The best war novels: 30 greatest war novels of all time

War is hell, but also generally a hell of a read...

The best war novels: 30 greatest war novels of all time

Most reasonable people would probably concur with Edwin Starr’s bold statement that war was good for absolutely nothing.

Writers, while not disavowing the sentiment, might suggest otherwise. Wars, battles and struggles have provided with a cavalcade of inspiration for grand works as is showcased in our best war novels guide.

Some focus on the fighting and the treacherous conditions experienced by the soldiers; others examine how wars change people and society.

What follows is the 30 greatest war novels (ok, 29, one is an account of a writer’s direct experience of war) (hang on, 28, one is a play) (and a few of them are semi-autobiographical – do we knock half off the total for each of them?) ever penned.

And if you are in the mood for a good ol' fact-based World War II book, then we highly recommend Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre . The book has been made into a fantastic film starring Colin Firth and is available to watch now.

Best war novels

Best war novels

1 . All Quiet On The Western Front - Erich Maria Remarque

The definitive anti-war book. Written by a veteran of the First World War, it recounts in horrific and spellbinding detail the real life experience of war. The book’s central character, Paul Bäumer, is, like many in Germany and likewise in Britain, enthusiastic about his forthcoming adventure. The reality he encounters is somewhat different as Remarque describes a generation ‘destroyed by war’.

Best war novels

2 . Catch-22 - Joseph Heller

Such was the potency of Joseph Heller’s sparkling satirical novel about the 256th squadron in World War II that its title has passed over into common usage for a no-win situation. Again, Heller writes from a unique vantage point – he flew 60 missions during 1944. This results in a comical tour-de-force that upon publication in 1961 was quickly embraced by the burgeoning counterculture.

Best war novels

3 . War And Peace - Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace is inarguably one of the greatest books of all time – it also happens to be about war, conflict and its impact upon all involved. Set during the 1812 invasion of Russia by Napoleon’s forces, War and Peace demonstrates a rigorous historical approach to writing and is hailed as incredibly authentic – unsurprising given that Tolstoy served in the Crimean War. Just don’t expect to read it in one – or seven sittings: when first published it ran to 1,225 pages.

Best war novels

4 . For Whom The Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemingway

The Spanish Civil War entranced a generation of artists, writers and activists, all of whom recognised that what was being played out in the plains of Andalucía and the streets of Barcelona, was a portent for what was coming globally. Ernest Hemingway was one such writer - he reported upon the war for the North American Newspaper Alliance. For Whom The Bell Tolls tells the story of Robert Jordan, an American solider in the International Brigades. The book is a fascinating account of sacrifice, heroism and patriotism, and quite possibly Hemingway’s crowning achievement.

Best war novels

5 . Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut

If Edwin Starr’s powerful War has a literary corollary it’s probably Kurt Vonnegut’s iconic Slaughterhouse-Five. A bewitching and maddening text, it takes the Dresden bombings of 1945 as its starting point and in the subsequent pages and through the eyes of its time-travelling protagonist Billy Pilgrim, eloquently demonstrates the ridiculousness of war. So it goes. So it goes…

Best war novels

6 . Johnny Got His Gun - Dalton Trumbo

Although not as heralded as All Quiet on the Western Front, Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun is no less authoritative in illustrating the folly of war. In a novel laced with pathos and comedy, protagonist Joe Bonham loses his arms, legs and, improbably, his face in World War I. He’s kept alive in a glass box, a prisoner in his own body and communicates by banging his head against a pillow in Morse code. Trumbo’s novel was a key text of the anti-war movement that sprung up in America in the 1960s.

Best war novels

7 . Empire Of The Sun - J.G. Ballard

Ballard’s semi-autobiographical novel captures children’s innocence (and the loss thereof) during wartime magically. Stranded in Shanghai after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, James Graham is held in an internment camp. As the war progresses, and James becomes more cognizant of the reality of war, his feelings develop, and life becomes a struggle for survival. The confusion inherent in war is never far from the surface in this compelling book.

Best war novels

8 . The Hunt For Red October - Tom Clancy

The Cold War was a metaphorical battle in which the combatants never met directly, instead engaging in phoney wars; conflicts of propaganda and taking sides in other wars like Vietnam. This is the backdrop to Tom Clancy’s hugely successful slice of literary cant and the introduction to his enduring All-American Jack Ryan character. Can Ryan safely deliver a defecting Soviet submarine captain to American waters? What do you think?

Best war novels

9 . Regeneration - Pat Barker

Pat Barker’s triptych of World War I novels (which also includes The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road) was inspired by her grandfather’s experiences in the trenches. Terrifyingly, the majority of the ‘action’ takes place not in the miserable fields of Europe, but rather a psychiatric hospital in Edinburgh where patients are supposedly cured of the trauma they witnessed before, incredibly, being sent back to the front line. An inflammatory set of novels that strike at the heart of the callous nature of war.

Best war novels

10 . Gravity's Rainbow - Thomas Pynchon

This much we can say; Thomas Pynchon’s postmodern masterpiece takes place in Europe as World War II is drawing to a close. It takes in the development of deadly V-2 rockets in Nazi Germany and a hunt to find a ‘black device’ that is located in the weapons of mass destruction. From there, you’re on your own. Pynchon flaunts his bewildering intellect unashamedly, but that’s not to say it’s not an enjoyable – and provocative – novel either.

Best war novels

11 . The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas

Ok, The Three Musketeers isn’t about war as such, but all the elements that best make up a war novel are there – conflict, friendship, nobility, heroism… Dumas recognised that while the glamour supposedly inherent in armed struggle is mostly a fallacy, the attributes of friendship, loyalty and the ties that bind comrades are not.

Best war novels

12 . From Here To Eternity - James Jones

James Jones was a master of the war novel – we could have easily plumped for The Thin Red Line here instead. From Here To Eternity gets our vote though because it was Jones’s first book and captures him at his dramatic best. The conflict apparent in Jones’s book is both literal – World War II – and metaphorical – the struggle between individual choice (as exemplified by Private Robert E Lee Prewitt) and authority. As Jones realises, being an ex-soldier himself, sometimes the biggest adversary in wartime is on your own side.

Best war novels

13 . Homage To Catalonia - George Orwell

Not a novel, but a vital account of the Spanish Civil War; a struggle that Orwell engaged in first-hand. For seven months from December 1936, Orwell served in the socialist POUM militia fighting Franco and fascism. Or so he thought: his account of this fight also demonstrates the internecine conflict that so ravaged the left, and enabled Franco to gain an upper hand.

Best war novels

14 . The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

Taking in everything from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 – and the resultant decade-long conflict and flight of refugees to Pakistan, Iran and the US – to the subsequent rise of the Taliban, The Kite Runner is a thoroughly modern examination of warfare on individuals, societies and nations. Told through the eyes of two friends Amir and Hassan, the book demonstrates that while wars and conflicts change through time, the resultant carnage and destruction doesn’t.

Best war novels

15 . Doctor Zhivago - Boris Pasternak

Of course, Doctor Zhivago – much like War and Peace and Gone With The Wind – is not just a war novel. It’s a dizzying and spellbinding narrative whose epic scope takes in one of most turbulent spells in Russian history, the period from the revolution of 1905 to the outbreak of World War II. Within that there are manifold stories to be told, primarily of course the titular protagonist, but the threat and reality of war is always close to the surface.

Best war novels

16 . The Naked And The Dead - Norman Mailer

Some of the finest war writing focuses not on the bloody battles that punctuate a life in the trenches, but the friendships that are formed in such heightened circumstances. Norman Mailer’s iconic The Naked and the Dead, published just three years after the end of World War II, tells the story of a platoon of ordinary young Americans fighting the Japanese. The success of the book catapulted Mailer to a fame we embraced with gusto.

Best war novels

17 . Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks

Such is the irrefutable power of Sebastian Faulks’s 1993 novel – not least its moving and brutal depictions of life in the trenches – that many have compared it to the writing of the aforementioned Erich Maria Remarque and Ernest Hemingway. Birdsong tells the story of Stephen Wraysford before, during and after World War I. It’s the pages that focus on Wraysford’s stout determination to survive the war that linger most in the memory.

Best war novels

18 . Men At Arms - Evelyn Waugh

Men at Arms is the first novel in Evelyn Waugh’s lauded Sword of Honour trilogy. It examines the lot of Guy Crouchback, a 35-year-old divorced Catholic who, as World War II, commences is clearly unhappy with his lot in life. War, he believes, can give meaning to his life once more. What transpires is a glimpse into the foolhardy consequences of leaving idiots, fools and the graduates of England’s public schools in charge. The noted critic Cyril Connolly proclaimed Waugh’s series to be the ‘finest novels to have come out of the war’. And if that wasn’t enough, think about how Waugh’s surname is pronounced…

Best war novels

19 . Cold Mountain - Charles Frazier

What gets individuals through war? What sustains them? Love. Or the promise of love at least. When W. P. Inman sees through the illusory concept of the Confederacy in the American Civil War and deserts, he heads back to the woman – and the home – he loves. There are traces of Homer’s epic The Odyssey in Inman’s quest, and Frazier excels in painting a desolate picture of war and its consequences.

Best war novels

20 . The Quiet American - Graham Greene

Like Hemingway, Graham Greene observed war (in this case the First Indochina War) from the vantage point of a foreign journalist. His book has been perceived as anti-American in some quarters, but in truth, it’s really anti-war. A novel that many soldiers who fought in the second Vietnam War read with (in some cases) doomed recognition.

Best war novels

21 . The Debacle - Émile Zola

Part of Zola’s colossal Les Rougon-Macquart series of novels, The Debacle unapologetically highlights the brutality of war on ordinary soldiers and the civilians left behind. The backdrop is the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune of the following year, but the universal nature of Zola’s work means the themes are applicable in almost every war imaginable. A harrowing book that expertly pricks the pomposity of those that send innocent people to die for their causes.

Best war novels

22 . Henry VI - William Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s three plays that make up his Henry VI trilogy – known as Harry the Sixth, The Houses of York and Lancaster and The True Tragedy of the Duke of York – cover the period of the War of the Roses. Shakespeare was perceptive enough to see the tragedy and revulsion of war early on (a theme that is particularly acute in part three); a shame that we haven’t learned much in the intervening centuries.

Best war novels

23 . The Hunters - James Salter

James Salter is one of the unsung heroes of American literature – writers like Saul Bellow, Joseph Heller and Philip Roth have all waxed lyrical about his literary chops, and yet he remains an enigmatic figure. The Hunters draws upon his time as a fighter pilot in the Korean War and focuses on Captain Cleve Connell and his doomed mission to become an ace pilot – after all, there’s no glory like that achieved in battle.

Best war novels

24 . Austerlitz - W.G. Sebald

Austerlitz isn’t about the nitty gritty of war – the fighting, the bombings, the violent deaths – but its aftermath. Jacques Austerlitz is a successful architect in the Sixties who managed to flee Czechoslovakia before the outbreak of war in 1939. As Austerlitz attempts to come to terms with the fate of his parents, the book deals in themes of loss, memory and hope. Emotions that war deals explicitly in.

Best war novels

25 . When The Wind Blows - Raymond Briggs

If any book caught the imagination of the anti-nuclear sentiment of the 1980s it was Raymond Brigg’s graphic novel, When The Wind Blows. Jim and Hilda Bloggs (based on Briggs’ own parents) place their faith in their government to look after them in the face of an imminent enemy attack. However, this isn’t World War II (a conflict the ageing couple can vividly recall), and the stakes have been raised considerably. Briggs deals in acute gallows humour, not shying away from the consequences of nuclear fallout and public misinformation.

Best war novels

26 . Covenant With Death - John Harris

World War I, or the Great War, was meant to be the war that ended all wars. It wasn’t, it was the biggest bloodbath of its time – more than one million men perished at the Battle of the Somme, with no clear victor. John Harris’s book tells the story of one voluntary battalion from its inception during the naïve jingoism 1914 to its eventual destruction on the first day of the Somme’s hostilities. An anti-war book right up there with Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front.

Best war novels

27 . Parade's End - Ford Madox Ford

Parade’s End is the name given to Ford Madox Ford’s four novels about the cataclysmic events of World War I – both on the individuals characterised in the books, but society as a whole. The central figure is Christopher Tietjens, an old school chap attached to a code about to be blown to smithereens. The war tears everything he thought stable asunder. Ford’s depiction of life in the trenches has been said to be unerringly realistic.

Best war novels

28 . Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain

Ben Fountain’s mesmeric debut novel concerns the fortunes of Bravo Company, and in particular one of its members, the titular Billy Lynn, after its engaged in a bloody battle with Iraqi insurgents. The skirmish is caught on camera, ensuring that Billy and his buddies become overnight heroes in America. Can Bravo Company live up to their star billing when they embark on a tour back home? A brave, compelling book that doesn’t flinch from portraying the uncomfortable realities of war. It was made into a film by Ang Lee, which flopped mainly due to its experimental 120fps framerate rather than its faithful adaptation of the source material.

Best war novels

29 . Restless - William Boyd

William Boyd has an artist’s eye for detail and a historian’s grasp of the past – it’s a trick that has enabled him to conjure up momentous events in many of his novels, not least the brilliant Any Human Heart. Restless is equally superb. It focuses on a Russian woman who is recruited to work for the British Secret Service during World War II and who falls for her boss, who ultimately betrays her. War is the backdrop, but the misery that unfolds can be traced back to the conflict of ideologies and fighting.

Best war novels

30 . Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell

Like the film it gave birth to, Margaret Mitchell’s novel is an epic. Like Austerlitz, it doesn’t deal in the grim minutiae of conflict, rather the sweeping effect it has. In this case, the American South, that in the wake of the American Civil War is gone with the wind.


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Operation Military Kids

25 Best Military Books Of All Time (+ 12 Honorable Mentions)

best military books of all time

What are the best military books of all-time?

It’s a challenging question to answer considering there are so many types of military books.

For example, some of the works of fiction rival the best non-fiction military books.

Consequently, we’ve divided the best military books of all-time into separate genres.

Learn more about the 25 Best Military Books of All-Time.

Table of Contents

Best Military Books (Non-Fiction)

The best military books are often non-fiction because they are based on real events or soldiers.

Biographies (review Top 10, below) highly personal accounts during warfare while others document important series of events.

You could easily narrow down the best military books by conflict (WWI, WWII, Vietnam, etc) or era.

Nevertheless, here is our 10 personal favorites:

#1. Black Hawk Down

black hawk down is one of the best military books of all time

top 10 war books

“Black Hawk Down” was originally a book before it was adapted into a film starring Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, and Eric Bana.

It’s definitely worth reading the book even if you have watched “Black Hawk Down” beforehand.

The tremendous story is retold by journalist Mark Bowden as he recounts the events of October 3, 1993.

During that day hundreds of elite Army soldiers were trapped behind enemy lines fighting off a resistance of thousands.

“Black Hawk Down” is wonderfully researched with interviews that capture, minute-by-minute, what unfolded.

#2. The Forever War

the forever war book

“The Forever War” presents an insider’s look into radical Islam and the foreign conflicts that have aided it.

Foreign journalist/correspondent Dexter Filkins begins by highlighting the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Then, decades later, the aftermath of September 11 along with the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The book is told on the ground level as Filkins received first line access to the events unfolding in the Middle East.

“The Forever War” features individual stories from people (ranging from citizens to soldiers) impacted by the events in Afghanistan.

#3. The Art of War

the art of war may be the most important military book ever written

“The Art of War” has long been considered one of the best military books.

Impressively, “The Art of War” was conceived over 2,000 years ago yet still remains relevant in modern warfare.

The book has long been viewed as a must-read for basic military theory and strategy.

Moreover, “The Art of War” dives into other aspects that influence society such as psychology, economics, and politics.

It’s worth a read to understand where most modern books about the military draw their inspiration.

#4. Band of Brothers

Beyond Band of Brothers The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters

“Band of Brothers” is another famous Hollywood production that started out as a book.

Historian Stephen Ambrose invites readers to follow a group of soldiers from enduring basic training in 1942 to the liberation of Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest in 1945.

Like most books, the historic account gets into more detail than what you see with the HBO series (although excellent, in it’s own right).

“Band of Brothers” takes you into what it was like to serve in WWII along the Western Front.

#5. The Guns of August

the guns of august military book about world war 1

“The Guns of August” is a Pulitzer-Prize winning book.

It’s often acknowledged as a masterpiece among books to do with military history.

As a result, “The Guns of August” opens in 1914 set amongst the backdrop of World War I.

The book details the first month of WWI which would assist in upending the rest of the world.

“The Guns of August” presents a magnificent background of the people and events that contributed to World War I.

1776 by david mccullough is another one of the best military books

“1776” is designed to retell a year that would lead to the birth of a new nation.

Of course, you cannot make a list of the best military books without including some that get into the history of the American Revolution.

Thus, “1776” chronicles the year in extraordinary detail as readers march along with the Continental Army.

While it’s not the only book on the American Revolutionary War it ranks among the best ever produced.

#7. We Were Soldiers Once… And Young

we were soldiers once and young best military book

“We Were Soldiers Once… And Young” is the harrowing tale of the first significant engagements in Vietnam.

The year, 1965, is still considered one of the most savage in all the years U.S. Armed Forces were involved in Vietnam.

Consequently, the book is presented by a military lieutenant as well as war reporter that saw first-hand the events of The Battle of the la Drang Valley.

The story tells the perseverance and bravery of 450 soldiers surrounded by 2,000 enemy troops.

#8. The Pentagon Wars

the pentagon wars

“The Pentagon Wars” presents a rare glimpse inside the headquarters of the Department of Defense (DoD).

Former Air Force Colonel James Burton provides readers with rare insights.

Colonel Burton, who spent 14 years developing new weapons systems for the government, details many of the breakthroughs (and failures).

He notoriously clashed with the Pentagon and was renowned for disrupting the system.

Later, “The Pentagon Wars” inspired a comedy film based on the story.

#9. One Bullet Away

one bullet away military book

“One Bullet Away” grants rare access inside the life of a Marine Corps officer.

Nathaniel Fick, who previously studied at Dartmouth, elected to join the Marines in the late 90s.

As a result, “One Bullet Away” provides details into the training and mindset of the Marine Corps.

Furthermore, readers experience a wide range of combat experiences during Fick’s deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

#10. Flyboys

flyboys is one of the best military books about aerial combat

“Flyboys” is one of many military books written about WWII.

Notwithstanding, it continues to rank among the best books ever produced about the conflict.

“Flyboys” presents the story of 9 Americans that were shot down over the Pacific.

George H.W. Bush was among the pilots rescued before he went on to serve as the 41st President of the United States.

However, the story of the 8 other pilots, has remained a mystery until recently.

Author James Bradley (who also wrote “Flags of Our Fathers”) presents a well researched and memorable read.

Honorable Mention: Best Military Books (Non-Fiction)

Best Military Books (Fiction)

There are great military books that are not based on real events, too.

We define these narratives as the best fiction military books.

As a result, the characters are made up by the author yet likely inspired by real people and events:

#1. The Hunt for Red October

the hunt for red october book

Today, Tom Clancy is one of the most recognizable names in fiction.

However, in 1984, no one was aware when Clancy released his debut novel, “The Hunt for Red October”.

The story depicts a Soviet captain that goes rogue with its cutting-edge submarine, Red October.

Furthermore, it’s the first appearance of Clancy’s most beloved fictional character, Jack Ryan.

You should definitely give “The Hunt for Red October”, or anything Tom Clancy, a try for an entertaining read.

#2. The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried book

“The Things They Carried” is exceptionally written if not raw and bittersweet.

The book is about a platoon of soldiers fighting on the ground during Vietnam.

“The Things They Carried” is a collection of short stories inspired by real events during author Tim O’Brien’s own service.

Accordingly, the novel is presented as a war memoir to make it feel very intimate and authentic.

#3. All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front

“All Quiet on the Western Front” is widely considered one of the greatest war novels of all-time.

The novel presents the German experience during World War I.

The story was first published in a 1928 newspaper before later being adapted into various editions.

It’s noteworthy that Nazi Germany attempted to ban and burn the book during its reign.

“All Quiet on the Western Front” has sold millions of copies and transpired in numerous languages.

#4. Rescuing Wendy: Delta Force Heroes

Rescuing Wendy Delta Force Heroes

Let’s face it, there is no need to make it all bloodbath when you are sitting back to relax and read.

Therefore, why not consider a military romance novel to change it up?

“Rescuing Wendy: Delta Force Heroes” is a necessary companion when military personnel are stationed overseas and away from family.

Follow Aspen “Blade” Carlisle, the last of his Delta Force team to find love.

#5. Missionaries: A Novel

Missionaries A Novel

“Missionaries: A Novel” is a recent novel to debut from USMC veteran Phil Klay.

The thriller takes place in Venezuela as a group of Marines attempt to raid the safe house of a drug lord.

