The best books about World War II that may surprise you

Karen McMillan Author Of The Paris of the East
By Karen McMillan

The Books I Picked & Why

Khaki Town

By Judy Nunn

Book cover of Khaki Town

Why this book?

This novel is based on a true wartime story kept secret for more than seventy years. The story is set in March 1942, Townsville, Australia, after Singapore has fallen and Darwin has been bombed. The small town is transformed into a hub for 70,000 soldiers. But Australian troops begrudge the confident American soldiers, and there is growing conflict within the American ranks, and racial tensions are exposed. This compelling read is made even more poignant when you discover that it’s based on a mutiny that was covered up by the military. Khaki Town is a thought-provoking novel that will have you rallying against the injustices it exposes.

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The Happiest Man on Earth: The Beautiful Life of an Auschwitz Survivor

By Eddie Jaku

Book cover of The Happiest Man on Earth: The Beautiful Life of an Auschwitz Survivor

Why this book?

I am recommending this memoir for its beauty and kindness, which is even more extraordinary when considering this is Eddie Jaku’s story of being a Holocaust survivor. He tells the reader that "life can be beautiful if you make it beautiful. It’s up to you." These are powerful words from a man whose life was changed forever when he was beaten, arrested, and taken to a concentration camp. For the next seven years, he witnessed the worst of mankind, the horrors of the death camps, first in Buchenwald and then in Auschwitz, and then the infamous Nazi death march. He lost many friends and family. But Eddie survived with his spirit intact, determined to live his best possible life and be happy. A truly surprising and inspirational book.  

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Wolfram: The Boy Who Went to War

By Giles Milton

Book cover of Wolfram: The Boy Who Went to War

Why this book?

Giles Milton is an extraordinary historian whose history books read like novels. Wolfram tells the story of a young German soldier who was only nine years old when Hitler came to power, raised by free-thinking parents who were not Nazi supporters, his formative years living under the most brutal regimes in history. This book explores a subject this is often ignored, ordinary German people trying to live normal, decent lives and who suffered the consequences of Hitler’s war. "I’d rather be anywhere else in the world," Wolfram writes to his parents from the fighting in Ukraine in 1942. This is a story of a decent young man caught up in the German war machine, and it is a reminder that people on all sides of the war suffered. 

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Dear Mrs. Bird

By A.J. Pearce

Book cover of Dear Mrs. Bird

Why this book?

There is so much to enjoy in this original and charming novel! Set in London during the Blitz, Emmy is trying to remain cheerful, despite the nightly bombings and disruption of life as she once knew it. Emmy takes on a job helping Mrs. Bird, the renowned agony aunt for Woman’s Friend magazine. But if there is any hint of Unpleasantness, the letters must be cut up immediately – until Emmy decides to take matters into her own hand. Dear Mrs. Bird captures the language of the time beautifully, no doubt influenced by the 1940s magazines the author has collected. This novel is both funny and very moving, a tale of love and friendship, loss and understanding, and ultimately a book of kindness and compassion.

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The Yellow Bird Sings

By Jennifer Rosner

Book cover of The Yellow Bird Sings

Why this book?

The Yellow Bird Sings opens in Poland in 1941, a novel based on a real-life story. Roza and her five-year-old daughter Shira stay in a farmer’s barn, but to survive, they can’t make a sound. So they invent sign language, and they play silent games. But then the day comes when the barn is no longer safe, and Roza must make an impossible choice. The Yellow Bird Sings is an extraordinary, deeply moving novel – one that I couldn’t put down. It explores the trauma of the Holocaust, but it also manages to be a beautiful book that shows the unbreakable bond between parent and child. In the darkest days, their love, hope, and humanity shine through.

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