAD
  • Regular Price $15.99 CAD
  • Discount (81% off)

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 3, 2021. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

The INSTANT New York Times Bestseller

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography
Winner of the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award 
Winner of the Chautauqua Prize
Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award
Finalist for the Plutarch Award

A New York Times Notable Book of 2021
New York Times BookReview Editors’ Choice
New York Times Critics' Top Pick of 2021

Wall Street Journal 10 Best Books of 2021
Time Magazine 100 Must-Read Books of 2021
Publishers Weekly Top Ten Books of 2021
An Economist Best Book of the Year
New York Post Best Book of the Year
A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Best Book of the Year

Oprah Daily Best New Books of August
A New York Public Library Book of the Week
In this “stunning literary achievement,” Donner chronicles the extraordinary life and brutal death of her great-great-aunt Mildred Harnack, the American leader of one of the largest underground resistance groups in Germany during WWII—“a page-turner story of espionage, love and betrayal” (Kai Bird, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography)

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Mildred Harnack was twenty-six when she enrolled in a PhD program in Germany and witnessed the meteoric rise of the Nazi party. In 1932, she began holding secret meetings in her apartment—a small band of political activists that by 1940 had grown into the largest underground resistance group in Berlin. She recruited working-class Germans into the resistance, helped Jews escape, plotted acts of sabotage, and collaborated in writing leaflets that denounced Hitler and called for revolution. Her coconspirators circulated through Berlin under the cover of night, slipping the leaflets into mailboxes, public restrooms, phone booths. When the first shots of the Second World War were fired, she became a spy, couriering top-secret intelligence to the Allies. On the eve of her escape to Sweden, she was ambushed by the Gestapo. At a Nazi military court, a panel of five judges sentenced her to six years at a prison camp, but Hitler overruled the decision and ordered her execution. On February 16, 1943, she was strapped to a guillotine and beheaded.

Historians identify Mildred Harnack as the only American in the leadership of the German resistance, yet her remarkable story has remained almost unknown until now.

Harnack’s great-great-niece Rebecca Donner draws on her extensive archival research in Germany, Russia, England, and the U.S. as well as newly uncovered documents in her family archive to produce this astonishing work of narrative nonfiction. Fusing elements of biography, real-life political thriller, and scholarly detective story, Donner brilliantly interweaves letters, diary entries, notes smuggled out of a Berlin prison, survivors’ testimony, and a trove of declassified intelligence documents into a powerful, epic story, reconstructing the moral courage of an enigmatic woman nearly erased by history.


Author’s Note

This is a work of nonfiction.

Any words that appear between quotation marks are from a letter, a postcard, a memoir, a diary, a handwritten note, a declassified intelligence report, or other document that I discovered in an archive.

In books, newspaper articles, and archival documents, Mildred appears variously as Mildred Harnack, Mildred Fish-Harnack, and Mildred Harnack-Fish. The confusion stems from Mildred herself. In the United States, she called herself Mildred Fish-Harnack; in Germany, she called herself Mildred Harnack-Fish. For the sake of simplicity, I refer to her in these pages as Mildred Harnack.

Mildred was known to many as a woman who chose her words carefully. “Her utterances were sparse,” a German woman remembered, “often with a surprising clarity.” “She listened quietly,” an American woman recalled. “When she did speak, she commanded attention.” If you flip to the end of the book you’ll see the sources for these quotations. Throughout this book I use endnotes, not footnotes, to cite my sources.

This book follows two narratives: one chronicles Mildred, and one chronicles a boy named Don. In Don’s chapters, I use italics instead of quotation marks to indicate the thoughts and conversations he remembered having during that time. During the Second World War, at the age of eleven, Don became Mildred’s courier.

The title of this book comes from a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that Mildred translated in her prison cell. There is some debate about whether an “s” can be discerned at the end of the word “trouble” in Mildred’s original handwritten translation. We must bear in mind that translation is an art, not a science; Mildred’s translations were often looser, and less literal, than the academic renditions of Goethe poems that we may encounter. We must also bear in mind that Mildred wrote with a pencil stub in a damp prison cell.

