The best books on the Pacific Theater of World War II

Who am I?

Kathryn J. Atwood’s young adult collective biographies on women and war have garnered multiple book awards. She has been seen on America: Facts vs. Fiction; heard on BBC America; published in The Historian and War, Literature & the Arts; and featured as a guest speaker at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago, the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park, and the Atlanta History Center.

I wrote...

Women Heroes of World War II—the Pacific Theater: 15 Stories of Resistance, Rescue, Sabotage, and Survival

By Kathryn J. Atwood,

Book cover of Women Heroes of World War II—the Pacific Theater: 15 Stories of Resistance, Rescue, Sabotage, and Survival

What is my book about?

In these pages, readers will meet these and other courageous women and girls who risked their lives through their involvement in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II. Fifteen suspense-filled stories unfold across China, Japan, Mayala, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines, providing an inspiring reminder of women and girls' refusal to sit on the sidelines around the world and throughout history. These women served in dangerous roles as spies, medics, journalists, resisters, and saboteurs. Nine of the women were American; seven were captured and imprisoned by the Japanese, enduring brutal conditions. Author Kathryn J. Atwood provides appropriate context and framing for teens 14 and up to grapple with these harsh realities of war.

The books I picked & why

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By Laura Hillenbrand,

Book cover of Unbroken

Why this book?

We’ve become accustomed to think of Americans as the bad guys in the Pacific War, because of the Japanese American internment camps and the atomic bombs. But Hillenbrand’s brilliantly accessible book finally allowed us to recall the unimaginable cruelties inflicted on Allied POWs by the Japanese Imperial Army. Compared to their counterparts imprisoned by the Germans, Allied survivors of Japanese POW camps experienced a much higher rate of alcoholism, early death, and even suicide post-war. Louis Zamperini’s story exhibits this quite painfully.

Song of Survival: Women Interned

By Helen Colijn,

Book cover of Song of Survival: Women Interned

Why this book?

A little-known aspect of the Pacific War was the imprisonment of Allied civilians. While these Japanese-run prison camps were not deliberate death machines, as were the Nazi-run concentration camps, large numbers of women and children died of starvation and disease there, or at least had their health permanently ruined. Many stories would come out of these camps, both horrific and inspiring. Perhaps the most brilliantly creative story of the latter category was the vocal orchestra, a group of imprisoned women who sought to recreate symphonic music with their voices. Colijn’s memoir was made into the film, Paradise Road.

We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of the American Women Trapped on Bataan

By Elizabeth M. Norman,

Book cover of We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of the American Women Trapped on Bataan

Why this book?

The titular angels were military and civilian nurses who nursed wounded Americans and Filipinos during the Battle of Bataan and the siege of Corregidor. After the fighters finally surrendered to the Japanese, their nurses were imprisoned with Allied civilians for three and one-half years. They were phenomenally strong, courageous women in impossible circumstances and their story is remarkable.

I Saw The Fall Of The Philippines

By Carlos P. Romulo,

Book cover of I Saw The Fall Of The Philippines

Why this book?

The Philippine resistance of WWII was, in my opinion, the most admirable resistance organization of the war, whether European or Pacific. In fact, resistance among the Philippine people was so widespread, that the Japanese occupiers were almost correct in assuming any civilian they encountered was a resister on some level. Carlos Romulo, a Philippine aide de camp to General MacArthur and a hero to his countrymen, gives his personal account of the war in this excellent memoir.

Japan at War: An Oral History

By Haruko Taya Cook, Theodore F. Cook,

Book cover of Japan at War: An Oral History

Why this book?

Oral histories are a powerful way to bring the reader back into a specific time and place through firsthand accounts, and this book is both fascinating and necessary in order to understand the thoughts, feelings, and actions of a variety of Japanese people during the fascist takeover of their nation and the war that followed.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in World War 2, prisoner of war, and Japan?

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