My favorite books about the weirder side of World War II

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in London, and while I was born sometime after WWII, its devastation was still clear in my bombed suburb and in the stories from my family. My father and his brother served in the Royal Air Force, and an Austrian aunt had managed to escape the rest of her family's fate in Auschwitz. I've had five nonfiction books published when I decided to write a biography of my uncle David Lloyd, an RAF Spitfire pilot killed in 1942. Sadly, little information was available from his military records. All I had was a photograph of him in his plane, looking young and confident. I went on to write nine books set during WWII, and five during WWI.


I wrote...

Kelsmeath, 1940

By David Andrew Westwood,

Book cover of Kelsmeath, 1940

What is my book about?

In 1940, twenty-year-old pilot Daniel Lamb is stationed at RAF Kelsmeath. Invasion by Nazi Germany is expected any day, and unbeknownst to the young men, the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Rosalind Ainsworth, a young woman he’s known since they were children, contrives to get transferred to a hospital near him. They try to make their relationship work, but instead, she falls for one of Daniel’s squadron, a braggart and, some believe, a coward.

Daily battles in the air against the Luftwaffe’s best mix with more intimate conflicts on the ground until summer’s end, when Britain's luck holds against invasion, but Daniel’s luck in the air runs out.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal

David Andrew Westwood Why did I love this book?

Nowhere is the phrase "stranger than fiction" more appropriate than in describing Agent Zigzag. Charming British conman Eddie Chapman turned himself into one of the best double agents his country ever produced. But for whom was he really working? None of his handlers seemed to be sure. His squirming loyalties allowed him to keep a family and a mistress, to remain alive despite interrogation by both sides, and earn an Iron Cross from Germany's Abwehr and a pardon from MI5 for blowing up a British factory. I was astonished by this tale, and left wondering if Chapman, in the end, just worked for Chapman.

By Ben Macintyre,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the bestselling author of Operation Mincemeat, now a major film SHORTLISTED FOR THE COSTA BIOGRAPHY AWARD 'Engrossing as any thriller' Daily Telegraph 'Superb. Meticulously researched, splendidly told, immensely entertaining' John le Carre 'This is the most amazing book, full of fascinating and hair-raising true life adventures ... It would be impossible to recommend it too highly' Mail on Sunday _______ One December night in 1942, a Nazi parachutist landed in a Cambridgeshire field. His mission: to sabotage the British war effort. His name was Eddie Chapman, but he would shortly become MI5's Agent Zigzag. Dashing and suave, courageous and…


Book cover of Bat Bomb: World War II's Other Secret Weapon

David Andrew Westwood Why did I love this book?

Strange, sick, and if this doesn't constitute animal cruelty I don't know what does, Project X-Ray planned to strap incendiaries to bats and drop them to roost on Tokyo's roofs, burning down the city and shortening the war. A dentist who had explored New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns conceived this idea, then approached the White House, where President Roosevelt surprisingly said, “This man is not a nut."  

The military duly tested the plan, and the bats burned down a brand-new airbase, effectively sending the project up in flames. And a good thing, too. I shudder to imagine the anxiety of a crew ordered to fly a planeful of explosive bats all the way to Japan.

By Jack Couffer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

It was a crazy way to win World War II in the Pacific-

All the United States had to do was to attach small incendiary bombs to millions of bats and release them over Japan's major cities. As the bats went to roost, a million fires would flare up in remote crannies of the wood and paper buildings common throughout Japan. When their cities were reduced to ashes, the Japanese would surely capitulate...

The plan made sense to a handful of eccentric promoters and researchers, who convinced top military brass and even President Roosevelt to back the scheme. It might…


Book cover of Fu-Go: The Curious History of Japan's Balloon Bomb Attack on America

David Andrew Westwood Why did I love this book?

It's probably good that we haven't heard more of Fu-Go, because if we had, it would mean the aerial bombs sent over from Japan succeeded in spreading fire and terror across North America. Near the end of World War II, Japan launched high-altitude hydrogen balloons armed with incendiary bombs. They were designed to fly westward on the winds of the upper atmosphere and burn both American forests and Americans. 

Made by Japanese schoolgirls who manufactured the balloons by the thousand, the exercise was ultimately a failure, causing only one reported incident. I suspect, though, that others were covered up to avoid panic, and this is a plot point in one of my own books.