Harald Poelchau remembered seeing Mildred bent over the book of Goethe poems, the pencil stub in her hand, when he visited her prison cell. Poelchau worked as a chaplain of the prison and was a member of an underground resistance group founded in the rural town of Kreisau in Silesia. It is because of Poelchau that we have Mildred’s translations of Goethe. On February 16, 1943, he slipped the book into the folds of his robe and smuggled it out.



Plötzensee Prison, Berlin

February 16, 1943

Last name Harnack
First name Mildred
Date of birth 9/16/02
Place of birth Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Do you have assets? How much and what do they include? 8.47 (?) in my pocket
1 ship ticket United States Lines $127 (paid in Reichsmark) in my purse
some money in Deutsche Bank
Apartment furnishings, especially in the two front rooms, Woyrschstr. 16, Berlin, with two Oriental carpets; a light and a dark one with uneven stars and colors
Why are you punished now? Do you admit committing the crime you are charged with? In which circumstances and for what reason did you commit the crime? Accomplice in treason

The Boy with the Blue Knapsack


SNOW. FEAR. LIGHT. One morning in December 1939, an eleven-year-old boy bursts out of the arched front door of an apartment building in Berlin, wondering whether he’ll get caught. On his back he carries a blue knapsack. Before him, the wide expanse of Schöneberg Park is blanketed in white. He shivers. He wears a wool coat, a black cap. The cap makes him look like a German boy.

Four steps and he’s down the stairs; four more and he’s crossing the street. The boy heads for the U-Bahn station. He’s not traveling far. A ten-minute ride to Nollendorfplatz, a short walk to Woyrschstrasse 16. His father showed him how. His father said: Pay attention. And: Talk to no one.

The boy sees a tall man with a handlebar mustache, a woman wearing a fur hat, two boys with red mittens, and a goose-stepping girl. Christmas is soon. Along the sidewalk, merchants stand behind carts, ringing bells. In one cart, charred chestnuts. In another, wilted cabbages. In another, crockery. In another, squadrons of marzipan soldiers. Somewhere, buildings are in flames, bombs exploding. The boy knows the fighting is far away, but he imagines he can smell the war.

Burnt. Like the charred chestnuts.

Headlines blackening the pages of Berlin newspapers that month report ALL BRITISH AIR ATTACKS ARE DOOMED TO FAIL, denounce THE PLAGUE OF JEWS, and promise VICTORY IS CERTAIN! The newspapers are loaded with lies. The boy knows this from his father, who spends most of his waking hours at his desk writing intelligence reports, sending them to Washington by telegram if they are confidential and by diplomatic pouch if they are highly confidential. On several occasions, the boy accompanies his father to Bremerhaven, a port on the North Sea coast, where his father hands the diplomatic pouch to a man in the foreign service, who then boards a steamer ship. Sometimes, the report inside is addressed to Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, sometimes to Secretary of State Cordell Hull.

The boy lifts his chin, searches the sky. German bombers. He doesn’t see them but he knows they’re up there. Their rumbling rattles his teeth, or maybe he’s just jittery, thinking about the job he’s got to do.

An important job, said his father.

Like yours? asked the boy.

Like mine, yessiree, said his father, a Kansas native who holds two positions, one at the U.S. embassy in Berlin and one in the ranks of a department that has no official name or organizational structure, although soon it will come under the auspices of a hastily cobbled-together wartime intelligence group called the Office of the Coordinator of Information, the precursor to what will eventually become—after several iterations, upheavals, shake-ups, and shakedowns—the Central Intelligence Agency.

At the U-Bahn station, the boy waits on the platform. The train comes; its doors gasp open.

He jumps in, finds a seat. Nollendorfplatz. Only ten minutes away.

THREE AND A HALF months earlier, shortly before the German Luftwaffe dropped five hundred sixty tons of explosive bombs onto Poland, the State Department urged all the men at the U.S. embassy in Berlin to send their wives and children back home to America. The boy and his mother went to Norway instead. They checked into a hotel in Oslo, where they waited for the boy’s father to send a message.

The message came in November, early in the morning. They packed quickly.

Where are we going? the boy asked.

Back to Berlin, his mother said.

Why? the boy asked. A war was under way. It didn’t make sense to return to Berlin.

We need to help some people was his mother’s response.

