The best books about the human cost of war

Who am I?

My name is Jenny Harrison and my writing career started in 1997 in South Africa with Debbie's Story, which to my astonishment, became a bestseller. Thinking this was going to be an easy route to fame and fortune, I continued writing after migrating to New Zealand. Alas, the road to a bestseller is rife with disappointment but that didn't stop me from writing a bunch of paranormal and humorous novels. Circumstances led me to writing about families caught up in World War II. I don’t write about battles or generals, I write about ordinary people who face the unimagined cost of war and survive.


I wrote...

Dead Before Curfew

By Jenny Harrison,

Book cover of Dead Before Curfew

What is my book about?

This is a novel set in Poland. Matthew Flint, a British soldier is captured in France in 1940. Flint is intoxicated by the romance of war until his first encounter with German invading forces. From that moment he is a man on a mission— revenge. In the bombed-out ruins of Warsaw he joins the Polish Resistance, becomes a courier, blackmailer, and a reluctant assassin. He meets a woman who is burdened by her own tragic past. But can Olivia show him there is more to war than retribution? 

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

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Schindler's Ark

Jenny Harrison Why did I love this book?

My first book pick: Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally is an account of the saving of Jews by a flamboyant, scheming, wily businessman, Oskar Schindler. Not a likable man, Schindler did whatever it took to protect “his” Jews from extermination. For a writer, this book is a master class on how to take historical events and turn them into a riveting story. For a reader, the book races from one fraught event to another, all the while the unheroic hero, Schindler, is only one step ahead of the Germans. 

By Thomas Keneally,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Schindler's Ark as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Booker Prize and international bestseller, made into the award-winning film Schindler's List. Chosen as a Big Jubilee Read, celebrating the Queen's Platinum Jubilee in 2022.

In the shadow of Auschwitz, a flamboyant German industrialist grew into a living legend to the Jews of Cracow. He was a womaniser, a heavy drinker and a bon viveur, but to them he became a saviour. This is the extraordinary story of Oskar Schindler, who risked his life to protect Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland and who was transformed by the war into a man with a mission, a compassionate angel of…


Book cover of Irena's Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto

Jenny Harrison Why did I love this book?

Social worker, Irene Sendler went into the Warsaw Ghetto, her job ostensibly as a public health specialist. The Jewish inmates allowed her to take their children out of the ghetto and to safety. She ultimately rescued several thousand children, down sewers, through abandoned buildings, and sometimes in her large medical bag. She kept the names of all rescued children in a glass bottle under an apple tree so that, at the end of the war, those Jewish mothers who survived would be reunited with their children. Her heroism is inspiring.

By Tilar J. Mazzeo,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Irena's Children as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For desperate families trapped inside the Warsaw ghetto in 1942 with small children, one name was whispered urgently. It was the name of a young social worker in her thirties with the courage to take staggering risks and to save over 2,000 of those children from death and deportation.

Granted access to the ghetto as a public health specialist, Irena Sendler began by smuggling orphaned children out of the walled district and convincing her friends and neighbours to hide them. Soon, she began the perilous work of going from door to door and asking Jewish families to trust her with…


Book cover of The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation 1939-1944

Jenny Harrison Why did I love this book?

Forgotten Holocaust is a non-fiction account of the suffering of the Polish people during World War II. Most books on the Holocaust focus on the terrible travail of the Jewish people, which was immense and must never be either underestimated or forgotten. In Poland 3 million Polish Jews died but 3 million Polish Gentiles also died. It is only since the end of Communism in 1989 that the true heroism of the Polish people has come to light. At the Jewish Memorial, Yad Vashem, in Israel, there are more Polish Gentiles listed as Righteous Among the Nations than any other nation. Lukas’s book opened my eyes to this forgotten history. 

By Richard C. Lukas,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Forgotten Holocaust has become a classic of World War II literature. As Norman Davies noted, "Dr. Richard Lukas has rendered a valuable service, by showing that no one can properly analyze the fate of one ethnic community in occupied Poland without referring to the fates of others. In this sense, The Forgotten Holocaust is a powerful corrective." The third edition includes a new preface by the author, a new foreword by Norman Davies, a short history of ZEGOTA, the underground government organization working to save the Jews, and an annotated listing of many Poles executed by the Germans for trying…


Book cover of The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945

Jenny Harrison Why did I love this book?

Wladyslaw Szpilman, who survived in the ruins of Warsaw after his parents and siblings had been sent to an extermination camp. A wonderful account of how so many people joined together to save the life of one Jew, even though the punishment for such actions was instant death. It’s a long time since I read it and I suspect my memory is clouded by the film. Most Jewish survival books are written years after the events, Szpilman wrote this immediately after the war and so it contains the passion and grief, and guilt of a survivor. A memorable book.

By Wladyslaw Szpilman, Anthea Bell (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The powerful and bestselling memoir of a young Jewish pianist who survived the war in Warsaw against all odds. Made into a Bafta and Oscar-winning film.

'You can learn more about human nature from this brief account of the survival of one man throughout the war years in the devastated city of Warsaw than from several volumes of the average encyclopaedia' Independent on Sunday

'We are drawn in to share his surprise and then disbelief at the horrifying progress of events, all conveyed with an understated intimacy and dailiness that render them painfully close - riveting' Observer

'A book so…


Book cover of The Polish Officer

Jenny Harrison Why did I love this book?

This book is by Alan Furst whose research is impeccable. His storytelling can be jerky and maybe chaotic but that’s how things were in the time he writes about. His characters are drawn from the sinister underbelly of war, the men and women who work in the shadows. His writing is intense, I remember the scenes as chaotic, with no character arc or happy ending, but a mirror of the times when life was lived moment by moment.

By Alan Furst,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

September 1939. As Warsaw falls to Hitler’s Wehrmacht, Captain Alexander de Milja is recruited by the intelligence service of the Polish underground. His mission: to transport the national gold reserve to safety, hidden on a refugee train to Bucharest. Then, in the back alleys and black-market bistros of Paris, in the tenements of Warsaw, with partizan guerrillas in the frozen forests of the Ukraine, and at Calais Harbor during an attack by British bombers, de Milja fights in the war of the shadows in a world without rules, a world of danger, treachery, and betrayal.


You might also like...

An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

By Clifford A. Wright,

Book cover of An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

Clifford A. Wright Author Of An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Philosopher Historian Researcher Gastronomer Bibliophile and reviewer

Clifford's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

An Italian Feast celebrates the cuisines of the Italian provinces from Como to Palermo. A culinary guide and book of ready reference meant to be the most comprehensive book on Italian cuisine, and it includes over 800 recipes from the 109 provinces of Italy's 20 regions.

An Italian Feast is a gastronomy about Italian culinary history and consciousness, about how Italians cook, eat, and how their food is an intimate part of their culture. It is the first book in any language to comprehensively explore the gastronomy and cuisine not just of Italy, and not just the regions of Italy, but all 109 provinces of Italy, linking each with each other in terms of history, agriculture, economics, and the material culture of creative food illustrated with recipes.

An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

By Clifford A. Wright,


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Poland, the Holocaust, and the German occupation of Europe?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Poland, the Holocaust, and the German occupation of Europe.

Poland Explore 113 books about Poland
The Holocaust Explore 376 books about the Holocaust
The German Occupation Of Europe Explore 68 books about the German occupation of Europe