The novel takes an innovative approach by highlighting 4 different lives that are involved in the conflict.

Former President Barack Obama designated it one of his favorite books of 2020.

Honorable Mention: Best Military Books (Fiction)

Best Military Books (Biography)

Biographies often are the best military books because of the personal perspective.

Whether drafted from a first-hand account (autobiography) or co-authored with someone else, biographies reveal anecdotes and information hard to find anywhere else.

As a result, some of the top military biographies are written by veterans as well as prisoners of war (POWs):

#1. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, & Redemption

unbroken military book

“Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand is often considered one of the best military books of all-time.

It was only recently published in 2010 yet already adapted into a film directed by Angelina Jolie.

Most consider the book far better which tells the incredible story of resistance and survival.

Louie Zamperini survived nearly 50 days on the Pacific after his bomber crashed into the ocean.

Then, he was captured by the Japanese and became a notorious prisoner of war (POW) where he was often targeted by the corporal of the army.

“Unbroken” presents a story of personal redemption and forgiveness, too.

#2. Lone Survivor

lone survivor military book navy seals

“Lone Survivor” was published around a time period where there was an emerging focus on the military following 9/11.

For this reason, the story of “Lone Survivor” was inspiring and kept morale strong amid a difficult campaign in Afghanistan.

It’s another heroic account not to mention testament to survival.

Today, Marcus Luttrell remains active in supporting the efforts of veterans.

#3. American Sniper

american sniper military book

“American Sniper” Chris Kyle was another noteworthy autobiography that was published during the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle was a tremendously respected marksman that recorded more career kills than any sniper in U.S. military history.

He later became a huge champion for war vets yet was tragically killed in 2013.

“American Sniper” is well worth the read in addition to watching the film directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper.

#4. Flags of Our Fathers

Flags of Our Fathers

Speaking of military stories that got adapted into movies by Clint Eastwood, “Flags of Our Fathers” was originally a book by James Bradley.

The story features an unforgettable chronicle of the 6 men that raised the flag at Iwo Jima.

While the achievement was a major triumph in WWII history it also led to different existences for the men that witnessed it.

Bradley is a terrific writer and pens what is easily considered one of the best military books of all-time.

#5. No Easy Day

no easy day book

“No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden” is one of the most recent military books to become an all-time classic.

There was a little controversy over releasing the confidential details of the mission at the time, but today most consider it a classic.

“No Easy Day” takes readers into the first-person account of Navy SEAL Team Six Operator Mark Owen.

Owen confronted terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden moments before his death in the risky Pakistan raid.

It’s a quality insider’s look into some of the recent special op missions of the Navy SEALs.

#6. Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific

Helmet for My Pillow

“Helmet for My Pillow” inspired the HBO series “The Pacific”.

It tells the first-hand account of Robert Leckie, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps during WWII.

Leckie, who was only 21 when he enlisted, describes his journey from boot camp at Parris Island to the Pacific Theater.

Leckie saw combat and some of his anecdotes were featured in the TV show.

#7. Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman

Where Men Win Glory

Pat Tillman is one of the most remarkable men you’ll ever come across.

He was already in the NFL and preparing to sign a multi-million dollar deal before the events of 9/11 transpired.

It motivated Tillman to leave the NFL and serve as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sadly, Tillman was accidentally killed by friendly fire in 2004 (which led to a whole other controversy the book outlines).

Jon Krakaeur is a well-recognized author that also covered the story of Chris McCandless (“Into the Wild”).

#8. With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa

With the Old Breed

“With the Old Breed” is a noteworthy memoir of World War II.

E.B. Sledge served during the Pacific Theater and saw combat in places like Obkinawa and Peleliu.

“With the Old Breed” is a New York Times Bestseller and ranks among the best military books, especially for a memoir.

#9. The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors

The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors

“The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors” is an underrated tale from World War II.

The story tells of the Navy’s Finest Hour during an epic standoff with the Japanese’s massive fleet.

James D. Hornfischer describes the narrative in thrilling detail as Lieutenant Commander Robert W. Copeland addresses his crew on the USS Samuel B. Roberts.

The destroyer was part of the navy battle that took place on October 25, 1944.

#10. Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters

If you are a fan of “Band of Brothers” you may not know there are additional memoirs published by Dick Winters.

For fans of the original book or HBO series, Major Dick Winters is among the favorite characters.

The war hero provides more anecdotes of Easy Company, many of which were not featured in the show.

Honorable Mention: Best Military Books (Biography)

The best military books of all-time reflect different eras and conflicts.

For this reason, it’s hard to compare a memoir from WWII to an autobiography produced about a veteran from Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, all of these books are impressive and deserving of your time to read.

We divided the best military books of all-time into separate genres to highlight outstanding works in non-fiction, biographical, and fiction.

Rob V.

Military Books To Read

Military Books To Read

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The 30 Best Books About War

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Published by J.D. DiGiovanni Sep 22, 2017

For better or worse, conflict is an inherent part of human nature . So long as there have been people on this planet, we’ve been willing to kill and maim one another in order to get what we want. Over the centuries, however, society has managed to put up guards against the worst parts of ourselves by establishing and enforcing social norms. However, the few instances in which we allow ourselves to be as brutal and wicked as we truly are, is in war .

Much of the appeal of novels , essays, and reported stories on war is driven not by a morbid curiosity in conflict so much as a desire to better know who we are, what we’re capable of, and what the cost of indulging in the most base parts of ourselves truly is. There is a responsibility, in fact, for civilians to understand the cost of conflict if not personally, then at least in some broader intellectual sense. We believe that many if not all on our list of the best war books accomplishes this goal. Whether you’re interested in reading more about the strategies and battles of ancient Greece as told by Homer, or you want to get a more intimate understanding of the war that we’ve been engaged in for the past 16 years, you’ll find some great reads below.

top 10 war books

David McCullough, one of the most respected American historians alive today, lays out in fine detail the human story behind the fight for independence from Great Britain. He gives equal time to examining the decisions made by George Washington, the Royal family, and their generals on the other side of the Atlantic.

Purchase: $17

top 10 war books

A Rumor of War

Vietnam didn’t start with a bang. It crept up on the American people incrementally over a series of years until it was too big to ignore. Phillip Caputo was in the first ground combat unit to be deployed in the country back in 1965, and among the first to come home broken, confused, and wasted emotionally. His memoir about, “the things men do in war and the things war does to men” is one of the defining accounts of the United State’s defeat in Vietnam.

Purchase: $9

top 10 war books

All Quiet on the Western Front

Many Americans cite the Vietnam war as the beginning of their disillusionment with military and federal leadership. For Germany, the same had happened more than thirty years earlier during WWI. Few novels better capture the sense of hopelessness and loss that inhabited the trenches of that first World War than Erich Maria Remarque’s novel.

top 10 war books

The Art of War

Everyone from Mao Zedong to Colin Powell and Bill Belichick has sworn by this 2,500-year-old text composed by Sun Tzu. Less an insight into the experiences of war, it concerns itself more with how to win in conflict.

top 10 war books

The Big Two-Hearted River

Every list of ‘best war books’ on the internet either features Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls or A   Farwell to Arms . We are in agreement that both are fantastic, but we wanted to draw attention to a lesser-known short story instead. Hemingway’s A Big Two-Hearted River concerns itself not with battle or the experience of war, but with what comes afterward. The quiet, solemn story follows a man who comes home from WWI stricken with PTSD (though at the time there was no such term). All he knows to do is to go off on a fishing trip alone. It is a brief, sharp, and lasting story that shows Hemingway at his best.

Purchase: $21

top 10 war books

The Campaigns of Alexander

Alexander the great was one of the best military minds that ever lived. Written four hundred years after he suddenly died at the young age of 32, this account from the commander Arrian not only describes how Alexander was able to suppress rebellions and conquer vast swaths of land but how he was able to inspire so many men to follow him.

Purchase: $14

top 10 war books

More than just being a great war novel, Catch-22 may very well be one of the best books to ever be written. It follows Yossarian, a WWII bombardier who is caught in the bureaucratic insanity of his own army. His superiors continue to increase the number of missions a man has to fly in order to complete their service. Yet, as Yossarian and others try to claim insanity in order to be excused from their duty, the military deems them sane and able to fly the planes due to the very fact that they don’t want to. The book is sharp, hilarious, and an essential read for any lover of American literature.

Purchase: $16

top 10 war books

The Civil War: A Narrative

The Civil War may have occurred well over a century ago, but its reverberations are still strongly felt. This account of America’s most costly conflict by historian Shelby Foote sheds light on both the specifics of how each battle was fought and the ideology and politics that drove our country to nearly rip itself in two.

Purchase: $15

top 10 war books

The Diary of A Young Girl

War effects more than just soldiers. Innocent men and women, children, and entire families are often eaten whole by conflict. Anne Frank and her family were not immune to Nazi Germany’s genocidal violence, but the young girl’s writings about her own experience hiding in an office in Amsterdam have managed to endure. The humanity and intimacy of Frank’s writings give a more personal understanding of what was lost when Fascists systematically murdered over 6 million Jews during WWII.

Purchase: $12

top 10 war books

The Face of War

Martha Gellhorn is one of the best war reporters to have ever lived. She covered the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, reported on the rise of Hitler in Germany, and was on scene during the American invasion of Europe despite the protestations of her then-husband Ernest Hemingway (and the fact that she did not have proper credentials). Later in her life, she reported on Vietnam, conflicts in the middle east, and civil war in South America before retiring in her 80s. This collection of her writings shows her at her best, penning prose that was both cutting and full of humanity.

Purchase: $13

top 10 war books

The Forever War

This may be one of the most essential accounts of our nation’s fight against international terrorism. Written by Dexter Filkins, a reporter who covered the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and both conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, this book offers up intimate, heart-pounding accounts of all. The Forever War has a kaleidoscopic, and lyrical feel to it that forces the reader to consider not just our specific war – but war more generally.

Purchase: $10

top 10 war books

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

This history by Jack Weatherford offers an alternative, more detailed look at who Genghis Khan was as a person and how it was that he was able to command so much power. Weatherford also looks at the strategies, tactics, and weaponry Khan utilized to control a larger swath of land than the Romans ever held – and how his empire reshaped the globe.

top 10 war books

Goodbye to All That

WWI changed European politics in huge ways, but it also changed the way that English society functioned. Robert Graves’ autobiography tracks those changes from the ground level – following him from his rough upbringing and school life to his brutal time on the battlefront and ensuing unhappy marriage. It’s an unhappy story, but one told so clearly it is hard to put down.

Purchase: $23

top 10 war books

Gravity’s Rainbow

A complex, literary novel set in Europe at the tail end of WWII. The book follows a GI whose erections mysteriously cause the launching of Nazi V-2 rockets, and the ensuing quest to find out why. Gravity’s Rainbow was high-minded enough to be selected by the Pulitzer Prize jury in 1974, but wasn’t awarded the distinguished mark because the board found it, among other things, ‘obscene’. Despite their vote of no confidence, the novel is considered by many to be among the best novels ever written.

top 10 war books

The Guns of August

Along with being one of the most formative conflicts of the past 100 years, WWI is among the most complex. The Guns of August is a Pulitzer Prize-winning account that traces the tumultuous first month of the conflict starting with the funeral of Edward VII. An essential read for anyone looking to get a better grasp of one of the world’s most formative conflicts.

top 10 war books

History of the Peloponnesian War

While it can be hard to know where facts end and myth begins in old Greek narratives, this one from Thucydides may, in fact, be one of the more accurate accounts of the Peloponnesian War ever told. The Athenian General (who some refer to as the ‘father of history’ as we now know it) took on the project of telling the history of this conflict in the most factual manner he could. As a result, contemporary readers get first-hand accounts of speeches, battles, and even the state of the Athenian economy.

Purchase: $2

top 10 war books

Homage to Catalonia

One of the most formative experiences in George Orwell’s life was fighting as a private in the Spanish Civil War. He joined the anti-Stalinist communist party in order to fight fascism in Spain, but his idealism was quickly done away with as he faced both brutal violence from his enemies and betrayal by his allies. The book is a reflection on those experiences and a key to understanding Orwell’s politics.

Purchase: $7

top 10 war books

There are loads of translations of The Iliad out there, but this one from Penguin Classics is among the best. The ancient Greek poem concerns itself with a few weeks during the ten-year siege of Troy as tensions rise between allies Achilles and King Agamemnon. The result of the conflict is far from pretty, but the lyrical language used to describe it is literally timeless.

Purchase: $3

top 10 war books

Lone Survivor

Operation Redwing resulted in the largest loss of life in Navy SEAL history. Marcus Luttrell tells the story of this mission in a compelling blow by blow narrative that highlights the dedication of his fellow soldiers, the persistence of the human spirit, and the atrocity of war. A page-turner if we’ve ever seen one.

top 10 war books

The Naked and the Dead

Island hopping was a brutal but necessary strategy spearheaded by Marines during WWII. The Japanese fought for control over those strategically important Pacific outposts tooth and nail, inflicting heavy casualties on Americans troops. Mailer was among those who fought for control of these islands, and this reportorial account of what the saw and endured stands out as one of the most compelling war novels ever written.

top 10 war books

Not all that went to the Nazi death camps perished. Elie Wiesel was among those who survived the experience, and his book Night is an account of the horrors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald and a meditation on the nature of God, mortality, and guilt. A difficult read, but an essential one.

Purchase: $6

top 10 war books

None of Us Were Like This Before

What happens when soldiers trained in conventional warfare are given the task of detaining prisoners and fighting using guerrilla tactics? Joshua Phillips explores ways in which American soldiers came to use abuse and torture against prisoners of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the emotional toll that experience had on them after it was all said and done.

top 10 war books

Our Man in Havana

For those looking for Cold War action that hasn’t been penned by Tom Clancy, this novel from Graham Greene is a great pick. It follows a vacuum-cleaner salesman reluctantly turned spy for the M16. Part thriller, part satire, the book is a page-turner that’ll keep you engaged until the very last. And to top it all off, this edition has an introduction written by the late Christopher Hitchens.

top 10 war books

The Red Badge of Courage

This book originally appeared in serialized form but was then edited for release as a novel. It follows Henry Fleming, a young man eager to show his courage on the Civil War battlefield. His experience of the war immediately drains him of his pep and puts into perspective the real cost of courage. A classic American tale.

top 10 war books

Slaughterhouse Five

Despite being one of his best-known works, Kurt Vonnegut wouldn’t write Slaughterhouse-Five until the late 1960s, after Cat’s Cradle and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater . The semi-autobiographical tale is told in a nonlinear fashion (some say the form of the book mimics what it is like to suffer from PTSD – past events repeating themselves in perpetuity) as it follows POW Billy Pilgrim from a prison that survived the firebombing of Dresden to outer space, and beyond

top 10 war books

Storm of Steel

Once a worldwide bestseller, this autobiographical tale gives readers a ground-level perspective of the war through the lens of a tough, patriotic German soldier who ran away from school to head to the front. During his time in battle, he was wounded 14 times and shot through the chest. His sharp, short prose lays out his experience in plain and unpretentious terms.

top 10 war books

The Things They Carried

Events live on in our minds in curious ways. They get muddled, forgotten, and remembered so many times we don’t know what part of it is real and what is a fiction we’ve made up ourselves. Tim O’Brien’s stunning book on the men of Alpha Company who fought in Vietnam has become a part of the cannon because the way it manages to capture ways in which memory works, and how the violence of war stalks those who were brave enough to fight it.

top 10 war books

Ulysses S. Grant: Memoirs and Selected Letters

Ulysses S. Grant may be one of the most under-appreciated American figures. The last in a long line of Generals for the Union Army in the Civil War, he was an essential figure in securing victory for the United States of America. After the end of the war, he was elected president for two terms during which time he implemented Reconstruction and fought to protect citizenship for Black Americans. He was flawed in many ways, but his writings show a man who was intelligent, compassionate and compelled by a set of strongly held values. An essential read for the American History buff.

Purchase: $27

top 10 war books

War and Peace

In much the same way that long, sprawling television shows are in vogue today, the serialized novel was very much the style of storytelling in the Victorian Era. None were better at it than Leo Tolstoy. His most famous work, War and Peace , follows Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and how it impacted the lives of five different aristocratic families. The book has a baggy, hard to grasp quality about it (there are long, long passages that have nothing to do with the narrative) that defies literary convention enough to the point that Tolstoy himself didn’t regard it as a novel. If anything, that just makes the book all the more worth tackling.

Purchase: $30

top 10 war books

With the Old Breed

Despite not being published until the early 1980s, many regard this account of the invasion of Peleliu and Okinawa as one of the most accurate accounts of the invasions of those islands ever written. This may be due to the fact that E.B. Sledge kept a secret journal in his bible while on the Pacific campaign of WWII.

50 Best Books For Men

top 10 war books

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11 Best War Books of All Time To Read

Are you looking for the best war books of all time? Then, take a look at a few titles you need to add to your list!

Military history is a fascinating topic. You might be interested in the best books about the Cold War between the Soviet Union and America. Or are you interested in learning or reading about The Civil War, World War 1, or World War Two? Many readers also want to learn more about the conflict in Vietnam. Whatever your interests, readers can pick from dozens of books about historical figures like Napoleon, Hitler, and some of the leaders of the Soviet Union. If you are ready to expand your literary horizons and learn about some of the biggest wars of all time, add these selections to your reading list or pitch them at your next book club meet-up.

1. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War

2. the guns of august, by barbara w. tuchman, 3. war and peace, by leo tolstoy, 4. for whom the bell tolls, by ernest hemingway, 5. slaughterhouse-five, by kurt vonnegut, 6. night, by elie wiesel, 7. the iliad, by homer, 8. the personal memoirs of u.s. grant, by ulysses s. grant and mark twain, 9. the face of battle, by john keegan, 10. the killer angels, by michael shaara, 11. the things they carried by tim o’brien.

The Art of War , by Sun Tzu, was published thousands of years ago. It dates back to the earliest days of the Chinese Empire, but it is still read widely today by critical thinkers. It is a comprehensive military treatise that discusses the basics of war.

Even though technology has progressed significantly since it was published, it is still read by both army commanders and the average person, discussing everything from basic battle preparation to military supply and how to win a battle before it is even fought. As a result, it remains one of the most important war books even in the modern era. You might also enjoy our list of best Jack Carr books .

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The Art Of War

Best War Books: The Guns of August, by Barbara W. Tuchman

The Guns of August is a gripping book published by Barbara Tuchman. The book focuses on the first month of World War I. She writes in detail about the most important events from the opening salvos of World War I. She dives into the establishment of trench warfare, how interlocking alliances led to a massive military conflict and the consequences of the decisions made by those in charge of the great powers. Even though WWII vastly overshadows WWI, it is still one of the deadliest conflicts in human history and continues to impact the world today.

“Human beings, like plans, prove fallible in the presence of those ingredients that are missing in maneuvers – danger, death, and live ammunition.” Barbara W. Tuchman, The Guns of August

Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace , by Leo Tolstoy, is still widely revered as one of the great war novels of all time. This is a story that zooms in on the age of Napoleon. At the time, Napoleon was trying to conquer the free world. However, he had already conquered the vast majority of Western Europe and rounded up his allies to invade Russia.

Just when it looked like all might be lost for what was left of Russia, the Battle of Borodino takes place in 1812. To this day, this novel by Leo Tolstoy is one of the best accounts of the Battle of Borodino. It talks about how tens of thousands of soldiers were killed or wounded, the suffering of the civilian population, and how Russia, with the help of Mother Winter, was able to turn back the tide of the French invasion, preserving its land. Check out our guide to the best Russian authors .

“Pierre was right when he said that one must believe in the possibility of happiness in order to be happy, and I now believe in it. Let the dead bury the dead, but while I’m alive, I must live and be happy.” Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

Before Ernest Hemingway became a famous literary author, he served as an ambulance driver in The Great War. Based on his experiences at war, he wrote multiple books on the topic. One of his best is For Whom the Bell Tolls . This book focuses on Robert Jordan, a volunteer with a republican guerilla unit seeing action during the Spanish Civil War.

Jordan is trained to use dynamite and is tasked with blowing up a bridge during an attack on a major city. This book provides an inside look at what it is like to serve in a major conflict and its impact on individuals and paints a vivid picture of what life is like on the front line. Check our our guide to Hemingway’s best books .

“There will always be people who say it does not exist because they cannot have it. But I tell you it is true and that you have it and that you are lucky even if you die tomorrow.” Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Slaughterhouse-Five , by Kurt Vonnegut, is arguably his most famous book. It is a science fiction novel that is vehemently anti-war, and the goal is to paint a vivid picture of what war does to people and societies. This includes not only physical consequences but also psychological consequences as well. The book is a detailed account of Billy Pilgrim, who is captured and incarcerated by Nazi Germany toward the end of the Second World War.