They boarded a coal-powered train that swept them past farms and fields and ice-caked lakes. Snowcapped mountains lay bunched together, as if huddling for warmth. The boy rested his forehead on the window, watching it all whiz by, wondering, Help how?


The boy shoulders his knapsack and exits the train, jumping nimbly over the gap between track and platform. He walks up a flight of stairs and out a glass door. Once past the U-Bahn station, he counts his steps in German: eins, zwei, drei. At zwanzig he squats down. His shoelaces are tied, but he fakes that they’re loose and ties them again, stealing a glance over his shoulder. Two men. One is bald; one wears wire-framed glasses. He remembers what his father told him: Make sure no one follows you.

He crosses the street. At the corner is an enormous department store, the Kaufhaus des Westens. Berliners call it the KaDeWe. He walks in.

The KaDeWe smells of perfume and doughnuts. There are seven stories. It won’t be long before an American bomber crashes into the building during an air raid, making a spectacular explosion, but right now the building is as intact as it is inviting. The perfect place, the boy knows, to give someone the slip. He skips every other stair to the second floor, walks past a carousel of winter coats, ducks into an elevator that takes him up to the top and back down to the ground floor, where he exits through a side door. Once outside he breaks into a run, the knapsack banging against his back.

No one follows him that day.

But suppose you did. You would have seen an eleven-year-old boy with a blue knapsack run all the way to Woyrschstrasse 16, a few blocks south of the Tiergarten. If you’d asked him why he was visiting Woyrschstrasse 16, he would have told you that his tutor was giving him lessons there. This is only half true.

He enters the building and races up the stairs, his knapsack heavy with books. At the top floor, a young woman wearing a modest dress typical of Nazi Berliner Frauen opens the door. Her honey-colored hair is pulled back into a bun.

You would not guess that she, too, is American. Nor would you suspect that when the boy leaves the apartment an hour later, his knapsack will contain something more valuable than books.

THE BOY IS HER courier, in the language of espionage. An eleven-year-old spy. Twice a week he visits her apartment, where they sit side by side on a sofa with wooden armrests and talk about the books she assigns him. The books are various and unpredictable: classics and potboilers, Shakespeare and cowboy Westerns. She questions him about the plot, the characters, the themes. She has a low, kind voice. She says, Tell me what this book is about. She says, Tell me what you think, not what you think you should think. She is unlike any teacher he has ever had.

Their lesson lasts an hour, sometimes two. When it’s over, she asks, Which way are you going home today?

Every time he takes a different route—she makes sure of it. Looking into his eyes, her gaze steady and solemn, she asks the boy to repeat the street names. If his attention wanders, she will cup his cheeks with her hands, the way his mother does, and ask him to say the names again.

At the door, she helps him with his coat and slips a piece of paper into his knapsack. Sometimes the paper looks like a reading list. Sometimes it looks like a recipe. Sometimes it looks like a letter, which she signs Mildred or, simply, M.



We Must Change This Situation as Soon as Possible



On July 29, 1932, Mildred exits the U-Bahn station and heads north on Friedrichstrasse, a leather satchel in her grip. It’s Friday. She’s on her way to the University of Berlin, where she lectures twice a week.

Her pace is brisk. Berlin is bustling; the sidewalks are clogged with pedestrians, the streets swarm with cars, trams, buses, bicyclists. Everywhere she looks, she sees people, young and old, rich and poor. Mainly poor. Begging, sleeping, fighting, selling shoelaces, scraps of newspaper, passing between them cigarette butts scrounged from a gutter.

Two years ago, the University of Berlin hired her to teach a course called American Literary History. The department head may have expected her to lecture about authors of the previous century—Herman Melville or Nathaniel Hawthorne or James Fenimore Cooper—but Mildred doesn’t want to discuss books about sailors or adulteresses or frontiersmen. She wants to talk about books written by people living now, especially those who write about what it’s like to be poor. Facing a roomful of German undergraduates, she wants to deepen their understanding of the downtrodden at a time when so many in their own country are caught in a daily struggle to put bread on their tables. And so for four semesters she has lectured about American farmers and factory workers and immigrants, about William Faulkner and John Dos Passos and Theodore Dreiser. She doesn’t hide her political views. Her lectures move fluidly from American novels to the prevalence of the poor in Germany and the troubling ascent of the Nazi Party.

