The best books about emotional conflict and post-war survival within a splintered psyche

Why am I passionate about this?

Living through the Iraq War compelled me to honestly challenge who I was, what I had believed in, and reshape who I am. One aspect to emerge from that is the belief that there is no good war. War is the worst of all endeavors, born from fundamentally weak minds that are blind to imagination and vision. But while I have had a passion for writing about war and speaking out against it, I feel it’s important for people to look beyond my work as just another veteran writing just another war book. In both of my books, the war is a character more than anything else. 


I wrote...

Playing Soldier

By F. Scott Service,

Book cover of Playing Soldier

What is my book about?

As an only child isolated within a troubled family, F. Scott Service found solace in fantasy and imagination, until a fateful day led to the discovery of his father’s Korean War field jacket. What began as innocent emulation and approval, eventually spiraled into a calamitous loss. Faced with a grievous divorce, post-traumatic stress, homelessness, substance abuse, and failure, one night communing with a loaded pistol became the mechanism for self-clarity.

Playing Soldier powerfully captures the unlearning of expectation, the celebration of individuality, and the nourishing of self-acceptance once buried by cultural stamps of approval and societal convention. Braided with humor, courage, fear, despair, and hope, his unflinching story of passage into adulthood and beyond stands as an inspiring example of how he re-forged his true, original self.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Tom O' Vietnam

F. Scott Service Why did I love this book?

Never in my life have I read a book that so closely echoed my heart and mind as an Iraq War veteran, unsettled wayfarer, and conscientious objector. It was a true reflection of my soul as I was searching for meaning within my own life and a fractured America. 

By Baron Wormser,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tom O' Vietnam as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Baron Wormser has done something important with TOM O' VIETNAM in the way that he has identified and precisely embraced a stunningly particular historical moment we casually refer to as 'Viet Nam,' as if the name was not a country but a dark shroud of moral collapse that hangs over us still. More remarkably, he has constructed this narrative from the point of view of a combat soldier, fighting in the American War in Viet Nam. Somehow there is a deep legitimacy to this soldier's story because Wormser has been excruciatingly precise in his consideration and use of details—what Hemingway…


Book cover of Dispatches

F. Scott Service Why did I love this book?

From the opening pages, his writing knocks your britches off and never relents, driving at you, into you, paragraph after paragraph, sentence after sentence, word after word. So authentic and immediate is his writing, that when I closed the book after finishing it, I discovered I had been transported back to and into my own war.

By Michael Herr,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

With an introduction by Kevin Powers.

A groundbreaking piece of journalism which inspired Stanley Kubrick's classic Vietnam War film Full Metal Jacket.

We took space back quickly, expensively, with total panic and close to maximum brutality. Our machine was devastating. And versatile. It could do everything but stop.

Michael Herr went to Vietnam as a war correspondent for Esquire. He returned to tell the real story in all its hallucinatory madness and brutality, cutting to the quick of the conflict and its seductive, devastating impact on a generation of young men. His unflinching account is haunting in its violence, but…


Book cover of The Circle of Hanh: A Memoir

F. Scott Service Why did I love this book?

This is a story of new beginnings and it shook my preconceived notions of what a memoir embodies. By going back to Vietnam years after the war, the author illustrates how love and time can change our opinions… that hate is the easy way out… that differences can allow us to understand how truly precious we all are… that we can come full circle, out of the darkness and into the light.

By Bruce Weigl,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

With all the breathtaking imagery and lyric fury that characterizes his acclaimed poetry, Bruce Weigl recounts his struggles in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, which tore his life apart and in return gave him his poetic voice. Upon his release from duty he turned to alcohol, drugs, and women, living for years in a confused purgatory until he discovered salvation in poetry and in the love of his wife and their son. Yet it was only through a harrowing journey back to Vietnam, to adopt his eight-year-old daughter, that Weigl was finally able to heal himself. Moving from childhood…


Book cover of Sophie's Choice

F. Scott Service Why did I love this book?

A whammy of a book and a knockout for the conscience of the soul. Not only does it explore the deep, darker recesses of the heart that are often filled with regret and self-loathing, but it examines humanity, humanity in all its raw coarseness, inelegance, frailties, shortcomings, and tragedies.

By William Styron,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Sophie's Choice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this extraordinary novel, Stingo, an inexperienced twenty-two year old Southerner, takes us back to the summer of 1947 and a boarding house in a leafy Brooklyn suburb. There he meets Nathan, a fiery Jewish intellectual; and Sophie, a beautiful and fragile Polish Catholic. Stingo is drawn into the heart of their passionate and destructive relationship as witness, confidant and supplicant. Ultimately, he arrives at the dark core of Sophie's past: her memories of pre-war Poland, the concentration camp and - the essence of her terrible secret - her choice.


Book cover of Martin Eden

F. Scott Service Why did I love this book?

While admittedly not a “war” book, Jack London’s masterful novel illustrates notions associated with war and society in an artful way. And he does it within two characters… a truth seeker and a believer in the establishment. From the rich and powerful to the impoverished with no voice, he clearly understood what is behind the masks we don in society. Fantastic read.

By Jack London,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Martin Eden as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The semiautobiographical Martin Eden is the most vital and original character Jack London ever created. Set in San Francisco, this is the story of Martin Eden, an impoverished seaman who pursues, obsessively and aggressively, dreams of education and literary fame. London, dissatisfied with the rewards of his own success, intended Martin Eden as an attack on individualism and a criticism of ambition; however, much of its status as a classic has been conferred by admirers of its ambitious protagonist. Andrew Sinclair's wide-ranging introduction discusses the conflict between London's support of socialism and his powerful self-will. Sinclair also explores the parallels…


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The Road from Belhaven

By Margot Livesey,

Book cover of The Road from Belhaven

Margot Livesey Author Of The Road from Belhaven

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Reader Secret orphan Professor Scottish Novelist

Margot's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

The Road from Belhaven is set in 1880s Scotland. Growing up in the care of her grandparents on Belhaven Farm, Lizzie Craig discovers as a small girl that she can see the future. But she soon realises that she must keep her gift a secret. While she can sometimes glimpse the future, she can never change it.

Nor can Lizzie change the feelings that come when a young man named Louis, visiting Belhaven for the harvest, begins to court her. Why have the adults around her never told her that the touch of a hand can change everything? When she follows Louis to Glasgow, she begins to learn the limits of his devotion and the complexities of her own affections.

The Road from Belhaven

By Margot Livesey,

What is this book about?

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy, a novel about a young woman whose gift of second sight complicates her coming of age in late-nineteenth-century Scotland

Growing up in the care of her grandparents on Belhaven Farm, Lizzie Craig discovers as a small child that she can see into the future. But her gift is selective—she doesn’t, for instance, see that she has an older sister who will come to join the family. As her “pictures” foretell various incidents and accidents, she begins to realize a painful truth: she may glimpse the future, but…


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