The Best Books To Understand WW2 From Eyewitnesses And Historians

By Steven Casey

The Books I Picked & Why

In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War

By David Reynolds

In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War

Why this book?

“Another book on Churchill?” asks Reynolds on the first page. “Can there be anything new to say?” Yes, is the emphatic answer. Churchill’s magisterial memoir shaped how many readers came to understand World War II. In this equally magisterial book, Reynolds dissects how Churchill wrote his memoir, exploring how the politics of the post-war era were often as important in shaping Churchill’s judgments as the events of the war itself. Methodologically sophisticated and elegantly written.


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An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943

By Rick Atkinson

An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943

Why this book?

Atkinson’s Pulitzer Prize winning opener to his World War II trilogy reads like a novel. It also succeeds in the almost impossible task of bringing military history alive, weaving expertly drawn biographies of individuals at all levels of the US military into a grand narrative of the campaign to liberate North Africa in 1942-43.


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Implacable Foes: War in the Pacific, 1944-1945

By Marc Gallicchio, Waldo Heinrichs

Implacable Foes: War in the Pacific, 1944-1945

Why this book?

While written in a more scholarly style than Atkinson, Heinrichs and Galliccio’s account is an essential companion volume. Atkinson focuses on the US military in its first major offensive. Heinrichs and Galliccio assess how it had evolved by the last year of the Pacific War. Throughout, their book expertly integrates military, diplomatic, and political history—three often-overlooked subjects in contemporary scholarly history—showing how American politicians and strategists, officers and fighting men managed to bring the war to a successful conclusion, while retaining overwhelming public support.


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Brave Men

By Ernie Pyle

Brave Men

Why this book?

I came close to picking James Tobin’s brilliant biography, Ernie’s Pyle’s War, but decided that it was impossible to overlook Pyle’s own prose. This anthology contains the articles he wrote in Sicily, Italy, and France in 1943-44. It shows, more movingly than any other eyewitness account, just how terrible the fighting could be in what is too often glibly remembered as America’s “good war.”


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Scoop

By Evelyn Waugh

Scoop

Why this book?

A savage counterpoint to Pyle’s brave frontline reporting. The English novelist made two trips to the Ethiopia to cover the war launched by Mussolini in 1935. While in Africa, Waugh complained bitterly about a rival reporter who “never set foot in Abyssinia . . . he sits in his hotel describing an entirely imaginary campaign.” And in this satire, he gave savage voice to this incendiary allegation, describing a group of reporters who spent the bulk of their time far from the front, writing stories based on either misleading briefings by local propaganda chiefs or ingenious inventions that fit the prejudices of their editors and proprietors back home. A hilarious romp.


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