“Germany is going through such very dark hours,” she wrote in a recent letter to her mother. “All feel the menace but many hide their heads in the sand.”

She reaches a wide boulevard: Unter den Linden. She turns right.

The boulevard takes its name from the profusion of linden trees flanking it, trees that are in full bloom now, cascades of tiny white blossoms perfuming the air she breathes. But all this beauty can’t mask the ugliness here. Swastikas are cropping up like daisies everywhere: on posters pasted to the walls of U-Bahn stations, on flags and banners and pamphlets. A white-haired, walrus-mustached man is leading the country right now, but just barely. President Paul von Hindenburg is eighty-four, tottering into senility. A politician half his age is growing in popularity, a high-school dropout named Adolf Hitler who, Mildred predicts, will bring “a great increase of misery and oppression.”

She turns left. Before her is the University of Berlin.

She enters the building. The hallways swarm with students. She approaches the door of her classroom knowing that today’s lecture will be her last. An administrator has already informed her that she will not be invited back to teach in the fall.

Mildred can hardly believe it. All along, she has taken for granted that she can speak her mind.


In letters to her mother, Mildred writes plainly and simply, knowing that Georgina Fish’s tenth-grade education hasn’t prepared her for the complexities of German politics.

There is a large group of people here which, feeling the wrongness of the situation—their own poverty or danger of poverty—leaps to the conclusion that, since things were better before, it would be a good idea to have a more absolute government again.

The official name of the Nazi Party is the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP), Mildred explains, or the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, “although it has nothing to do with socialism and the name itself is a lie. It thinks itself highly moral and like the Ku Klux Klan makes a campaign of hatred against the Jews.”

Mildred writes most of these letters with a black-ink pen. Sometimes she writes part of the letter while she’s on the U-Bahn, on her way to teach a class, and finishes it on the typewriter at home. Sometimes it’s the reverse; she types the letter first and finishes it on the U-Bahn, apologizing for her messy handwriting.

Mildred doesn’t tell her mother right away about losing her job at the University of Berlin. She will wait awhile. Maybe a week. Maybe two. She doesn’t want to worry Georgina Fish, who lives in a small, brown-wallpapered room across the Atlantic and is prone to worrying.


Fired. Booted. Axed.

Whatever word you choose, the outcome is the same. The officious administrator refused to articulate a reason. Contracts are not renewed for various individuals for various reasons at various times.

Mildred is twenty-nine, still a graduate student, halfway through her dissertation. She had planned to teach American Literary History until she got her PhD. What now? She can take classes at the University of Berlin, but she’s not permitted to teach them anymore. A group of students have circulated a petition urging the university to reconsider its decision. It’s no use, though. The bustling hallway, the shuffle of footsteps, the doorknob in her hand, the cold metal feel of it—they’re all tokens of her time here, conspiring to remind her that she can’t return.

She opens the classroom door and strides in.

Her students, seated in rows before her, rise to their feet. This is the custom in German universities, a gesture of respect. When she sees what they’ve done to her desk, she’s overcome with emotion. They have covered it with flowers, a profusion of lavender and golden blooms, a big, beautiful pile. Eyes brimming, she makes a clumsy joke.

It’s so high I can’t see your faces!


Within spitting distance of the University of Berlin is Opernplatz, a large public square. Students carrying satchels of books mingle here between classes, strolling past the grand butterscotch columns of the State Opera. In the evening, wealthy operagoers spill out onto the square, and beggars trail raggedly alongside them, stretching out open palms. Opernplatz is the whole of German society, condensed.

Next year, students in a Nazi fraternity will burn twenty-five thousand books here, throwing them into a massive bonfire at the center of the square. The fraternity will stage similar bonfires in universities across Germany, circulating a list of authors deemed deviant, impure, “un-German.” The list will include Nobel Prize winners and obscure writers, philosophers and playwrights, novelists and physicists. Books by Jews and Christians and atheists will be condemned alongside books by Communists, socialists, and anarchists. Nearly every book Mildred assigned in the two years she taught at the University of Berlin will be burned.


The Reichstag—Germany’s parliament—is a cornerstone of democracy, acting as a check and balance to the executive authority of President Paul von Hindenburg. Seats in the Reichstag are open to a dizzying array of political parties, from the well established to the lunatic fringe.

