The best books about WW2 – but written by women

Why am I passionate about this?

While I was child growing up in London, the war was a powerful presence in my life. It was there in the films we watched, in the comics my brothers read, and in my vague understanding of what it meant to be British. It was not a subject we ever studied at school and as an adult I’ve always felt frustrated by my inadequate knowledge of this world-changing conflict. When I first had the idea of writing about the six remarkable women who pioneered the way for female war journalists, it wasn’t just their personal stories that drew me in but the chance to learn more about WW2 itself.


I wrote...

Book cover of The Correspondents: Six Women Writers on the Front Lines of World War II

What is my book about?

On the front lines of the Second World War, a contingent of female journalists were bravely waging their own battle. 

The Correspondents follows six remarkable women as their lives and careers intertwined: Martha Gellhorn, who got the scoop on Ernest Hemingway on D-Day by traveling to Normandy as a stowaway on a Red Cross ship; Lee Miller, who went from being a Vogue cover model to the magazine’s official war correspondent; Sigrid Schultz, who hid her Jewish identity and risked her life by reporting on the Nazi regime; Virginia Cowles, a “society girl columnist” turned combat reporter; Clare Hollingworth, the first English journalist to break the news of World War II; and Helen Kirkpatrick, the first woman to report from an Allied war zone with equal privileges to men.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Face of War

Judith Mackrell Why did I love this book?

Some readers may know about the late great Martha Gellhorn through her dramatically volatile relationship with the novelist Ernest Hemingway. But she was a fierce and passionate writer of fiction herself, and when I discovered her collection of war journalism I realised that she ranked and still ranks amongst the finest of war correspondents. Even decades after the event, Gellhorn still has the power to shock and move us. By choosing to put the suffering of individuals at the heart of her writing, by the unflinching detail of her descriptions, evoking the sights, smells, and sensations of war she drives home her own profound conviction that while the fight against fascism had been necessary in her time, war itself is nearly always an evil, driven by the cynicism and greed of powerful old men.

By Martha Gellhorn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A collection of “first-rate frontline journalism” from the Spanish Civil War to US actions in Central America “by a woman singularly unafraid of guns” (Vanity Fair).
 
For nearly sixty years, Martha Gellhorn’s fearless war correspondence made her a leading journalistic voice of her generation. From the Spanish Civil War in 1937 through the Central American wars of the mid-eighties, Gellhorn’s candid reporting reflected her deep empathy for people regardless of their political ideology. Collecting the best of Gellhorn’s writing on foreign conflicts, and now with a new introduction by Lauren Elkin, The Face of War is a classic of frontline…


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

Judith Mackrell Why did I love this book?

I loved Virginia Cowles from the moment I read about her arrival in Madrid to cover the Spanish Civil War. In her high-heeled shoes and elegant wool dress Cowles looked as though she were dressed for a Manhattan tea party rather than the trenches of Spain. Yet she was a doggedly ambitious reporter whose glamour often bought her unique access to her subjects, not least the besotted Soviet General who kept her captive for three days, feeding her champagne while trying to convert her to Marxism. From Spain, Cowles went on to cover much of WW2, including the fall of Paris where she arrived just two days before the Nazis. Looking for Trouble is a rollicking thriller of a memoir, packed with political gossip and wildly entertaining anecdotes.

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 The Heat of the Day

Judith Mackrell Why did I love this book?

Elizabeth Bowen’s 1948 novel is one of the most gritty, uneasy, and compelling accounts I’ve read of the civilian experience of war. Set in London between 1942 and 1944 The Heat of the Day draws on Bowen’s own experience as an air raid warden in evoking the daily life of a city that has been gutted by bombs, rationing, sleep deprivation, and fear. At the heart of the narrative is the story of Stella, her double agent lover, and the government spy who attempts to blackmail her; and through the strange fractured relationships between these characters, their moral confusion, Bowen gives us vivid insights into the psychological as well as the physical damage inflicted by war.

By Elizabeth Bowen,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Heat of the Day as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is wartime London, and the carelessness of people with no future flows through the evening air. Stella discovers that her lover Robert is suspected of selling information to the enemy. Harrison, the British intelligence agent on his trail, wants to bargain, the price for his silence being Stella herself. Caught between two men and unsure who she can trust, the flimsy structures of Stella's life begin to crumble.


Book cover of No Woman's World: From D-Day to Berlin, A Female Correspondent Covers World War Two

Judith Mackrell Why did I love this book?

When Iris Carpenter was reporting on the war she, like all journalists, was subject to the rules of the military censors. But once the conflict was over she was free to publish the truth of all that she’d seen, and her 1946 memoir is an extraordinarily candid, occasionally harrowing read. As her title suggests, Carpenter’s principal objective was to expose the prejudice and stupidity against which she and her female colleagues had to battle, simply to get to the front—her account was one of the primary sources for my book. But she was also a fearless eyewitness and her memoir provides rare insights into the conditions of war, both its camaraderie and its horror.

Book cover of Lee Miller's War: Beyond D-Day

Judith Mackrell Why did I love this book?

Lee Miller was the most unlikely of war correspondents. As a fashion model for Condé Nast, a surrealist collaborator of Man Ray, and a celebrity New York photographer, world events never impacted much on her work. But when she moved to London to become a photojournalist for Vogue, she found her own special subject in the war. Among the highlights of this handsome collection is Miller’s vivid report of the battle for St Malo where, as the darling of the US 83rd Division, she and her camera were given unfettered access. No less compelling are her accounts of liberated Paris, her haunting photographs and descriptions of concentrations camps; and one of the most iconic images in this book is the photograph taken of Lee sitting naked in Hitler’s own bathtub as she scrubs off the filth and stink of Dachau. 

By Antony Penrose (editor),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Lee Miller's War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Lee Miller's work for Vogue from 1941-1945 sets her apart as a photographer and writer of extraordinary ability. The quality of her photography from the period has long been recognized as outstanding, and its full range is shown here, accompanied by her brilliant despatches. Starting with her first report from a field hospital soon after D-Day, the despatches and nearly 160 photographs show war-ravaged cities, buildings and landscapes, but above all they portray the war-resilient people - soldiers, leaders, medics, evacuees, prisoners of war, the wounded, the villains and the heroes. There is the raw edge of combat portrayed at…


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Book cover of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

Wendy Lee Hermance Author Of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

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Why am I passionate about this?

Wendy Lee Hermance was heard on National Public Radio (NPR) stations with her Missouri Folklore series in the 1980s. She earned a journalism degree from Stephens College, served as Editor and Features Writer for Midwestern and Southern university and regional publications, then settled into writing real estate contracts. In 2012 she attended University of Sydney, earning a master’s degree by research thesis. Her books include Where I’m Going with this Poem, a memoir in poetry and prose. Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat marks her return to feature writing as collections of narrative non-fiction stories.

Wendy's book list on why Portugal is weird

What is my book about?

Weird Foods of Portugal describes the author's first years trying to make sense of a strange new place and a home there for herself.

Witty, dreamlike, and at times jarring, the book sizzles with social commentary looking back at America and beautiful, finely drawn descriptions of Portugal and its people. Part dark-humor cautionary tale, part travel adventure, ultimately, Hermance's book of narrative non-fiction serves as affirmation for any who wish to make a similar move themselves.

Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

What is this book about?

"Wendy Lee Hermance describes Portugal´s colorful people and places - including taxi drivers and animals - with a poet´s empathy and dark humor. Part travel adventure, part cautionary tale, Weird Foods of Portugal is at it´s heart, affirmation for all who consider making such a move themselves."


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