Throughout the book, Vonnegut talks about Billy’s life before and after the war. The story’s central theme is that all of the characters, including Billy Pilgrim, suffer chronic, lifelong, permanent harm stemming from their military service, regardless of whether they make it out alive. It is a gripping tale, but also one that focuses on the worst aspects of war. Read our explainer of Vonnegut’s rules for writing .

“And Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes.” Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Best War Books: Night, by Elie Wiesel

Night is a powerful novel that Elie Wiesel published. The book focuses on his time in Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War. Auschwitz is arguably the most infamous concentration camp of the Holocaust, and Wiesel spent two years in Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944 and 1945, as the Allies were slowly winning the war against Germany in Europe. While Allied soldiers eventually liberated the camps, millions of people perished in Nazi concentration camps. This is a powerful example of a story that must be told, lest we forget. This is one of the best ways for someone to understand better what life was like in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. 

“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” Elie Wiesel, Night

If you want to read a classic, consider checking out The Iliad , which is widely considered one of the best epic tales of all time, let alone one of the best war books of all time. Even though the book was written thousands of years ago, it still paints a vivid picture of the adrenaline, stress, and action of combat for readers everywhere. While there have been many legends about the Fall of Troy, The Iliad zooms in on the pure anger of Achilles, what it meant to him, and the horrors of war. Homer is still widely revered as one of the greatest authors of all time, and The Iliad is one of his finest works.

“Like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men. Now the wind scatters the old leaves across the earth, the living timber bursts with the new buds and spring comes round again. And so with men: as one generation comes to life, another dies away.” Homer, The Iliad

Ulysses S. Grant fought in the Mexican-American war, led the union to victory over the Confederacy in the Civil War, and served two terms as president of the United States after Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. But then Ulysses S. Grant faced bankruptcy. He was worried about leaving his family in ruins, so he wrote his memoirs with the help of Mark Twain. This practice was far less common in the 19th century.

Even though the presidential majority of memoirs are filled with hyperbole and half-truths, that’s not the case with these memoirs. They have even been revered by some of America’s enemies, including Isoroku Yamamoto, who would go on to treasure Grant’s memoirs even as he attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. This book probably set the bar for future presidential biographies from the likes of Bush and Obama.

“There are many men who would have done better than I did under the circumstances in which I found myself. If I had never held command, if I had fallen, there were 10,000 behind who would have followed the contest to the end and never surrendered the Union.” Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain, The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

The Face of Battle by John Keegan is a great choice perfect for readers who want a detailed analysis of numerous battles, where they can learn more about how war has been waged throughout the centuries.

First, he zooms in on the Medieval Era, looking at the Battle of Agincourt. Then, he moves forward to the Battle of Waterloo, where Napoleon was famously defeated. He examines one of the biggest battles of the First World War, the battle of the Somme. This was the bloodiest battle in the history of the United Kingdom. In short, this war book is an excellent read for learning about how war changes, why it’s won and lost. 

“Rundstedt, revered throughout the German regular officer corps as its last archetypal Prussian, refused to deal with detail or to look at small-scale maps, as if the fighting itself were distasteful to him, but spent his days reading detective stories and thrice resigned his command.” John Keegan, The Face of Battle

The Battle of Gettysburg is one of the most significant battle in US military history. This was the closest the Confederacy ever got to winning the war, and The Killer Angels , by Michael Shaara, tells the story of the Battle of Gettysburg through some of its most important players. Some chapters are told from the first-person perspectives of Joshua Chamberlain, John Buford, Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, and George Pickett. This sprawling epic examines the crucial days in July of 1863 and explains to the reader how the individual choices made by these important military commanders would determine the course of not only the battle but also the war.

“There’s nothing so much like a god on earth as a General on a battlefield.” Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is a collection of interconnected short stories that explore the experiences of American soldiers in the Vietnam War. O’Brien fought in and was traumatised by this war. In his writings, he examines themes of war, death, love, and the weight of memories and emotions that soldiers carry with them,  physically and mentally.

Famously and somewhat controversially, O’Brien mixed facts from his experiences fighting with fiction. It’s a powerful, if haunting read about the effects of war on soldiers and those around them. He also wrote the popular war book If I Die in a Combat Zone . If you liked this post, check out our round-up of the best PD James books .

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PART 1: The Top 30 Greatest War Books of All Time

Having been tagged as “one of the most enduring anti-war novels of all time,” this science fiction-infused anti-war story effortlessly portrays the ludicrousness of war.

With all the devastating effects of war and the deep scars it leaves on the pages of our history, one can easily agree with the words of Edwin Starr: “war is the enemy of mankind.”

Although the horrors of war may never be perfectly recreated in words, writers all over the world have been known to draw a cavalcade of inspiration from such conflicts. Some writers focus on the bigger picture of a particular war, while others narrow it down to the struggles of a particular group or individual.

But what all of them have in common is a desire to recreate in words the horrifying experience of warfare and how it shapes people and societies.

There are millions of war novels in circulation all over the world, covering different events, times, and people. But here, spread across three articles, we highlight and briefly talk about the top 30 greatest war stories of all time  – including a play, a graphic novel, a war memoir, and biographies.

Below, in no particular order, are the first ten of thirty books military fans should read at least once in their lives.

1. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

This is a satirical war novel authored by Ben Fountain. Published in May 2012, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is Fountain’s debut novel.

The sharp satire centers on the experience of a group of veterans from the Iraq War and, specifically, on the Specialist Billy Lynn of Bravo Squad.

When Lynn returns home to his family, he struggles to reconnect with them in the face of the disturbing disconnection between the realities of the war in Iraq and what the people at home were being shown.

“A brave, compelling book that doesn’t flinch from portraying the uncomfortable realities of war,” said a writer on Short List.

The novel talks about the commercialization of war, brotherhood, and what it means to support a war when those US citizens at home barely feel the real costs of the conflict.

Earning highly positive reviews and lauded for its fluid dialogue and “pitch-perfect ear for American talk,” Fountain’s novel won several awards. An attempt to adapt the novel into a film in 2016, however, yielded a rather underwhelming result.

2. War and Peace

War and Peace , fully published in 1869, has been described as Leo Tolstoy’s finest literary achievement.

In his 1,225-page novel, Russian author Leo Tolstoy chronicles the events of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and its effect on the Tsarist society through the tales of five Russian aristocratic families.

In this exceptional piece of literature, Tolstoy attempts to blur the line between fiction and history, combining his experience in the Crimean War with a cavalcade of verifiable information from years of research he conducted.

Originally written in Russian and translated into English 30 years later, this novel enjoyed great success among the reading public.

Tolstoy became known as “the true lion of the Russian literature.”

“If the world could write by itself, it would write like Tolstoy,” said author Isaak Babel.

3. All Quiet on the Western Front

This novel is authored by Enrich Maria Remarque, a Veteran of World War I who served in the German Army. The book talks about the extreme physical and mental stress suffered by German soldiers, as well as the feeling of detachment from the civilian lifestyle which the soldiers experienced upon returning from the war.

The book was a huge success, selling over 2.5 million copies. It was translated into 22 languages within a year and a half of its release.

The novel, alongside its sequel, The Road Back, were among the books prohibited in Nazi Germany. Many of them were burned in the 1930s during the Nazi book-burning campaign.

4. Austerlitz

Austerlitz is a haunting novel of post-war Europe written by Winfried Georg Sebald. Published in 2001 as Sebald’s final novel, it deals not with the actual fighting and bloodshed of war but the far-reaching aftermath of it.

Five-year-old Jacques Austerlitz gets sent to England where he grows up under the care of foster parents.

Becoming an architectural historian several years later, he finds himself haunted by his past. The dire fate of his parents, his escape from Czechoslovakia before the outbreak of WWII in 1939, and all the gloomy memories from 50 years before are gradually unveiled in this mesmeric, melancholic masterpiece.

This novel takes you on a tour through a world of fortresses, libraries, railway stations, and concentration camps.

5. Catch 22

Authored by Joseph Heller and originally published in 1961, Catch 22 is often mentioned as being among the most noteworthy novels of the twentieth century.

The satirical novel, set in WWII, follows the life of a US Air Force B-25 bombardier stationed in the Mediterranean.

The bombardier, Captain John Yossarian, along with several others, struggles to sustain his sanity while fulfilling his duties, all the while with home on his mind.

Yossarian believes that the military is trying to send him to his untimely death, and so concocts creative ways of evading his missions.

The title of Heller’s novel has since been adopted into the English language as a synonym for “a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem.”

Perhaps that alone is enough to encourage you to get a copy.

6. Henry VI

Set during the time of King Henry VI of England, William Shakespeare’s Henry VI is a play in three parts which puts the spotlight the Wars of the Roses.

This famous conflict arose from a combination of the corrupt political practices in England at the time and the king’s inability to maintain order amongst his nobles.

The unhealthy political situation was bound to deteriorate into a full-blown armed conflict, and as two rival branches of a royal house battle for control of the throne of England, unimaginable horrors were bound to unfold.

Often grouped with Richard III to form what is called the “minor tetralogy,” this sequence of four plays would firmly establish William Shakespeare’s famed status as a playwright.

7. Slaughterhouse-Five

Written by Kurt Vonnegut in 1969, this fascinating war novel begins with the Dresden bombing of 1945 and smoothly weaves into the experiences of the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, as he journeys through time.

Eloquently told, the novel sets its focus on Billy’s experience as a prisoner of war during the Allies’ bombing of Dresden, an event which the author himself lived through as one of the captured military personnel during WWII.

8. For Whom the Bell Tolls

For Whom the Bell Tolls, authored by Ernest Hemingway and published in 1940, focuses on the Spanish Civil War, graphically describing its brutality and unfairness.

The protagonist is Robert Jordan, a young American soldier in the International Brigades. Serving as a dynamiter in a republican guerrilla unit, he gets assigned to a mission blowing up a bridge during an attack near Segovia.

It is a tale of sacrifice, heroism, and patriotism.

Along with three other novels written by Ernest Hemmingway, the novel is seen as one of his best works.

9. Birdsong

Sebastian Faulks’s fourth novel was published in 1993. It focuses on the war experiences of Stephen Wrayford as a British soldier during the Battle of Amiens in 1918. It also examines his granddaughter’s efforts at understanding Stephen’s experiences during the war.

This is one of Faulk’s most well-received works, earning a spot as the 13 th favorite book in Britain during the Big Read in 2003.

10. Gone with the Wind

Published in 1936, Margaret Mitchell’s novel is set during the days of the American Civil War. From the outset, the novel was hugely popular among American readers. In 1936 and 1937, it was the bestselling fiction in America.

Read another story from us: Propaganda Of The American Civil War – Started Years Before The Outbreak

Gone with the Wind became so popular that in a 2014 poll by Harris Insights and Analytics, it was revealed that Margaret Mitchell’s novel was America’s second favorite book, being beaten to first place by the Bible.

That completes our first list of ten out of thirty best war books.

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The Very Best War Books [Top 10 Recommended Books]

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The Very Best War Books [Top 10 Recommended Books]

Everything bad fascinates us. That is why countless beautiful books have been written about war. We give you the ten best war books below. Read along…

The best books ever written about war

We start our recommendations with the top 10 best books about War of all time. This list has been updated this year, including all the recent titles.

The updated top 10 list: the best books about war

Everything you were taught about the civil war is wrong, ask a southerner.

Lochlainn Seabrook is a pro-South writer and with this book he wants to test Northerners about what they know on American history and where they got it wrong. Facts that you weren’t aware of until now will surprise you.

The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II

When a large group of airmen end up in Yugoslavia, then occupied by the Nazis, everything is done to save them. The operation is called Halyard, and now that the information is no longer classified, this book will amaze you for the bravery and risk the operation took.

The Vietnam War: The Definitive Illustrated History

We recommend this book to anyone who is interested in reading more facts on the Vietnam War. You can watch movies or documentaries, but the eyewitnesses and photographs in ‘The Vietnam War’ will shed a different light on the subject.

Dog Company: A True Story of American Soldiers Abandoned by Their High Command

This is one of the most confronting stories on the army, an infantry commander who lives by the rules, and a situation that demands he forgets the rules for once. Will he follow orders or save the men in his company?

Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission

Have you heard of ghost soldiers? This is the story of a mission in the Philippines, where the troops had one job, and that was to save 513 prisoners of war from the camp they were being held captive in, in order to be able to return home.

On Desperate Ground: The Marines at The Reservoir, the Korean War’s Greatest Battle

What happens when you underestimate the enemy? Well, ‘On Desperate Ground’ shows you how General MacArthur got it wrong in 1950, and how this meant his men were walking right into a trap set by the Chinese army.

The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War

Oleg Gordievsky is the son of two KGB agents, and when he started working in Russian intelligence, he was eventually stationed in London. Could anyone have suspected that Oleg was secretly working for MI6? You must read this spy story by Ben Macintyre.

It Wasn’t About Slavery: Exposing the Great Lie of the Civil War

If you still think the Civil War was about ending slavery, then you should read this book and update your knowledge. Samual Mitcham states that it was all about money.

Saving Freedom: Truman, the Cold War, and the Fight for Western Civilization

President Harry Truman wanted democracy to thrive all over the world, and not just in the United States. Discover his actions to keep America on the right path, and how his views have shaped foreign policy.

Every Man a Hero: A Memoir of D-Day, the First Wave at Omaha Beach, and a World at War

Ray Lambert was one of the first to hit Omaha beach, and as a medic he saved many of his comrades from dying by taking them from the beach to a safe zone. This is Ray Lambert’s story of what happened on D-Day.

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About The Author

Ron Koster MSc

Ron Koster MSc

Thank you so much for reading the book recommendations on Top 10 Book Awards. My name is Ron - master in international research journalism - and I am appoined as editor-in-chief. Now it is your turn. Underneath, you can tell us which books also belong in this list, according to you. Give us the title and the reason why you think the book belongs there. I am reading your comment with great pleasure.

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top 10 war books

The 10 Best Books Through Time

Each fall, the editors of the Times Book Review select the best fiction and nonfiction titles of the year. Our editors read, nominate, discuss, and debate the merits of each year’s books, working together to land upon our list. The practice of editors sharing their picks of the year dates nearly back to the beginning of the Book Review in October 1896. But over the years, that list has taken many different names and forms. Now, we call this list the “Ten Best Books” and have done so since 2004. We hope you’ll enjoy, and perhaps find inspiration in, the Best Books of years past.

THE CANDY HOUSE By Jennifer Egan . CHECKOUT 19 By Claire-Louise Bennett . DEMON COPPERHEAD By Barbara Kingsolver . THE FURROWS By Namwali Serpell . TRUST By Hernan Diaz .


HOW BEAUTIFUL WE WERE By Imbolo Mbue. INTIMACIES By Katie Kitamura. THE LOVE SONGS OF W.E.B. DUBOIS By Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT THIS By Patricia Lockwood. WHEN WE CEASE TO UNDERSTAND THE WORLD By Benjamín Labatut. Translated by Adrian Nathan West.

THE COPENHAGEN TRILOGY: Childhood; Youth; Dependency By Tove Ditlevsen. Translated by Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman. HOW THE WORD IS PASSED: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America By Clint Smith . INVISIBLE CHILD: Poverty, Survival and Hope in an American City By Andrea Elliott . ON JUNETEENTH By Annette Gordon-Reed. RED COMET: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath By Heather Clark.

A CHILDREN’S BIBLE By Lydia Millet. DEACON KING KONG By James McBride. HAMNET By Maggie O’Farrell. HOMELAND ELEGIES By Ayad Akhtar. THE VANISHING HALF By Brit Bennett.

HIDDEN VALLEY ROAD By Robert Kolker. A PROMISED LAND By Barack Obama. SHAKESPEARE IN A DIVIDED AMERICA By James Shapiro. UNCANNY VALLEY By Rachel Anna Wiener. WAR By Margaret MacMillan


SAY NOTHING By Patrick Radden Keefe. THE CLUB By Leo Damrosch. THE YELLOW HOUSE By Sarah M. Broom. NO VISIBLE BRUISES By Rachel Louise Snyder. MIDNIGHT IN CHERNOBYL By Adam Higginbotham.

ASYMMETRY By Lisa Halliday. THE GREAT BELIEVERS By Rebecca Makkai. THE PERFECT NANNY By Leila Slimani. Translated by Sam Taylor. THERE THERE By Tommy Orange. WASHINGTON BLACK By Esi Edugyan.

AMERICAN PRISON: A Reporter's Undercover Journey Into the Business of Punishment By Shane Bauer. EDUCATED: A Memoir By Tara Westover. FREDERICK DOUGLASS: Prophet of Freedom By David W. Blight. HOW TO CHANGE YOUR MIND: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence By Michael Pollan . SMALL FRY: A Memoir By Lisa Brennan-Jobs.

AUTUMN By Ali Smith. EXIT WEST By Mohsin Hamid. PACHINKO By Min Jin Lee. THE POWER By Naomi Alderman. SING, UNBURIED, SING By Jesmyn Ward.

THE EVOLUTION OF BEAUTY: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World — and Us By Richard O. Prum. GRANT By Ron Chernow. LOCKING UP OUR OWN: Crime and Punishment in Black America By James Forman Jr. PRAIRIE FIRES: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder By Caroline Fraser. PRIESTDADDY By Patricia Lockwood.

THE ASSOCIATION OF SMALL BOMBS By Karan Mahajan. THE NORTH WATER By Ian McGuire. THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD By Colson Whitehead. THE VEGETARIAN By Han Kang. Translated by Deborah Smith. WAR AND TURPENTINE By Stefan Hertmans. Translated by David McKay.

AT THE EXISTENTIALIST CAFÉ: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails By Sarah Bakewell. DARK MONEY: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Righ t By Jane Mayer. EVICTED: Poverty and Profit in the American City By Matthew Desmond. IN THE DARKROOM By Susan Faludi. THE RETURN: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between By Hisham Matar.

THE DOOR By Magda Szabo. Translated by Len Rix. A MANUAL FOR CLEANING WOMEN: Selected Stories By Lucia Berlin. Edited by Stephen Emerson. OUTLINE By Rachel Cusk. THE SELLOUT By Paul Beatty. T HE STORY OF THE LOST CHILD: Book 4, The Neapolitan Novels: “Maturity, Old Age ” By Elena Ferrante. Translated by Ann Goldstein.

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME By Ta-Nehisi Coates. EMPIRE OF COTTON: A Global History By Sven Beckert . H IS FOR HAWK By Helen Macdonald. THE INVENTION OF NATURE: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World By Andrea Wulf. ONE OF US: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway By Asne Seierstad. Translated by Sarah Death.


CAN’T WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE PLEASANT? By Roz Chast. ON IMMUNITY: An Inoculation By Eula Biss. PENELOPE FITZGERALD: A Life By Hermione Lee. THE SIXTH EXTINCTION: An Unnatural History By Elizabeth Kolbert. THIRTEEN DAYS IN SEPTEMBER: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David By Lawrence Wright.

AMERICANAH By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. THE FLAMETHROWERS By Rachel Kushner. THE GOLDFINCH By Donna Tartt. LIFE AFTER LIFE By Kate Atkinson. TENTH OF DECEMBER: Stories By George Saunders.

AFTER THE MUSIC STOPPED: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead By Alan S. Blinder. DAYS OF FIRE: Bush and Cheney in the White House By Peter Baker. FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital By Sheri Fink. THE SLEEPWALKERS: How Europe Went to War in 1914 By Christopher Clark. WAVE By Sonali Deraniyagala.

BRING UP THE BODIES By Hilary Mantel. BUILDING STORIES By Chris Ware. A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING By Dave Eggers. NW By Zadie Smith. THE YELLOW BIRDS By Kevin Powers.

BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity By Katherine Boo. FAR FROM THE TREE: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity By Andrew Solomon. THE PASSAGE OF POWER: The Years of Lyndon Johnson By Robert A. Caro. THE PATRIARCH: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy By David Nasaw. WHY DOES THE WORLD EXIST? An Existential Detective Story By Jim Holt.

THE ART OF FIELDING By Chad Harbach . 11/22/63 By Stephen King . SWAMPLANDIA! By Karen Russell . TEN THOUSAND SAINTS By Eleanor Henderson. THE TIGER’S WIFE By Téa Obreht.

ARGUABLY: Essays By Christopher Hitchens . THE BOY IN THE MOON: A Father’s Journey to Understand His Extraordinary Son By Ian Brown . MALCOLM X: A Life of Reinvention By Manning Marable . THINKING, FAST AND SLOW By Daniel Kahneman. A WORLD ON FIRE:Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War By Amanda Foreman.

top 10 war books

FREEDOM By Jonathan Franzen. THE NEW YORKER STORIES By Ann Beattie. ROOM By Emma Donoghue. SELECTED STORIES By William Trevor. A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD By Jennifer Egan.

