The best page-turning narrative history books

Richard Hargreaves Author Of Hitler's Final Fortress: Breslau 1945
By Richard Hargreaves

Who am I?

Narrative history isn’t about dates, kings, and queens. It’s about deeds, actions, experiences, decisions of people great and small. It’s about putting the reader in the middle of a drama and watching events unfold around them as if they were there so they can understand, observe, and perhaps ask: what would I have done? The best history writing shouldn’t just inform, but inspire you, make you feel: laugh, cry, feel angry, flinch at horrific sights, cheer the heroes, boo the villains, because history is made by ordinary people, good and bad, who possess many similar traits to the reader.


I wrote...

Hitler's Final Fortress: Breslau 1945

By Richard Hargreaves,

Book cover of Hitler's Final Fortress: Breslau 1945

What is my book about?

Hitler’s Final Fortress is the story of the battle of Breslau—today Wrocław in Poland—at the end of World War 2, a siege that lasted as long as Stalingrad but is little known in the West. It is told through the eyes of the city’s residents, the scratch German units who sought to defend it, the Nazi leaders who reduced it to rubble, the Red Army troops who sought to capture it. By the time Breslau surrendered on May 6, 1945—four days after Berlin had fallen—the city was a wasteland and 25,000 soldiers and civilians had died.

Hitler's Final Fortress is the first full-length account of the siege in English, based on official documents, newspapers, letters, diaries, and personal testimonies.

The books I picked & why

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Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History

By Erik Larson,

Book cover of Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History

Why this book?

Isaac’s Storm brings the hurricane which hit Galveston, Texas, in September brilliantly to life, revolving around the central figure of the city’s official weatherman, Isaac Cline. 

I’ve read the book half a dozen times—it reads like a novel, its descriptions are vivid, horrific, haunting. The tension rises like the waters—it’s as close to being at the eye of a hurricane without… well you get the picture. Gripping from the first page to the last.

Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History

By Erik Larson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Isaac's Storm as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


The Last Battle

By Cornelius Ryan,

Book cover of The Last Battle

Why this book?

Other, newer books on the Battle of Berlin are available. And Ryan’s other books, The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far, are more famous. But The Last Battle is the book whose style and mood I most try to emulate in my own writings.

Ryan interviewed many of the participants, collected reams of documents from both sides—at a time when the Cold War was at its height—and the result is a wonderful book. You can smell the cigarette and gunsmoke, picture the military and political leaders talking, laugh or cry at some of the vignettes.

Beevor’s book on Berlin is better history—thanks to the sources he was able to access—but Ryan is my ‘go-to’ book if I want to feel and experience the fall of Berlin.

The Last Battle

By Cornelius Ryan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Battle for Berlin was the final struggle of World War II in the European theatre, the last offensive against Hitler's Third Reich, which devastated one of Europe's historic capitals and brought an end to the Nazi regime. It lasted more than two weeks across April -- May 1945, and was one of the bloodiest and most pivotal episodes of the war, one which would play a part in determining the shape of international politics for decades to come.

THE LAST BATTLE is a story of brutal extremes, of stunning military triumph alongside the stark conditions that the civilians of…


The Guns of August

By Barbara W. Tuchman,

Book cover of The Guns of August

Why this book?

If you want one book to understand how the first month or so of World War 1 played out, there is only one place to turn. Tuchman’s book is beautifully written, with a rich tapestry of characters and events, it covers the major events in Europe in August and early September 1914. It is largely seen through the eyes of ‘great men’the military and political leaders of the daywhich makes it slightly dated by today’s standards, but the skill and humanity of the reader and the sheer scope of the narrative will keep you in their thrall.

The Guns of August

By Barbara W. Tuchman,

Why should I read it?

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


The Day the World Ended

By Gordon Thomas, Max Morgan-Witts,

Book cover of The Day the World Ended

Why this book?

This is similar to my first recommendation in its theme: a tremendous natural disaster overwhelming a small community (in this case a volcano and a Caribbean island). It moves at the pace of a novel … as does the lava when it starts flowing… building up to the terrible, climactic conclusion. I’ve read it three or four times and it never loses its power. Once you start reading, you can’t put it down. Don’t watch the terrible Paul Newman film which is loosely based on the book though!

The Day the World Ended

By Gordon Thomas, Max Morgan-Witts,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Day the World Ended as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


War Without Garlands: Barbarossa 1941 - 1942

By Robert Kershaw,

Book cover of War Without Garlands: Barbarossa 1941 - 1942

Why this book?

I’m an Eastern Front buffespecially the beginning of the war and its end. And this is the very best book on the first six or so months of the titanic clash between Hitler and Stalin. Robert Kershaw is one of the best (largely) WW2 historians because he gives the ordinary soldier a voice. There are other books that go into greater detail on specific actions, and it is more German than Russian focused, but for an overview from Leningrad to the Crimea, with the emphasis on the Moscow axis, it’s the best general read by some distance.

War Without Garlands: Barbarossa 1941 - 1942

By Robert Kershaw,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked War Without Garlands as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


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