In 1928, the Nazi Party got less than 3 percent of the vote in a Reichstag election.

In 1930, it got 18 percent.

And in 1932? Fascism is on the rise in Germany, but it still seems possible to defeat it. Left-wing politicians outnumber Nazis by a wide margin.

On July 31, 1932—two days after Mildred is ousted from the University of Berlin—there will be another election. Walking around Berlin, Mildred sees Nazi propaganda wherever the poor and unemployed congregate: parks, plazas, train stations, public urinals. Posters stamped with swastikas promise “Work! Freedom! Bread!” Hitler used the same slogan when he ran for president in March, and lost. President Hindenburg has just started his second seven-year term. What Hitler will do next is unclear.

Mildred waits for the Reichstag election results with mounting anxiety. Her neighbors wait, too, clustering around the newspaper kiosks dotting the block.


The Nazi Party gets 37 percent of the vote. For the first time in history, it’s the largest party in the Reichstag. The Social Democratic Party trails behind, with 22 percent. The Communist Party trails even further, with 15 percent. The remaining 26 percent is divided among a squabbling hodgepodge of parties. Every imaginable point of view is represented. They have names like “Radical Middle Party” and “Reich Party of the German Middle Class” and “National Middle Party Against Fascism and Socialism” and “German Farmers Party” and “Christian Social People’s Service Party” and “Justice Movement Against All Parties and Wage Cuts and for Provision for Unemployment” and “Highest Salary for Civil Servants, 5,000 Marks for the Unemployed and Victims of the War, Hitherto Trodden Underfoot.”

On the heels of the Nazi Party’s victory, Hitler commands President Hindenburg to name him chancellor of Germany. President Hindenburg refuses.


Mildred reads Mein Kampf. Hitler’s book has been published in two volumes, the first in 1925, the second in 1926. In 1932, it isn’t read widely in Germany—not yet. An English translation hasn’t been published yet either. Mildred worries that Americans don’t understand how dangerous Hitler is.

Germans don’t understand either. Too many are dismissive. Most major German newspapers declined to run reviews of Mein Kampf when the book was published. One newspaper predicted that Hitler’s political career would be “completely finished” after people read his ramblings. Another mocked Hitler’s “fuzzy mind.” Even Nazis and right-wing nationalists took potshots. The pro-Nazi newspaper Deutsche Zeitung sneered at Hitler’s “illogical ranting.” The nationalist newspaper Neue Preussische Zeitung fumed: “One seeks ingenuity and finds only arrogance, one seeks stimulation and reaps boredom, one seeks love and enthusiasm and finds platitudes, one seeks healthy hatred and finds insults.… Is this the book for the German people? That would be dreadful!” When Hitler bragged that all of Germany was eagerly anticipating his book, the anti-Semitic newspaper Das Bayerische Vaterland scoffed at Hitler’s egomania. “O how modest! Why not the entire universe?”

Cartoons gleefully mocked Hitler. The popular magazine Simplicissimus ran a derisive front-page caricature of Hitler peddling Mein Kampf to uninterested customers in a beer hall.

It was at a beer hall in Munich, the Hofbräuhaus, where Hitler, age thirty, delivered one of his first significant speeches. The occasion was a meeting held on February 24, 1920, by the German Workers’ Party, an obscure political party with only 190 members, Hitler among them. Hitler had fought in the First World War and was still in the army, working in the intelligence department of the Reichswehr. He had a dim view of the German Workers’ Party steering committee, a bickering bunch of drones who chose a priggish doctor to deliver the first speech.

When the doctor was done, Hitler leaped onto a long table positioned smack in the middle of the crowd. His oratorical style was provocative, his language colloquial and at times coarse. He hollered insults at politicians, capitalists, and Jews. He castigated the Reich finance minister for supporting the Treaty of Versailles, a humiliating concession to the victors of the war that would bring Germans to their knees, he warned, unless they fought back. “Our motto is only struggle!” Hitler cried. The beer-hall crowd, a fizzy mix of working-class and middle-class men, erupted—some cheering, some jeering. His controversial speeches fueled attendance at future meetings of the German Workers’ Party, which grew to 3,300 members by the end of 1921, at which point it had a new name, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, nicknamed the Nazi Party. It also had a new chairman, Hitler, who gave himself a new title: Führer (Leader).

