The best books on World War II

Richard Overy Author Of Blood and Ruins: The Great Imperial War 1931-1945 (US edition Last Imperial War)
By Richard Overy

The Books I Picked & Why

China’s War with Japan 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival

By Rana Mitter

China’s War with Japan 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival

Why this book?

For years the major war waged in China by the Japanese armed forces was ignored or played down in standard histories of World War II. Rana Mitter’s book is the first to explore the war in full and to put it back into the context of the wider world war. This was the Japanese army’s largest conflict and it created the conditions for the emergence of modern Communist China. The use of Chinese archives long neglected or previously closed makes this an original and convincing history, essential reading for anyone who wants to know what happened in Asia during the war.


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Ostkrieg: Hitler's War of Extermination in the East

By Stephen G. Fritz

Ostkrieg: Hitler's War of Extermination in the East

Why this book?

There are a great many books written on the Soviet-German conflict, including my own study Russia’s War published some years ago. In this volume, Fritz makes the most of all the recent research and his familiarity with Hitler’s military career, to create a vibrant narrative of the largest conflict in World War II. What makes this account different is Fritz’s ability to weave together the story of the campaigns and the murderous, genocidal strategies pursued by the German invader. Hitler waged two wars, against the Red Army and against the Jews. Fritz charts their twin course, making greater sense of the nature of a savage and merciless war.


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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?

This is simply one of the finest books to be written on the final critical two years of the Pacific War, with extensive detail on the Japanese side of the conflict and plenty of new insights into the better-known American story. It is a big book, but this was a large conflict both in terms of space, time, and the resources deployed. It was also chiefly a story of amphibious naval warfare, an original and significant development in modern warfare that too often gets understated. By the end of the conflict, the American armed forces had created the shape that they were to employ for the next half-century in projecting power overseas.


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The Deadly Brotherhood: The American Combat Soldier in World War II

By John C. McManus

The Deadly Brotherhood: The American Combat Soldier in World War II

Why this book?

The big question for World War II is what kept men fighting in appalling conditions, with high losses against an implacable enemy. McManus focuses on the American army to answer this question, but his answers could apply to many of the fighting men in other armies as well. The book explores the nature of combat and the psychological mechanisms used to cope with the conditions of modern war. This is a dimension of the history that too often gets overlooked as divisions and units are moved around on the historians’ map of the war, yet it is a central issue to understand what motivates soldiers and keeps them fighting effectively. Sadly, a great many did, indeed, end up as psychological casualties.


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Hitler, the Allies, and the Jews

By Shlomo Aronson

Hitler, the Allies, and the Jews

Why this book?

There is a common assumption among a younger generation brought up on the horrors of the Holocaust or Shoah that the Allies waged war to save the Jews. As Aronson shows in this candid and carefully researched volume, nothing could be further from the truth. The war waged by Hitler against the Jews was well-known, but the Allies did very little to try to end or modify the outcome. For anyone interested in the war, understanding the fate of the Jews in both German and Allied terms is bound up with wider issues of strategy and politics. Aronson tells a slice of the wartime narrative that many might want to forget. It is also a reminder that the war and the Holocaust were bound together, not separate histories. This perspective has not won general acceptance, but it should. 


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