The best books about the war in Burma, 1941-45

Who am I?

I've spent the last 30-years studying, reading about, writing, and teaching the story of the war between the Allies and the Japanese in the Far East during WWII. It includes of course the story of the fighting between the main protagonists, but there’s much more that has been neglected by writers and historians, certainly in the West. It includes the story of Burma and its various people; the role of India and its people as it moved rapidly towards independence and the role of China throughout. Every time I look at an aspect of the war, or read another memoir or open a dusty file in the archives, I come across more exciting material.


I wrote...

A War of Empires: Japan, India, Burma & Britain: 1941-45

By Robert Lyman,

Book cover of A War of Empires: Japan, India, Burma & Britain: 1941-45

What is my book about?

The book is the story of how Japanese victory in Burma in 1942 turned to profound defeat in 1944 and 1945 as the Allies convincingly smashed Japanese imperial pretensions in Asia. It emphasizes how victory was largely the result of the transformation of the Indian Army – the largest volunteer army in history – vast numbers volunteering to join the fight against the Japanese at a time of increased nationalist interest across India.

The book demonstrates how vital this hard-fought campaign was in securing Allied victory in the east, defeating Japanese militarism, and ultimately redrawing the map of the region with an independent India, free from the shackles of empire, all but guaranteed.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Defeat Into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945

Robert Lyman Why did I love this book?

This was the book that got me hooked on the Burma Campaign. Bill Slim was the man who engineered and executed the great Allied victory in Burma in 1945. He was an extraordinary man, a great military commander, and an excellent writer. This book, his retelling of the campaign – the longest British campaign of the Second World War – has been described as the best general’s book of the war. I agree. It's beautifully written and is a moving telling of the transition from British defeat in 1942 to profound victory in 1945.

Slim was a very humble man. This book doesn’t blow his own trumpet, but that of the vast army of many nations that made victory over the Japanese possible.

By Field-Marshal Slim,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Defeat Into Victory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Field Marshal Viscount Slim (1891-1970) led shattered British forces from Burma to India in one of the lesser-known but more nightmarish retreats of World War II. He then restored his army's fighting capabilities and morale with virtually no support from home and counterattacked. His army's slaughter of Japanese troops ultimately liberated India and Burma. The first edition of Defeat Into Victory , published in 1956, was an immediate sensation selling 20,000 copies within a few days. This is an updated version with a new introduction by David W. Hogan Jr.


Book cover of The Little Men

Robert Lyman Why did I love this book?

Too many books about war aren’t written by those with any experience of it. This, one of my all-time favorites, was written by a young infantry platoon commander fighting the Japanese in Burma in 1945. It tells of the men usually lost to history – what Cooper describes as the ‘little men’ – and who have no voice in the histories written about their exploits. This isn’t a work of great literature, but Cooper’s focus on the small-scale actions of men fighting men with bayonets, bullets, and grenades brings the reality of arrows on a general’s map to focus. 

By K.W. Cooper,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Burma campaign, in which General Slim's 14th Army halted the Japanese at the mountain passes into India and finally drove them back across the Irrawaddy, destroying them in the process, was among the last Allied victories in World War II. The author of this book served as an infantry platoon and company commander in this historic campaign and this book is based on the notes he made in 1945. He describes patrol engagements, night fighting, company and battalion attacks, and the crossing of the vast Irrawaddy.


Book cover of Bugles and a Tiger: My Life in the Gurkhas

Robert Lyman Why did I love this book?

This is one of the most evocative accounts of service by a British officer in the old, pre-partition Indian Army. It has rightly become a classic of this period of history, which comes to its denouement in Burma in 1945. Masters, who became a best-selling author after the war, beautifully captures the nature of the great Indian Army as its marches into history following its smashing of the Japanese in Burma.

By John Masters,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Bugles and a Tiger as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first of John Master's evocative memoirs about life in the Gurkhas in India on the cusp of WWII

John Masters was a soldier before he became a bestselling novelist. He went to Sandhurst in 1933 at the age of eighteen and was commissioned into the 4th Gurkha Rifles in time to take part in some of the last campaigns on the turbulent north-west frontier of India.

John Masters joined a Gurhka regiment on receiving his commission, and his depiction of garrison life and campaigning on the North-West Frontier has never been surpassed. BUGLES AND A TIGER is a matchless…


Book cover of Jungle Fighter

Robert Lyman Why did I love this book?

This book was published after Tom Donovan, the bookseller, came across the manuscript in a boot fair. It’s a brilliant depiction of Hedley’s experience fighting in Burma in 1942 at the height of Japanese ascendancy, through to the Chindits in 1944, and then finally in Burma behind enemy lines with Special Operations Executive (SOE) in 1945. The book engagingly recounts the extent of Hedley’s experience between 1942 and 1945: few officers were involved in the fighting at every stage of the campaign as was he. His role in helping raise the Karen levies against the Japanese in 1945 is a highlight. 

Book cover of India's War: The Making of Modern South Asia 1939-1945

Robert Lyman Why did I love this book?

This is a ground-breaking book because in telling the extraordinary story of the Indian Army during the Second World War, Professor Raghavan rightly places it firmly at the center of the great victories the Allies achieved over the Japanese in 1945. This book traces the transformation of the Indian Army from a largely domestically focused constabulary of 200,000 in 1939 to a victorious all-arms combat force of well over 2 million men and women in 1945. This army for the first time reflected India as a whole, rather than the pre-war Indian Army which recruited selectively from across India. 

By Srinath Raghavan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

SPECTATOR BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2016, GUARDIAN BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2016

'Authoritative, expansive and incisive...helps restore India to the global twentieth century' Sunil Khilnani

Between 1939 and 1945 India changed to an extraordinary extent. Millions of Indians suddenly found themselves as soldiers, fighting in Europe and North Africa but also - something simply never imagined - against a Japanese army threatening to invade eastern India. Many more were pulled into the vortex of wartime mobilization.

Srinath Raghavan's compelling and original book gives both a surprising new account of the fighting and of life on the home front. For Indian…


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Book cover of She Refused to Bow

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What is this book about?

A personal memoir which introduces the supernatural in the most natural way.

A message which came in a dream and brought you wealth. A sadhu's warning. The presence you feel as you pray at a grave. A well that dries up. The vision you see as you peer out of the window of your cabin. A jinni. An ancient religion. When everything you say and do has consequence. Because nothing that is done can be undone.


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