The best books with first-hand accounts of warzones

Jane Harvey-Berrick Author Of Troll: My Life in Bomb Disposal
By Jane Harvey-Berrick

Who am I?

I have no expertise in the military – I wish I did. But I have incredible respect for their work. I remember reading about the death of Oz Schmid, a bomb disposal officer who was killed in Afghanistan. It was the bravery of his widow, Christina, discussing the appalling lack of equipment and her quiet dignity that touched me profoundly. I asked myself, what can I do to help? Being a writer, I decided to write about it. I quickly realised that I needed an insider’s insight, and found Troll through Felix Fund, the bomb disposal charity. Troll and I wrote the play Later, After, seeing it performed was the proudest moment of my career. 

I edited...

Troll: My Life in Bomb Disposal

By Justin JJ Bell,

Book cover of Troll: My Life in Bomb Disposal

What is this book about?

Justin ‘Troll’ Bell QGM joined the British Army in the late 1980s and quickly qualified as an Ammunition Technician within the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. He completed over 20 years’ service as an Army Counter Terrorism Bomb Disposal Operator seeing service in Northern Ireland, Iraq, and Afghanistan. For a decade, he was part of front-line UK counter-terrorism activity including responding to the 2005 London bombings. He constituted part of the National Contingency Capability for dealing with weapons of mass destruction.

Troll died from brain cancer in 2019, caused, he joked, “because of all the nasty shit I’ve handled” during his time as an EOD operator. His memoirs are edited by his widow, and his friend Jane Harvey-Berrick.

The books I picked & why

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One Dog at a Time: Saving the Strays of Afghanistan

By Pen Farthing,

Book cover of One Dog at a Time: Saving the Strays of Afghanistan

Why this book?

I read a newspaper article about Pen Farthing in 2008. At the time, I wrote topical assemblies for primary school children and I featured his story about rescuing dogs from Helmand while he was a Royal Marine. Several children wanted to write to Pen. I became the go-between, and Pen and I became friends. He asked me to read his book when it was still in manuscript … the rest is in the news!

George Cross Heroes

By Michael Ashcroft,

Book cover of George Cross Heroes

Why this book?

Lord Ashcroft is a great supporter of veterans, and his book dedicated to the bravest of the brave is required reading. Troll gave me a copy while he was writing his own memoirs and I feel proud that I was able to encourage him.

The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan

By Lester W. Grau,

Book cover of The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan

Why this book?

Troll told me that he read this book in preparation for his own deployment to Afghanistan. Winston Churchill said about campaigns in Afghanistan, “Financially it is ruinous. Morally it is wicked. Militarily it is an open question, and politically it is a blunder.”

It doesn’t feel like much has changed. 

How to Avoid Being Killed in a Warzone

By Rosie Garthwaite,

Book cover of How to Avoid Being Killed in a Warzone

Why this book?

Most books about the military are written by men. But I was fascinated by this practical tip-based book by journalist Rosie Garthwaite. Wonderful anecdotes amongst real gems for staying safe in dangerous places. I also used it as research for one of my novels about a female war correspondent in Afghanistan.

Wellington: The Years of the Sword

By Elizabeth Longford,

Book cover of Wellington: The Years of the Sword

Why this book?

I read this when I was reading Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe books, and I thought Longford’s account of a flawed but brilliant man was astounding. Very readable with in-depth insight and research. It sparked a lifelong fascination with the Peninsular War.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Afghanistan, survival, and the Peninsular War?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Afghanistan, survival, and the Peninsular War.

Afghanistan Explore 48 books about Afghanistan
Survival Explore 112 books about survival
The Peninsular War Explore 12 books about the Peninsular War

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like On the Front Line, It's What I Do, and You Don't Belong Here if you like this list.