The best books on wartime historical fiction

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a retired professor of anthropology. I was first drawn to archaeology after a high-school presentation by a Classics master on the ruins of Paestum. I have enjoyed exploring the past but have a special passion for Greece. Because of my working-class origin in Liverpool, England, class struggle and the fight for human dignity has been a leitmotif of first my academic and now my fiction writing. My books explore how war inevitably changes the lives of the characters. I have bachelors and graduate degrees from Cambridge University and the University of Calgary. I'm a Fellow of the Society of Antiquities. I hope you enjoy the books on my list!


I wrote...

The Village: A Novel of Wartime Crete

By Philip Duke,

Book cover of The Village: A Novel of Wartime Crete

What is my book about?

The Nazi war machine steamrollers its way through Europe, but an obscure Cretan village stands in its way and says no!

A Cretan village confronts the Nazi juggernaut sweeping across Europe. A village matriarch tries to hold her family together...Her grieving son finds a new life in the Cretan Resistance... A naive English soldier unwillingly finds the warrior in himself...And a fanatical German paratrooper is forced to question everything he thought he believed in. The lives of four ordinary people are irrevocably intertwined and their destinies changed forever as each of them confronts in their own way the horrors of war and its echo down the decades.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of All Quiet on the Western Front

Philip Duke Why did I love 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!

By Erich Maria Remarque, Arthur Wesley Wheen (translator),

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked All Quiet on the Western Front as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The story is told by a young 'unknown soldier' in the trenches of Flanders during the First World War. Through his eyes we see all the realities of war; under fire, on patrol, waiting in the trenches, at home on leave, and in hospitals and dressing stations. Although there are vividly described incidents which remain in mind, there is no sense of adventure here, only the feeling of youth betrayed and a deceptively simple indictment of war - of any war - told for a whole generation of victims.


Book cover of Master and Commander

Philip Duke Why did I love 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!

By Patrick O'Brian,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Master and Commander as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This, the first in the splendid series of Jack Aubrey novels, establishes the friendship between Captain Aubrey, R.N., and Stephen Maturin, ship's surgeon and intelligence agent, against a thrilling backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. Details of a life aboard a man-of-war in Nelson's navy are faultlessly rendered: the conversational idiom of the officers in the ward room and the men on the lower deck, the food, the floggings, the mysteries of the wind and the rigging, and the roar of broadsides as the great ships close in battle.


Book cover of The Last Full Measure

Philip Duke Why did I love 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.

By Jeff Shaara,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the Pulitzer prize–winning classic The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara created the finest Civil War novel of our time. In the bestselling Gods and Generals, Shaara’s son, Jeff, brilliantly sustained his father’s vision, telling the epic story of the events culminating in the Battle of Gettysburg. Now, Jeff Shaara brings this legendary father-son trilogy to its stunning conclusion in a novel that brings to life the final two years of the Civil War.
 
As The Last Full Measure opens, Gettysburg is past and the war advances to its third brutal year. On the Union side, the gulf between the politicians…


Book cover of Northwest Passage

Philip Duke Why did I love 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.

By Kenneth Roberts,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Northwest Passage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This classic novel follows the career of Major Rogers, whose incredible exploits during the French and Indian Wars are told through Langdon Towne, an artist and Harvard student who flees trouble to join the army.


Book cover of The Last Kingdom

Philip Duke Why did I love 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.

By Bernard Cornwell,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Last Kingdom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first book in the epic and bestselling series that has gripped millions.

A hero will be forged from this broken land.

As seen on Netflix and BBC around the world.

In a land torn apart by conflict, an orphan boy has come of age. Raised by the Vikings, deadly enemies of his own Saxon people, Uhtred is a fierce and skilled warrior who kneels to no-one.

Alfred - Saxon, king, man of god - fights to hold the throne of the only land still resisting the pagan northerners.

Uhtred and Alfred's fates are tangled, soaked in blood and blackened…


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Call Me Stan: A Tragedy in Three Millennia

By K.R. Wilson,

Book cover of Call Me Stan: A Tragedy in Three Millennia

K.R. Wilson Author Of Call Me Stan: A Tragedy in Three Millennia

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Novelist Reader History enthusiast Occasional composer Sometime chorister

K.R.'s 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When King Priam's pregnant daughter was fleeing the sack of Troy, Stan was there. When Jesus of Nazareth was beaten and crucified, Stan was there - one crossover. He’s been a Hittite warrior, a Silk Road mercenary, a reluctant rebel in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, and an information peddler in the cabarets of post-war Berlin. Stan doesn't die, and he doesn't know why. And now he's being investigated for a horrific crime.

As Stan tells his story, from his origins as an Anatolian sheep farmer to his custody in a Toronto police interview room, he brings a wry, anachronistic…

Call Me Stan: A Tragedy in Three Millennia

By K.R. Wilson,

What is this book about?

Long-listed for the 2022 Leacock Medal for Humour

When King Priam's pregnant daughter was fleeing the sack of Troy, Stan was there. When Jesus of Nazareth was beaten and crucified, Stan was there - one cross over. Stan has been a Hittite warrior, a Roman legionnaire, a mercenary for the caravans of the Silk Road and a Great War German grunt. He’s been a toymaker in a time of plague, a reluctant rebel in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, and an information peddler in the cabarets of post-war Berlin. Stan doesn't die, and he doesn't know why. And now he's…


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