APOLLO’S ANGELS: A History of Ballet By Jennifer Homans. CLEOPATRA: A Life By Stacy Schiff. THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES: A Biography of Cancer By Siddhartha Mukherjee. FINISHING THE HAT: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) With Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, ­Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes By Stephen Sondheim. THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration By Isabel Wilkerson.

BOTH WAYS IS THE ONLY WAY I WANT IT By Maile Meloy. CHRONIC CITY By Jonathan Lethem. A GATE AT THE STAIRS By Lorrie Moore. HALF BROKE HORSES: A True-Life Novel By Jeannette Walls. A SHORT HISTORY OF WOMEN By Kate Walbert.

THE AGE OF WONDER: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science By Richard Holmes. THE GOOD SOLDIERS By David Finkel. LIT: A Memoir By Mary Karr. LORDS OF FINANCE: The Bankers Who Broke the World By Liaquat Ahamed . RAYMOND CARVER: A Writer’s Life By Carol Sklenicka

DANGEROUS LAUGHTER: Thirteen Stories By Steven Millhauser . A MERCY By Toni Morrison . NETHERLAND By Joseph O’Neill. 2666 By Roberto Bolaño. Translated by Natasha Wimmer. UNACCUSTOMED EARTH By Jhumpa Lahiri.

THE DARK SIDE: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals By Jane Mayer. THE FOREVER WAR By Dexter Filkins. NOTHING TO BE FRIGHTENED OF By Julian Barnes. THIS REPUBLIC OF SUFFERING:Death and the American Civil War By Drew Gilpin Faust. THE WORLD IS WHAT IT IS: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul By Patrick French.

MAN GONE DOWN By Michael Thomas. OUT STEALING HORSES By Per Petterson. Translated by Anne Born. THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES By Roberto Bolaño. Translated by Natasha Wimmer. THEN WE CAME TO THE END By Joshua Ferris. TREE OF SMOKE By Denis Johnson.

IMPERIAL LIFE IN THE EMERALD CITY: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone. By Rajiv Chandrasekaran . LITTLE HEATHENS: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression. By Mildred Armstrong Kalish . THE NINE: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. By Jeffrey Toobin . THE ORDEAL OF ELIZABETH MARSH: A Woman in World History. By Linda Colley. THE REST IS NOISE: Listening to the Twentieth Century By Alex Ross.


FALLING THROUGH THE EARTH: A Memoir By Danielle Trussoni. THE LOOMING TOWER: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 By Lawrence Wright. MAYFLOWER: A Story of Courage, Community, and War By Nathaniel Philbrick. THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA: A Natural History of Four Meals By Michael Pollan. THE PLACES IN BETWEEN By Rory Stewart.

KAFKA ON THE SHORE By Haruki Murakami. ON BEAUTY By Zadie Smith. PREP By Curtis Sittenfeld. SATURDAY By Ian McEwan. VERONICA By Mary Gaitskill.

THE ASSASSINS’ GATE: America in Iraq By George Packer. DE KOONING:An American Master By Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan. THE LOST PAINTING By Jonathan Harr. POSTWAR: A History of Europe Since 1945 By Tony Judt. THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING By Joan Didion.

GILEAD By Marilynne Robinson. THE MASTER By Colm Toibin. THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA By Philip Roth. RUNAWAY By Alice Munro. SNOW By Orhan Pamuk. WAR TRASH By Ha Jin.

ALEXANDER HAMILTON By Ron Chernow. CHRONICLES: Volume One By Bob Dylan. WASHINGTON’S CROSSING By David Hackett Fischer. WILL IN THE WORLD: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare By Stephen Greenblatt.

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10 War Books That Enlighten, Move, and Educate Their Readers

These books examine the burdens of battle, from the Revolutionary War to modern day Iraq.

best war books feature

War is a complex and ever-changing staple of history. Nearly 250 years have passed since the birth of America and the tactics and weapons of war have changed to an almost incomparable degree since 1776. 

But wars aren’t fought with weapons alone. They’re fought and won with people—real human beings who have to carry the sacrifices and burdens of combat on their shoulders. And every battle has two sides.

In these ten masterfully told books, authors and historians give insightful perspectives on everything from the Revolutionary War to post-9/11 conflicts. 

Utilizing in-depth research and firsthand accounts, these books deliver a chillingly grounded and human look at the trials and triumphs of war. These are the war books that have moved us, changed the way we view conflicts, and left us changed.

"The Good War"

"The Good War"

By Studs Terkel

This winner of the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction is a compiled oral history of World War II . Author Studs Terkel conducted a series interviews across the globe with people who had been involved with the war in a variety of ways, creating a picture of the events leading up to, through, and after the great conflict. 

From the apprentice of a pipe fitter at Pearl Harbor to a crew member aboard the plane that dropped Nagasaki’s atomic bomb, “The Good War” offers insightful and moving perspectives from every imaginable experience.

Related: 21 Essential World War II Books That Examine Every Angle of the Conflict

We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young

We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young

By Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway

In November of 1965, the First Battalion, Seventh Cavalry—commanded by Lt. Col. Harold Moore—touched down in the la Drang Valley of Vietnam . Instantly, thousands of enemy soldiers closed in around them. In one of the first major engagements between the People’s Army of Vietnam and American forces, Lt. Col. Moore and his men fought against incredible odds, persevering with great sacrifice and bravery.

In this book written by now- Lieutenant General Hal Moore and journalist Joseph L. Galloway, a stunningly visceral and catastrophic picture of the Vietnam War is crafted by the authors’ personal experiences and hundreds of interviews from soldiers involved in the conflict. Including the perspective of even the North Vietnamese commanders, Moore and Galloway dive deep into the incredible ordeal of war.

U. S. Grant: The Civil War Years

U. S. Grant: The Civil War Years

By Bruce Catton

Acclaimed historian Bruce Catton’s duology consists of two New York Times bestsellers: Grant Moves South and Grant Takes Command . These books are crafted around military communiqués, eyewitness accounts, and personal writings of Ulysses S. Grant himself. This in-depth Civil War book about one of the greatest Union generals sets Grant apart from the egotistic and ineffectual commanders of the war’s early days. From Grant’s often overlooked command over the Twenty-First Illinois Volunteer Infantry through his triumph in forcing Robert E. Lee to surrender at Appomattox, this collection displays the unmatched strategic mind which brought the North to victory.

Want more military history? Sign up for The Archive 's newsletter to dig deeper into history’s most fascinating cases.

Sherman's March

Sherman's March

By Burke Davis

In this account of the Civil War’s brutal tipping point, author Burke Davis builds upon hundreds of eyewitness accounts of Union General William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea”. 

Mere days after President Lincoln’s 1864 reelection, Sherman set out to “make Georgia howl”. He and his 65,000 troops wrought destruction through Atlanta, brought Savannah to its knees, and cut a path of devastation through the Carolinas on their way to Virginia. 

In Sherman’s March , Davis gives readers a look at the harsh campaign through the eyes of the Union soldiers marching and the Confederate citizens and soldiers that stood in their way.

Related: 10 Civil War Battles That Shaped America's Bloodiest Conflict

In Mortal Combat

In Mortal Combat

By John Toland

Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Toland delivers a comprehensive and stunning look at the Korean War . Utilizing not only thorough research and previously undisclosed Chinese records, Toland also intersperses his accumulated report with interviews from American soldiers and North Korean, South Korean, and Chinese combatants. 

This work explores everything from Chairman Mao’s role in the conflict, to the hardships of prisoners of war, to American brutality and biological warfare. No perspective is left unturned in this captivating book, complete with photographs to bring the memory of the war to life.

the guns of august barbara w. tuchman best war books

The Guns of August

By Barbara W. Tuchman

This account of World War I won the Pulitzer Prize, and was selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time. Author and historian Barbara W. Tuchman paints a vivid picture of the first month of the war. 

Tuchman starts with Edward VII’s funeral, and outlines each choice and action that drew all sides closer to the unavoidable and dramatic conflict they had been plotting for years. To dive deeper into Tuchman’s artful picture of World War I, check out her other books, The Proud Tower and The Zimmerman Telegram .

the guns of august barbara w. tuchman best war books

By David McCullough

Based on research from both American and British archives, this riveting book tells the story of the year America was born into independence, from the perspective of both sides of the Revolutionary War. On one side, there was General George Washington and his rough-around-the-edges soldiers—some of them mere boys—fighting desperately to make the words in the Declaration of Independence mean something. 

On the other side, there was British commander William Howe and his strictly disciplined redcoats, fighting bravely to serve their king. Author David McCullough brings humanity, excitement, and truth to this story of adversaries across the Atlantic.

1776 david mccullough best war books

The Forever War

By Dexter Filkins

New York Times foreign correspondent Dexter Filkins crafts a look at the American military struggle against Islamic fundamentalism, and dives even deeper into a devastating examination of that struggle’s flesh and blood price. 

From the 1990 rise of the Taliban, through the attack of 9/11 to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Filkins’ account is compelling and illuminating. His work is not merely a screenshot of the post-9/11 conflicts, but an exploration of the heart of war.

the forever war dexter filkins best war books

Generation Kill

By Evan Wright

Shortly after the tragedy of 9/11, the 23 Marines of the First Recon Battalion—or the “First Suicide Battalion”—were dispatched to Iraq to head the fight against Saddam’s fiercest resistance. But this was the first generation sent into open-ended combat since Vietnam, and this was a group of soldiers raised in a culture incomparable to those of past wars. 

These soldiers had a confident swagger and a headstrong bravery, yet nothing could prepare them for the physical and emotional toll that was ahead of them. Generation Kill collects firsthand accounts from these incredible men, bringing an astonishing humor, horror, brutality, and humanity to the story of the soldiers of the Iraq war.

This book is based on Wright’s story in Rolling Stone, and went on to inspire the HBO mini-series of the same name .

best war books

Flags of Our Fathers

By James Bradley

In early 1945, American Marines entered the Iwo Jima surf, besieged by gun and mortar fire. As men fell around them, six soldiers climb atop the island’s highest peak to raise a flag—resulting in one of the most famous military pictures of all time. 

Three of the men depicted died in battle, and upon returning home to be lauded as heroes, two of them crumbled under the weight of survivor’s guilt and the horrors of war. The sixth man was John Bradley, who never displayed the famous photograph, and never spoke a word of his time at war to his family.

After his death at 70, Bradley's family found a box of his old pictures and letters detailing his harrowing time at war. In this book, Bradley's son James and author Ron Powers unravel a chronicle of the true and complex legacies of the six men who made history.

Related: 9 Outstanding Audiobooks for Every Kind of History Buff

flags of our fathers james bradley best war books

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Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Updated March 25, 2020 by Daniel Imperiale

The 10 Best War History Books

This wiki has been updated 29 times since it was first published in September of 2015. As the philosopher, essayist, and poet George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." When it comes to the subject of armed conflicts, we would be wise to take heed. Our selection of war history books is fascinating, enlightening, and even entertaining, and will be equally of interest to students, historians, and those wishing to learn from days gone by. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.

video play icon

This wiki has been updated 29 times since it was first published in September of 2015. As the philosopher, essayist, and poet George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." When it comes to the subject of armed conflicts, we would be wise to take heed. Our selection of war history books is fascinating, enlightening, and even entertaining, and will be equally of interest to students, historians, and those wishing to learn from days gone by. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.

WWII: The Definitive Visual History

1. WWII: The Definitive Visual History

No collection would be complete without a tome on the conflict that helped to shape the modern world. WWII: The Definitive Visual History (appx. $21) is a comprehensive and authoritative manual on its politics, events, and lasting effects.

The Guns of August

2. The Guns of August

World War I doesn't get nearly as much attention as its successor. For the definitive look at the origins of this dark time in our past, try The Guns of August (around $12) by Barbara Tuchman, which takes you deep into the first month of combat.

Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy 1945-1975

3. Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy 1945-1975

Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy 1945-1975 (about $23) by Max Hastings provides an in-depth look at the struggles in southeast Asia that claimed the blood, treasure, and dignity of France and the United States of America over a period of 30 years.

Editor's Notes

What makes a good war book is somewhat subjective, but I believe it should be focused on a particular conflict and provide a significant amount of political backstory without getting so bogged down in the people and policies behind the scenes that the war itself seems to fade into the background. That's why we cut 1776 by David McCullough, as it was a bit too focused on the political moment and less so on the fight that allowed for it. We also sent packing A History of Warfare and The War That Forged a Nation, with the former leaving for its meandering quality and the latter for its redundancy — there are a lot of wars to choose from, and we already have a superior Civil War book on our list in The Civil War: A Visual History .

Of course, the face of war as we know it has been changing dramatically since WWII, first with the Cold War and Vietnam, and today in cyber and covert warfare, and in proxy battles between superpowers. That's why it was so important to add Dirty Wars: and The Perfect Weapon: to our list, as both examine the fluctuating landscape of war, from CIA black sites that defy the Geneva Conventions to government sponsored hacks into democratic elections.

The Perfect Weapon:

4. The Perfect Weapon:

David E. Sanger's "The Perfect Weapon: (appx. $9) War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age" offers a sobering glimpse into the modern and future battlefield, existing almost entirely on the internet where hackers and government agents are currently wreaking havoc on their enemies.

Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield

5. Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield

Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield (around $13) by Jeremy Scahill traces a clear line from the attacks on September 11, 2001 through the political machinations that allowed the United States to conduct covert warfare across the globe.

The Cold War: A New History

6. The Cold War: A New History

John Lewis Gaddis' The Cold War: A New History (about $10) is an excellent, if abridged, accounting of great battles fought by proxy and politics. It draws on many newly available resources and archives to tell not just what happened, but why.

History of the Peloponnesian War

7. History of the Peloponnesian War

Thucydides wrote his History of the Peloponnesian War (appx. $11) 400 years before the common era began, yet still it ranks as one of the all-time best accounts of warfare. It tells of the battles between Athens and Sparta that ravaged the Greek Empire for nearly three decades.

The Soul of Battle

8. The Soul of Battle

The Soul of Battle (around $12) by Victor Davis Hanson examines three great generals who led inexperienced and untrained soldiers to triumph over superior forces by way of brilliant military strategies. It also looks at how moral confidence can play a big part in victory or defeat.

The Crusades

9. The Crusades

The Crusades (around $14) by Thomas Asbridge covers the events from 1095 to 1291 in chronological order, going over everything from Islam's nascency to its arrival on the scene as a military power, with equal weight given to both sides.

The Civil War: A Visual History

10. The Civil War: A Visual History

The Civil War: A Visual History (appx. $22) was produced in conjunction with the Smithsonian to ensure the highest level of accuracy. It includes comprehensive timelines and intimate first-person accounts from soldiers and civilians, as well as key political and military leaders.

On Reading On War

The casual military history enthusiast will enjoy picking at a book with a bit of information on lots of topics.

Few if any subjects garner the same level of interest as warfare. Battle draws out the most vivid emotions known to mankind — both the lowest savagery and most gallant heroics — and makes for undeniably compelling stories on the personal level. War also shapes the course of history in less time and with more profound results than any other human endeavor, with every great conflict forever changing the people, landscape, and destiny of all evenly remotely involved in the fighting. Warfare has been the catalyst for many of the greatest inventions, the inspiration for countless works of art, and the proving ground for some of history's most famous and influential figures.

It is little wonder, then, that so many thousands of books have been written about human beings in conflict with one another. Indeed some the very foundational books of human literature, such as Homer's Illiad , have at their center people engaged in epic warfare. From Sun Tzu 's The Art of War , written more than 400 years before the Common Era, to Carl von Clausewitz 's On War , written shortly after the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century, authors have sought to set down on paper their deepest insights into the nature of war and to help make sense of its place in life.

The modern reader has at his or her disposal a wealth of books on war history, theory, and tactics that ancient and classical scholars would be thrilled to see. Today, reading up on war can easily take the shape of deep scholarship or casual recreation, and few conflicts or notable soldiers have failed to receive at least some coverage in a book or two. In short, no matter how obscure and specific or broad and general your interest in subjects martial may be, you will readily find a war history book that suits your preferences.

Broadly speaking, there are three categories of war history book. First, there is the survey-style of book that might focus on a number of battles related to one another by geography, chronology, or common attributes. Second, there is the book (or series of books) about a given conflict — a definitive account of the battle of Agincourt or a study of the whole of the Boer War , for two examples. Finally, there is the biographical approach to military history, wherein an author focuses on a person (or a group) and tells the tale of a conflict through the lens of key players.

The newcomer to war history books may do best to start with the latter type of book, as a personal history can often make a relatively unknown topic more compelling and easier to penetrate. The casual military history enthusiast will enjoy picking at a book with a bit of information on lots of topics. The true scholar of warfare will be more than ready to delve deeply into a tome focused on a given battle or wider war, undaunted by detail and able to bring their own prior knowledge along as context.

War History Books for General Interest Reading

Even warfare, that most vivid, gripping subject, can prove dull when it is written of by an author who fails to create compelling prose, or when a book is in the hands of someone who simply lacks an innate interest in the topic. But as understanding certain aspects of war history can at time be critical — interest in and acumen for the subject notwithstanding — it's important to find books that make military history easily accessible.

The student plodding his way through an American history class and in desperate need of a resource to bolster his insipid textbook might wisely treat himself to a book packed with pictures that can help bring the Civil War to life, for example. A scholar trying to make sense the political climate of the post-9/11 world might be well-served by a book covering the decades of the Cold War that set the tenor for international relations in the current era. Looking for books that take a broad perspective on a major topic (the Civil War or Cold War, e.g.) can help provide context beyond the battlefield without the need for bogging down in details like troop movements and supply line issues.

And anyone who just needs to know a little more about a certain period of history can read a few pages on the major battles of the era for added context and clarity. One need not become a military historian to appreciate that military matters impact everything else about the politics and culture of a time and place.

The War History Book for Deeper Learning

Even the best-written account of a war or battle can only do so much to provide greater context for the events that directly contributed to the conflict, those that were affected by it in its own time, and of the ramifications left by the fighting. A deep understanding of and appreciation for military history writ large, therefore, requires years of reading and study to develop.

For example, a person fascinated with World War I would do herself a great service by first reading up on the warfare of the 19th century.

But few of us have the time to start our martial studies with the ancient writings of Thucydides , to read next the works of Livy, to eventually move on to William of Tyre, and so forth. Rather the scholar of war history with a realistic appreciation of how much free time and energy she really has would be wise to select a distinct period of history and then study the conflicts within it in chronological order.

For example, a person fascinated with World War I would do herself a great service by first reading up on the warfare of the 19th century. The wars of the post-Napoleonic era, including the Crimean War and the Franco-Prussian War , perhaps most notably, did so much to shape the course of European history in the 1800s that their impact on the war that would shape the 1900s cannot be denied.

Scholars of American military history should start not with the Revolutionary War , but rather with the Seven Years' War (a.k.a. the French and Indian War), as that conflict had direct and profound repercussions on the coming revolution. So too can the student of American Civil War learn much about the tactics used and the men who served in that wretched conflagration learn much from studying the Mexican American War that preceded it by less than two decades and that was a proving ground for many of its major players.

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Top 10 WWII Books of 2020 | Video Review

Daniel Imperiale holds a bachelor’s degree in writing, and proudly fled his graduate program in poetry to pursue a quiet life at a remote Alaskan fishery. After returning to the contiguous states, he took up a position as an editor and photographer of the prestigious geek culture magazine “Unwinnable” before turning his attention to the field of health and wellness. In recent years, he has worked extensively in film and music production, making him something of a know-it-all when it comes to camera equipment, musical instruments, recording devices, and other audio-visual hardware. Daniel’s recent obsessions include horology (making him a pro when it comes to all things timekeeping) and Uranium mining and enrichment (which hasn’t proven useful just yet).

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10 Best World War 2 Books

There's a lot to cover here.

Nat Wassell

When it comes to the very best World War 2 books, there are so many options available that it’s hard to know where to start. No other historical period seems to capture our interest more, or have so many volumes written about it year on year, except for maybe the reign of the Tudors. But World War 2 is so relatively recent, and was so very destructive, that it’s no wonder we’re still trying to make sense of it.

The number of books available can be quite overwhelming, though, so we’ve narrowed it down to a list of what we think are ten of the best World War 2 books.

The Best World War 2 Books

1. armageddon: the battle for germany 1944-1945 – max hastings.

Armageddon The Battle For Germany 1944-1945

Max Hastings is a very reliable military historian, having written over twenty books mostly about historical conflicts. His research is always impeccable, and there’s very little sentimentality over the countries who came out of the wars as victors; he points out their flaws and mistakes as often as he does the losing sides.

He’s written extensively about WW2 and if you like this book then you should check out what else he has to offer. But The Battle For Germany, with a very narrow focus on the last eight months of the war in Europe, specifically along the German border, is a detailed and fascinating read.

