The best military books that resonate with me, or inspire me, in some personal way

Robert Widders Author Of Forged in Blood and Music: A story of friendship, courage, and survival.
By Robert Widders

Who am I?

Robert Widders is one of the few men who have served in both the British Army, the Royal Navy, and the Royal Air Force. His books on military history have been quoted in the Irish parliament and Senate and were the focus for a BBC documentary episode of Face the Facts.

I wrote...

Forged in Blood and Music: A story of friendship, courage, and survival.

By Robert Widders,

Book cover of Forged in Blood and Music: A story of friendship, courage, and survival.

What is my book about?

On the 27th of September 1942, 1,816 British prisoners of war embarked upon the Japanese transport ship, Lisbon Maru, to sail to Japan to be used as slave labour in Japanese industry. A week later, over half of them were dead, killed in a calculated act of murder by their Japanese military captors. Over the next two-and-a-half years, many more died as a result of torture, brutality, starvation, overwork, and the withholding of medical treatment.Here is the story of just one of them, Lance Bombardier Joseph Denton, an ordinary man who found the courage and willpower to survive through extraordinary events.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Colonel of Tamarkan: Philip Toosey and the Bridge on the River Kwai

Why did I love this book?

This is a book about Lieutenant Colonel Philip Toosey, the man who commanded the POWs who built the "bridge over the River Kwai". Many people, possibly most, know about this bridge from the film, The Bridge on the River Kwai, starring Alec Guinness. I recall discussing the film with a friend – a man who helped build the real bridge – and to quote him referring to the film, ‘British officers just didn’t behave like that’.

Years later, whilst traveling and writing, I sat through the night, on a rickety wooden verandah, a few hundred yards from the Kwai bridge reading a copy of The Colonel of Tamarkan, drinking Chang beer, being bitten by mosquitoes, and thinking about my friend and his pals, the ones buried in the cemetery a mile or so away. That’s where this book has meaning to me…

By Julie Summers,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Written by Toosey's granddaughter, this remarkable portrait of a forgotten British hero and leader is essential reading for anyone interested in the Second World War.

'Truly uplifting ... It makes you proud to be British.' The Guardian

Alec Guinness won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the dogmatic but brittle commanding officer in David Lean's film The Bridge on the River Kwai. While a brilliant performance, it owed more to fiction than fact, as the man who actually commanded the POWs ordered to build the infamous bridges -- there were in fact two: one wooden, one concrete --…

Book cover of The Crowded Hours: The Story Of 'Sos' Cohen

Why did I love this book?

The Crowded Hours tells the story of ‘Sos’ Cohen, whose eclectic military career began as an eighteen-year-old during the Matabele Wars of 1887, and then as a soldier in the Boer War. During the First World War, he first served with the Army and then transferred to the Royal Navy Air Service as a pilot. And in 1939, he joined the RAF at the age of 64, flying with RAF Coastal Command till the end of the Second World War.

Crowded Hours is a really interesting book in its own right, but in a more personal sense, it resonates with me because I’ve also served in the Army, the Navy, and the RAF, and I’m fascinated to read about the other men who’ve done this and try to understand what makes them tick.

By Anthony Richardson,

Why should I read it?

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

Adolf Hitler

By Spike Milligan,

Book cover of Adolf Hitler

Why did I love this book?

Many people will remember Spike Milligan as the anarchic comedian from the Goon Shows. But long before he became a radio and television celebrity, he served with the Royal Artillery in North Africa and then Italy, until he was physically wounded, psychologically traumatised, and then medically downgraded.

Milligan wrote a series of war memoirs beginning with Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall. Some of the humour may appear a little dated now, especially to younger generations. But to me the books are hilarious, full of satire, irony, and pathos, albeit written in tones – reflective of the times – that are, well, let’s just say, are not ‘politically correct’. Underneath the humour though, is a story of the unutterable sadness and personal tragedy of war. But leaving all these ‘big’ issues aside, in a personal sense, I’ve always like Milligan because he was different, an oddball, someone willing to go his own way.

By Spike Milligan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Volume one of Spike Milligan's legendary memoirs is a hilarious, subversive first-hand account of WW2

'The most irreverent, hilarious book about the war that I have ever read' Sunday Express

'Close in stature to Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear in his command of the profound art of nonsense' Guardian

'At Victoria station the R.T.O. gave me a travel warrant, a white feather and a picture of Hitler marked "This is your enemy". I searched every compartment, but he wasn't on the train . . .'

In this, the first of Spike Milligan's uproarious recollections of life in the army,…

Book cover of The British Sumatra Battalion

Why did I love this book?

Nearly all of the men that this book talks about have passed away now. They were captured, as the book title explains, in Sumatra, many of them after having escaped from Singapore when the garrison surrendered to the Imperial Japanese Army in 1942. One of the men who eventually came together to form the [Prisoner of War] British Sumatra Battalion was my friend, G, who volunteered to remain behind and help man the escape lines running through Java and Sumatra. He gave up his own chance of getting evacuated from the island and in doing so sentenced himself to three-and-a-half years of brutality and slave labour as a POW. Men like this have earned remembrance…

By A.A Apthorp,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

V/G to LIKE NEW DJ, LIKE NEW BOOK. STATED FIRST EDITION. 1988 Book Guild Ltd. hardcover, British import. A. A. Apthorp. Immediately prior to the Fall of Singapore on 15th February 1942 there was a panic to get out before the Japanese walked in the back door. Women and children, servicemen of all ranks, some individuals, some in groups, many separated from their Regiments all clambered on any vessel leaving Keppel harbour that would put distance between them and imminent presence of the Japanese Army. Some made it to Australia, some to Java and others made it to Sumatra. For…

Book cover of Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot

Why did I love this book?

James Stockdale was a fighter pilot who was shot down whilst flying over Vietnam in 1964. He had read, and absorbed, The Enchiridion, by Epictetus, and it was this knowledge of Stoicism that helped him to survive seven years of torture and captivity as a Prisoner of War. Fortunately, I’ve never been tested in a crucible akin to Stockdale’s laboratory of human behaviour. But Epictetus speaks to all of us still, and Stockdale’s book is fascinating both as an account of a POW’s survival and as an introduction to a philosophy that I’ve leaned on in my own life.

By James B. Stockdale,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In describing his seven and a half years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, the late Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale has said: "In that atmosphere of death and hopelessness, stripped of the niceties, the amenities of civilization, my ideas on life and leadership crystallized." Despite torture, intimidation, and isolation, Stockdale fulfilled his duties as senior officer among the prisoners with intelligence and courage, defining rules of conduct and maintaining morale. He often described the intense pressures of that situation as a "melting" experience, in which preconceived feelings, fears, and bias melt as one comes to realize that,…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in pilots, Adolf Hitler, and World War 2?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about pilots, Adolf Hitler, and World War 2.

Pilots Explore 41 books about pilots
Adolf Hitler Explore 111 books about Adolf Hitler
World War 2 Explore 1,692 books about World War 2