The best World War II novels that bring history to life

Who am I?

I am a first-generation American. My parents grew up in Eastern Europe, both experiencing Nazi persecution. They escaped to America from their respective countries, my mother from eastern Poland, my father from Austria. As such, the stories of World War II have fascinated me since childhood. I began my career as a journalist and took it upon myself to be the family historian, documenting my parents’ unique experiences. I believe in the importance of speaking out against injustice, and of bearing witness so our history of this consequential time and place is never lost. The novels I recommend take pieces of this history and bring them to life!


I wrote...

A Ritchie Boy

By Linda Kass,

Book cover of A Ritchie Boy

What is my book about?

Set during the dawn of World War II and the disruptive decade to follow, A Ritchie Boy is the poignant, compelling tale of one young immigrant's triumph over adversity as he journeys from Europe to America and from boyhood to manhood.

1938. Eli Stoff and his parents, Austrian Jews, escape to America just after Germany takes over their homeland. Within five years, Eli enlists in the US Army and, thanks to his understanding of the German language and culture, joins thousands of others like him who become known as Ritchie boys, young men who work undercover in Intelligence on the European front to help the Allies win World War II. 

The books I picked & why

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All the Light We Cannot See

By Anthony Doerr,

Book cover of All the Light We Cannot See

Why this book?

Author Anthony Doerr interweaves the stories of a blind French girl named Marie-Laure and a German boy, Werner Pfennig, whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. At the close of this wonderful story, when Marie-Laure is old and it is the present (2014), Doerr narrates this line: “Every hour, she thinks, someone for whom the war was memory falls out of the world.” This is the very reason I needed to write my book—to share the inspirational story of my mother’s childhood. World War II is transitioning from memory to history: soon no one who lived through that war will be alive. Human stories, like All The Light We Cannot See, allow others to bear witness.

All the Light We Cannot See

By Anthony Doerr,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked All the Light We Cannot See as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE 2015 PULITZER PRIZE FOR FICTION
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
WINNER OF THE CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR FICTION

A beautiful, stunningly ambitious novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II

Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.'

For Marie-Laure, blind since the age of six, the world is full of mazes. The miniature of a Paris neighbourhood, made by her father to teach her the way home. The microscopic…


The Book of Lost Names

By Kristin Harmel,

Book cover of The Book of Lost Names

Why this book?

Inspired by an astonishing true story from World War II, a young woman with a talent for forgery helps hundreds of Jewish children flee the Nazis. Author Kristin Harmel includes meticulous research to spotlight the French Resistance figures whose bravery and immeasurable sacrifices must not be lost to history. The act of what the forger needed to turn out identity documents like birth certificates to library cards to ration cards—and the process itself—is fascinating! This is a heartrending page-turner! 

The Book of Lost Names

By Kristin Harmel,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Book of Lost Names as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Throughout the 1940s, forgers helped thousands of children escape Nazi France. In this instant New York Times bestseller, Kristin Harmel reimagines their story...

Perfect for readers of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, The Librarian of Auschwitz and The Book Thief.

In 1942, Eva is forced to flee Paris after the arrest of her father, a Polish Jew. Finding refuge in a small mountain town, she begins forging identity documents for Jewish children escaping to neutral Switzerland. But erasing people comes with a price, and along with a mysterious, handsome forger named Remy, Eva realises she must find a way to preserve…


The Book Thief

By Markus Zusak,

Book cover of The Book Thief

Why this book?

In 1939 Nazi Germany, Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich. She scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing until she encounters something she can’t resist—books. Her accordion-playing foster father helps her to read, and she shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. The story is told by “Death,” who becomes a character in the story. As one of the first books about the war that I read offering a point of view of someone living in Germany, an important message here is that many people in Germany also became victims of the war.

The Book Thief

By Markus Zusak,

Why should I read it?

24 authors picked The Book Thief as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Life affirming, triumphant and tragic . . . masterfully told. . . but also a wonderful page-turner' Guardian
'Brilliant and hugely ambitious' New York Times
'Extraordinary' Telegraph
___

HERE IS A SMALL FACT - YOU ARE GOING TO DIE

1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.
Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.

SOME IMPORTANT…


Eternal

By Lisa Scottoline,

Book cover of Eternal

Why this book?

This tender and authentic love triangle among three best friends in Fascist Italy during World War II unfolds in the heart of Rome at its darkest moment. Author Lisa Scottoline’s decades of research are evident in a tale where the streets, the food, the people, and the love of family transport the reader into a sweeping and breathtaking journey to the past. This is an extraordinary story that is both epic and intimate.

Eternal

By Lisa Scottoline,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
 
#1 bestselling author Lisa Scottoline offers a sweeping and shattering epic of historical fiction fueled by shocking true events, the tale of a love triangle that unfolds in the heart of Rome...in the creeping shadow of fascism.

What war destroys, only love can heal.

Elisabetta, Marco, and Sandro grow up as the best of friends despite their differences. Elisabetta is a feisty beauty who dreams of becoming a novelist; Marco the brash and athletic son in a family of professional cyclists; and Sandro a Jewish mathematics prodigy, kind-hearted and thoughtful, the son of a lawyer and…


Resistance Women

By Jennifer Chiaverini,

Book cover of Resistance Women

Why this book?

Mildred Fish, an American woman, marries a German economist, Arvid Harnack, and moves with him to Germany to build their life together. As the Nazi party rises to power, Mildred and her friends conspire to resist, working together to provide information about the Germans to the American forces. When the Harnack resistance cell is exposed, everyone is at risk. Beautifully written and heavily researched—the novel is inspired by actual events—author Jennifer Chiaverini brings Mildred and her compatriots to vivid life on the page. Resistance Women is an unforgettable story of ordinary people determined to resist the rise of evil, sacrificing their own lives and liberty to fight injustice and defend the oppressed.

Resistance Women

By Jennifer Chiaverini,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of BookBub's best historical novels of the year and Oprah magazine's buzziest books of the month.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, an enthralling historical saga that recreates the danger, romance, and sacrifice of an era and brings to life one courageous, passionate American-Mildred Fish Harnack-and her circle of women friends who waged a clandestine battle against Hitler in Nazi Berlin.

After Wisconsin graduate student Mildred Fish marries brilliant German economist Arvid Harnack, she accompanies him to his German homeland, where a promising future awaits. In the thriving intellectual culture of 1930s Berlin, the…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in World War 2, Germany, and the German occupation of Europe?

7,000+ 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 the German occupation of Europe.

World War 2 Explore 1142 books about World War 2
Germany Explore 340 books about Germany
The German Occupation Of Europe Explore 54 books about the German occupation of Europe

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like A Woman of No Importance, Lilac Girls, and Alone in Berlin if you like this list.