The best books about surviving war (or not)

Who am I?

During my twenties I served in the United States Navy, and what I experienced there—next to nothing compared to what the characters in the below-mentioned books experiencewas traumatic enough to leave me wandering for a dozen years, hitchhiking, traveling around the country in search of some way to get a grasp on my experience. The vestiges of that experience still remain, and much of my writing has been an attempt to understand it.


I wrote...

The Other Side: A Novel of the Civil War

By Kevin McColley,

Book cover of The Other Side: A Novel of the Civil War

What is my book about?

As the impending struggle between the North and South approaches fever pitch, Jacob Wilson remains content to work on his family’s small Ohio farm just across the river from Kentucky. But when the local militia discovers the runaway slaves hiding with his family, Jacob’s world gets turned upside down. Now a solitary renegade on the wild frontier, Jacob encounters a wild group of pillagers led by the legendary William Quantrill. Drawn into the frenzy of brutality these men foster, Jacob finds himself becoming more and more inured to the gory violence that saturates his new life.

The books I picked & why

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The Iliad

By Homer, Robert Fagles (translator),

Book cover of The Iliad

Why this book?

The earliest and perhaps the greatest book about the psychology of war ever written. Perhaps nowhere in all of fiction is there a better description of a character who suffers trauma from violence, both in inflicting it and in receiving it, than Achilles. If you read no other, then read this.

The Iliad

By Homer, Robert Fagles (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of the greatest epics in Western literature, THE ILIAD recounts the story of the Trojan wars. This timeless poem still vividly conveys the horror and heroism of men and gods battling amidst devastation and destruction, as it moves to its tragic conclusion. In his introduction, Bernard Knox observes that although the violence of the Iliad is grim and relentless, it co-exists with both images of civilized life and a poignant yearning for peace.


Macbeth

By William Shakespeare,

Book cover of Macbeth

Why this book?

For my money, Shakespeare is the greatest writer who ever lived; anything he has to say will be interesting, profound, and stated as well as anyone can state it. His portrayal of the Macbeths rivals Homer’s portrayal of Achilles in the understanding of trauma. For Macbeth, this is the trauma of military violence. For Lady Macbeth, this is the trauma of the loss of a child.

Macbeth

By William Shakespeare,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The authoritative edition of Macbeth from The Folger Shakespeare Library, the trusted and widely used Shakespeare series for students and general readers.

In 1603, James VI of Scotland ascended the English throne, becoming James I of England. London was alive with an interest in all things Scottish, and Shakespeare turned to Scottish history for material. He found a spectacle of violence and stories of traitors advised by witches and wizards, echoing James's belief in a connection between treason and witchcraft.

In depicting a man who murders to become king, Macbeth teases us with huge questions. Is Macbeth tempted by fate,…


The Things They Carried

By Tim O'Brien,

Book cover of The Things They Carried

Why this book?

Reading The Things They Carried, which I’ve read at least a dozen times, always takes my breath away. With the way that O’Brien has laid out this book, as much is written in the silences, in what he doesn’t write, as in what he has written, and what he writes is some of the most powerful writing about war ever written.

The Things They Carried

By Tim O'Brien,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked The Things They Carried as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The million-copy bestseller, which is a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling.

'The Things They Carried' is, on its surface, a sequence of award-winning stories about the madness of the Vietnam War; at the same time it has the cumulative power and unity of a novel, with recurring characters and interwoven strands of plot and theme.

But while Vietnam is central to 'The Things They Carried', it is not simply a book about war. It is also a book about the human heart - about the terrible weight of those things we carry through…


Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

By Cormac McCarthy,

Book cover of Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

Why this book?

In my opinion, the best novel written in the last fifty years. The violence would be too much in the hands of a lesser writer and there is no greater living writer in English than McCarthy. McCarthy perfectly captures the nihilism of war, and how that nihilism later comes back to haunt war’s survivors.

Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

By Cormac McCarthy,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Blood Meridian as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy is an epic novel of the violence and depravity that attended America's westward expansion, brilliantly subverting the conventions of the Western novel and the mythology of the Wild West. Based on historical events that took place on the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s, it traces the fortunes of the Kid, a fourteen-year-old Tennessean who stumbles into a nightmarish world where Indians are being murdered and the market for their scalps is thriving.


Coal Black Horse

By Robert Olmstead,

Book cover of Coal Black Horse

Why this book?

Simply a beautifully written book. Few writers can accomplish so much and get across so much in as few pages as Robert Olmstead. This is a story of the Civil War, of a son and a father, of a mother and a son. The ending of this novel is among the best I’ve ever read.

Coal Black Horse

By Robert Olmstead,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When Robey Childs's mother has a premonition about her husband, a soldier fighting in the Civil War, she does the unthinkable: she sends her only child to find his father on the battlefield and bring him home.

At fourteen, wearing the coat his mother sewed to ensure his safety—blue on one side, gray on the other— Robey thinks he's off on a great adventure. But not far from home, his horse falters and he realizes the enormity of his task. It takes the gift of a powerful and noble coal black horse to show him how to undertake the most…


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