The best books on the personal impact of war

Karin Lowachee Author Of Warchild
By Karin Lowachee

Who am I?

Long before I wrote and published my first novel, Warchild, I possessed a deep interest in war, or more accurately, the experiences of those involved in it. I became most interested in first-hand accounts – particularly letters and journals by those on the frontlines. Perhaps it was because I was fortunate enough never to have war touch my life; perhaps it was because, as photojournalist Sebastian Junger says, “War is life multiplied by some number that no one has ever heard of.” As a young girl growing up in a safe suburb the complexities and high stakes of the experience of war became fertile ground for investigating and interrogating the deepest parts of our shared humanity.

I wrote...


By Karin Lowachee,

Book cover of Warchild

What is my book about?

The personal account of a young boy's coming of age amid interstellar war, where both friends and enemies aren’t quite what they seem, and learning to trust is an act of courage.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

Why did I love this book?

In my ongoing interest and research into the nuances and issues surrounding war throughout history and the modern age, it wasn’t long before I discovered Sebastian Junger’s work. His award-winning documentaries Restrepo and Korengal are honest, visceral forays into his time embedded with an American infantry unit in Afghanistan. He’s a well-respected journalist with a thoughtful, compassionate eye for the complexities of combat. I chose Tribe for its unique contemplation – supported by anthropological and sociological studies – about the problem many veterans face reintegrating into society after their deployments.

Rather than taking up the common point-of-view that there is something “wrong” with the vets, he posits that it is modern society that is the actual fundamental problem, that it is society’s broken systems and lack of community thinking, its separation from the lives of warriors that compound and exacerbate any sort of short-term trauma military veterans experience. This is a necessary read not just for people interested in war and its effects, but for anyone who desires a deeper understanding of the toll modernity has taken on humanity as a whole.

By Sebastian Junger,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the author of THE PERFECT STORM and WAR comes a book about why men miss war, why Londoners missed the Blitz, and what we can all learn from American Indian captives who refused to go home.

Tribe is a look at post-traumatic stress disorder and the challenges veterans face returning to society. Using his background in anthropology, Sebastian Junger argues that the problem lies not with vets or with the trauma they've suffered, but with the society to which they are trying to return.

One of the most puzzling things about veterans who experience PTSD is that the majority…

Book cover of On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society

Why did I love this book?

Because the focus in my writing is always on the psychological underpinnings of my characters, this book became an essential part of my desire to understand what happens to someone when they are required to act in ways that are often not inherent in their makeup. This book is exactly what the title espouses – an in-depth study of how and why soldiers and law enforcement officers must be trained to act against natural inclinations – that desire not to do harm to someone else. A person must be broken down to such a point that they no longer become resistant to killing – which of course enacts a toll on that person in any number of ways. Read in conjunction with Tribe offers a broader view of the culture of war and those who fight it.

By Lt. Col. Dave Grossman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The good news is that the vast majority of soldiers are loath to kill in battle. Unfortunately, modern armies, using Pavlovian and operant conditioning have developed sophisticated ways of overcoming this instinctive aversion. The psychological cost for soldiers, as witnessed by the increase in post-traumatic stress, is devastating. The psychological cost for the rest of us is even more so: contemporary civilian society, particularly the media, replicates the army's conditioning techniques and, according to Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's thesis, is responsible for our rising rate of murder among the young. Upon its first publication, ON KILLING was hailed as a…

Book cover of My War Gone By, I Miss It So

Why did I love this book?

The effects of war don’t only affect the soldiers on the battlefield. This memoir by British war correspondent Anthony Loyd, who covered the war in Bosnia and the conflict in Chechnya, and was himself a veteran of the Persian Gulf War, illuminates the mindset and the consequences felt by anyone involved or witness to acts of violence in war. By turns brutal and lyrical, it is not a narrative of distant analysis that one would expect from a journalist. Loyd states unequivocally that to be “neutral” no matter what actually undermines an honest accounting of conflict and the actors involved. He is also honest about his own attraction to war and delves into the reasons why. This book is an insightful first-person account of many of the issues Junger and Grossman examine in their more academic works.

By Anthony Loyd,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked My War Gone By, I Miss It So as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

My War Gone By, I Miss It So is a uniquely powerful piece of writing, unparalleled in the genre. Ex-infantry officer Anthony Loyd arrived in the Balkans hoping to become a war correspondent. He wanted to see `a real war', and in Bosnia he found one. The cruelty and chaos of the conflict both appalled and embraced him - the adrenaline lure of the action perhaps the loudest siren call of all. In the midst of the daily life-and-death struggle among the Serbs, Croatians and Bosnian Muslims he was inspired by the extraordinary human fortitude he discovered. But returning home,…

Book cover of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

Why did I love this book?

When I began writing Warchild around 1999, there wasn’t much in the mass media about child soldiers. My ensuing research – from documentaries to articles – supported my desire to tell a story from the point-of-view of a child who did not know and didn’t care about the larger forces at play, these forces that exacted a cost on the most innocent. Though my novel was set in the future, I was adamant still not to make it a jingoistic narrative of easy triumph – but rather to honestly depict the experience of a boy compelled to survive sometimes despite himself. Whatever I wrote in fiction could not come close to the harrowing truth of those children who have fought – and continue to fight – in wars across the world. Ishmael Beah’s memoir of the civil war in 1990s Sierra Leone and his experience as a boy soldier caught up by larger, exploitative forces is a must-read for anyone who seeks to understand the breadth of damage enacted upon the most innocent of humanity who are forced into violent conflict.

By Ishmael Beah,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked A Long Way Gone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is how wars are fought now: by children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. Children have become soldiers of choice. In the more than fifty conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them. What is war like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But until now, there has not been a first-person account from someone who came through this…

Book cover of The Things They Carried

Why did I love this book?

The only fiction book on my list, but as O’Brien himself says, “That's what fiction is for. It's for getting at the truth when the truth isn't sufficient for the truth.” Though The Things They Carried is set during the Vietnam War era, it is a universal depiction of the personalities and tragedy and humor and eloquence of war while still not pulling punches or romanticizing what is ultimately a brutal experience. More episodic than a traditional novel narrative, the book covers before, during, and after the characters’ war experience with inimitable style, deftness, and clarity of thought that serves to illuminate all the maddening but sometimes enlightening aspects of humanity that can only be brought forth in war.

By Tim O'Brien,

Why should I read it?

18 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…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in veterans, Sierra Leone, and violence?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about veterans, Sierra Leone, and violence.

Veterans Explore 69 books about veterans
Sierra Leone Explore 9 books about Sierra Leone
Violence Explore 66 books about violence

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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