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

The Books I Picked & Why

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

By Field-Marshal Slim

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

Why 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.


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The Little Men

By K.W. Cooper

Book cover of The Little Men

Why 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. 


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Bugles and a Tiger: My Life in the Gurkhas

By John Masters

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

Why 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.


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Jungle Fighter

By John Hedley

Book cover of Jungle Fighter

Why 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. 


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

By Srinath Raghavan

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

Why 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. 


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