The best books if you want to understand the Korean War

Who am I?

Roger Hermiston is a writer of contemporary history books that are underpinned by rigorous scholarship, enhanced by a journalist’s eye, and driven by exciting storytelling. One of his books – All Behind You, Winston – Churchill’s Great Coalition 1940-45 told the story of the often-overlooked men (and two women) who helped steer Britain to wartime victory on the Home Front. But two of his other books – The Greatest Traitor and, just out, Two Minutes to Midnight – explore the early years of the Cold War, in the 1950s. In both the Korean War features prominently – in the first, from the perspective of a group of ‘high value’ prisoners held captive by the North Koreans, and in the second, from the view of President Eisenhower and his colleagues as they contemplated using tactical A-bombs to hasten the end of the conflict.


I wrote...

Two Minutes to Midnight: 1953 - The Year of Living Dangerously

By Roger Hermiston,

Book cover of Two Minutes to Midnight: 1953 - The Year of Living Dangerously

What is my book about?

A gripping account of an epoch-changing year in the Cold War, with vivid sketches of the key personalities and dramatic accounts from the corridors of power in Downing Street and the White House. In early 1953 the Korean War was still raging, Joseph Stalin had died, and the pace of the nuclear arms race had become frenetic. For the first time the Doomsday Clock was set at two minutes to midnight, with the chances of a man-made global apocalypse becoming increasingly unlikely.

The books I picked & why

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The Hunters

By James Salter,

Book cover of The Hunters

Why this book?

The best novel ever written about the Korean War by one of America’s greatest-ever stylists. Salter himself was a USAF fighter pilot in the conflict, flying over a hundred combat missions. His beautiful, crystalline prose captures the taut atmosphere of those dangerous days, and the central dilemma of the main character, Captain Cleve Connell – how to combine the daring required to shoot down Soviet MIGs with the sacred duty of the ‘wingman’ in ensuring the safety of his comrades.

The Hunters

By James Salter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Captain Cleve Connell arrives in Korea with a single goal: to become an ace, one of that elite fraternity of jet pilots who have downed five MIGs. But as his fellow airmen rack up kill after kill - sometimes under dubious circumstances - Cleve's luck runs bad. Other pilots question his guts. Cleve comes to question himself. And then in one icy instant 40,000 feet above the Yalu River, his luck changes forever. Filled with courage and despair, eerie beauty and corrosive rivalry, James Salter's luminous first novel is a landmark masterpiece in the literature of war.


I was a captive in Korea

By Philip Deane,

Book cover of I was a captive in Korea

Why this book?

A riveting first-hand account of the war from the buccaneering foreign correspondent of The Observer. Greek-born Deane, who served nobly in the Royal Navy in WW2, was captured by the North Koreans in Seoul in July 1950 and spent the next 33 months in captivity. He vividly chronicles those grim days as a prisoner, enduring torture and surviving the infamous ‘Death March’. There is also a great insight into the character of George Blake, his fellow internee and British spy, who was (unbeknown to Deane) actually recruited by the KGB in their period of incarceration.

I was a captive in Korea

By Philip Deane,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I was a captive in Korea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Author Philip Dean is also known by the names Philippe Gigantès and Gerassimos Svoronos Gigantes


In Enemy Hands

By Larry Zellers,

Book cover of In Enemy Hands

Why this book?

An excellent companion piece to Deane’s book. American Zellers, newly-married, who had just arrived in South Korea in 1950 to take up a post as a Methodist missionary and teacher, was also captured by the North Koreans. Zellers gives us a fascinating insight into the minds of both prisoners and captors, and the book is a testament to his eternal hope and optimism during the many months of his brutal imprisonment..

In Enemy Hands

By Larry Zellers,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A newly married Methodist minister, Larry Zellers was serving as a missionary and teacher in a small South Korean town near the 38th parallel when he was captured by the North Koreans on June 25, 1950. Until his release in 1953, Zellers endured brutal conditions and inhumane treatment. Through his story, Zellers shows that, despite the opinion that POWs live only for themselves, many in the camps worked to help others and conducted themselves with honor.


The Korean War

By Max Hastings,

Book cover of The Korean War

Why this book?

Comfortably the best narrative-driven account of the war by a master of the genre. Hastings gives us superb first-hand accounts of those who fought on both sides, combining them with his characteristically incisive assessments of the motives and deeds of the leading military and political figures.

The Korean War

By Max Hastings,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Korean War is journalist and military historian Sir Max Hastings' compelling account of the forgotten war.

'The best narrative history of the Korean conflict' - Guardian

On 25 June 1950 the invasion of South Korea by the Communist North launched one of the bloodiest conflicts of the last century. The seemingly limitless power of the Chinese-backed North was thrown against the ferocious firepower of the UN-backed South in a war that can be seen today as the stark prelude to Vietnam.

Max Hastings draws on first-hand accounts of those who fought on both sides to produce this vivid and…


The Korean War

By Carter Malkasian,

Book cover of The Korean War

Why this book?

This is the perfect primer for anyone trying to get an understanding of the Korean War. It is a concise history (just 96 pages) but is packed with essential information, laying out the background to the conflict before chronologically guiding the reader through the main battles, with clear portraits of the main protagonists along the way.

The Korean War

By Carter Malkasian,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Korean War was a significant turning point in the Cold War. This volume explains how the conflict in a small peninsula in East Asia had a tremendous impact on the entire international system and the balance of power between the two superpowers, America and Russia.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Korean War, the Cold War, and World War 2?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Korean War, the Cold War, and World War 2.

The Korean War Explore 40 books about the Korean War
The Cold War Explore 168 books about the Cold War
World War 2 Explore 1142 books about World War 2

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Last Stand of Fox Company, The Coldest Winter, and The Hidden History of the Korean War, 1950-1951 if you like this list.