Simplicissimus skewered the Führer as a minor player on the stage of German politics. From 1921 through 1932, Hitler appeared in the magazine as a harmless imbecile. A cartoon in 1930 lampooned Hitler as a doltish schoolboy copying passages from Das Kapital while the ghost of Karl Marx scolds him (“Adolf, Adolf! Give my theories back to the Socialists!”). Another showed two policemen raiding the cavernous interior of Hitler’s empty head and finding a brain so small they needed tweezers to lift it out.

For over a decade, the Münchener Post published mocking screeds against Hitler and his band of bootlicking cronies, linking them to sex scandals and binges at luxury hotels. “Hitler,” the paper gloated, “has no secrets from us.” Hitler claimed to enjoy the publicity (“It makes no difference whatever whether they laugh at us or revile us,” he wrote in Mein Kampf, “whether they represent us as clowns or criminals; the main thing is that they mention us”), but the paper’s ridicule irked him so much that he dispatched a group of thugs to raid the offices of the Münchener Post in 1923 and smash everything in sight. The thugs were Hitler’s personal bodyguards, the Stosstrupp Adolf Hitler—the Adolf Hitler Assault Squad.

As Hitler’s popularity increased, the Münchener Post sounded an alarm about his murderous agenda. Under the headline THE JEWS IN THE THIRD REICH, a 1931 article reported a “secret plan” for “the solution of the Jewish question.” An unnamed Nazi source had leaked a detailed list of restrictions that would be imposed on Jews if the Nazi Party got its way; there was also a plan “to use the Jews in Germany for slave labor.” Now, in 1932, the paper runs a story about “Cell G,” a secret death squad within the ranks of the Nazi Party that murders Hitler’s opponents. The journalists at the Münchener Post, known to readers as a mouthpiece of the Social Democratic Party, take Hitler seriously, even as many others don’t.