2. The Destruction Of The European Jews – Raul Hilberg

The Destruction Of The European Jews

Raul Hilberg’s The Destruction of The European Jews was first published in 1961, but it has gone through re-prints since then and is acknowledged by many as the key work on the plight of European Jews – even now, 60 years after it was written. It is certainly one of the best World War 2 books ever written.

Hilberg helped shape the discipline of Holocaust Studies with this book; beginning in 1933 with Hitler’s rise to power and covering the twelve years till the end of the war, Hilberg dissects how Germany and its territories went about this annihilation. He highlights just how many people – from administrators and civil servants all the way up to the top of the military were involved in the crime.

3. Enemy At The Gates: The Battle For Stalingrad – William Craig

Enemy At The Gates The Battle For Stalingrad

You might have seen the film Enemy At The Gates, starring Jude Law and Rachel Weisz, but if you didn’t know there was a book behind the film, then now’s a good time to check it out. The siege of Stalingrad from 1942-1943 was one of the most horrific episodes of World War 2, and this book is an unflinching account of that time.

The best World War 2 books are the ones that don’t glorify the horrors of war, and Enemy At The Gates is exactly that book. It follows the lives of people on both sides, Russian and German, and is unflinching in detailing a dying city.

4. Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes, at Home and at War – Linda Hervieux

Forgotten The Untold Story of D-Day's Black Heroes, at Home and at War

There has been a move in recent years, and quite rightly so, towards highlighting the roles that people of colour played in the history books – especially when it comes to the pervading myth that the First and Second World Wars were fought by exclusively white Europeans and Americans. Like the seminal work Band of Brothers, Forgotten focuses on a single group of soldiers – in this case the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, a unit of exclusively black African-Americans.

Linda Hervieux draws on military records and interviews with the surviving members of the unit to tell their story, and how the freedoms they discovered for themselves in Europe helped to kickstart the Civil Rights Movement back home. In a list of the best World War 2 books, volumes that break new ground like this must be included.

5. Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific – Robert Leckie

Helmet for My Pillow From Parris Island to the Pacific

Helmet for My Pillow is an iconic work of World War 2 literature. First published in 1957, it is still one of the best first-person accounts of the war ever written, from the point of view of an ordinary soldier thrust into the midst of war. Leckie signed up for the Marines soon after Pearl Harbour in 1942, and got all the way to the war in the Pacific, where the fighting was some of the most intense.

Leckie writes very simply, but don’t be deceived by how easy his work is to read. In his words you find an unflinching, unsentimental and brutally honest account of a war won only by grasping desperately for every last inch of ground given to you.

6. Hiroshima – John Hersey

Hiroshima – John Hersey

It is impossible to have a list of the best World War 2 books and not include a volume on Hiroshima, the tragic city destroyed by the very first use of the atom bomb in the last gasps of the war in the Pacific. Of all the crimes committed in World War 2, and there were many, what happened in Hiroshima is up there as easily one of the worst. 100,000 civilians died on the day the bomb dropped in August 1945, and the world was never the same again.

John Hersey wrote his account of Hiroshima and what came after just a year after the bomb fell. He followed six men and women struggling to survive, and forty years after the book was published, Hersey revisited the same people and added another chapter about the horrific long-term effects of the bomb.

7. Night – Elie Wiesel

Night – Elie Wiesel

Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Elie Wiesel’s Night tells his own very personal story, that of a Jewish boy imprisoned in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald camps, struggling to survive alongside his ailing father. Night is a memoir, no doubt about that, but an artistic one for sure; his prose is lyrical and sometimes dreamlike, as he tries to render an image in the mind of the reader.

Any book that tells any story about the Holocaust is bound to be a difficult read, and Night is no exception. Aside from the horrors of life in the camps, Weisel is unflinching in describing his own guilt as he watches the deterioration of his father’s health, and wishes that he could be free of the burden. In a list of best World War 2 books, Night is the one that you have to read.

8. The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II – Iris Chang

The Rape of Nanking The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II

The Second Sino-Japanese War started in 1937, two years before the official start of World War 2. But the fighting between China and Japan was soon engulfed by what was happening on the larger world stage, as China joined the Allies and Japan the Axis Powers. But the war had already begun for these two nations, and in December 1937, one of the greatest atrocities of the war was committed when Japanese forces invaded the Chinese capital of Nanking and massacred more than 300,000 civilians in six weeks.

What happened in Nanking is an emotionally charged horror story, and readers should know that before taking on this book. Chang uses survivor accounts to describe a city under siege, where people were butchered and raped for entertainment. She tells stories from Chinese and Japanese witnesses, as well as Westerners who happened to be in the city, so the accounts are fairly balanced. There is nothing sensational about this book – and that is perhaps one of the most disturbing things about it.

9. Soldiers of Empire: Indian and British Armies in World War II – Tarak Barkawi

Soldiers of Empire Indian and British Armies in World War II

Just as with Linda Hervieux’s account of African-American servicemen and their forgotten contribution to the war effort, Tarak Barkawi sets out to do the same for the thousands and thousands of men from across the Empire who served in the British Army. You only need to look at the unfounded criticism surrounding the inclusion of Sikh soldiers in the film 1917 to understand why books like Barkawi’s are so necessary to the study of twentieth century history.

Barkawi focuses on the British Indian Army and their particular contribution in the Burma campaign, but he goes beyond the usual narrative account to discuss how soldiers are made and why they fight, through the lens of post-colonialism. This is a very interesting book that goes places you might not expect.

10. The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II – Svetlana Alexievich

The Unwomanly Face of War An Oral History of Women in World War II

Another group of people often shunned in the books about World War 2 are women, especially when it comes to the military history side of things. But women did participate directly in the war, filling a number of roles from doctors and nurses to machine-gunners and snipers. Alexievich’s Nobel Prize winning book tells the story of women in the Soviet Union and the crucial parts they played in the war.

Alexievich made an epic journey through the country to collect her stories, visiting over 100 towns and villages to meet the women there. They told her about war on the home front and the front line, how their efforts were largely ignored. This is one of the best World War 2 books ever written, and it is entirely due to Alexievich’s determination that the sacrifices these women made will not be forgotten.

READ NEXT : 10 Best American History Books 

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10 notable world war ii books of 2021.

Must-reads of 2021 picked by historians and scholars in the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy. 

top 10 war books

Drunk on Genocide: Alcohol and Mass Murder in Nazi Germany

by Edward B Westermann

top 10 war books

Ed Westermann is a highly prolific scholar and author on the history of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. His latest, Drunk on Genocide , explores the intersection between alcohol, images of masculinity, and German atrocity on the Eastern Front. He is struck by the number of times that alcohol figures in the mass murder of Jewish victims. The schnapps flowed freely before, during, and after the roundups and shootings, and some of the grisly scenes of sadism and torture carried out by drunken SS-men or German soldiers simply beggar the imagination. Of course, we might say that another kind of intoxication is at work here, with Hitler and the German people alike being drunk on visions of dominance, empire, and racial superiority.    The book is perhaps best read in concert with Norman Ohler’s Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich . On one level, it’s comforting to hear that men have to be in a drunken stupor to commit horrific crimes like the Holocaust. We should also realize, however, that we live in a world in which drugs and alcohol are available everywhere, in the tendency to hate all too common.

Recommendation by Rob Citino, PhD Samuel Zemurray Stone Senior Historian 

by Stephanie D Hinnershitz

top 10 war books

This book by my friend and colleague Stephanie Hinnershitz is simply one of the best and most important books of 2021. Her research yields a number of vital findings, but two stand out here. First, she clarifies that what happened to the roughly 120,000 Japanese Americans impacted by Executive Order 9066 was “incarceration,” not “internment”—the traditional, yet quite problematic, term more familiar to us. Second, she demonstrates how the system of relocation and incarceration devised by the American state for Japanese Americans depended on what she calls “coerced labor.” Japanese American Incarceration  will be the reference point for future discussions of this crucial subject in the history of the United States and World War II.  

Recommendation by Jason Dawsey, PhD Research Historian  

by Enzo Traverso

top 10 war books

Cornell University intellectual historian Enzo Traverso has produced a remarkable series of studies of modern European politics and social thought. Revolution: An Intellectual History , the most recent addition to this body of work, focuses on “revolution for better or worse” in Europe since the French Revolution (with selective attention to revolutions outside of the European continent). Using Walter Benjamin’s notion of “dialectical images,” Traverso clearly sympathizes with the emancipatory aspects of modern revolutions (which he distinguishes from rebellions), while not romanticizing them. Richly illustrated, Traverso’s book is a demanding, yet quite rewarding exploration of the iconography, experience, and conceptualization of revolution. The book will and should elicit lengthy commentary and debate on a subject that is far from exhausted.  

Recommendation by Jason Dawsey, PhD Research Historian

The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell

top 10 war books

Crafted as part of his Revisionist History  podcast, Malcolm Gladwell’s The Bomber Mafia  provides a deeply provocative exploration into the 1945 fire-bombing of Tokyo. In so doing, Gladwell exposes a broader audience to strategic bombing, wartime decision-making, and the events leading up to the end of World War II that have long been topics of debate among historians. The book is a quick read, but the lengthier quotations are most effective in the podcast. 

Leaders, their ideas, and their character are central to Gladwell’s story, as are the moral implications of wartime decisions. In addition to the inventors and chemists that played a role in US efforts to hasten the end of the war, the treatment of General Curtis LeMay and his predecessor Haywood Hansell, central figures in the story, are particularly insightful. Gladwell’s insights into the cognitive dissonance of what other American senior leaders, such as Secretary of War Henry Stimson or General Joseph Stilwell, understood LeMay was doing to Japanese cities and civilian populations are particularly perceptive. 

Recommendation by Michael Bell, PhD Executive Director, Institute for the Study of War and Democracy  

Island Infernos: The US Army’s Pacific War Odyssey, 1944 by John C McManus

top 10 war books

John C. McManus’s Island Infernos  is the second installment of a trilogy detailing US Army operations in the Pacific in 1944 (the preceding work won the Gilder Lehrman Prize for Military History). Although not the author’s main objective, the series acts as something of a historical corrective. Popular memory suggests the Marine Corps stood alone against Japanese forces, fighting their way across numerous remote islands. McManus shows the extent to which the Army also was responsible for the American victory in the Pacific. In 1944, a make-or-break year for Allied forces against Japan, soldiers engaged in intense amphibious operations while support forces managed a massive logistical effort across almost a third of the globe’s surface. Any reader interested in a fuller picture of the Pacific War should pick up McManus’s two volumes. His attention to detail, archival research, and mastery of the literature is peerless. 

Recommendation by Adam Givens, PhD DPAA Research Partner Fellow  

When France Fell: The Vichy Crisis and the Fate of the Anglo-American Alliance by Michael S Neiberg

top 10 war books

Was America’s partnership with Vichy France a necessary evil to stave off further Nazi encroachment in Europe and beyond, or a desperate and panicked diplomatic move undertaken by US policy makers who realized in 1940 how underprepared the nation was for a potential global war with Germany? Approaching the Vichy-American collaboration as “necessary pragmatism” overshadows how dangerous it was for Anglo-American relations, and Michael Neiberg’s use of the warped memory of US-Vichy cooperation makes his book a great introduction to the reality of this complex moment in WWII history.

Recommendation by by Stephanie Hinnershitz, PhD Research Historian

The Ravine: A Family, a Photograph, a Holocaust Massacre Revealed by Wendy Lower

top 10 war books

Wendy Lower’s book, The Ravine: A Family, a Photograph, a Holocaust Massacre Revealed , investigates the history of the Holocaust as it unfolded in Ukraine in the summer and fall of 1941. By tracing the origins and context surrounding a photograph documenting the murder of a woman and her children in Miropol, Ukraine, Lower unleashes a powerful microhistory of the first phase of the Holocaust, or “the Holocaust by bullets.” Her fast-paced and gripping narrative incorporates her own experience in researching the family in the photo, the photographer, the perpetrators, and the killing site. In doing so, she offers important insights on issues surrounding conflicting local memories and the nuances of collaboration. More importantly, Lower successfully argues for the use of photography as vital historical evidence, but cautions that photos should be scrutinized as carefully as any other historical documentation. Readers interested in the Holocaust or the history of photography will find the book a well-written and detailed study that contributes to the historiography of mass murder and genocide during World War II. 

Recommendation by Jennifer Popowycz Leventhal Research Fellow

Divisions: A New History of Racism and Resistance in America’s World War II Military by Thomas A Guglielmo

top 10 war books

Thomas Guglielmo’s book truly is a “new” history of how racism shaped the military experience for many minorities who served during World War II, and he uses one powerful phrase to describe this form of “Jim Crow militarism”: white supremacy. But what makes this book such an important read for anyone interested in WWII history is the story of the veterans who challenged this deeply rooted notion that White soldiers were naturally superior to non-White servicemembers and later shaped postwar social movements for equality and justice. 

Churchill, Master and Commander: Winston Churchill at War 1895-1945 by Anthony Tucker-Jones

top 10 war books

Sir Winston is back, and this time he’s more dangerous than ever! While the appearance of a new book on Churchill might give some potential readers pause, given the already bulging library of books on Sir Winston, Master and Commander  works due to its razor-sharp focus. This is the story of Churchill as a warrior—fighting in them, writing about them, and eventually helping to direct the greatest one of them all.    While some of the episodes here might be familiar, such as his wartime disagreements with FDR over the Normandy invasion, many others will be revelatory, especially to US readers. Churchill’s service with the Malakand Field Force on the North West Frontier of the Indian Raj (1897), the great charge of the 21st Lancers at the battle of Omdurman in the Sudan in 1898 (the “last great cavalry charge in history,” as it’s often called), the Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902): Winston was in every one of them. In later years, he was a fiery advocate for intervention in Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution, and on multiple occasions he called for an invasion of Ireland to quell disturbances there. As a warrior, Churchill was larger than life, and in Anthony Tucker-Jones, a knowledgeable and erudite military historian, he has found a worthy chronicler.

X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II by Leah Garrett

top 10 war books

Garrett, a Professor at Hunter College, has penned a unit history of the British No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando, 3 Troop—X Troop—and weaved into it the personal stories of the men who comprised it. What the reader is presented with is a beautiful tapestry of human suffering, resilience, and resistance. X Troop, made up of young, Jewish men who escaped Europe as the Nazis rose to power, is a story not often told in the broad library of WWII histories, a story where Jewish people act as their own liberators and strike back at the Third Reich.   Garrett’s deep research and investigation is mixed with a wonderful writing style, which leads to remarkable storytelling. From their individual escapes, to the unfortunate, but enlightening tales of antisemitism they faced in the UK and other areas, members of X Troop served throughout Europe—from Dieppe to D-Day to the Battle of the Scheldt, and then on to the liberation of their own homelands. 

Recommendation by Jeremy Collins Director of Conferences and Symposia

top 10 war books

Museum Store

The Museum Store has hundreds of books on World War II, such as bestseller biographies and autographed copies. 

top 10 war books

Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War and Democracy

Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War and Democracy is a national center for research, higher education, publications, and public programming.

Explore Further

Black Volunteer infantry soldiers prepare for a day's training in preparation for shipment to veteran units at front lines in Germany. Courtesy National Archives and Research Administration, National Archives Identifier: 531357, Local Identifier: 111-SC-337901.

Black Volunteer Infantry Platoons in World War II

Many historians have written about the famous “Buffalo Soldiers” of the all-Black 92nd Infantry Division, who fought with distinction during World War II.

top 10 war books

“Servility Is Just Not for Me”: Robert Brown and the Racial Politics of the Alabama Black Belt

Robert Brown was an educator, civil rights activist, community leader, elected official, and a WWII combat veteran.

top 10 war books

The Freeman Field Mutiny

Training in twin engine B-25 “Mitchell” bombers, the 477th never actually saw combat overseas, but fought another battle here in the United States. Formed as an all-Black unit, it became famous not for its combat record, but for its fight against the military version of “separate but equal.”

top 10 war books

Kasserine Pass: German Offensive, American Victory

At the Arcadia Conference, held in Washington, DC, from December 24, 1941 to January 14, 1942, the Western Allies agreed to a “Germany First” policy to govern global strategy, but the question where to engage Germany, and when, remained unsettled.

top 10 war books

Guadalcanal: The Joint Fight

While the campaign marked the first offensive victory for the Americans, it provided more than just a morale boost and a checking of Japanese aggression. This campaign illustrated the powerful synergy of American joint operations.

top 10 war books

Technician Lewis Hall and Sergeant William Fournier

Technician Fifth Grade Lewis Hall from Obetz, Ohio, was born March 2, 1895, and was 47 years old at the time of his action.

Born in Norwich, Connecticut, in 1913, William Fournier was raised in South Kingstown, Rhode Island.

top 10 war books

Kenneth Gruennert and Elmer Burr’s Medals of Honor

During the Battle of Buna, two soldiers of the 32nd Infantry Division went above and beyond the call of duty.

top 10 war books

Gallantry against Great Odds: LTC George Marshall and Operation RESERVIST

The campaign in North Africa began with a daring Anglo-American commando raid code-named Operation RESERVIST.


The most comprehensive and authoritative history site on the Internet.

top 10 war books

The Top 30 Vietnam War Books to Read This Winter

America’s wars have inspired some of the world’s best literature, and the vietnam war is no exception.

The Vietnam War has left many legacies. Among the most positive is an abundance of top-notch books, many written by veterans of the conflict. These include winners of National Book Awards and Pulitzer Prizes, both fiction and nonfiction. A slew of war memoirs stand with the best writing of that genre. 

In the short history of Vietnam War literature, publishers would hardly touch a book on the war until the late 1970s and early 1980s—a part of the self-induced national amnesia about that conflict and its outcome. After sufficient time had elapsed to ease some of the war’s psychic wounds, we saw a mini explosion of important books. Most of the books on the following, very subjective, list of the top 15 fiction and nonfiction titles, came out in the late ’70s and throughout the ’80s. 

