The best books about women in wartime

Why am I passionate about this?

Doing the research for The Italian Party meant submerging myself in the Cold War Italy of the 1950s. But I found I couldn't understand that period without a better understanding of World War II and Italian Fascism. Cue an avalanche of books from which this list is culled, and the new novel I have just finished. I am drawn to first-hand accounts of women’s lives in wartime because I wonder how I would react and survive such challenges. Recent events in Europe have revived the nightmare of life under an occupying army. These stories are back at my bedside right now because I need their humor and wisdom.


I wrote...

The Italian Party

By Christina Lynch,

Book cover of The Italian Party

What is my book about?

Half glamorous fun, half an examination of America’s role in the world, The Italian Party is set in Italy in 1956, a pivotal moment in the Cold War. Newly married, Scottie and Michael are seduced by Tuscany’s famous beauty. But when Scottie’s Italian teacher disappears, the secrets they are keeping from each other force them beneath the splendid surface to a more complex view of Italy, America, and each other.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of War in Val d'Orcia: An Italian War Diary, 1943-1944

Christina Lynch Why did I love this book?

This one has a permanent place on my nightstand because with the madness of war once again enveloping Europe, Iris Origo is the sane, witty, pragmatic voice we all need to help us navigate the times ahead. An Anglo-American married to an Italian, Iris had the foresight to keep a diary of her life in 1943-1944, as Italy was occupied by the Germans and the Allies moved north, putting her farm on the front lines. She manages to hide escaped POWs, feed partisans, and educate refugee children while Fascists and Nazis take over her house. I wish I could call her up, but this is the next best thing.

By Iris Origo,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked War in Val d'Orcia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The bestselling diaries of WWII in Tuscany, with a new introduction by writer and social historian Virginia Nicholson, and stunning rediscovered photographsAt the height of the Second World War, Italy was being torn apart by German armies, civil war, and the eventual Allied invasion. In a corner of Tuscany, one woman - born in England, married to an Italian - kept a record of daily life in a country at war. Iris Origo's compellingly powerful diary, War in Val d'Orcia, is the spare and vivid account of what happened when a peaceful farming valley became a battleground.

At great personal…


Book cover of To War with Whitaker

Christina Lynch Why did I love this book?

It’s rare to find a war diary that makes you laugh out loud, but this had me snorting tea through my nose. Lady Ranfurly broke the law by following her new husband, a British officer, to the North African front in 1940 and staying there for the duration. No pampered aristocrat, she’s a hard-charging career woman who ends up working for, and spying on, a secret war organization running covert missions, and then becomes personal assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander (nicknamed “Jumbo”). Her diary is hilarious and touching as she weathers fear, tragedy, and colossal male egos with maximum moxie. 

By Hermione Ranfurly,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked To War with Whitaker as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hermione, Countess of Ranfurly, kept a diary all her life. To War with Whitaker is an account of the most adventurous, most defiant and most valiant of those years.

Hermione and Dan Ranfurly married only months before the Second World War erupted. So when Dan was posted to the Middle East, taking their faithful butler Whitaker with him, Hermione resolved to join them there. This memoir offers astounding displays of commitment and independence. After vowing not to go home without her husband, Hermione travelled alone from Cape Town to Cairo, and remained in the Middle East and North Africa for…


Book cover of Looking for Trouble: The Classic Memoir of a Trailblazing War Correspondent

Christina Lynch Why did I love this book?

I would love to invite Virginia Cowles to dinner, but unfortunately she died in a car accident in the 1980s (Ouija board, anyone?). A socialite turned war correspondent, Virginia navigated not just Nazis and Fascists while covering the Spanish Civil War and WWII, but an entire misogynist war bureaucracy bent on keeping her from doing her job. Looking for Trouble is a smart, funny, moving, and insightful account of being on the front lines in high heels and a fox fur jacket.

By Virginia Cowles,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Looking for Trouble as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This sensational 1941 memoir of life on wartime Europe's frontline by a trailblazing female reporter is an 'unforgettable' (The Times) rediscovered classic, introduced by Christina Lamb (who calls her 'the Forrest Gump of journalism').

