The best stories on how people and societies grapple with the end of wars

Who am I?

Before I started writing, my understanding of war largely came about through its manifestation over subsequent decades in individuals. My grandfather selectively shared stories from his time as a bomber, then as a POW in Germany. Maybe it was this conjunction, a personal sense of rebuilding and of storytelling, that has driven my interest in the subject over these years, as a journalist and critic and then as an author of a book on the subject.

I wrote...

Sprinting Through No Man's Land: Endurance, Tragedy, and Rebirth in the 1919 Tour de France

By Adin Dobkin,

Book cover of Sprinting Through No Man's Land: Endurance, Tragedy, and Rebirth in the 1919 Tour de France

What is my book about?

Sprinting Through No Man’s Land follows the cyclists of the 1919 Tour de France, which traversed the border of the eponymous country just seven months after the end of World War I. The book examines the devastating landscape the cyclists encountered, oftentimes just after hanging up their military uniforms. It also looks at the various forms of rebuilding that existed after the end of a devastating war: the social, political, and economic. More than a race, the Tour was a cultural event and a political one, and the 1919 race took on an added measure of remembrance and rebirth arriving so soon after the end of WWI.

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

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

Why did I love this book?

My own background, process, and style have me reaching for ever-tinier stories that I think I can go deep on, in order to hopefully excavate something larger. Judt’s Postwar is the opposite: a colossal swing at a multi-decade period across European history. In this, he synthesizes political, economic, social, and cultural histories to guide the reader through Europe’s development after World War II. It’s a book where you find yourself going over each line a few times in order to make sure you’ve wrung all meaning from it and every sentence returns you to your notes.

By Tony Judt,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize * Winner of the Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Book Award * One of the New York Times' Ten Best Books of the Year

"Impressive . . . Mr. Judt writes with enormous authority." -The Wall Street Journal

"Magisterial . . . It is, without a doubt, the most comprehensive, authoritative, and yes, readable postwar history." -The Boston Globe

Almost a decade in the making, this much-anticipated grand history of postwar Europe from one of the world's most esteemed historians and intellectuals is a singular achievement. Postwar is the first modern history that covers…

The Emigrants

By W.G. Sebald, Michael Hulse (translator),

Book cover of The Emigrants

Why did I love this book?

Part of Sebald’s value (or the value of his project) is his deep exploration of German guilt, societally after World War II and in his father’s Wehrmacht service. Often, this guilt is explored through the self, in the associative vines that have him examine art, architecture, and history, to name only a few of the digressions one might encounter in all his worthwhile books. The explicit focus, as it were, of the Emigrants is on four uprooted Germans. It’s the saddest of his novels in my mind thanks to this displacement and the characters the reader comes to know.

By W.G. Sebald, Michael Hulse (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The four long narratives in The Emigrants appear at first to be the straightforward biographies of four Germans in exile. Sebald reconstructs the lives of a painter, a doctor, an elementary-school teacher, and Great Uncle Ambrose. Following (literally) in their footsteps, the narrator retraces routes of exile which lead from Lithuania to London, from Munich to Manchester, from the South German provinces to Switzerland, France, New York, Constantinople, and Jerusalem. Along with memories, documents, and diaries of the Holocaust, he collects photographs-the enigmatic snapshots which stud The Emigrants and bring to mind family photo albums. Sebald combines precise documentary with…

Book cover of The Long Take: A Noir Narrative

Why did I love this book?

Of course, the guilt that exists after wars isn’t relegated to those who commit horrific crimes. It exists on the level of the individual, too, one who’s asked to take part in violence, a changing act, and who then must go back to wherever they have left. Robertson’s The Long Take is only one (particularly good) example of this type of narrative, set in post-war San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. It’s a gorgeous book and feels utterly coherent.

By Robin Robertson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018

Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize 2018

Winner of The Roehampton Poetry Prize 2018

Winner of the 2019 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

'A beautiful, vigorous and achingly melancholy hymn to the common man that is as unexpected as it is daring.' --John Banville, Guardian

A noir narrative written with the intensity and power of poetry, The Long Take is one of the most remarkable - and unclassifiable - books of recent years.

Walker is a D-Day veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder; he can't return home to rural Nova Scotia, and looks instead…


By Inger Christensen, Susanna Nied (translator),

Book cover of Alphabet

Why did I love this book?

It’s maybe inaccurate to describe this (not too) long poem as a society grappling with the aftermath of a war. There isn’t much grappling to be done, and it only partly exists after a war is through, to the extent a war like the one Christensen describes is ever through once it’s been started. It’s instead a litany of loss, of those things that can’t be reclaimed, which should instead be protected through the avoidance of war.

By Inger Christensen, Susanna Nied (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Awarded the American-Scandinavian PEN Translation Prize by Michael Hamburger, Susanna Nied's translation of alphabet introduces Inger Christensen's poetry to US readers for the first time. Born in 1935, Inger Christensen is Denmark's best known poet. Her award-winning alphabet is based structurally on Fibonacci's sequence (a mathematical sequence in which each number is the sum of the two previous numbers), in combination with the alphabet. The gorgeous poetry herein reflects a complex philosophical background, yet has a visionary quality, discovering the metaphysical in the simple stuff of everyday life. In alphabet, Christensen creates a framework of psalm-like forms that unfold like…

Whereas: Poems

By Layli Long Soldier,

Book cover of Whereas: Poems

Why did I love this book?

Wars take a long time to end. Work is done to bury the loss, grief, and guilt described above as quickly as possible. Oftentimes the forces that stand to profit from this forgetting succeed, except among those groups which are either ignored or for whom the loss is too deep. What Layli Long Soldier’s brilliant Whereas discloses is how the acts of government, the papers generated like planks over a well, seek to hide that grief and loss, and how those groups might reclaim the stories those papers hope to disappear. 

By Layli Long Soldier,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

WHEREAS confronts the coercive language of the United States government in its responses, treaties, and apologies to Native American peoples and tribes, and reflects that language in its officiousness and duplicity back on its perpetrators. Through a virtuosic array of short lyrics, prose poems, longer narrative sequences, resolutions, and disclaimers, Layli Long Soldier has created a brilliantly innovative text to examine histories, landscapes, her own writing, and her predicament inside national affiliations.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in exile, journalists, and Europe?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about exile, journalists, and Europe.

Exile Explore 18 books about exile
Journalists Explore 157 books about journalists
Europe Explore 759 books about Europe

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like In the Ruins of the Reich, The Long Road Home, and Bloodlands if you like this list.