  • “Extraordinarily intimate… Wilder and more expansive than a standard-issue biography… a real-life thriller with a cruel ending—not to mention an account of Hitler’s ascent from attention-seeking buffoon to genocidal Führer.”—Jennifer Szalai, New York Times
  • “A powerful book… Ms. Donner’s use of the present tense increases the feeling of inevitability as she unfolds her story to its horrific conclusion... A nonfiction narrative with the pace of a political thriller, it’s imbued with suspense and dread… a deeply affecting biography, meticulously researched and illustrated… Ms. Donner evocatively brings to life the giddy feeling of freedom under the Weimar regime in Berlin and how swiftly it eroded. Her account of the decline of liberties is harrowing.”—Moira Hodgson, Wall Street Journal
  • “A deeply moving act of recovery… In a photo of those pages reproduced in the book, Mildred Harnack’s cramped yet careful handwriting crystallizes Donner’s goal: to write her heroic forebear back into history, to bring her back to life.”—Bethanne Patrick, Los Angeles Times
  • “A tour de force of investigation… The story unfolds in fragments… but as the pieces cohere, the couple’s story becomes gripping… The abiding impression is of virtuous, extraordinarily brave people caught up in tragic horror.”—The Economist
  • “Donner quotes passages from her sources at length, letting the reader dwell on facts rather than galloping through them. She does this stylishly… The archival quality of the book, its enumeration and cataloging of sources, is both surprising for a biography — too rarely the site of literary innovation — and affecting. It gives a sense of the warped timeline of crisis, how life can shift overnight without moving at all, the way in which change can ricochet from the political sphere to the smallest and most mundane details of a person’s life.”—Madeleine Schwartz, New York Times Book Review
  • “[A] compelling book, which reads like a tragic novel where we wish we didn't know the ending… Yet knowing her terrible fate from the onset shouldn't dissuade you from reading this page-turner about Harnack's perilous journey… Donner's descriptive style takes us inside Nazi Germany and makes the book hard to put down.”—Laura McCallum, Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • “Remarkable… [a] gripping, inventive biography… Donner’s book is a breathtaking account of how individuals can find the strength to defy the darkness enveloping them.”—Time
  • “A gorgeous collage of history and family lore, a revelatory window onto a Götterdämmerung that transformed the world forever.”—Oprah Daily
  • “Gripping… Donner brings her ancestor to life through artful use of documents and interviews… and she tells Harnack's story with dramatic pace and vision. As the story unfolds in time, Harnack and her resistance comrades become like a small cluster of white blood cells targeting the seemingly overwhelming infection that was Nazism.”—Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
  • “[Donner is] a meticulous researcher and master of narrative suspense… Here is a historical biography that reads like a literary thriller.”—Wall Street Journal (Best Books of the Year)
  • “Highly evocative, deeply moving, a stunning literary achievement. Rebecca Donner forges a new kind of biography—almost novelistic in style and tone, this scholarly work resurrects the courageous life Mildred Harnack, an unsung American hero who led part of the German resistance to the Nazi regime. A relentless sleuth in the archives, Donner has written a page-turner story of espionage, love, and betrayal.”—Kai Bird, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography
  • “Rebecca Donner has written a beautifully rich portrait of a very brave woman. While never less than scrupulously researched, this biography explodes the genre of 'biography': experimental but achieved, Donner's story reads with the speed of a thriller, the depth of a novel, and the urgency of an essay, like some deeply compelling blend of Alan Furst and W.G. Sebald.”—James Wood
  • “Moving… From helping Jews escape, to spreading anti-Hitler leaflets, to becoming a spy, to her eventual capture and execution, [Harnack’s] little-known story is finally brought to light by her great-great niece through newly discovered documents, diary entries, survivor stories and more.”—Lesley Kennedy, CNN
  • "A stunning biography... Donner’s research is impeccable, and her fluid prose and vivid character sketches keep the pages turning…This standout history isn’t to be missed.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • “How can it happen that a constitution, a free press, and a democracy be demolished—all within six months? This powerfully written story of Mildred Harnack, resistance fighter against Hitler, tells step by step the way the German republic fell to the Nazis. Read All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, and be warned.”—Maxine Hong Kingston, winner of the National Book Award, author of The Woman Warrior
  • “At once boldly imagined and lovingly researched, All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days sets the remarkable story of resistance fighter Mildred Harnack against the backdrop of daily life in Germany as Hitler tightened his grip on the nation. Epic in sweep, written with a novelist’s attention to detail and a historian’s perspective on social and political forces, this book opens up new possibilities for biography.”—Ruth Franklin, winner of the NBCC Award for Biography, author of Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life
  • “Combining meticulous scholarship and sparkling narrative brio, Rebecca Donner’s All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days brings to life for the first time the central role played by underground activist Mildred Harnack in Germany’s homegrown opposition to Nazi rule. That Harnack was an American woman from Wisconsin only adds to the complexity of this stirring and tragic story, which culminates in the Harnack group’s ill-fated clandestine campaign to undermine Hitler’s regime. More broadly, Donner’s portrait of the cruelly oppressive system against which Harnack and her circle fought can serve to remind us of what can happen when, amidst economic insecurity and anguish over dislocating socio-cultural change, a highly civilized nation embraces demagoguery over democracy.”—David Clay Large, author of Berlin
  • “Donner’s meticulous research and novelist’s sensibility make for a riveting biography of a remarkable and brave woman… Readers of Erik Larson’s biography In the Garden of Beasts will appreciate Donner’s different perspective on the same historical events and figures. Recommended to all who enjoy engaging narrative nonfiction.”—Laurie Unger Skinner, Library Journal
  • "An impressive story... a welcome contribution to the history of the anti-Nazi underground."—Kirkus Reviews
  • “Mildred Harnack lived an extraordinary life… Donner—Harnack’s great-great niece—draws on notes, diaries, letters and declassified intelligence materials to offer this window into 1930s Germany and Harnack’s remarkable actions.”—Joumana Khatib, New York Times Book Review (New Books Coming in August)

On Sale
Aug 3, 2021
Page Count
576 pages

Rebecca Donner

About the Author

In 2022, Rebecca Donner was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. She was a 2018-19 Biography Fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography, is a two-time Yaddo Fellow, and has twice received fellowships from the Ucross Foundation. Her essays, reportage, and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times and Bookforum. All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days is Donner's third book; she is also the author of two critically acclaimed works of fiction.Visit her at

Learn more about this author