The best books about being changed by war

Why am I passionate about this?

It’s kind of depressing that I’m so fascinated with these big “God and death and war” themes that are always banging around in my head. I think it’s because I like the gravity of even the smallest decisions in heightened crisis situations. It makes things so prominent and visceral. This gravity also makes the beauty in these moments of crisis more beautiful and love that much stronger. Ultimately, I’ve spent the last thirteen years trying to square with my time overseas and chase some version of that heightened meaning in civilian life. The contrast between being a school teacher and soldier really makes all of that clear. 


I wrote...

The Chicago East India Company

By Christopher Lyke,

Book cover of The Chicago East India Company

What is my book about?

No matter what we think we are achieving, eventually, imperial wars come home to roost. A generation of men asked to watch children suffer without flinching return to America. The ethics of the wars of Pax Americana become the ways and mores in our own streets. The logic of the war in Afghanistan is transferred to the classrooms of Chicago’s public high schools. America is reborn in a shape we never intended.

Lyke’s setting shifts, but forever casts the main character as someone trying to maintain his sanity, humanity, and kindness as the state and its bureaucracy try to take them away. In the tradition of Camus, Orwell, or Steinbeck, Lyke’s work illuminates human nature and seeks the truth hidden under layers of grit.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Things They Carried

Christopher Lyke Why did I love this book?

This book gave me license to bend the truth, the setting, and to use myself, or some bizarre version of myself as a main character. O’Brien is the one who made it okay for me to do whatever the hell I wanted in the stories I wrote. It may not appear to be avant garde writing, but it certainly showed me how to play with convention and storytelling. Like a lot of veteran writers in the last thirty years, I used this book as a template in a lot of ways.

By Tim O'Brien,

Why should I read it?

20 authors picked The Things They Carried as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

The million-copy bestseller, which is a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling.

'The Things They Carried' is, on its surface, a sequence of award-winning stories about the madness of the Vietnam War; at the same time it has the cumulative power and unity of a novel, with recurring characters and interwoven strands of plot and theme.

But while Vietnam is central to 'The Things They Carried', it is not simply a book about war. It is also a book about the human heart - about the terrible weight of those things we carry through…


Book cover of Shooting An Elephant

Christopher Lyke Why did I love this book?

Orwell captures the dilemma of empire so well that every time I read it, my nerves get raw. It’s a trap. Everyone is dehumanized, the oppressors and the oppressed. The sneering townspeople, the trips on the football pitch, the clear-sighted way the crowd intuits the relationship between themselves and the young policeman all ring true. The villagers can control him because they understand the expectations he has as an official of the crown. They use his strength against him to get what they want. He doesn’t want to kill the elephant, but it’s expected of him, so he gruesomely shoots into the elephant's mouth till, like the British empire, it finally dies. The villagers pillage the carcass for meat. For Orwell, empire itself is brutal suicide. 

By George Orwell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shooting An Elephant as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Shooting an Elephant' is Orwell's searing and painfully honest account of his experience as a police officer in imperial Burma; killing an escaped elephant in front of a crowd 'solely to avoid looking a fool'. The other masterly essays in this collection include classics such as 'My Country Right or Left', 'How the Poor Die' and 'Such, Such were the Joys', his memoir of the horrors of public school, as well as discussions of Shakespeare, sleeping rough, boys' weeklies and a spirited defence of English cooking. Opinionated, uncompromising, provocative and hugely entertaining, all show Orwell's unique ability to get to…


Book cover of The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

Christopher Lyke Why did I love this book?

For my money, Hemingway is the greatest American short story writer. He is spare and direct until he isn’t. The meter and clipped phrasing and short sentences set up bigger, longer runs that are beautiful and often explain what it’s like to be a human being without being obvious or careless. They never feel false and are edited down to the bone. That’s probably what I learned most from Hemingway, the editing. Just picking a story, “On the Quai at Smyrna,” has such a staccato matter-of-factness that belies just how awful the situation there on the pier must have been. The narrator is hardened and recounts the events so matter-of-factly that you know they’ll come back later, once he is home and has time to reflect on them.  

By Ernest Hemingway,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The complete, authoritative collection of Ernest Hemingway's short fiction, including classic stories like "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," along with seven previously unpublished stories.

