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.

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The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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!

By Pen Farthing,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked One Dog at a Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Kindness flourishes in an Afghan war zone, where British Royal Marine Farthing begins rescuing the starving strays nosing their way onto his compound...Readers will come to know and love each mutt and to admire Farthing, whose caring doesn't end when his tour does.” ―People

The remarkable true story of one man's fight to save the stray dogs of Afghanistan.

In the remote outpost of Now Zad, Afghanistan, Pen Farthing and his troop of young Royal Marines survive frequent engagements with the Taliban and forge links with the local community. Appalled by the horrors of local dog fighting, Pen has no…

George Cross Heroes

By Michael Ashcroft,

Book cover of George Cross Heroes

Why did I love 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.

By Michael Ashcroft,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked George Cross Heroes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In a broadcast to the nation in September 1940 King George VI announced the institution of the George Cross - a civilian equivalent of the Victoria Cross awarded to recognize the many acts of supreme gallantry being performed outside of the battlefield.

From Thomas Alderson, the first recipient of the medal, who heroically rescued several people from trapped houses during one terrible Blitz night, to Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher, who threw himself onto a live grenade in the Helmand province to save the lives of his comrades (and somehow survived), to Barbara Harrison, an air stewardess who died in 1968…

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

Why did I love 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. 

By Lester W. Grau,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Bear Went Over the Mountain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This rare 10th anniversary edition (published in 2007) contains a new introduction by expert Soviet historian David M. Glantz. In addition all maps and graphics have been enhanced from the 1996 edition. "When the Soviet Union decided to invade Afghanistan, they evaluated their chances for success upon their experiences in East Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Unfortunately for their soldiers, as well as the people of Afghanistan, they ignored not only the experiences of the British in the same region, but also their own experience with the Basmachi resistance fighters in Central Asia from 1918-1933. Consequently, in Afghanistan the Soviet army…

Book cover of How to Avoid Being Killed in a Warzone

Why did I love 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.

By Rosie Garthwaite,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked How to Avoid Being Killed in a Warzone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Everyone needs this book if they want to know how to get out of difficult situations whether at home or abroad. Written by Rosie Garthwaite, whose career as a journalist started in war-torn Basra, this book combines practical advice with contributions from many journalists and commentators including Rageh Omar and John Simpson, who share their own experience and advice on surviving in difficult and dangerous situations. Topics include how to avoid being misunderstood; how to avoid bombs and booby traps; how to escape from a riot; how to deal with frostbite and heat exhaustion; how to avoid trouble in sex,…

Book cover of Wellington: The Years of the Sword

Why did I love 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.

By Elizabeth Longford,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Afghanistan, survival, and the Peninsular War?

9,000+ 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.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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