The best books about WW2 that will inform and inspire

Why am I passionate about this?

My parents both fought in the Second World War – my father as a bomber pilot, my mother as a Wren.  Dad often entertained us at family mealtimes with tales of his wartime adventures – of how was shot down over Germany, captured, imprisoned, but finally escaped. My interest in the period grew from there, and my first ‘wartime’ novel The Secret Letter was in fact largely based on my parents experiences.  Since then, I have become increasingly fascinated by the period, with now a total of four novels set in WW2, culminating in my present book The German Mother.

I wrote...

The German Mother

By Debbie Rix,

Book cover of The German Mother

What is my book about?

Set over two decades, the ‘mother’ of the title is Minki, who along with her best friend Leila, become journalists on opposite sides of the political divide. Leila is a liberal Jew, Minki is closer to the fascists. Over time their lives dramatically diverge. Leila marries a fellow Jew, and is ultimately forced to flee her home country for the UK. Minki befriends Joseph Goebbels, and lives an enchanted life close to the seat of power. After marrying one of Goebbels’ inner circle, her world seems complete when she gives birth to her first child.  But all that changes when her daughter develops an incurable illness that places both her and her family in great danger from the Nazi Party.

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

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Fortunes of War: The Balkan Trilogy

Debbie Rix Why did I love this book?

A set of six novels that follow the fortunes of Harriet and Guy Pringle, set during the chaos of World War Two in Europe.

Guy teaches English at the University of Bucharest, and the novel opens with him bringing his new wife to join him in Romania. Manning combines an intimate story of the couple’s relationship with an epic tale of war-torn Europe and the Middle East. Her descriptions of places are brilliantly done; her dialogue is perfect, and she effortlessly portrays significant moments in history. 

I learned so much when I read it, and yet never felt I was being ‘taught’; in other words it’s the gold standard of historical fiction.

By Olivia Manning,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Set under the gathering storm that is the Second World War in Romania, The Great Fortune is the first action-packed, romantic and fascinating book of The Balkan Trilogy.

Guy and Harriet Pringle marry after a six month courtship. Still getting to know each other, they arrive in Bucharest, where Guy is employed in the English Department of the University of Bucharest.

Over the following years Guy builds an eclectic network of friends and acquaintances. These charismatic contacts include his work colleague Clarence, his boss Lord Inchcape, the eccentric Prince Yakimov and Sophie, a local Romanian beauty. Harriet appears tough, but…

Book cover of Munich

Debbie Rix Why did I love this book?

Harris is a master storyteller. His novels have ranged across a number of genres – from thrillers to historical fiction. I love all of them, but one of my favourite reads is Munich.

Set in 1938, it’s a stunning example of how to write WW2 history and make it both exciting and informative. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain has been ill-served by history, because he failed to negotiate a lasting peace with Hitler; but Harris manages to give us a more sympathetic perspective on the embattled Prime Minister, while at the same time providing us with a thrilling narrative.

Harris’ books have given me the courage to depict ‘real’ people in history as characters in my own novels.

By Robert Harris,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Munich as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now a major NETFLIX movie starring Jeremy Irons, George Mackay and Alex Jennings

'So good you want to clap' THE TIMES

'Unputdownable to the point of being dangerous' SUNDAY EXPRESS

'Grips from start to finish . . . Superb' MAIL ON SUNDAY


Hitler is determined to start a war. Chamberlain is desperate to preserve the peace.

They will meet in a city which forever afterwards will be known for what is about to take place.

As Chamberlain's plane judders over the Channel and the Fuhrer's train steams south, two young men travel with their leaders. Once friends…

Book cover of Goebbels: A Biography

Debbie Rix Why did I love this book?

Joseph Goebbels was the Minister for Propaganda in Hitler’s Nazi Germany, and is one of the central characters in my latest novel. I recommend Longerich’s biography of this complex man in its own right, and not just because I plundered it for information when writing my novel.

Scholarly but written in a lively style, the book will appeal to anyone interested in what made the ‘master of the dark arts of propaganda’ tick. Drawing heavily on Goebbels’ own diaries (which run to an astonishing twenty-nine volumes), Longerich has written the definitive history of this complex and fascinating man, who was so attracted to Nazi ideology that he ultimately lost his soul to evil.

By Peter Longerich, Alan Bance (translator), Jeremy Noakes (translator) , Lesley Sharpe (translator)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Joseph Goebbels was one of Adolf Hitler's most loyal acolytes. But how did this club-footed son of a factory worker rise from obscurity to become Hitler's malevolent minister of propaganda, most trusted lieutenant and personally anointed successor?

