The best books about WWI Angels of Mercy

Who am I?

Although I’m neither a healthcare professional nor a historian, my passions are reading great fiction and continually striving to write it. Degrees in literature led to college teaching and then full-time writing. And that, to the publication of six works of fiction, including four historical novels. So, add to the mix, then, the years spent studying and teaching literature as well as those spent writing and rewriting—and, too, being an inveterate reader—and you have, in brief, the sum of my expertise. Each of the works listed below, I feel, has super qualities. I certainly enjoyed reading such masterful work and hope you will as well.   


I wrote...

In the Fall They Leave

By Joanna Higgins,

Book cover of In the Fall They Leave

What is my book about?

Inspired by the heroic work of Edith Cavell, the British nurse and matron of a Brussels nursing school in the early years of WWI, In the Fall They Leave tells the story from the perspective of a student nurse and failed pianist who, after the invasion of Belgium by German armies in 1914, is faced with a dilemma: either obey German edicts or support the unlawful and dangerous actions of the woman she idolizes. One choice will lead to a successful nursing career; the other, to death by firing squad. In this morally complex novel dramatizing events in occupied Belgium and their effects upon a citizenry fighting its own war—of resistance—the costs of courage are high but so too the reward.   

The books I picked & why

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The Winter Soldier

By Daniel Mason,

Book cover of The Winter Soldier

Why this book?

Daniel Mason’s The Winter Soldier is superb. I love its wonderfully drawn characters and visual details, its sense of medical authenticity, its depiction of the convolutions of history—in this case, the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s side of things in WWI. It’s all held within a heart-wrenching narrative about a Viennese medical student assigned to a distant field hospital in the Carpathian Mountains. What he finds is a village church turned into a makeshift hospital with a single nurse in charge. The author, a physician, creates so well the terror of a medical student facing, for the first time, what his textbooks couldn’t convey—the awful effects of war upon the human body and mind. Nor could those textbooks show what love and atonement feel like. The Winter Soldier does.  

The Winter Soldier

By Daniel Mason,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The epic story of war and medicine from the award-winning author of The Piano Tuner is "a dream of a novel...part mystery, part war story, part romance" (Anthony Doerr, author of All the Light We Cannot See). 

Vienna, 1914. Lucius is a twenty-two-year-old medical student when World War I explodes across Europe. Enraptured by romantic tales of battlefield surgery, he enlists, expecting a position at a well-organized field hospital. But when he arrives, at a commandeered church tucked away high in a remote valley of the Carpathian Mountains, he finds a freezing outpost ravaged by typhus. The other doctors have…


The Daughters of Mars

By Thomas Keneally,

Book cover of The Daughters of Mars

Why this book?

As a writer, I found so much to admire in The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally. Simply put, it’s epic. I was blown away by Kenneally’s Tolstoian precision of narrative and by the drama of two sisters who leave their confined lives in Australia and serve as nurses in WWI, first on a hospital ship in the Mediterranean and then on the Western Front. Keneally recreates a full sense of the times, showing how individuals can become enmeshed and shaped by huge historical events. The sisters confront not only the terrible effects of war but also a secret that haunts them. This is a stunning, multi-layered novel by a master, The Daughters of Mars has earned numerous accolades—and no wonder. It’s beautifully written and deeply affecting.  

The Daughters of Mars

By Thomas Keneally,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1915, two spirited Australian sisters join the war effort as nurses, escaping the confines of their father's dairy farm and carrying a guilty secret with them. Used to tending the sick as they are, nothing could have prepared them for what they confront, first in the Dardanelles, then on the Western Front. Yet they find courage in the face of extreme danger and become the friends they never were before. And eventually they meet the kind of men worth giving up their precious independence for - if only they all survive.

At once epic in scope and extraordinarily intimate,…


Regeneration

By Pat Barker,

Book cover of Regeneration

Why this book?

