The best books on the immediate aftermath of World War 2

Who am I?

Keith Lowe is the author of several works on postwar history. His international bestseller, Savage Continent, won the English PEN/Hessell Tiltman Prize and Italy’s Cherasco History Prize. His book on the long-term legacy of World War II, The Fear and the Freedom, was awarded China’s Beijing News Annual Recommendation and was shortlisted for the Historical Writers Association Non-Fiction Crown. His books have been translated into more than twenty languages.

I wrote...

Book cover of Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II

What is my book about?

Savage Continent is the story of post-war Europe, from the close of the war right to the establishment of an uneasy stability at the end of the 1940s. This is the chronicle of a world gone mad, the standard history of post–World War II Europe for years to come. The story of a continent where individual Germans and collaborators were rounded up and summarily executed, where concentration camps were reopened and violent anti-Semitism was reborn.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

Why did I love this book?

This is a big book – a real wrist-breaker – but that’s what you get if you want the most comprehensive and exhaustively-researched single volume on Europe in the postwar era. Tony Judt covers everything from the immediate wave of vengeance that swept the continent after the Germans were defeated, to the economic miracles of the 1950s and 60s, right through to the formation of the European Union in the 1990s. For anyone interested in postwar European history, this should be your first port of call.

By Tony Judt,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Postwar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize * Winner of the Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Book Award * One of the New York Times' Ten Best Books of the Year

"Impressive . . . Mr. Judt writes with enormous authority." -The Wall Street Journal

"Magisterial . . . It is, without a doubt, the most comprehensive, authoritative, and yes, readable postwar history." -The Boston Globe

Almost a decade in the making, this much-anticipated grand history of postwar Europe from one of the world's most esteemed historians and intellectuals is a singular achievement. Postwar is the first modern history that covers…

In the Ruins of the Reich

By Douglas Botting,

Book cover of In the Ruins of the Reich

Why did I love this book?

There are dozens of excellent books about Germany and Germans in the wake of defeat – I could mention Giles MacDonogh’s After the Reich, or R.M. Douglas’s Orderly and Humane – but Douglas Botting’s book is by far the most engaging history of the subject that I’ve ever read. It was written in the 1980s, so it is not quite as up-to-date as the more recent histories, but what it lacks in cutting-edge research it more than makes up for in narrative immediacy. It is impossible not to be moved by Botting’s descriptions of postwar chaos, of orphans hiding in the ruins, of lawlessness, starvation, desperation and retribution. An absolute classic.

By Douglas Botting,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Ruins of the Reich as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in Britain in 1985, In the Ruins of the Reich is a classic account of Nazi Germany after her fall to the Allies in May 1945. Douglas Botting concentrates on the defining events that took place in the period between the collapse of the Third Reich and the foundation of the new Germanys to create the prevailing atmosphere of a most unusual and little-charted time in history. This was a period when four of the strongest industrial nations to emerge from the Second World War attempted to work together to govern the once strong Germany, now prostate, impoverished…

Book cover of Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

Why did I love this book?

The consequences of the war in Asia were just as monumental as they were in Europe. I could have chosen any number of books about the struggles for independence that broke out all across the region, or about the civil wars in China and Korea – but John Dower’s incredible book about postwar Japan stands head and shoulders above the crowd. He describes how the Japanese came to terms with defeat, how they embraced their conquerors, and how, eventually, they turned the whole situation to their advantage both politically and economically. It is in turn inspiring and shocking: this is sensitive, nuanced history at its very best.

By John W. Dower,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Embracing Defeat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Drawing on a vast range of Japanese sources and illustrated with dozens of astonishing documentary photographs, Embracing Defeat is the fullest and most important history of the more than six years of American occupation, which affected every level of Japanese society, often in ways neither side could anticipate. Dower, whom Stephen E. Ambrose has called "America's foremost historian of the Second World War in the Pacific," gives us the rich and turbulent interplay between West and East, the victor and the vanquished, in a way never before attempted, from top-level manipulations concerning the fate of Emperor Hirohito to the hopes…

Book cover of The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War

Why did I love this book?

The greatest challenge to the Allies in the aftermath of the war in Europe was how to repatriate the millions of people from all countries who had been displaced by the violence. This included prisoners of war, Holocaust survivors, and eastern European slave laborers, many of whom no longer had homes or even countries to return to. For several years after 1945, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration ran the greatest humanitarian operation Europe has ever seen. They not only fed, clothed, and housed millions of refugees but gave them hope for a better future. Ben Shephard’s history of how they achieved this is truly inspiring. The history of World War II is one of violence and killing, and my bookshelves are heaving with stories of atrocities – but beautifully-written, compassionate books like this one are enough to restore anyone’s faith in human nature.

By Ben Shephard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Long Road Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After the Great War, the millions killed on the battlefields were eclipsed by the millions more civilians carried off by disease and starvation when the conflict was over. Haunted by memories, the Allies were determined that the end of the Second World War would not be followed by a similar disaster, and they began to lay plans long before victory was assured.

Confronted by an entire continent starving and uprooted, Allied planners devised strategies to help all 'displaced persons', and repatriate the fifteen million people who had been deprived of their homes and in many cases forced to work for…

Book cover of Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956

Why did I love this book?

People in the West tend to celebrate 1945 as a year of liberation; but, of course, in Eastern Europe, the defeat of Germany merely heralded the beginning of four more decades of repression. In this book, Anne Applebaum describes the Communist takeover of three European countries – East Germany, Poland, and Hungary. It’s a masterpiece both of research and of analysis. Communism, just like capitalism, had many faces: this book shows brilliantly just how varied repression can be. In 2013 it won the lucrative Cundill Prize, and deservedly so.

By Anne Applebaum,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Iron Curtain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Chosen 16 times as a 'Book of the Year' - the top non-fiction pick of 2012

'The best work of modern history I have ever read' A. N. Wilson, Financial Times

At the end of the Second World War, the Soviet Union unexpectedly found itself in control of a huge swathe of territory in Eastern Europe. Stalin and his secret police set out to convert a dozen radically different countries to a completely new political and moral system: Communism. Anne Applebaum's landmark history of this brutal time shows how societies were ruthlessly eviscerated by Communist regimes, how opposition was destroyed…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in World War 2, Europe, and Germany?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about World War 2, Europe, and Germany.

World War 2 Explore 1,535 books about World War 2
Europe Explore 763 books about Europe
Germany Explore 388 books about Germany

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Bloodlands, The Commoner, and Memoirs of a Geisha if you like this list.