By necessity, compilations of this kind omit worthy titles. Even so, the books below are the cream of the crop among the thousands written about America’s most controversial overseas war. They are presented randomly within the categories of nonfiction and fiction.


by George Herring, 1978

This book is widely viewed as the best concise history of the Vietnam War. Herring, a former University of Kentucky history professor, covers virtually every important event in the conflict, presenting the war objectively and assessing its legacy. Revised and updated over the years, America’s Longest War is used in many college courses on the Vietnam War.


by David Halberstam, 1972

Halberstam, who was a Vietnam War correspondent for The New York Times , produced a deeply researched, clearly and engagingly written history of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. He focuses on personalities—primarily the “best and brightest” of John F. Kennedy’s administration, including Robert McNamara, Walt Rostow, McGeorge Bundy, Dean Rusk and General Maxwell Taylor—and the many mistakes they made in prosecuting the war. In The Best and the Brightes t, Halberstam set out to answer the question, “What was it about the men, their attitudes, the country, its institutions and above all the era which had allowed this tragedy to take place?” Halberstam died in an automobile accident in 2007.


by Neil Sheehan, 1988

Former New York Times correspondent Neil Sheehan spent 16 years working on a magisterial examination of the life of legendary Army Colonel John Paul Vann and American involvement in Vietnam. A tour de force of research, reporting, analysis and writing, A Bright Shining Lie received the National Book Award for nonfiction and the Pulitzer for general nonfiction. Sheehan’s anger about what happened “infuses extraordinary descriptive passages of battle, the machinations of confused or venal men in Washington and Saigon, and above all the account of the man who serves as both its hero and antihero,” wrote historian Ronald Steel, adding, “If there is one book that captures the Vietnam War in the sheer Homeric scale of its passion and folly, this book is it.”


by Robert Mason, 1983

This is the definitive memoir about the helicopter war in Vietnam. Mason’s penetrating look at his 1965-66 tour as a Huey pilot in the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) contains reconstructed dialogue, which works well in depictions of his many dangerous missions zooming in and out of hot landing zones. There is very little glamour here: Although Mason recounts the tremendous—and at times senseless—risks he and his fellow Huey pilots took almost daily, he also describes his gradual disillusionment with the war.


by Lewis B. Puller Jr., 1991

The author, a first lieutenant in Vietnam and son of legendary Marine General Lewis “Chesty” Puller from the World War II and Korea eras, won a Pulitzer for this memoir. Puller tells his life story in a straightforward, introspective style. He joined the Marines after graduating from college in 1967 and less than a year later was in the thick of the fighting. He stepped on a booby trap and lost both legs and parts of his hands. Puller recovered, went to law school, got married and fathered two children. This remarkable tale is written cleanly, intelligently, with insight—and without self-pity. Despite the uplifting message of the book, the pains inflicted by the war ultimately overwhelmed Puller. He committed suicide in 1994.


by Lynda Van Devanter, 1983

Generally considered the top memoir by a female Vietnam veteran, this brutally frank book is written with many detailed descriptions of the wounded and dying men Van Devanter saw as a nurse at the 71st Evacuation Hospital in Pleiku during her 1969-70 tour. It is filled with the emotional turmoil she faced in-country and after coming home. Van Devanter used an experienced co-writer, Christopher Morgan, to help tell this strong pro-veteran, antiwar story. In 1978 Van Devanter started the Women Veterans Project at Vietnam Veterans of America. She died in 2002.


by David Maraniss, 2003

They Marched Into Sunlight garnered a Pulitzer for Maraniss, a former Washington Post journalist. A masterpiece of reporting and analysis, the book zeroes in on two noteworthy but previously underexamined events that occurred at the same time in October 1967: the decimation of a 1st Infantry Division battalion in South Vietnam and the violence on the University of Wisconsin campus during a protest against Dow Chemical Co. Maraniss’ presentation of the events in Vietnam and Wisconsin is evenhanded, letting the reader judge who was right and wrong in both places.


by Wallace Terry, 1984

Bloods is the preeminent examination of African-American troops’ experiences in Vietnam. Terry, a former Time magazine correspondent, presents the war and postwar stories of 20 black veterans. Some of the personal histories are inspirational tales from men who overcame powerful odds; others are depressing narratives of death, disfigurement and disillusion. All of them convey, with a strong sense of immediacy, what it was like to be an American fighting in Vietnam. Terry shows that blacks experienced many instances of discrimination and inequity in assignments, medals, promotions and other matters. One of the positive things Bloods brings out, though, is the virtual absence of racism on the front lines. Terry died in 2003.


by Tim O’Brien, 1974

If I Die in a Combat Zone was one of the first Vietnam War memoirs released by a major publisher. O’Brien impressionistically writes about growing up in Minnesota, getting drafted, going through infantry training and serving nine months in 1969-70 as a rifleman with the 198th Light Infantry Brigade. O’Brien was a sensitive, intelligent, well-read budding poet-author when he was drafted. He struggled mentally before deciding to submit to the draft, philosophized his way through basic training and survived a sometimes hellish tour of duty. All of what he writes rings true, and the book flows with the natural chronology of a novel.


by Albert French, 1997

French brilliantly illuminates his war and postwar experiences with insights on the nature of the war in Vietnam, the treatment that returning veterans received and the tenaciousness of post-traumatic stress disorder. He joined the Marines in 1963 and served a battle-heavy tour with E Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, until he was severely wounded during the bloody Operation Harvest Moon near Chu Lai in December 1965. The book “is a classic tale, life-affirming and updated for the modern age,” Terrance Maitland wrote in the New York Times Book Review .


by Frederick Downs Jr., 1978

Downs, who served as an Army lieutenant in Vietnam, wrote three memoirs. The Killing Zone, his first, is one of the best of the genre. The straightforward, taut prose evokes a clear picture of his 1967-68 tour as a 23-year-old platoon leader in the 4th Infantry Division. Downs succeeds well in portraying, as he puts it, “the day-to-day life of an infantryman on the ground.” The story begins on Sept. 8, 1967, as Downs is flying into Tan Son Nhut and ends on Jan. 11, 1968, when he stepped on a land mine and was seriously wounded.


by Tobias Wolff, 1994

Wolff was an Army Special Forces sergeant advising a South Vietnamese battalion in the Mekong Delta during 1967-68 and later became an award-winning short-story writer. His noted memoir of his youth, This Boy’s Life, was published in 1989. In Pharaoh’s Army is a memoir about his time in Vietnam—a creative, entertainingly written book filled with brisk, realistic reconstructed dialogue, fascinating characters and enlightened self-analysis. It also covers Wolff ’s life before he joined the Army, his year of Vietnamese language training in Washington and his return home from the war.


by Philip Caputo, 1977

One of the first classic Vietnam War memoirs, A Rumor of War garnered immediate praise for the author, a former Marine first lieutenant. “Caputo’s troubled, searching meditations on the love and hate of war, on fear, and the ambivalent discord warfare can create in the hearts of decent men, are among the most eloquent I have read in modern literature,” novelist William Styron wrote. Caputo relates his Marine Corps experiences from the time he decided to join through his tour of duty, which began in March 1965 when he landed with the first Marines to fight in Vietnam. The last part of the book is an account of the North Vietnamese takeover in Saigon, which Caputo covered as a journalist in April 1975.


by Bernard Fall, 1961

Fall, who served in World War II with the French Resistance and later the U.S. Army, was widely acknowledged in the 1950s and ’60s as the preeminent scholar of the Indochina War that ended Vietnam’s years as a French colony and put Communist forces in control of the country’s northern region. He wrote eight highly regarded books about the war before he was killed in Vietnam in 1967 while riding in a jeep that hit a land mine. Street Without Joy , arguably his best book, is a history and analysis of the French war and the beginnings of the American war. It contained a warning (unheeded) about what the U.S. military would be facing. The book is “not only a splendid account of a conflict often forgotten in the aftermath of America’s war in Vietnam, but it also speaks to the debate that continues to rage among military experts on the nature of the two wars in Indochina and the proper ways to fight them,” wrote George Herring, the author of America’s Longest War .


by Le Ly Hayslip, 1989

Le Ly Hayslip opened a new world to American readers in this remarkable autobiography. With the help of writer Jay Wurts, she intimately details the life of a Vietnamese woman who grew up in a peasant family, married an American and immigrated to the United States. Hayslip provides “a searing and human account of Vietnam’s destruction and self-destruction,” former Vietnam War correspondent David Shipler wrote. “Lucidly, sometimes even lyrically, Ms. Hayslip paints an intensely intimate portrait.”


by Larry Heinemann, 1977

Larry Heinemann’s autobiographical novel is one of the earliest pieces of fiction set in the Vietnam War—and one of the best and most underappreciated. This fast-flowing book tells the story of draftee Philip Dosier, beginning with his induction. The plot takes Dosier into Vietnam as the new guy, puts him on an eventful tour of duty and then sends him home. Close Quarters is filled with what could be stock characters—doltish lifer sergeants and clueless officers, for example—but Heinemann gives them unique personalities in a book of hard, brutal prose that accurately conveys life in the trenches. Heinemann served in the 25th Infantry Division from 1967 to ’68.

by Larry Brown, 1988

Dirty Work is a gem of short fiction, studded with dialogues and monologues from two Marines severely wounded in Vietnam. Brown, who served in the Marine Corps but not in Vietnam, unwinds the action during one long night of the soul as the two main characters talk with each other in a veterans hospital. One patient lost both arms and legs in a firefight and has been confined to a hospital bed for 22 years. The other, his face severely disfigured in the war, suffers from intermittent seizures from a bullet lodged in his brain. Both characters are clearly and realistically drawn. Brown seamlessly weaves their words and thoughts into a gripping story that unfolds through flashbacks, soliloquies and conversations. Brown died in 2004.


by Robert Stone, 1974

This much-admired novel—it received the National Book Award for fiction—features a plot that revolves around the Vietnam War and drug smuggling. One reviewer called it a “dark descendant of Conrad’s and Hemingway’s adventure stories, a tale of Vietnam and California, a narrative meditation on the counter-culture.” Stone, who served in the Navy during the 1950s, focuses the story on Ray Hicks, a sailor on the way home from Vietnam, and John Converse, a hapless war correspondent. The main characters are tortured souls and all wind up suffering severely—mentally, physically, or both.


by Graham Greene, 1955

Greene’s book is widely regarded as a classic, prophetic literary tale that examines the start of American engagement in Vietnam. The acclaimed English novelist and journalist, who covered the French war in Vietnam from 1951 to ’54, set the book in 1954 Saigon. The quiet American of the title is Alden Pyle, who tries to forge an American solution to the Communist insurgency. Another character, cynical British journalist Thomas Fowler, says of Pyle: “I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused.” In a discussion of the The Quiet American, essayist Pico Iyer said: “Lyrical, enchanted descriptions of rice paddies, languorous opium dens and even slightly sinister Buddhist political groups are a lanterned backdrop to a tale of irony and betrayal.” Greene died in 1991.


by Richard Currey, 1988

This one-of-a-kind Vietnam tale, the first novel of a former Navy corpsman, reads like a series of connected, finely written short stories. Dozens of very short chapters are presented in a jumpy, fragmented, staccato rhythm. In this way, Currey convincingly and stylishly spills out the shocking story of the unidentified narrator who goes through a harrowing tour of duty as a combat medic. Currey skillfully reveals this everyman soldier’s varied and extreme feelings. He helps readers understand what it was like to go to war in Vietnam, feel the heat physically and mentally, and then come home and try to make sense of what happened.


by James Webb, 1978

In his first novel Webb, a former Marine first lieutenant and later U.S. senator, developed a plot that follows the outline of a conventional war tale: An American platoon, with representative members of different races, ethnicities and sections of the country, undergoes a hellacious time in the war zone. But Webb tells the story without resorting to clichés, and his powerful writing clearly shows what the war was like for those in the bush. “In swift, flexible prose that does everything he asks of it,” Newsweek magazine stated.“Webb gives us an extraordinary range of acutely observed people, not one a stereotype, and as many different ways of looking at that miserable war. Fields of Fire is a stunner.”


by Tim O’Brien, 1978

O’Brien’s ambitious first novel, a National Book Award winner, is a journey of magical realism seen through the eyes of draftee Paul Berlin. Private Cacciato, an off-kilter member of his company, decides to leave Vietnam and walk to Paris. The platoon follows him. O’Brien “opened a door for the rest of us to walk through by illustrating how it was possible to tell deeper truths about war and war’s horrible and lasting consequences by allowing the imagination the power to construct the dynamics of the story and to fill in the gaps of memory,” wrote poet and Vietnam veteran Bruce Weigl.


by Larry Heinemann, 1987

Heinemann’s second literary work, Paco’s Story , a biting tale of the Vietnam War’s emotional aftermath, won the National Book Award for fiction. Heinemann bores into the mind of the book’s antihero, Paco Sullivan, as he struggles with his personal demons after duty in Vietnam left him severely wounded—and the lone survivor in his unit. “Heinemann’s brilliance is that whenever Paco’s world trails into the maudlin, he flings us back to Vietnam, the firefight that killed all of Paco’s platoon, the months in the hospital on various pain-killing drugs,” one reviewer wrote, “and the anodyne of the present becomes justified, and realistic, and the story of one forgotten, generic GI in [a] non-descript town…becomes part of the local lore.”

by Bobbie Ann Mason, 1985

This first novel by Mason is one of the strongest literary treatments of the legacy of the Vietnam War. Sam Hughes, a 17-year-old girl who lives in a small western Kentucky town in 1984, shares a house with Uncle Emmett, a laconic Vietnam veteran suffering from Agent Orange exposure and post-traumatic stress disorder. She is haunted by visions of her father, who was killed in the war before she was born. Other important characters are Emmett’s friends, a group of veterans who hang out at McDonald’s and a local bar. The Vietnam War is at the heart of In Country , but another story is entwined: Sam’s battle against the demons of adolescence. The spare writing, which relies heavily on dialogue, brings life to the characters. Mason’s choice of the war as her novel’s centerpiece is a crucial element in the book’s success.

by Karl Marlantes, 2010

Marlantes, who commanded a 3rd Marine Division rifle platoon in Vietnam, spent three decades working on Matterhorn , his first novel. In this semiautobiographical book, a young Ivy League-educated lieutenant named Mellas is enmeshed in sustained, bloody fighting in Vietnam during 1969. Matterhorn focuses on a company of Marines and a seemingly never-ending succession of battles primarily in and around the mountaintop base that gives the book its incongruous title. The action scenes evoke Vietnam War combat at its most intense—and its most horrible. Writer Sebastian Junger, who has reported on the war in Afghanistan, called the book “one of the most profound and devastating novels ever to come out of Vietnam—or any war. It’s not a book so much as a deployment, and you will not return unaltered.”


by Tim O’Brien, 1990

This may be the biggest-selling, most widely read book of Vietnam War fiction. It has become a fixture in high school and college English classes. The interlinked short stories feature a protagonist named Tim O’Brien, looking back on his life in the war after coming home and meditating on what it all means. The book is filled with clever plots and memorable characters. It also offers brilliant discourses on life, death, truth, fiction and the nature of war stories.


by Gustav Hasford, 1979

Best known as the book that spawned director Stanley Kubrick’s film Full Metal Jacket , Hasford’s The Short-Timers is a semiautobiographical tale dealing with Private Joker (James Davis, age 19, from rural Alabama), a colorful iconoclastic Marine combat correspondent in Vietnam at the height of the war. “Nothing I’ve read that tried to convey the monstrousness of that grave-maker known as the war in Viet Nam even remotely approaches the eloquence of The Short-Timers ,” wrote critic and novelist Harlan Ellison. “It is one of the most amazing stretches of writing I’ve ever encountered.”


by Gustav Hasford, 1990

Hasford, who worked as a combat correspondent for publications serving the military, realistically depicts a hellish, atrocity-filled war in this Marine tough-guy novel. Its central character is Private Joker, the eternally disaffected Marine brought to literary life by Hasford in The Short-Timers. The Phantom Blooper begins with Joker trying to stay safe and sane during the final days of the siege of Khe Sanh. Joker tries to go one-on-one with the Phantom Blooper, someone who has been killing men in his unit and may even be an American working for the enemy. Then comes the story of Joker’s captivity by Viet Cong villagers. Hasford offers an uncommonly sharp picture of life among the Viet Cong, the North Vietnamese Army and the Vietnamese people in general. Hasford died in 1993.


by Stephen Wright, 1983

Wright’s book is based—very loosely—on his experiences as a drafted Army intelligence analyst who specialized in working with aerial photographs during his 1969- 70 tour in Vietnam. It shifts back and forth in time to tell the war stories of off-the-wall characters who work in the 1069th Military Intelligence Group. The spotlight, however, is on Spc. 4 James Griffin. What happens to the men in Vietnam drives most of them, including Griffin, to the edge of insanity. Once Griffin comes home, his emotional problems intensify. Meditations in Green received high critical praise, along with the Maxwell Perkins Prize for promising first novels. One critic called it a “brilliant and scarifying,” novel, “lurid, extravagant, rhapsodic and horrific by turns—sometimes all at once.”


by Robert Olen Butler, 1992

Butler served in Saigon from 1969 to ’71 as a Vietnamese-speaking Army intelligence specialist. Today he is one of the nation’s most honored literary novelists and short story writers. He received uniform accolades—and a Pulitzer—for this collection of linked short stories, each told in the voice of a different Vietnamese expatriate living in southern Louisiana. “Robert Olen Butler has written an extraordinary book,” novelist James Lee Burke wrote. “He has managed to depict both Vietnam and Louisiana simultaneously in stories that have the delicate and graceful quality of tropical flowers.”

— Marc Leepson has been reviewing Vietnam War books since the late 1970s for newspapers and magazines, including Vietnam . His column on books has appeared in The VVA Veteran , the magazine published by Vietnam Veterans of America, since 1986. He served with the Army’s 527th Personnel Service Company in Qui Nhon, Vietnam, 1967-68.

Originally published in the December 2014 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here .

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Top 10 Facts about Ukraine during World War II

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80th anniversary of the Babi Yar tragedy in Ukraine. Wikimedia Commons.

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World War II is regarded as one of the worst global conflicts, involving a larger percentage of all nations across the world, including all the Great Powers. It was fought between two main alliances, that is, the Axis and Allied Powers. While history books detail some of the major battles such as the Battle of the Atlantic, and Pearl Harbor, and well-known atrocities committed in the war including the Holocaust, it is a disturbing reality that some of the most brutal events took place in areas not often accorded as much attention as the major fronts of the war. Decades on, the devastating effects of the war are still felt by nations that were caught up in the crossfire.

 This article zeroes in on the action witnessed in Ukraine during World War II. Situated in Eastern Europe, Ukraine had the significant strategic potential for Nazi Germany. It was also rich in agricultural and industrial resources, which were crucial in advancing and supporting the war effort. Considered the ‘bread-basket of Europe’, and endowed with fertile black soils, Ukraine held a crucial position in Hitler’s agenda to expand in the East and build a self-sustained German empire.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union had already occupied Ukrainian territory as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which was a non-aggression treaty between the Soviet Union and Germany. When Germany turned on the former on June 22, 1944, Ukraine found itself in the middle of the crossfire, with both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union seeking to lay their hold over Ukrainian territory. The result was devastating suffering and loss, wrapped up in a rather complex but interesting turn of events.

Here are the top 10 facts about Ukraine during World War II.

1. Ukraine had been under Soviet rule before World War II

top 10 war books

Vladimir Lenin giving a speech. Vladimir Lenin arrives in Saint Petersburg triggering the October Revolution. Wikimedia Commons.

Ukraine came under Soviet Rule in 1917, following the Russian Revolution. The latter resulted in the fall of the Russian Empire and the consequent establishment of a socialist state. The Bolsheviks, under Vladimir Lenin, seized power and established the Soviet Union. Ukraine, which had been part of the Russian Empire, became one of the republics of the Soviet Union from 1922 until it declared independence in 1991. To date, tensions between Ukraine and Russia continue.

Read on: 10 Historical Events that happened in 1922.

2. More Ukrainian territory came under Soviet occupation following the invasion of Poland

top 10 war books

The Nazi-soviet Invasion of Poland, 1939 Russian cavalry and infantry entering the Polish city of Wilno (Vilnius) after joint German-Russian aggression against Poland. Image by Press Agency photographer. Wikimedia Commons.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was a non-aggression treaty between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, signed on 23 August 1939. It further contained a secret protocol, partitioning Eastern Europe territories between the two countries. When Nazi Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, officially marking the start of World War II, the Soviet Union would follow suit on 17 September. The latter would proceed to annex several territories in the region, including Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and parts of Romania. The Soviet Union cited concern for ethnic Ukrainians and Belarusians as a pretext for their invasion of Poland. Galician lands inhabited by Ukrainians, Poles, and Jews came under Soviet occupation in 1939, and in 1940, Northern Bukovian and Bessarabia, also occupied by Ukrainians, Romanians, Jews, and Russians were added to Soviet-occupied Ukrainian territory.

Have a look at Top 10 Things about the Soviet Union during World War II.

3. Ukrainians suffered greatly under the various Soviet policies

top 10 war books

Section of the Great Famine Memorial in Dublin. Photo by Kathrina Schmidt. Wikimedia Commons.

From the Soviet policies to German occupation and the resultant atrocities committed, Ukraine suffered greatly. Under Soviet rule, the collectivization of agriculture and other aggressive agricultural policies resulted in the Holodomor or Great Famine  in 1932. Holodomor, when translated from Ukrainian, means ‘death by hunger.’  An estimated 2.6 million died of starvation, and the event has been cited, although arguably, as an act of genocide. Ukrainian culture was tramped in favor of Russian ideologies, as the Soviet Union sought a unified, Russified State.

Under German occupation, many were transported to Germany as forced laborers, over 700 cities were destroyed leaving millions homeless, critical infrastructure was severely damaged and over 5 million lost their lives throughout the course of the war. The material loss is estimated to have constituted forty percent of Ukraine’s national wealth. Economic reconstruction would take years and intense effort when the Soviet Union regained control over the territory.

4. Germany invaded Ukraine in violation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1941

top 10 war books

Signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Wikimedia Commons.

The surprise attack by the Nazi Germany war machine on the Soviets on June 22, 1941, terminated the non-aggression pact. As the former advanced into Soviet territory, Operation Barbarossa would be carried out in three waves. Three army groups were used. The Army Group North would target Leningrad, Army Group Center was in charge of Moscow, and Army Group South targeted Kyiv and Ukraine. By November, Ukraine was under German control, as the Soviet forces retreated.

Check out the 10 Must-Read World War II Books to Understand what Happened.

5. Initially, some Ukrainians welcomed the Germans as liberators

Having been under brutal Soviet rule, part of the Ukrainian population thought of the Germans as liberators who would facilitate Ukrainian’s attainment of independence. This belief was partly informed by the fact that Germany was at this point, a sworn enemy of the Soviet Union and Poland. This misinformed hope was soon obliterated when the members of the UON-B were arrested and taken to concentration camps. They had proclaimed Ukraine’s statehood restoration with the entry of Nazi Germany into the territory. Instead of furthering Ukraine’s political aspirations of freedom, the Nazis granted Poland administrative control over Galicia and gave Romania control over the area between the Dniester and Southern Buh rivers.

6. Nazi occupation policies were equally brutal

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Soviet POWs covering a mass grave after the Babi Yar massacre, October 1, 1941. Photo by Johannes Hähle. Wikimedia Commons.

Political organizations were banned, people were forced to work as laborers for the German war machine, and many others were deported to concentration camps. Policies on genocide against Jews living in Ukraine were issued. Mass killings of the Jewish populations in occupied Ukraine began soon after in the fall of 1944. About 1.5 million Ukrainian Jews met their deaths at the hands of the Nazis. Ukrainians were forced to work in collective farms, as had been the case during the previous Soviet rule, and their cities were deprived of essential supplies such as food. An estimated 2.2 million were taken to Germany as enslaved laborers.