In this definitive one-volume biography, renowned German Holocaust historian Peter Longerich sifts through the historical record - and thirty thousand pages of Goebbels's own diary entries - to answer that question. Longerich paints a chilling picture of a man driven by a narcissistic desire for recognition who found the personal affirmation he craved within the virulently racist National Socialist movement - and whose…

Book cover of A Bridge of Children's Books: The Inspiring Autobiography of a Remarkable Woman

Debbie Rix Why did I love this book?

I discovered this autobiography some years ago while researching another novel. As I read, I became fascinated by this account of a brave Jewish journalist who managed to escape from Germany in the mid-1930s, and move to London where she worked for the BBC’s German service. At war’s end, she returned to her homeland, where she was employed by the US Army to help with the “de-Nazification” of German women and children to try and restore a sense of decency and democratic ideals among her compatriots. It’s an extraordinary account of one woman’s bravery and served as inspiration for one of my central characters in “The German Mother”.

By Jella Lepman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Bridge of Children's Books as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The remarkable story of Jella Lepman, who, having left Germany to escape the Nazi regime in the 1930s, chose to return in the aftermath of the Second World War, as 'Adviser on the Cultural and Educational Needs of Women and Children in the American Zone'. She soon decided that what Germany's war-ravaged children needed was to see a world of the imagination, beyond their landscape of bombed-out buildings and military vehicles.

Battling with bureaucracy and meeting with generals and statesmen, including Eleanor Roosevelt, she founded the International Youth Library, filling a huge void in the lives of Germany's children with…

Book cover of 1984

Debbie Rix Why did I love this book?

This dystopian masterpiece has long been an inspirational book for me.

Written in 1948, it’s as just as relevant today. Orwell’s depictions of the Ministry of Truth, the “thought police”, NewSpeak and the ”memory hole” have entered our language, as chilling examples of the techniques totalitarian regimes use to suppress dissent and encourage ideological conformity among the populace. 

My own novel is also centred around this theme – in particular, how the Nazi government suppressed free speech, making German newspapers little more than vehicles for Nazi propaganda. Orwell’s classic is a constant reminder to us all that any government may be tempted to use methods of censorship, clandestine surveillance, and coercion to achieve control of its citizens.

By George Orwell,

Why should I read it?

42 authors picked 1984 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


1984 is the year in which it happens. The world is divided into three superstates. In Oceania, the Party's power is absolute. Every action, word, gesture and thought is monitored under the watchful eye of Big Brother and the Thought Police. In the Ministry of Truth, the Party's department for propaganda, Winston Smith's job is to edit the past. Over time, the impulse to escape the machine and live independently takes hold of him and he embarks on a secret and forbidden love affair. As he writes the words 'DOWN WITH BIG…

You might also like...


By David Joiner,

Book cover of Kanazawa

David Joiner Author Of Kanazawa

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

My book recommendations reflect an abiding passion for Japanese literature, which has unquestionably influenced my own writing. My latest literary interest involves Japanese poetry—I’ve recently started a project that combines haiku and prose narration to describe my experiences as a part-time resident in a 1300-year-old Japanese hot spring town that Bashō helped make famous in The Narrow Road to the Deep North. But as a writer, my main focus remains novels. In late 2023 the second in a planned series of novels set in Ishikawa prefecture will be published. I currently live in Kanazawa, but have also been lucky to call Sapporo, Akita, Tokyo, and Fukui home at different times.

David's book list on Japanese settings not named Tokyo or Kyoto

What is my book about?

Emmitt’s plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of purchasing their dream home. Disappointed, he’s surprised to discover her subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo.

In his search for a meaningful life in Japan, and after quitting his job, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa’s most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English. He becomes drawn into the mysterious death of a friend of Mirai’s parents, leading him and his father-in-law to climb the mountain where the man died. There, he learns the somber truth and discovers what the future holds for him and his wife.

Packed with subtle literary allusion and closely observed nuance, Kanazawa reflects the mood of Japanese fiction in a fresh, modern incarnation.


By David Joiner,

What is this book about?

In Kanazawa, the first literary novel in English to be set in this storied Japanese city, Emmitt's future plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of negotiations to purchase their dream home. Disappointed, he's surprised to discover Mirai's subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo, a city he dislikes.

Harmony is further disrupted when Emmitt's search for a more meaningful life in Japan leads him to quit an unsatisfying job at a local university. In the fallout, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa's most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English.

While continually resisting Mirai's…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Germany, totalitarianism, and dystopian?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Germany, totalitarianism, and dystopian.

Germany Explore 478 books about Germany
Totalitarianism Explore 46 books about totalitarianism
Dystopian Explore 555 books about dystopian