The best books on wartime historical fiction

The Books I Picked & Why

All Quiet on the Western Front

By Erich Maria Remarque, Arthur Wesley Wheen

Book cover of All Quiet on the Western Front

Why this book?

I was sixteen when I read this anti-war masterpiece. Till then I had entertained a romantic view of warfare; all the deaths were clean and each death full of pathos and meaning. But as I followed Paul’s journey from naïve youngster to hardened, cynical veteran, I learnt of war’s true horror...and its utter futility. The cemetery scene still lives with me. And the final scene…talk about a climax!

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Master and Commander

By Patrick O'Brian

Book cover of Master and Commander

Why this book?

What can anyone say that hasn’t been said before about this magnificent series that follows the protagonists, “Lucky” Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, as they do battle with the French and experience the utter crashing boredom of sailing a man-of-war that is controlled by the winds and the waves. O’Brian’s attention to detail is absolutely unmatched and yet the reader never gets bored. Fifty engrossing pages can go by and you realise that nothing has happened, and I mean this as a compliment. His writing style is indeed a metaphor for life on board a three-master. I thought C.S. Forester was the best naval fiction writer until I found O’Brian!

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The Last Full Measure

By Jeff Shaara

Book cover of The Last Full Measure

Why this book?

I actually think that Shaara has outdone his father. Both, of course, weave the story around actual historical events, although Shaara Junior’s introduction of fictional characters livens the narrative up. I’ve enjoyed all of Shaara’s books, regardless of their historical setting, but I chose this one because it was a good way for me to learn more about the Civil War post-Gettysburg and also have a really good read.

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Northwest Passage

By Kenneth Roberts

Book cover of Northwest Passage

Why this book?

The author’s writing style is now somewhat outdated, but this book is still very worth the time and effort as Roberts weaves the exciting story of the fictional Langdon Towne through the making of America, from the perils of the frontier to the political squabbles of London. Along the way, he becomes the close friend of the larger-than-life character, Robert Rogers. Its breadth of action and depth of intensity make it a truly magnificent book.

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The Last Kingdom

By Bernard Cornwell

Book cover of The Last Kingdom

Why this book?

Cornwell’s books still never fail to entertain me. His descriptions of battle scenes are without peer and the narrative never lags. If one can accept Cornwell’s delightfully honest admission that he sometimes plays fast-and-loose with the historical facts (he did this in his earlier Sharpe series, as well), then the reader will have a thoroughly fun read.

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