7. The Babi Yar Massacre is one of the worst atrocities committed by Nazis in Ukraine

top 10 war books

The Babi Yar is a ravine in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. Between 29 and 30 September 1941, one of the largest single massacres in the history of the Holocaust occurred here, with a total of 33,771 Jewish deaths. Other victims of the massacres at the site include communists and Soviet prisoners of war. The order to kill all Jews in Kyiv had been made by Kurt Eberhard, the Police Commander of the Army Group South. In what was one of the most dehumanizing and goriest mass murder executions, the Jews were led down to the ravine, ordered to undress, and shot while lying down. The Nazis later undermined the walls of the ravine and buried the bodies. More executions would continue to take place throughout the German occupation, and the number of victims varies.

Read more on: How Many Jews Died World War 2: 10 Facts about the Holocaust.

8. Several resistance movements fought German rule

It was clear that the Germans were keen on furthering their interests and exploiting Ukraine for their war effort at the expense of the nation’s welfare. Several underground organization movements joined in resisting German rule despite repressive measures such as executions. Some of these were Soviet partisans, and others, such as the Ukrainian Insurgent Army fought both the Germans and the Soviet Union.

9. Some of the Ukrainian population collaborated with Nazi Germany

While a majority of the ethnic Ukrainians fought in the Soviet Union Red Army against the Germans, other fought in the German army including the Waffen SS Galicia, auxiliary police units, and concentration camp guards. Some of the Ukrainian nationalists had initially hoped that collaborating with the Germans would influence an expedited establishment of a Ukrainian independent State. Collaborators, motivated by various factors such as hate for the Soviet Union, and fear for their lives and families safety, got involved in perpetrating atrocities such as the Holocaust in Ukraine for Nazi Germany.

10. Ukraine was eventually liberated from the Germans in 1944

top 10 war books

Joseph Stalin. Wikimedia Commons.

Following their victory over Germany in the Battle of Stalingrad, the Soviet forces proceeded to launch a counter-offensive westward, which triggered the gradual retreat of the Germans from Ukraine. By November 1943, the Soviets re-entered Kyiv, advancing into Galicia by the spring of 1944. By October of the same year, Ukraine was once again, under Soviet rule. The western frontiers of Ukraine would soon be redrawn, with Poland agreeing to cede Galicia and Volhynia. Northern Bhukovina was recognized as Ukrainian territory in the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947. The Sovietization of western Ukraine marked the final years of Joseph Stalin’s rule. It was only in 1991 that Ukraine successfully declared its independence.

Have a look at the 35 Important Battles of World War II.

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25 of the best war novels of all time

Here we share a collection of some of the best war books ever written, spanning the world wars to the nigerian civil war and korean war. .

top 10 war books

Few events have such a profound and devastating impact on society and individuals as war. Authors have drawn inspiration from conflicts throughout history, using fiction as a powerful means to share, honour and learn from the experiences of those who were there. Here, we share our edit of the best war novels.

For more inspiration, discover our edit of the  best historical fiction books . 

Yours Cheerfully

By aj pearce.

Book cover for Yours Cheerfully

Charming, feel-good and packed with 'Blitz-spirit', Yours Cheerfully transports us to Fleet Street in the Second World War and into the world of plucky journalist Emmeline Lake. While the war may be ever-present, for Emmy, things are looking up with a promotion at Women’s Friend and her best friend Bunty at her side. When the Ministry of Information asks her to help recruit female workers to support the war effort, Emmy is happy to oblige and do her bit. That is until a chance meeting with a stranger stops her in her tracks, and she’s faced with a dilemma only she can solve. 

The Librarian of Auschwitz

By antonio iturbe.

Book cover for The Librarian of Auschwitz

Based on a true story, The Librarian of Auschwitz is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel about fourteen-year-old Dita, the custodian of the world’s smallest and most powerful library. Entrusted with the responsibility of keeping the libraries’ eight tomes safe, Dita knows that she is putting herself in danger. But she also knows the power of books is essential to help her and her fellow prisoners maintain hope during the darkest of times. A story of courage and the will to survive, The Librarian of Auschwitz is the perfect next read for fans of The Tattooist of Auschwitz and The Book Thief . 

The God of that Summer

By ralf rothmann.

Book cover for The God of that Summer

While Luisa, a young girl growing up in rural Germany during World War Two, has managed to escape the horrors of city bombing, the war has not left her unscathed. Unafraid of the realities of life and death, Luisa keeps her head down and supports her family until, one day, an incident changes her forever. A harrowing tale of the costs of war for those not on the front line, The God of that Summer is a masterful and poignant story set in Germany during the final throes of the Second World War. 

by Arno Geiger

Book cover for Hinterland

A poignant novel about the impact of war on everyday people and a bestseller in the author’s native Germany, Hinterland follows the story of Veit Kolbe, a young German soldier recovering from his war wounds amongst the residents of Mondsee, a village near Salzburg. Seemingly sheltered from the horrors of war, Veit enjoys an almost normal life in the town and even begins to fall in love. But everything changes once his injuries are healed, with his idyllic existence interrupted as he’s called up to serve his country and face his fate again. 

A Thousand Ships

By natalie haynes.

Book cover for A Thousand Ships

Often missing from history’s greatest war stories, in A Thousand Ships Natalie Haynes trains her lens on the women at the heart of the story of the Trojan War. As women wake to find their city aflame as Troy falls to the Greeks, their fates lie in the hands of men they do not know. Starring goddesses and princesses whose tales have never been told, A Thousand Ships breathes new life into a pinnacle moment in classical history and is perfect for readers who loved Madeline Miller’s Circe . 

Under a Wartime Sky

By liz trenow.

Book cover for Under a Wartime Sky

Based on the stories of the actual war heroes of England’s Bawdsey Manor, Under a Wartime Sky follows the brightest minds in Britain as they work on top-secret inventions that will help Britain and the Allies win the war. A tale of hope, courage and the ordinary people that did their bit for the war effort, this is the perfect poignant and hopeful story for fans of Kate Furnivall and historical fiction . 

The Key to Rebecca

By ken follett.

Book cover for The Key to Rebecca

When Alex Wolff, a ruthless Nazi spy obsessed with success, arrives in Cairo in 1942, he has one focus––to intercept the Allies’ plans and relay them to his bosses in Berlin. With the fate of North Africa handing in the balance, British intelligence officer Major William Vandam must hunt down the spy and stop Britain from losing valuable ground. A wartime tale from one of the world’s greatest storytellers, The Key to Rebecca is a cat-and-mouse story of espionage, strategy and secrets set in North Africa during the Second World War.  

A Jewish Girl in Paris

By melanie levensohn.

Book cover for A Jewish Girl in Paris

When Judith, a young Jewish girl, meets the wealthy son of a Nazi sympathiser, they know that they can never be together – so the young couple hatches a plan to leave occupied Paris. That is until Judith disappears without a trace. A tale of forbidden love set against the backdrop of the Second World War, A Jewish Girl in Paris is a story of romance and of the life-changing impact of family secrets.

The Prince of the Skies

Book cover for The Prince of the Skies

From the bestselling author of The Librarian of Auschwitz , Antonio Iturbe, comes an incredible novel based on the real life of Anthoine de Saint Exupéry and his mysterious death. Together with friends Jean and Henri, Anthoine pioneered new mail routes across the globe and changed aviation forever. At the same time, Anthoine began work on The Little Prince , a children's story that would go on to reach millions of readers around the world – despite the looming shadow of the Second World War. The Prince of the Skies is a tale of love and companionship, war and heroism, and the power of the written word. 

The Most Precious of Cargoes

By jean-claude grumberg.

Book cover for The Most Precious of Cargoes

Told with a fairytale-like lyricism, this is a moving fable of family and redemption set against the horrors of the Holocaust. A poor woodcutter and his wife living in a forest pray they will be blessed with a child. Meanwhile, Jewish man rides on a train with his wife and twin babies. When his wife no longer has enough milk to feed them both, in desperation he throws his daughter into the forest, hoping that she’ll be saved. Luckily, the woodcutter’s wife finds the baby she takes her home, though she knows this act of kindness may lead to her death. This moving tale is a testament to our capacity for kindness in even the darkest times. 

The Nightingale

By kristin hannah.

Book cover for The Nightingale

Set in France during the Second World War, Kristin Hannah’s  The Nightingale  is a story of two sisters, Viann and Isabelle. The pair are reunited after Viann’s husband is sent to fight, with Isabelle travelling from Paris to rural France to support her sister. Together, they face extraordinary hardships and heartbreak. 

This gripping account of the real horrors of war has now been adapted for the silver screen. Starring real-life sisters Elle and Dakota Fanning, the highly anticipated film adaptation of The Nightingale is set to be released in 2022.

Pippo and Clara

By diana rosie.

Book cover for Pippo and Clara

It’s 1938, Mussolini is in power in Italy and war is on the horizon. Pippo and Clara are brother and sister, newly arrived in an unspecified city with their family. When their mother goes missing one morning they both go in search of her, with Clara turning right and Pippo left. As a result of their choices, the children’s lives will be changed forever. This is a moving war novel about a country torn apart and two siblings divided by fate.

The Yellow Bird Sings

By jennifer rosner.

Book cover for The Yellow Bird Sings

In Poland, 1941, Róza and her five-year-old daughter, Shira, spend their days and nights hiding in a farmer's barn after escaping being rounded up with the other Jews in their town. Róza tells her daughter stories of a yellow bird, the only one who can sing the melodies Shira composes in her head. Róza would do anything to keep her daughter safe, but eventualy she is faced with an impossible choice  –  keep her close, or let her go and give her a chance to survive. 

The Winter Soldier

By daniel mason.

Book cover for The Winter Soldier

This war novel opens with the beginning of WWI. Readers follow Lucias, a medical student in Vienna, who enlists and finds himself stationed in a remote field-hospital ravaged by typhus. His dreams of saving lives are confronted with the stark reality of war, which is unlike anything he could ever have encountered in glamorous Vienna. With the help of a battle-hardened nurse he learns a brutal makeshift medicine, but when an unconscious soldier is brought to him for treatment, the decisions Lucias makes will change his life forever.

The Regeneration Trilogy

By pat barker.

Book cover for The Regeneration Trilogy

1917, Scotland. At Craiglockhart War Hospital in Scotland, army psychiatrist William Rivers treats shell-shocked soldiers before sending them back to the front. In his care are poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, and Billy Prior, who is only able to communicate by means of pencil and paper . . .

Regeneration ,  The Eye in the Door  and  The Ghost Road  follow the stories of these men until the last months of the war. Widely acclaimed and admired, Pat Barker's  Regeneration  trilogy paints with moving detail the far-reaching consequences of a conflict which decimated a generation.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

By ernest hemingway.

Book cover for For Whom the Bell Tolls

Inspired by his experiences as a reporter during the Spanish Civil War,  For Whom the Bell Tolls  tells the story of Robert Jordan, an American volunteer in the International Brigades fighting to defend the Spanish Republic against Franco.

 After being ordered to work with guerrilla fighters to destroy a bridge, Jordan finds himself falling in love with a young Spanish woman and clashing with the guerrilla leader over the risks of their mission.

Half of a Yellow Sun

By chimamanda ngozi adichie.

Book cover for Half of a Yellow Sun

This heartbreaking and beautifully written book lays bare the horrors of the Nigerian Civil War. In the 1960s, Ugwu, a boy from a poor village, goes to work for a university professor.    When the professor's girlfriend, Olanna, moves in, Ugwu becomes close to the couple. But their lives will be upended and changed forever by the conflict to come. 

All Quiet on the Western Front

By erich maria remarque.

Book cover for All Quiet on the Western Front

This classic war novel of the First World War is written in the first person by a young German soldier. Paul Bauer is just eighteen when he’s pressured by his family, friends and society to enlist and fight at the front. He enters the army with six school friends, each filled with optimistic and patriotic thoughts. Within a few months, they are all old men, in mind if not completely in body. They witness such horrors and endure such severe hardship and suffering, that they are unable to even speak about it to anyone but each other.

Testament of Youth

By vera brittain.

Book cover for Testament of Youth

In 1914 Vera Brittain was 20, and as war was declared she was preparing to study at Oxford. Four years later her life - and the life of her whole generation - had changed in a way that would have been unimaginable in the tranquil pre-war era.

One of the most famous autobiographies of the First World War, is Brittain's account of how she survived those agonising years; how she lost the man she loved; how she nursed the wounded and how she emerged into an altered world

by Joseph Heller

Book cover for Catch-22

A satirical indictment of military madness and stupidity, and the desire of the ordinary man to survive it. 

Set in the closing months of World War II, this is the story of a bombardier named Yossarian who is frantic and furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him.

Slaughterhouse 5

By kurt vonnegut.

Book cover for Slaughterhouse 5

Prisoner of war, optometrist, time-traveller - these are the life roles of Billy Pilgrim, hero of this miraculously moving, bitter and funny story of innocence faced with apocalypse.

Slaughterhouse 5  is one of the world's great anti-war books. Centring on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden in the Second World War, Billy Pilgrim's odyssey through time reflects the journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.

The Hunters

By james salter.

Book cover for The Hunters

Drawing upon his time as a fighter pilot in the Korean War, James Salter’s first novel is a landmark masterpiece in the literature of war.

Captain Cleve Connell arrives in Korea with a single goal: to become an ace pilot. But as his fellow airmen rack up kill after kill - sometimes under dubious circumstances - Cleve’s luck runs bad. Other pilots question his guts. Cleve comes to question himself. And then in one icy instant 40,000 feet above the Yalu River, his luck changes forever.

The Kite Runner

By khaled hosseini.

Book cover for The Kite Runner

Afghanistan, 1975: Twelve-year-old Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament and his loyal friend Hassan promises to help him. But neither of the boys can foresee what will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that is to shatter their lives. After the Russians invade and the family is forced to flee to America, Amir realises that one day he must return to Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

Hosseini explores the nature of friendship, of forgiveness and of redemption, set against the turbulent background of his native Afghanistan.

The Story of a Brief Marriage

By anuk arudpragasam.

Book cover for The Story of a Brief Marriage

Set during the closing days of the horrors of the Sri Lankan civil war in the north of the island, Anuk Arudpragasm’s beautiful debut,  The Story of Brief Marriage , tells the story of two young people thrown together by their perilous circumstances, learning to feel as people again as the fighting closes in around them. Hypnotic in its detail, this devastatingly moving war novel bears unflinching witness to the lives of those caught up in a conflict now much forgotten by the wider world.

by Sebastian Faulks

Book cover for Birdsong

Published to international critical and popular acclaim, this intensely romantic yet stunningly realistic novel spans three generations and the unimaginable gulf between the First World War and the present. It is the story of Stephen Wraysford, a young Englishman who arrives in Amiens in 1910. Over the course of the novel he suffers a series of traumatic experiences, from the clandestine love affair that tears apart the family with whom he lives, to the unprecedented experiences of the war itself.

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World War I: Top 10 Books

Top 10 World War I books

It was the Big One. The Great War. The War to End All Wars.

The slaughter on both sides was so horrendous that no rational person could conceive of another such conflict. Just to make sure, they even negotiated a treaty to outlaw war forever: the now-infamous Kellogg-Briand Pact signed in 1928, which was intended to renounce war, with all disputes peacefully settled in the future.

Tragically, 20 years after the end of the first Great War, the world was back at it on a scale that dwarfed all earlier wars. 

Nevertheless, the First World War was the first modern war and spawned -- besides a lot of wishful thinking -- a small library of war literature. In fact, some of the best antiwar writing of any era took its inspiration from the Great War.

As always, my selections (in alphabetical order) were guided by a couple of simple criteria: 1) With so few choices, general accounts tended to trump specific studies, and 2) Intelligent and engaging always trumped intelligent and difficult.

If you think we've missed something indispensable -- and surely we have -- let us know.

Top 10 World War I Books

"All Quiet on the Western Front" by Erich Maria Remarque 

Remarque served in the German army during the war and was wounded five times. Some regard this as the greatest war novel of all time. Honorable mention: Company K by William March. 

"A Farewell to Arms" by Ernest Hemingway 

When poor vision kept him out of the service, the 18-year-old Hemingway volunteered to serve in France and later Italy as an ambulance driver. His wartime love story is often cited as the greatest American novel to come out of World War I. Honorable mention: To the Last Man: A Novel of the First World War by Jeff Shaara. 

"The First World War" by Hew Strachan 

The best one-volume history of the war from one of its leading historians. This is a condensed version of a larger, multi-volume project. Honorable mention: The First World War by John Keegan. 

"Good-Bye to All That: An Autobiography" by Robert Graves 

English poet Graves' bitter account of his life has been called by scholar and critic Paul Fussell "the best memoir of the First World War." 

"The Great War and Modern Memory" by Paul Fussell 

Winner of the National Book Award and hailed as one of the 20th-century's 100 best nonfiction books, Fussell challenges the way we think about the war in this landmark study. 

"The Guns of August" by Barbara Tuchman 

Tuchman captured the Pulitzer Prize and won international acclaim with this classic account of the opening month of the Great War. Honorable mention: The Zimmerman Telegram by Barbara Tuchman. 

"Once An Eagle" by Anton Myrer 

The acclaimed novel of two wars and two very different Army officers. A favorite among military professionals, it has been on the Army Chief of Staff's list of recommended reading and the Marine Commandant's Reading List. It doesn't get much better than this. 

"The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916" by Alistair Horne 

A classic account of one of the battles that represents the horror of trench warfare. More than one million men died fighting for a scrap of land "little larger than the combined Royal Parks of London." 

"A Storm in Flanders: The Ypres Salient, 1914-1918: Tragedy and Triumph on the Western Front" by Winston Groom 

Novelist ("Forrest Gump," "Better Times than These") and historian, Groom vividly chronicles another of the templates of trench warfare. 

"The World Crisis, 1911-1918" by Winston Churchill 

Churchill's brilliant account of the war years when he served in several capacities: first lord of the admiralty, an infantry commander in France, a member of Parliament and the minister of munitions. As usual with Churchill, splendidly written. 

A former history professor, Tom Miller is a novelist and essayist. His reviews and essays have appeared in numerous books, journals and newspapers, including The Encyclopedia of Southern History, American History Illustrated, the Chicago Tribune and the Des Moines Register. He also is a former Army officer and Vietnam veteran.

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The Top 10 World War 2 Books of All Time

With so many amazing World War 2 books out there, however can I choose my Top 10 World War 2 books?

In general, I can’t say that I am huge into historical fiction. Not to say that I don’t like it, I just don’t find that historical fiction is my go-to genre. However, when it comes to books about World War 2, I can’t seem to get enough.Of all the periods of time, World War 2 seems to have one of the clearest depictions of good versus evil. The acts of bravery and depths of horror stand out in stark contrast against one another.

Unlike the complicated politics of the first World War, World War 2 seems so much more clear cut. I love reading both fictional and nonfiction accounts of the events that occurred in such an important period of history.

Am I really qualified to choose the top 10 books of any subject, much less the top 10 World War 2 books? Probably not, but I’ll do it anyway. Having an opinion on a topic is my prerogative as a blogger.

I can’t say that I’ve read every World Ward 2 book out there, but I aim to do so someday. Though, I will admit that I have read quite a few. Generally, I gravitate toward bestselling World War 2 fiction, but I have tried to read a lot more World War 2 nonfiction lately.

As with any list, my list of the Top 10 World Ward 2 books is quite subjective. Maybe you’ll love it and be inspired to pick up Audie Murphy’s autobiography. Maybe you’ll hate it because I left off Anne Frank’s diary.

Whether you love it or hate it, let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear how your top 10 World War 2 books differ from mine. Or feel free to check out what WWII historical fiction our readers love the most.

Don’t Miss a Thing

Top 10 World War 2 Books – 5 Best Fiction

book cover All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See

Anthony doerr.

Let’s kick off this list of the Top 10 World War 2 books with one of my favorites. I’m not at all surprised it won a Pulitzer Prize; the writing is fabulous. Anthony Doerr masterfully interweaves the stories of Marie-Laurie, a blind French girl who flees from Paris to the coastal city of Saint-Malo with her uncle, and Werner, a German radio operator charged with rooting out the French resistance. While the plot is interesting in and of itself, the character development and storytelling will keep you glued to the page.

Publication Date: 6 May 2014 Amazon | Goodreads | More Info

book cover Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut


Kurt vonnegut.