Regeneration, the first novel of Pat Barker’s widely acclaimed The Regeneration Trilogy, is also a knock-out. In this novel about the psychosomatic effects of trench warfare, the angel of mercy is a psychiatric doctor based on the real-life W.H.R. Rivers, a neurologist and anthropologist holding the military rank of captain. His job at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Scotland is to heal war-traumatized patients so that they could return to the Front. Rivers, conflicted himself about the war, is as duty-bound as his patients, one of whom is Siegfried Sassoon, who later became the heralded war poet. I love this novel for its emotional and intellectual richness and for its honesty. Barker’s prose brings WWI to vivid, horrifying life—not on the battlefield but in a hospital.  

Regeneration

By Pat Barker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Calls to mind such early moderns as Hemingway and Fitzgerald...Some of the most powerful antiwar literature in modern English fiction."-The Boston Globe

The first book of the Regeneration Trilogy-a Booker Prize nominee and one of Entertainment Weekly's 100 All-Time Greatest Novels.

In 1917 Siegfried Sasson, noted poet and decorated war hero, publicly refused to continue serving as a British officer in World War I. His reason: the war was a senseless slaughter. He was officially classified "mentally unsound" and sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital. There a brilliant psychiatrist, Dr. William Rivers, set about restoring Sassoon's "sanity" and sending him back…


Fatal Decision: Edith Cavell, World War I Nurse

By Terri Arthur,

Book cover of Fatal Decision: Edith Cavell, World War I Nurse

Why this book?

Terri Arthur, a retired registered nurse, obviously wrote Fatal Decision: Edith Cavell, World War I Nurse, as an homage to a British nurse whose heroism not only saved hundreds of Allied lives when the penalty for doing so was death by execution but also inspired thousands to join the Allied war effort. I appreciated the numerous historical photographs throughout this prize-winning biographical novel. The narrative and incorporated historical context beautifully dramatize the courageous actions and inner life of a great WWI hero. In an Author’s Note, Terri Arthur states that her intention in telling the story of Edith Cavell in fictional form was so that readers could fully experience Cavell’s “amazing journey.” For me, Arthur achieved her objective. This is history richly conveyed,  

Fatal Decision: Edith Cavell, World War I Nurse

By Terri Arthur,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An inspiring story everyone should know…and will never forget!

Based on historical fact, this captivating novel tells the story of the legendary Edith Cavell, a British nurse whose duties as a healer clashed with the demands of a ruthless occupying regime during World War I. At the request of a brilliant,
hot-headed surgeon, Edith went from London to Brussels to create Belgium's first school of nursing. At the height of her success, the German army marched into neutral Belgium and took over her hospital and school.

Knowing the dangers of working against the repressive and brutal control of the German…


A Light Beyond the Trenches

By Alan Hlad,

Book cover of A Light Beyond the Trenches

Why this book?

Can angels of mercy be four-footed? Yes! Alan Hlad’s A Light Beyond the Trenches tells the story of a fictional German Red Cross nurse, Anna, who is given the task of caring for a German Shepherd ambulance dog with injured paws. Soon, observing how German Shepherds can help blinded and emotionally traumatized veterans, Anna hopes to become a trainer of seeing-eye dogs herself. A Light Beyond the Trenches effortlessly incorporates research on chemical warfare as well as on the first institute for guide dogs. I found this novel to be a compelling read about WWI nursing heroes from quite a different perspective. Young adult readers, too, might enjoy this novel.

A Light Beyond the Trenches

By Alan Hlad,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Light Beyond the Trenches as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the USA Today bestselling author of Churchill’s Secret Messenger comes a WWI novel based on little-known history, as four very different lives intertwine across Europe from Germany to France—a German Red Cross nurse, a Jewish pianist blinded on the battlefield, a soldier tortured by deadly secrets of his own, and his tormented French mistress. This life-affirming tale of heroism and resilience will stay with you long after turning the final page.

By April 1916, the fervor that accompanied war’s outbreak has faded. In its place is a grim reality. Throughout Germany, essentials are rationed. Hope, too, is in short…


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