The best books about some human undercurrents of the World Wars, and a father’s war revealed

Chris Dickon Author Of A Rendezvous with Death: Alan Seeger in Poetry, at War
By Chris Dickon

Who am I?

I was a misbegotten child of World War II, my father an anonymous stranger on a train returning to war, thus setting me in search of an answer. While driving through rural France one day in my sixth decade I realized I'd been searching for my father through writing, and an understanding of his experience in war. My seventh decade produced Dutch Children of African American Liberators, with co-author Mieke Kirkels, about the puzzling lives of the European children of African American soldiers of World War II. As I got to its final chapters, my own father’s identity was revealed to me through DNA, and that will be the subject of my final book.

I wrote...

A Rendezvous with Death: Alan Seeger in Poetry, at War

By Chris Dickon,

Book cover of A Rendezvous with Death: Alan Seeger in Poetry, at War

What is my book about?

That drive through the region of Amiens, Reims, and Soissons had followed the last year of the American poet Alan Seeger of the French Foreign Legion toward his certainty of “A Rendezvous with Death.” His own search for meaning had begun in the streets of his beloved Paris. I had been able to look over Notre Dame from the open window of his room on Rue du Sommerard, then submerge myself in the geography through which he marched toward his end in the Battle of the Somme, July 4, 1916. On a second journey, I traveled from his statue in Paris to the centennial memorial of his death in Picardy at Belloy-en-Santerre. He had fallen singing a song and urging his fellows forward into the war, a Hero of France.

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The books I picked & why


By John Dos Passos,

Book cover of 1919

Why did I love this book?

Dos Passos’ USA trilogy was a project of the 1930s with 1919 at its center. In its time, the trilogy was a literary precursor of multimedia as we know it today, a mix of fictional narrative and non-fiction documentary.  For me at college age, it was a revelatory journey into the human layers between the 20th-century events of the larger world that I would be entering in search of who I was and would be. Centered on World War I, an industrializing America, and an exotic Paris, it would give me my first effective exposure to the places in which I would live and travel, and the stories I would not begin to tell with my own writing until fifty years later. 

By John Dos Passos,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked 1919 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A Depression-era novel about American tumult has—perhaps unsurprisingly—aged quite well.”—The New Yorker

In 1919, the second volume of his U.S.A. trilogy, John Dos Passos continues his “vigorous and sweeping panorama of twentieth-century America” (Forum).

Employing a host of experimental devices that would inspire a whole new generation of writers to follow, Dos Passos captures the many textures, flavors, and background noises of the era with a cinematic touch and unparalleled nerve.1919 opens to find America and the world at war, and Dos Passos’s characters, many of whom we met in the first volume, are thrown into the snarl. We follow…

Field Gray

By Philip Kerr,

Book cover of Field Gray

Why did I love this book?

Eventually, my travels to understand and write about the times in which I had been born took me to the Auschwitz concentration camp near Krakow, then to its source in Berlin and some excellent walking tours into the heart of its lights and shadows – which is much of the world of Philip Kerr’s fictional Bernie Gunther. A 1930s Berlin detective, Bernie must navigate the attempt to maintain a humanity that is both moral and faulted in a time of brutality and absurdity over the course of fifteen novels that will puzzle through the human dilemma of World War II Europe. Field Gray, which ranges from the Spanish Flu epidemic of World War I to the corruption of 1950s Cuba is perhaps the most comprehensive of the series.

By Philip Kerr,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'One of the greatest anti-heroes ever written' LEE CHILD

'A man doesn't work for his enemies unless he has little choice in the matter.'

So says Bernie Gunther. It is 1954 and Bernie is in Cuba. Tiring of his increasingly dangerous work spying on Meyer Lansky, Bernie acquires a boat and a beautiful companion and quits the island. But the US Navy has other ideas, and soon he finds himself in a place with which he is all too familiar - a prison cell. After exhaustive questioning, he is flown back to Berlin and yet another prison cell with a…

A Hero of France

By Alan Furst,

Book cover of A Hero of France

Why did I love this book?

Je suis las,” is the first human utterance of A Hero of France. “I am tired of the way I have to live my life.” In the lights and shadows of Alan Furst’s Europe at war the challenges are almost elegant in their quiet persistence, and their demands for endurance through the endless nights of the European underground. Occupied France is often the transit point through the center of it all. Paris is the delicate city of hard dangers and the closed doors upon, or hidden stairways to, the French Resistance. Mathieu, without a surname, is the leader of one of its cells of ordinary men and women who love their country and its magnificent, brutalized city. Like my friend Alan Seeger, he becomes A Hero of France.

By Alan Furst,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the bestselling master espionage writer, hailed by Vince Flynn as “the best in the business,” comes a riveting novel about the French Resistance in Nazi-occupied Paris.

1941. The City of Light is dark and silent at night. But in Paris and in the farmhouses, barns, and churches of the French countryside, small groups of ordinary men and women are determined to take down the occupying forces of Adolf Hitler. Mathieu, a leader of the French Resistance, leads one such cell, helping downed British airmen escape back to England.
Alan Furst’s suspenseful, fast-paced thriller captures this dangerous time as no…

Book cover of Madame Fourcade's Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Largest Spy Network Against Hitler

Why did I love this book?

I can only read Lynne Olson’s work with an aspiration for research and excellence that I will never fulfill. In this case, the Hero of France is the nonfictional Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, who, like the fictional Mathieu, brought together the most ordinary people to do the most extraordinary work of espionage and resistance. It would not be enough to say that Olson has finally brought forth the largely unknown and remarkable story of a female spy against the Nazi occupation of her country. Much more than that, it is the story of the particular qualities of what it is to be a woman applied in their own way, and with great courage, to a history of World War II that is made unique by her presence in it.

By Lynne Olson,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Madame Fourcade's Secret War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The little-known true story of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, the woman who headed the largest spy network in occupied France during World War II, from the bestselling author of Citizens of London and Last Hope Island

“Brava to Lynne Olson for a biography that should challenge any outdated assumptions about who deserves to be called a hero.”—The Washington Post


In 1941 a thirty-one-year-old Frenchwoman, a young mother born to privilege and known for her beauty and glamour, became the leader of a…

Book cover of The Mathews Men: Seven Brothers and the War Against Hitler's U-Boats

Why did I love this book?

As I was finishing Dutch Children, my own DNA began pointing to the watermen, boatbuilders, and seafarers of Middlesex and Mathews counties, Virginia, on the Chesapeake Bay. The Mathews Men took me deep within a story of the war that I had not much known and which would soon turn personal. These were the Merchant Mariners who carried the people and supplies of war through treacherous seas of German submarines, and lost beneath the waves the highest percentage of members of all military branches. Geroux’s fine telling of the lives of these men and their families prepared me for the eventual discovery that my mystery father had been one of them, raised in Middlesex County, a survivor of the war who had sailed everywhere in the world, though I would never meet him.

By William Geroux,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Vividly drawn and emotionally gripping."
-Daniel James Brown, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Boys in the Boat

From the author of The Ghost Ships of Archangel, one of the last unheralded heroic stories of World War II: the U-boat assault off the American coast against the men of the U.S. Merchant Marine who were supplying the European war, and one community's monumental contribution to that effort

Mathews County, Virginia, is a remote outpost on the Chesapeake Bay with little to offer except unspoiled scenery-but it sent an unusually large concentration of sea captains to fight in World…

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