The best history books about chemical weapons

Thomas I. Faith Author Of Behind the Gas Mask: The U.S. Chemical Warfare Service in War and Peace
By Thomas I. Faith

Who am I?

When I first enrolled in college, I expected to be a science major who was also interested in history, but I ended up becoming a history major who was also interested in science. I earned my Ph.D. in history from George Washington University in Washington, DC, after earning my B.A. from Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. My Ph.D. dissertation on the U.S. Army Chemical Warfare Service during WWI and the 1920s became the basis for my book Behind the Gas Mask.


I wrote...

Behind the Gas Mask: The U.S. Chemical Warfare Service in War and Peace

By Thomas I. Faith,

Book cover of Behind the Gas Mask: The U.S. Chemical Warfare Service in War and Peace

What is my book about?

Behind the Gas Mask tells the story of the Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) as it worked to improve the U.S. Army's ability to use and defend against chemical weapons during WWI. Taking the CWS's story from the trenches to peacetime, this book explores how the CWS's work on chemical warfare continued through the 1920s despite deep opposition to the weapons in both military and civilian circles. Conflict with those aligned against chemical warfare forced the CWS to fight for its institutional life—and ultimately led to the U.S. military's rejection of battlefield chemical weapons. Behind the Gas Mask offers a thought-provoking view of the history and place of chemical weapons in American war-making.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs: Unconventional Warfare in the Ancient World

By Adrienne Mayor,

Book cover of Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs: Unconventional Warfare in the Ancient World

Why this book?

This book is a history of chemical and biological warfare in antiquity that is full of fascinating revelations. Adrienne Mayor investigates ancient texts and legends to explore early methods of warfare that continue to have relevance today. This book illustrates that ethical debates over the use of chemical weapons are as old as humanity itself.


War and Nature: Fighting Humans and Insects with Chemicals from World War I to Silent Spring

By Edmund Russell,

Book cover of War and Nature: Fighting Humans and Insects with Chemicals from World War I to Silent Spring

Why this book?

War and Nature is an innovative and thought-provoking look at the relationship between chemical warfare and insecticides that intersects military history, environmental history, and cultural history. Edmund Russell weaves together many disparate threads of inquiry into a cohesive and compelling story about how military tools can transition into commercial uses. War and Nature convinced me to study chemical warfare in my academic career more than any other book.


Hellfire Boys: The Birth of the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service and the Race for the World's Deadliest Weapons

By Theo Emery,

Book cover of Hellfire Boys: The Birth of the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service and the Race for the World's Deadliest Weapons

Why this book?

Hellfire Boys is the story of the U.S. Army Chemical Warfare Service during the First World War, written by a journalist who brings his skills as an investigator and a storyteller to this tale. Theo Emery became interested in chemical warfare in 2012 while covering the U.S. Army’s excavation of buried WWI chemical weapons beneath the Spring Valley neighborhood of Washington, DC. Well researched and readable, I literally could not put Hellfire Boys down.


Holding Their Breath: How the Allies Confronted the Threat of Chemical Warfare in World War II

By M. Girard Dorsey,

Book cover of Holding Their Breath: How the Allies Confronted the Threat of Chemical Warfare in World War II

Why this book?

This book provides an answer to a question that historians of arms control have asked since WWII ended: Why had the use of chemical weapons on the battlefield not become widespread in WWII, in the same manner it had in WWI? Focusing on Britain, Canada, and the United States, Holding Their Breath explores Allied reluctance to use chemical weapons and their formulation of a joint policy on chemical warfare. M. Girard Dorsey shows that the potential for chemical warfare in WWII profoundly influenced the course of the war’s events.


Tear Gas: From the Battlefields of World War I to the Streets of Today

By Anna Feigenbaum,

Book cover of Tear Gas: From the Battlefields of World War I to the Streets of Today

Why this book?

Anna Feigenbaum’s book describes the origins of tear gas as a weapon of war and its transition to a crowd control tool. Tear Gas tells a story about the relationships between militaries, arms manufacturers, and police forces that has critical public policy and societal implications today. The continued use of tear gas to counter-protest movements and mass demonstrations around the globe remains a challenge for advocates of arms control, social justice, and human rights.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in World War 1, Canada, and World War 2?

5,716 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about World War 1, Canada, and World War 2.

World War 1 Explore 490 books about World War 1
Canada Explore 215 books about Canada
World War 2 Explore 960 books about World War 2

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Among the Thugs, Hate Spin, and The Devil's Own Work if you like this list.