By Ross Coen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fu-Go as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Near the end of World War II, in an attempt to attack the United States mainland, Japan launched its fu-go campaign, deploying thousands of high-altitude hydrogen balloons armed with incendiary and high-explosive bombs designed to follow the westerly winds of the upper atmosphere and drift to the west coast of North America. After reaching the mainland, these fu-go, the Japanese hoped, would terrorize American citizens and ignite devastating forest fires across the western states, ultimately causing the United States to divert wartime resources to deal with the domestic crisis. While the fu-go offensive proved to be a complete tactical failure,…


Book cover of Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory

David Andrew Westwood Why did I love this book?

A triumph of psychology and disinformation, the queasily-named Operation Mincemeat helped the Allied invasion of Sicily succeed. In 1943, British intelligence wanted to mislead Nazi Germany as to where the Allies would land, and they came up with a plan to disseminate false information for the enemy to discover. To manage this deception, the Brits turned the body of a homeless man into that of "Major William Martin," a supposed high-ranking officer, and chained his wrist to a briefcase crammed with top secret documents. The most fascinating part to me, though, was how he was also supplied with all the ephemera of a real persona, like receipts, bills… and love letters. 

Then he was dropped off the coast of occupied Europe by submarine, to wash ashore.  

Did it work? Read this fascinating book to see. 

By Ben Macintyre,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NOW A NETFLIX FILM STARRING COLIN FIRTH • The “brilliant and almost absurdly entertaining” (Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker) true story of the most successful—and certainly the strangest—deception carried out in World War II, from the acclaimed author of The Spy and the Traitor

“Pure catnip to fans of World War II thrillers and a lot of fun for everyone else.”—Joseph Kanon, The Washington Post Book World

Near the end of World War II, two British naval officers came up with a brilliant and slightly mad scheme to mislead the Nazi armies about where the…


Book cover of Operation Chowhound: The Most Risky, Most Glorious US Bomber Mission of WWII

David Andrew Westwood Why did I love this book?

This is the true story of a little-known operation late in WWII. In 1945, 3.4 million civilians in German-occupied Holland were starving, but the war still continued. Organized by the Allies, Operation Chowhound was to use bombers to drop food to help, but how were they to avoid being shot down by Nazi antiaircraft batteries? With the agreement of the German troops not to fire on them. Flying at treetop level, the American aircrews would have had no chance if their B-17s were hit. Yet, over Chowhound's eight days, 120,000 German troops never fired on the American bombers. Grateful Dutch civilians spelled out "Thanks Boys" in the tulip fields below. 

By Stephen Dando-Collins,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Beginning with a crazy plan hatched by a suspect prince, and an even crazier reliance on the word of the Nazis, Operation Chowhound was devised. Between May 1 and May 8, 1945, 2,268 military units flown by the USAAF, dropped food to 3.5 million starving Dutch civilians in German-occupied Holland.

It took raw courage to fly on Operation Chowhound, as American aircrews never knew when the German AAA might open fire on them or if Luftwaffe fighters might jump them. Flying at 400 feet, barely above the tree tops, with guns pointed directly at them, they would have no chance…


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Me and The Times: My wild ride from elevator operator to New York Times editor, columnist, and change agent (1967-97)

By Robert W. Stock,

Book cover of Me and The Times: My wild ride from elevator operator to New York Times editor, columnist, and change agent (1967-97)

Robert W. Stock Author Of Me and The Times: My wild ride from elevator operator to New York Times editor, columnist, and change agent (1967-97)

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Journalist Punster Family-phile Ex-jock Friend

Robert's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Me and The Times offers a fresh perspective on those pre-internet days when the Sunday sections of The New York Times shaped the country’s political and cultural conversation. Starting in 1967, Robert Stock edited seven of those sections over 30 years, innovating and troublemaking all the way.

His memoir is rich in anecdotes and admissions. At The Times, Jan Morris threw a manuscript at him, he shared an embarrassing moment with Jacqueline Kennedy, and he got the paper sued for $1 million. Along the way, Rod Laver challenged Stock to a tennis match, he played a clarinet duet with superstar Richard Stoltzman, and he shared a Mafia-spiced brunch with Jerry Orbach.

Me and The Times: My wild ride from elevator operator to New York Times editor, columnist, and change agent (1967-97)

By Robert W. Stock,

What is this book about?

An intimate, unvarnished look at the making of the Sunday sections of The New York Times in their pre-internet heyday, back when they shaped the country’s political and cultural conversation.

Over 30 years, Robert Stock edited seven of those sections, innovating, and troublemaking all the way – getting the paper sued for $1 million, locking horns with legendary editors Abe Rosenthal and Max Frankel, and publishing articles that sent the publisher Punch Sulzberger up the wall.

On one level, his memoir tracks Stock’s amazing career from his elevator job at Bonwit Teller to his accidental entry into journalism to his…


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