The best books of untold stories from World War II

Who am I?

I come by my interest in history and the years before, during, and after the Second World War honestly. For one thing, both my father and my father-in-law served as pilots in the war, my father a P-38 pilot in North Africa and my father-in-law a B-17 bomber pilot in England. Their histories connect me with a period I think we can still almost reach with our fingertips and one that has had a momentous impact on our lives today. I have taken that interest and passion to discover and write true life stories of the war—focusing on the untold and unheard stories. 


I wrote...

A Gathering of Men

By Rona Simmons,

Book cover of A Gathering of Men

What is my book about?

Candor, North Carolina. The town barber brandishes a copy featuring the May 1927 Charlotte Observer with Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis on its cross-country flight. At the outskirts of town, best friends Lake, Roger, and Jim take turns in their improvised, wheeled but wingless crate, hurtling downhill, eyes closed, imagining their future alongside Lindy. Pearl Harbor changes everything. The boys will have their chance to fly—not over North Carolina farm fields, but across Germany on bombing runs to Berlin and Merseburg and Schweinfurt facing a determined Luftwaffe. The odds of completing their tours of duty in the US Army Air Forces are slim. It is a moving tale, based on a true story, about shattered dreams and enduring friendship, duty, and honor.

The books I picked & why

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Sailor's Heart

By Martin Campbell,

Book cover of Sailor's Heart

Why this book?

Not just another book on World War II—Sailor’s Heart by Martin Campbell is a story that has not been told before. It is the fictionalized (but heavily and exhaustively researched) story of three Royal Navy sailors who experienced traumas that rendered them unable to go on. Campbell says the condition “sailor’s heart” is the loss of interest in the battle and then the will to fight or the will to live.” With no end to the war in sight, the men are sentenced to an undefined period of rehabilitation in a Royal Navy hospital that has anything but the men’s best interests at heart. Their plight and struggle to survive are palpable and gripping.

Sailor's Heart

By Martin Campbell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

1942. The war at sea is being lost. One per cent of all naval personnel are being referred as psychiatric casualties. The British Admiralty introduces the Stone Frigate approach.
Three men fight for their country in the Arctic convoys of World War II, then for their sanity and dignity, labelled as cowards and subjected to experimental psychiatry at an isolated facility set up to recycle men back into battle.
To the Navy they are faulty parts, not constitutionally suited to operate at sea. To the public they are poltroons, malingerers and psychiatric cases.
The places in this story are real,…

The Indomitable Florence Finch: The Untold Story of a War Widow Turned Resistance Fighter and Savior of American POWs

By Robert J. Mrazek,

Book cover of The Indomitable Florence Finch: The Untold Story of a War Widow Turned Resistance Fighter and Savior of American POWs

Why this book?

Florence Finch’s story is astonishing—in part for what this woman did to help save American prisoners of war in the Philippines during World War II. Finch received the Medal of Freedom, our highest civilian award, and has had a Coast Guard headquarters building named for her. Still, had it not been for Mrazek who discovered her story and wrote this book, relying in part on her actual correspondence, her family’s memories, and the historical accounts of the Massacre of Manila, we would not know Finch.

The Indomitable Florence Finch: The Untold Story of a War Widow Turned Resistance Fighter and Savior of American POWs

By Robert J. Mrazek,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When Florence Finch died at the age of 101, few of her Ithaca, NY neighbors knew that this unassuming Filipina native was a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, whose courage and sacrifice were unsurpassed in the Pacific War against Japan. Long accustomed to keeping her secrets close in service of the Allies, she waited fifty years to reveal the story of those dramatic and harrowing days to her own children.

Florence was an unlikely warrior. She relied on her own intelligence and fortitude to survive on her own from the age of seven, facing bigotry as a mixed-race mestiza with…


The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Music and Love in Nazi Germany

By Martin Goldsmith,

Book cover of The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Music and Love in Nazi Germany

Why this book?

Martin Goldsmith has penned the story of his father and mother who were talented musicians in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. They met by chance and were invited to play for the Kulturbund, an all Jewish orchestra that was allowed to exist while it was convenient to the Nazi’s. When disbanded, the members were sent to concentration camps. Goldsmith’s parents escaped to America, but carried with them the burden of relatives left behind and the guilt of having played into the Nazi’s propaganda efforts. 

The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Music and Love in Nazi Germany

By Martin Goldsmith,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Advance Praise for the Inextinguishable Symphony "A Fascinating Insight into a Virtually Unknown Chapter of Nazi Rule in Germany, Made all the More Engaging through a Son's Discovery of His Own Remarkable Parents." -Ted Koppel, ABC News "An Immensely Moving and Powerful Description of those Evil Times. I couldn't Put the Book Down." -James Galway "Martin Goldsmith has Written a Moving and Personal Account of a Search for Identity. His is a Story that will Touch All Readers with Its Integrity. This is not about Exorcising Ghosts, but Rather Awakening Passions that no One Ever Knew Existed. This is a…

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

By Erik Larson,

Book cover of In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

Why this book?

Larsen never fails to entertain and educate while bringing his reader's surprising stories. Here he takes up the story of William E. Dodd, a mild-mannered professor from Chicago who was appointed as ambassador to Germany by Roosevelt in the days before the Second World War. It was an inappropriate appointment and Dodd stumbles, failing to appreciate the signs of coming troubles. The same can be said for his daughter Martha who accompanies her father to Germany and is enamored by life in the nightclubs and salons of the fascist society. Both come to sit across a table from Hitler and fall under his spell as did the German people—at least for a period. 

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

By Erik Larson,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked In the Garden of Beasts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's Berlin, 1933. William E. Dodd, a mild-mannered academic from Chicago, has to his own and everyone else's surprise, become America's first ambassador to Hitler's Germany, in a year that proves to be a turning point in history. Dodd and his family, notably his vivacious daughter, Martha, observe at first-hand the many changes - some subtle, some disturbing, and some horrifically violent - that signal Hitler's consolidation of power. Dodd has little choice but to associate with key figures in the Nazi party, his increasingly concerned cables make little impact on an indifferent U.S. State Department, while Martha is drawn…

The Women in the Castle

By Jessica Shattuck,

Book cover of The Women in the Castle

Why this book?

I heard Shattuck speak about her book at the National World War II Museum. The story is based on her grandmother’s life in post-war Germany. It took Shattuck seven years to research and write. The women in the title are three widows with connections to the men who plotted the failed assassination attempt on Hitler. The women, wives, mothers, and lovers, some weak, some strong, join forces to try to survive the war’s aftermath, living together in a crumbling Bavarian castle. It was a book I could not put down.

The Women in the Castle

By Jessica Shattuck,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Women in the Castle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

In war they made impossible choices. Now can they live with them?

'Moving . . . surprises and devastates' New York Times
'Masterful' People
'Mesmerising . . . reveals new truths about one of history's most tragic eras' USA Today

The Third Reich has crumbled. The Russians are coming.

Marianne von Lingenfels - widow of a resister murdered by the Nazi regime - finds refuge in the crumbling Bavarian castle where she once played host to German high society. There she fulfils her promise to find and protect the wives and children of her husband's…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in World War 2, Germany, and widows?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about World War 2, Germany, and widows.

World War 2 Explore 1045 books about World War 2
Germany Explore 318 books about Germany
Widows Explore 44 books about widows

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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