The Best Books On The Immediate Aftermath of World War 2

The Books I Picked & Why

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

By Tony Judt

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

Why 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.


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In the Ruins of the Reich

By Douglas Botting

In the Ruins of the Reich

Why 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.


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Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

By John W. Dower

Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

Why 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.


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

By Ben Shephard

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

Why 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.


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

By Anne Applebaum

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

Why 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.


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