How to describe Slaughterhouse-Five? It’s a postmodern anti-war science fiction World War II novel, which gives it a unique place among World War 2 books. The unreliable narrator tells the tale of Billy Pilgrim, a time-traveling man being held in an alien zoo. Through flashbacks, we relive Billy’s capture during the Battle of the Bulge, life as a POW working in a slaughterhouse (Slaughterhous #5) during the Dresden firebombing, and his subsequent life after the war. If you can get past Vonnegut’s strange style, his discussion of fate, free will, and death earn it its place among the top 10 World War 2 books. For, “so it goes.”

Publication Date: 31 March 1969 Amazon | Goodreads | More Info

book cover Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Joseph Heller

I hated this book when I first read it. I mean, I absolutely despised it. It’s completely ridiculous. Heller’s brand of satire involves stories that are over-the-top exaggerations, and he’s never heard of character development. Yet, a few months after I finished it, random bits from the book would pop up in my mind and make me laugh. The man whose name is Major Major Major Major. The Allies bombing their own bridge. I promise you, you’ll either love this book or hate this book. But, if you are in the right frame of mind, you’ll eventually see why this book earned its place in the Top 10 World War 2 Books.

Publication Date: 10 November 1961 Amazon | Goodreads | More Info

book cover Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity

Elizabeth wein.

I know many would scoff at my choice, but I can’t recommend this book enough. You’ll find yourself immersed in a world of intrigue with the story British spy, Agent “Verity.” Captured when her plane crashes in occupied France, Verity is interrogated by the Gestapo in an attempt to learn of her mission. As she confesses under torture, you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat wondering what secrets she is willing to exchange for her life. How far is she willing to go for her mission? A brilliant and emotional read that you won’t want to miss. Definitely my favorite of the World War 2 books for teens.

Publication Date: 15 May 2012 Amazon | Goodreads | More Info

book cover The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

The Caine Mutiny

Herman wouk.

To round out the fiction section of my top 10 World War 2 books, I’ve chosen Herman Wouk’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Written only six years after the end of the war, The Caine Mutiny has astounding detail most modern authors can never hope to achieve. Mostly because the story is heavily based on the author’s own experiences during the war. The story details the life aboard the U.S.S. Caine and the moral complexities of wartime decisions, especially the hard choices that need to be made by a captain at sea.

Publication Date: 1951 Amazon | Goodreads | More Info

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Top 10 World War 2 Books

Top 10 World War 2 Books – 5 Best Nonfiction

book cover The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

The Hiding Place

Corrie ten boom.

What would you do if you noticed your neighbors suddenly disappearing? A quiet old maid living with her older sister and elderly father, Corrie ten Boom knew that she had to act. Her family joined the Dutch Underground and built a secret room to hide Jews within, for which they were to pay the ultimate price. Corrie ten Boom’s heartrending account of her life will inspire you to have faith, hope, and courage no matter what obstacles you may face.

Publication Date: November 1971 Amazon | Goodreads | More Info

book cover To Hell and Back by Audie Murphy

To Hell and Back

Audie murphy.

Audie Murphy was one of the most decorated soldiers in World War II, earning basically ever honor possible including the Congressional Medal of Honor. Reading his book, I came to the part describing his account of the actions that earned him the Medal of Honor, and he made it sound like it was no big deal. He single-handedly held off a whole company of German soldiers for more than an hour. But he just did what had to be done. That’s the true mark of a hero. Interestingly enough, after World War II, Audie Murphy went on to become a movie star, even starring in the film adaptation of his autobiography.

Publication Date: 1949 Amazon | Goodreads | More Info

book cover Night by Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel

I was debating putting two Holocaust stories on this list, but I think you should read both of them. While Corrie Ten Boom illustrates finding the joy within any trial, Elie Wiesel’s story is a heart-wrenching account that really shows no mercy. While I love good World War 2 novels, World War 2 nonfiction books fully illustrate the depth of the Holocaust. It is our responsibility to read books like this, no matter how depressing, so that truly understand the horror of these events to ensure they don’t happen again.

Publication Date: 1956 Amazon | Goodreads | More Info

book cover Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Laura Hillenbrand

While we are often reminded of the horrors of the Holocaust, we seem to sometimes overlook the awful events that occurred in the Pacific theater during World War 2. Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling book details the life of Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic runner who even shook hands with Hitler at the Berlin Olympics. Shot down in the Pacific Ocean in 1943, Lt. Zamperini managed to survive on a life raft for 47 days only to be found by the Japanese. Lt. Zamperini’s resilience will amaze you as he struggles to survive life as a Japanese prisoner for almost three years.

Publication Date: 16 November 2010 Amazon | Goodreads | More Info

book cover Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose

Band of Brothers

Stephen e. ambrose.

Last, but not least, for our Top 10 World War 2 Books we have the thrilling account of Easy Company, a unit of the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army. The book gets its title from the Shakespeare quote, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.” Instead of following one man’s journey, the cast of characters winds in and out as men come and go from the company due to reassignment, injury, and death. Stephen Ambrose’s powerful book is a remarkable look at the everyday men who became legends. If you haven’t seen the HBO miniseries, you are truly missing out.

Publication Date: 1992 Amazon | Goodreads | More Info

How Does Your List of the Top 10 World War 2 Books Stack Up Against Mine?

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with my Top 10 World War 2 Books? What WWII books have I forgotten? Which World War II books should I have left off the list? As always, let me know in the comments!

More World War 2 Books Reading Lists:


Beneath a Scarlet Sky on boardwalk

Reader Interactions

Hailey says

January 7, 2021 at 11:20 am

This list looks very good, and I enjoy Night, by Ellie Wiesel, but as an avid WW2 Novel lover, I’m shocked that a couple of books are not on this list. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak is one of the most amazing novels I’ve ever read, and definitely deserves to be on this list. I feel that we hardly ever hear the story of citizens of Germany during WW2, and this one does it beautifully. Also, Between Shades of Grey, by Ruta Sepetys, is a fantastic story about a girl and her family who are captured by the Soviet Union, but the book has a really nice underlying theme of love and hope. Please don’t take this as an angry review, just a couple of suggestions, Keep up the great work!

Rachael says

January 11, 2021 at 4:49 pm

Oh, the Book Thief is one of my favorite books. I haven’t read Between Shades of Grey yet, but I have enjoyed her other books. Limiting my list to only 10 books (and only 5 fiction!) was incredibly hard. I will admit that this page is on my list of posts to update this year, so you’ll have to come back and see if I change anything.

February 22, 2021 at 7:05 am

With great respect, you have the typical myopic view of most Americans: that everything written or accomplished by an American is the biggest and best in history. It must not be forgotten that Great Britain, Canada and other countries of the British Commonwealth entered the war in 1939, whereas the U.S. did not do so until 1943. While many of the books to which you have referred are excellent, any real student of WW ll knows that the greatest books ever written by a western author about WW ll were Winston Churchill’s treatise The Second World War, in 6 volumes, which led to Churchill being awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. Any true scholar or antiquarian bookseller is aware of this and I would encourage you and your readers to read those books, which were written by an author of immense talent whose command of the English language is unmatched.

Carolyn says

April 8, 2021 at 4:30 pm

I have read 84, Charing Cross Road, To Hell and Back, The Nightingale, The Things They Carried, The Alice Network, Code Talker, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. WW 2 fiction and nonfiction are my favorite books

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10 Best War Books to Add to Your Reading List

Steven John

While a terrible, wretched thing war is — the very worst breakdown of society, in fact — but it is nonetheless compelling. From battle come stories of bravery and heroism, of cowardice and pain, of friendships that run deeper than blood, and of hatred so visceral it almost belies human emotion. Thus it’s little surprise that some of the best novels are set during times of military conflict.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

The red badge of courage by stephen crane, all quiet on the western front by erich remarque, birdsong by sebastian faulks, for whom the bell tolls by ernest hemingway, the time in between by maria duenas, a pale view of hills by kazuo ishiguro, the things they carried by tim o’brien, the kite runner by khaled hosseini, the yellow birds by kevin powers.

Whether inspired by the firsthand experience of the author or imagined by a fertile mind, great wartime novels plunge their reader into the action and into the era, sharing with us not only plot and character but also giving us a better sense of what it must have been like to live through such trying times. And when successful, good war books should inspire its reader toward a love of peace, not belligerence.

More Books to Read

Here are 10 works of fiction set in all-too-real wars that any lover of literature should attack with alacrity.

Much of this epic tome is not set in conflict at all, but don’t worry, even the “peace” parts of War and Peace are plenty enjoyable. The scenes Tolstoy sets during Russia’s epic struggles against Napoleon’s forces in the early 19th century have some of the finest moments ever wrought on paper. You see in this novel heroism but also have myriad examples of the utter stupidity of warfare, and often Tolstoy manages to entwine these two aspects masterfully, such as when Prince Andrey Bolkonsky rises up after an injury and charges back into battle with a mighty “Hurrah!” At first, your heart surges and you charge alongside him, but in seconds you’re thinking: “Actually … what the hell are you doing?”

Crane was born half a decade after the Civil War ended and died without quite making it to age 40, but you’d never know either of those things from reading  The Red Badge of Courage . Crane creates scenes of battle so realistic you would think them drawn from experience, and in his protagonist, Henry Fleming, Crane creates a character so real and nuanced you’d think the author had lived many more years to so fully experience the complexity that comes with being human. Fleming considers himself a coward for having fled a battlefield, but in him, we see a man who reflects much of ourselves.

If you didn’t read this book in high school, read it now. Though about 300 pages in its paperback edition, you can charge through the book in just a few sessions. While not a hard read, it’s not an easy ready, either. The fear, senselessness, and dislocation from reality established here feel real because they are; Remarque was a German soldier who did indeed fight on the Western Front during World War I, and who would later go on, during a decidedly interesting life, to renounce war. He fled Germany in the run-up to WWII and would even have his German citizenship revoked by the Nazis.

If you don’t get enough WWI action from  All Quiet on the Western Front , crack open  Birdsong next. Much of the book is about love and its many complications, but WWI is at the heart of the novel and its many unflinching scenes of death and suffering will stay with you well after you’ve turned the last page. Much as with Stephen Crane’s Civil War writing, you will be impressed that Faulks was born after WWI and had no firsthand experience therein. (In fact, he was born after WWII.)

Ernest Hemingway saw action in the First World War and during the Spanish Civil War, the setting for his masterpiece, and that experience shows in one way above all else: The fighting here, as in his other many novels and short stories , is not pretty. It’s not glorious. It’s muddy and erratic and usually useless, with neither side gaining much ground but with men (and women) dying nonetheless. At its heart, For Whom the Bell Tolls is as much love story as war story, but so essential to this book is the immensity of the Spanish Civil War that the two aspects are inseparable.

This novel is 600-plus pages long but manages to be a fast read nonetheless thanks to how quickly the story moves. That story centers on a girl named Sira whom we meet at 12 and follow as she briskly reaches adulthood just at the outset of the Spanish Civil War, which prompts her to leave her native Iberia and embark on a journey that winds through the rest of the 1930s and right into WWII, a conflict during which she takes on a potentiality deadly role as double agent for the Allies. As much period piece as war novel, the story does a fine job of painting the scenery of two of the 20th century’s worst conflicts.

Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and you can rest assured that his writing is superlative. This novel is actually set in London after World War II, but the main character’s many recollections of the war as it ravaged Japan plunge us back into that carnage again and again, and with a decidedly new point of view for most readers: The protagonist here is a Japanese woman, a far cry from the American fighting man through which we usually see WWII in the Pacific.

Before he was creating celebrated literature largely about the Vietnam War, Tim O’Brien was a soldier fighting in the Vietnam War, and his experience shows. This book, a collection of interwoven short stories that tell a larger cohesive narrative, features writing that’s at times stripped down to the basics, at times lyrical. O’Brien can convey the complexities of a soldier’s emotions in describing a simple white pebble and can tell us all we need to know about a certain character based on the things in his pockets and pack — literally the things carried.

This at times touching, at times searing novel reminds us that the real victims in warfare are the people who never took up arms in the first place: The civilians. And among the noncombatants, it is the children who are usually affected the most. This recent classic tells of the woes wrought in Afghanistan by the Soviet invasion in 1979, the fallout of which is still with us today. It is a coming of age story with a backdrop of a country falling apart amidst what would prove to be a forever war.

Kevin Powers served in the United States Army in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, and if you remember your recent history, those were about the worst and most challenging years you could serve. His experience manning a machine gun in and around towns like Mosul provided him ample source material for this powerful modern war novel, in which we see several soldiers ground down by the stress, fatigue, death, and constant fear that plagued them.

Editors' Recommendations

There's no better time to get hooked on spooky tales than the fall. Sure, you can listen to some ghost stories all year, but sharing these accounts around the scary season is an unspoken tradition. With everything happening in the world, getting trapped in scary fictional scenarios around Halloween is much better than dwelling in a too often awful news reality for long.

Rather than sit and stew about things you can't change, how about getting the brew going yourself with a bit of delightful horror? After all, sometimes the best way to deal with the fears of real life is to distract yourself with some frightening fiction podcasts. Get ready to turn the fear factor up to 11 with the best horror podcasts to listen to right now.

Sleep is a vital component of living a healthy life, and it's something we all struggle with from time to time. The best nightly activity to help you prepare for sleep is to read before going to bed, but deciding what to read can get tricky! You don't want such a dry, dull book that you can't even make it to page two, but you also don't want a suspenseful thriller that keeps you up all night.

So instead of reading something boring or overly stimulating, we found the seven best books about sleep to help you get more. Not only can the act of reading one of them allow you to fall asleep faster, but you might learn something useful in the process that can improve your bedtime habits for life.

The Bill of Rights was signed in 1791, guaranteeing U.S. citizens' inalienable rights of expression and freedom from suppression. Who is allowed these rights has been a debate ever since.

In Island Trees School District v. Pico, the Supreme Court ruled that school officials cannot ban books solely based on their content. This was in 1982. Exactly 40 years later, civic groups and government officials continue their attempts to quash diverse perspectives in public school libraries. In 2021, attempts to ban books rose to unprecedented levels. The American Library Association reported more than 729 attempted bans, resulting in 1,597 reduced or removed individual books. Most targeted books were by or about minority groups of all stripes and beliefs.

Republicans battle for the Alcazar in Toledo where rebels are sheltered in July 1936.

Top 10 neglected books about the Spanish civil war

A few celebrated names dominate our understanding of this ‘last great cause’, but these novels and memoirs show there is much more to learn

Sometimes a cause arises that seems so clearcut – so right-or-wrong – that we can seize our position with something like relief, because we have found something good and true to believe in, and to fight for. The Spanish civil war, or rather the democratic Republic that was ended by it, is sometimes described as “the last great cause”. Because Hitler and Mussolini supported the military rebels attacking Spain’s elected leftwing government, the war has often been seen as a missed opportunity to face down Europe’s fascist dictators. It became a rallying cry around the world, bringing politics alive for a young generation in the 1930s.

The war famously inspired writers, some of them very famous – George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway dominate the anglophone field. I wrote my book Tomorrow Perhaps the Future in pursuit of individuals who – though not always as male, or white, or famous – turned out to be just as politicised by their times. I wanted to think about the imperative they’d identified of taking sides – a position that felt more relevant than ever over the last few years – but I was also curious about how writers, who surely need seclusion to do their best work, negotiated the clamour of such polarised, crisis-riven times.

In following women who showed their solidarity by going to Spain during the war, I came to wonder, too, how outsiders can offer themselves as allies without drowning out the very people they want to support. No cause is ever as straightforward as we might like to think, and perhaps that is why the Spanish civil war has proved an apparently inexhaustible source of literary inspiration. Here I’ve picked out some fiction and memoir that comes at the war from an unexpected tangent, or explores its legacy, or provides a reminder of just what an incredible range of people had their lives affected by this last great cause.

1. Savage Coast and Mediterranean by Muriel Rukeyser The 22-year-old American Rukeyser was in Spain for only a few days after the outbreak of war before being evacuated, yet Spain, she later wrote, was the place where “I began to say what I believed”. The results included the modernist novel Savage Coast and an epic poem, Mediterranean. Rukeyser was haunted by the memory of Otto Bloch, an exile from Nazi Germany who joined the Republic’s foreign volunteer force, the International Brigades, and was killed. In Mediterranean, Rukeyser tells of a man who “kept his life straight as a single issue”, which, for me, sums up the dedication (and reduced options) of such people.

2. Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas This magnificent “true tale” follows a stalled novelist who becomes obsessed in the 1990s with the story of the falangist writer Rafael Sánchez Mazas and his escape from a Republican firing squad, thanks to a Republican soldier who spared his life. It’s a quest through archival scraps and oral history, one that demonstrates how our histories and legends are an accumulation of stories. It may start with Mazas, but the narrator’s encounter with Miralles, a forgotten Republican militiaman who went on to fight fascism in the second world war, forms the heart of the novel – and reminds us that injustices live on in the way different individuals and accounts are memorialised.

3. A Death in Zamora by Ramón Sender Barayón When the war broke out, the acclaimed writer Ramón Sender left his family to join the Republicans. His wife, Amparo Barayón, headed for her home town of Zamora, expecting to find a refuge there despite the fact that it was in rebel hands. Instead, she was imprisoned and executed. A Death in Zamora narrates Sender Barayón’s attempts to piece together the story of his mother’s fate. Incredibly moving, it deals sensitively with the difficulties of seeking out the truth in communities where victims and perpetrators have long lived side by side and is a powerful reminder that trauma can last for generations.

4. A Stricken Field by Martha Gellhorn When Ernest Hemingway settled down to write For Whom the Bells Tolls there was another writer in the house with him, also trying to write a novel about Spain. Except that, for Gellhorn, everything about her experiences there was still “too close” to translate into fiction. Instead, using “the emotions of Spain”, she wrote this bleak, protesting novel about an American journalist unable to save refugees in Czechoslovakia as the German army moves in.

‘A chance to fight back’ … veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

5. Mississippi to Madrid: Memoir of a Black American in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade by James Yates Yates was born in Mississippi and was active in radical politics in Chicago and New York before volunteering for the International Brigades. He crossed the Pyrenees on foot in early 1937 and drove a truck for the Republican forces during some of its bloodiest battles, often coming under fire himself. His hugely readable memoir provides an example of the psychological significance that fighting in Spain could have for people with disempowering experiences of prejudice at home. Volunteering there was, he writes, “the chance to fight back for once in my life”.

6. Nada by Carmen Laforet Published in 1945, Nada (Nothing) follows 18-year-old Andrea after she moves to her grandmother’s apartment in Barcelona to pursue a university degree. The family has fallen on hard times and the apartment is crammed with relatives who are routinely cruel to each other. Around the edges of everything that goes unsaid in the novel’s pages, the terrible legacy of the war simmers. This is a Spain in which rage and despair have been driven underground, erupting in the only possible place: within the home. Unable to sleep after a family disaster, Andrea lies in bed, “collecting all the griefs that swarmed, as alive as worms, in the entrails of the house”.

7. The Forging of a Rebel by Arturo Barea The romance surrounding the war can obscure the fact that it was, like any war, sometimes absurd, undignified and, most of all, a tragedy for the millions of Spaniards who never had a choice about whether to involve themselves. Barea ran the Republican foreign press and censorship office in Madrid. His mammoth autobiography puts the war into the context of Spanish politics and society over a lifetime, and is a valuable counterbalance to the accounts left by foreign journalists, who did not, as he put it, “suffer the civil war in [their] own flesh as I did”.

8. Only for Three Months by Adrian Bell In 1937, in the aftermath of the bombing of Guernica, the British government very reluctantly accepted the single largest arrival of refugees to this country so far and the first to consist almost entirely of children. Almost 4,000 from the Basque Country crossed the Bay of Biscay in a storm and found themselves housed in a hastily arranged field of tents near Southampton. Bell’s 1996 history assembles many of their voices. Some remember kind and welcoming strangers; others cold, disarray and unbearable anxiety about their families. “There are some things we have forgotten,” one of Bell’s interviewees told him, “and some things we have deliberately forgotten”.

9. Never More Alive: Inside the Spanish Republic by Kate Mangan Mangan’s dogged search for her German lover, Jan Kurzke, after he volunteered in the International Brigades slightly overshadows her memoir of working for the Republican press office (which comes with an introduction by the eminent historian Paul Preston), but hers is a refreshingly humorous and unromantic account, which cuts many a literary celebrity down to size. WH Auden, for instance, proves too timid to impress anyone, while the hefty Ernest Hemingway merely looks, to Mangan, “like a successful businessman”.

10. In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda Rodoreda worked for the Generalitat of Catalonia during the war and later went into exile. A classic of Catalan literature, her extraordinary novel is narrated by Natalia, whose family suffers unthinkable deprivation when her husband leaves for the front and conditions in the Republican zone deteriorate. Natalia’s voice – stark, naive, despairing – speaks for the left-behind and of one mother’s no-choice tenacity. Her matter-of-fact narration does not conceal the horror. “Obviously, they weren’t like they were before the war,” she writes of her starving children, “but they were still beautiful enough.”

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