Paris as it fell to the Nazis
London on the first day of the Blitz
Berlin the day Germany invaded Poland
Madrid in the Spanish Civil War
Prague during the Munich crisis
Lapland as the Russians attacked
Moscow betrayed by the Germans
Virginia Cowles has seen it all.

As a pioneering female correspondent, she reported from the frontline of 1930s Europe into the Second World War,…


Book cover of A Stricken Field

Christina Lynch Why did I love this book?

Most of us know Martha Gellhorn as a war correspondent and Mrs. Ernest Hemingway, but she was a brilliant novelist as well. A Stricken Field is the story of an American woman in Prague in 1938 as the Nazis move in and hunt down opponents of the regime. If you are looking for models of resistance to brutality (I am), this is your book.

By Martha Gellhorn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Stricken Field as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Martha Gellhorn was one of the first - and most widely read - female war correspondents of the twentieth century. She is best known for her fearless reporting in Europe before and during World War II and for her brief marriage to Ernest Hemingway, but she was also an acclaimed novelist. In 1938, before the Munich pact, Gellhorn visited Prague and witnessed its transformation from a proud democracy preparing to battle Hitler to a country occupied by the German army. Born out of this experience, "A Stricken Field" follows a journalist who returns to Prague after its annexation and finds…


Book cover of A House in the Mountains: The Women Who Liberated Italy from Fascism

Christina Lynch Why did I love this book?

I could have broken the rules and just listed five books by Caroline Moorehead here. I love her writing; her highly-researched biographies are a joy to read and utterly immersive. I chose A House in the Mountains because it shows me what it’s like to survive the hardscrabble blow-by-blow of daily life under an occupying army, and how you can defeat it. The five women whose lives in the Italian Resistance during WWII she chronicles here are models of courage and creative resistance to tyranny.

By Caroline Moorehead,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A House in the Mountains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Moorehead paints a wonderfully vivid and moving portrait of the women of the Italian Resistance...an excellent book... She depicts a tragic fate that is timeless, of dreams forged in adversity, shattered by collisions with practical politics' MAX HASTINGS, SUNDAY TIMES

A Spectator Book of the Year

The extraordinary story of the courageous women who spearheaded the Italian Resistance during the Second World War

In the late summer of 1943, when Italy changed sides in the War and the Germans - now their enemies - occupied the north of the country, an Italian Resistance was born. Ada, Frida, Silvia and Bianca…


You might also like...

Magical Disinformation

By Lachlan Page,

Book cover of Magical Disinformation

Lachlan Page Author Of Magical Disinformation

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I lived in Latin America for six years, working as a red cross volunteer, a volcano hiking guide, a teacher, and an extra in a Russian TV series (in Panama). Having travelled throughout the region and returning regularly, I’m endlessly fascinated by the culture, history, politics, languages, and geography. Parallel to this, I enjoy reading and writing about the world of international espionage. Combining the two, and based on my own experience, I wrote my novel, Magical Disinformation, a spy novel set in Colombia. While there is not a huge depth of spy novels set in Latin America, I’ve chosen five of my favourites spy books set in the region.

Lachlan's book list on spy books set in Latin America

What is my book about?

This book is a spy novel with a satirical edge which will take you on a heart-pumping journey through the streets, mountains, jungles, and beaches of Colombia. Our Man in Havana meets A Clear and Present Danger.

Magical Disinformation

By Lachlan Page,

What is this book about?

In the era of ‘fake news’ in the land of magical realism, fiction can be just as dangerous as the truth... Discover Lachlan Page’s Magical Disinformation: a spy novel with a satirical edge set amongst the Colombian peace process. Described by one reviewer as “Our Man in Havana meets A Clear and Present Danger.”

Oliver Jardine is a spy in Colombia, enamoured with local woman Veronica Velasco.

As the Colombian government signs a peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas, Her Majesty’s Government decides a transfer is in order to focus on more pertinent theatres of operation.

In a desperate attempt…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Italy, the Spanish Civil War, and the German occupation of Europe?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Italy, the Spanish Civil War, and the German occupation of Europe.

Italy Explore 391 books about Italy
The Spanish Civil War Explore 51 books about the Spanish Civil War
The German Occupation Of Europe Explore 72 books about the German occupation of Europe