In this definitive collection of the Nobel Prize-winning author’s short stories, readers will delight in Hemingway’s most beloved classics such as "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," "Hills Like White Elephants," and "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," and will discover seven new tales published for the first time in this collection, totaling in sixty stories. This collection demonstrates Hemingway’s ability to write beautiful prose for each distinct story,…


Book cover of The Great Gatsby

Christopher Lyke Why did I love this book?

I know this is a bit of a conceit. Jay wasn’t really changed by war in the way we’re talking about, but he did return a different man than when he left. I really just wanted to talk about the influence of Fitzgerald’s musicality, his incredible prose, on how I try to write. He’s writing a song, it seems to me, and when I read it, it’s like a spell and I think I vibrate at a different frequency than before I read it. Hunter Thompson had it too, but Fitzgerald was before him. Also, it has my favorite last line ever…I probably wrote an entire book based on that line.

By F. Scott Fitzgerald,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked The Great Gatsby as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As the summer unfolds, Nick is drawn into Gatsby's world of luxury cars, speedboats and extravagant parties. But the more he hears about Gatsby - even from what Gatsby himself tells him - the less he seems to believe. Did he really go to Oxford University? Was Gatsby a hero in the war? Did he once kill a man? Nick recalls how he comes to know Gatsby and how he also enters the world of his cousin Daisy and her wealthy husband Tom. Does their money make them any happier? Do the stories all connect? Shall we come to know…


Book cover of Nine Stories

Christopher Lyke Why did I love this book?

It doesn’t end well for old Seymour in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” but the way Salinger writes him, with his ability to revere the innocent child while detesting the phony adult world rings true. This is why Salinger is dangerous. If reading a book like this rings too true, it’s hard not to go through life seeing the adult world as corrupt and duplicitous. It puts a bug in one’s operating system. Salinger is kind of patient zero for a lot of young people who see the world a bit differently. On the surface, Nine Stories doesn’t seem like a war book, but both Seymour and Salinger himself fought the Germans in France, and without actually mentioning the war, it’s clear that the battle Seymour loses is with PTSD.

By J.D. Salinger,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The "original, first-rate, serious, and beautiful" short fiction (New York Times Book Review) that introduced J. D. Salinger to American readers in the years after World War II, including "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" and the first appearance of Salinger's fictional Glass family.
Nine exceptional stories from one of the great literary voices of the twentieth century. Witty, urbane, and frequently affecting, Nine Stories sits alongside Salinger's very best work--a treasure that will passed down for many generations to come. The stories: A Perfect Day for Bananafish Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut Just Before the War with the Eskimos The Laughing…


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The Woman at the Wheel

By Penny Haw,

Book cover of The Woman at the Wheel

Penny Haw Author Of The Invincible Miss Cust

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Storyteller Dog walker Dreamer Runner Reader

Penny's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Inspiring historical fiction based on the real life of Bertha Benz, whose husband built the first prototype automobile, which eventually evolved into the Mercedes-Benz marque.

"Unfortunately, only a girl again."

From a young age, Cäcilie Bertha Ringer is fascinated by her father's work as a master builder in Pforzheim, Germany. But those five words, which he wrote next to her name in the family Bible, haunt Bertha.

Years later, Bertha meets Carl Benz and falls in love—with him and his extraordinary dream of building a horseless carriage. Bertha has such faith in him that she invests her dowry in his plans, a dicey move since they alone believe in the machine. When Carl's partners threaten to withdraw their support, he's ready to cut ties. Bertha knows the decision would ruin everything. Ignoring the cynics, she takes matters into her own hands, secretly planning a scheme that will either hasten the family's passage to absolute derision or prove their genius. What Bertha doesn't know is that Carl is on the cusp of making a deal with their nemesis. She's not only risking her marriage and their life's work, but is also up against the patriarchy, Carl's own self-doubt, and the clock.

Like so many other women, Bertha lived largely in her husband's shadow, but her contributions are now celebrated in this inspiring story of perseverance, resilience, and love.

The Woman at the Wheel

By Penny Haw,

What is this book about?

Inspiring historical fiction based on the real life of Bertha Benz, whose husband built the first prototype automobile, which eventually evolved into the Mercedes-Benz marque.

"Unfortunately, only a girl again."

From a young age, Cacilie Bertha Ringer is fascinated by her father's work as a master builder in Pforzheim, Germany. But those five words, which he wrote next to her name in the family Bible, haunt Bertha.

Years later, Bertha meets Carl Benz and falls in love-with him and his extraordinary dream of building a horseless carriage. Bertha has such faith in him that she invests her dowry in his…


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