The best books on the allied powers of World War II

1 authors have picked their favorite books about the allied powers of World War II and why they recommend each book.

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Out of the Shelter

By David Lodge,

Book cover of Out of the Shelter

Out of Shelter, David Lodge's first novel, is a lighter take on the Occupation in its later years. This autobiographical coming-of-age story, which he had trouble getting published, is a tale of a young British boy’s summer-long visit to his sister who’s working for the Americans in Germany. His awakening from a cossetted English childhood of rigid rules and postwar scarcity to a wider world of less certain moralities and astonishing American abundance is at once touching, funny, and written with Lodge’s usual grace and wit.

Who am I?

Surprisingly little has been written about the postwar Occupation of Germany by the US, UK, France, and USSR. Yet it was a crucial and colorful, one might say lurid, interval in recent history. Berlin, which is the setting of my novel, The Living and the Lost, was a latter day Wild West where drunken soldiers brawled; the desperate preyed on the unsuspecting; spies plied their trade; werewolves, as unrepentant Nazis were called, schemed to rise again; black markets peddled everything from drugs to sex; and forbidden fraternization between American G.Is and Frauleins was rampant. I did a great deal of research on the period and place. Here are five books that bring the world stunningly to life.


I wrote...

The Living and the Lost

By Ellen Feldman,

Book cover of The Living and the Lost

What is my book about?

Acclaimed by Publishers' Weekly as "exquisite…will stay with readers long after the final page is turned," The Living and the Lost is the story of Millie Mosbach and her brother David, who managed to escape to the States just before Kristallnacht, leaving their parents and little sister in Berlin. Now they are back in their former hometown, haunted by ghosts and hoping to find their family. Millie, works in the office responsible for rooting out the most dedicated Nazis from publishing. During the day, David labors trying to help displaced persons. His nightly activities are more radical, and dangerous. They and most of their German-born American colleagues suffer from conflicts of rage at the former enemy and guilt at their own good fortune, but Millie’s boss, Major Harry Sutton, seems strangely eager to be fair to the Germans. The Living and the Lost is a story of love, survival, and forgiveness of others and of self.

"A compelling novel…that resonates today with disturbing themes." - NPR The Living and the Lost, is a story of love, survival, and forgiveness of others and of self.

Greece and the Allies 1914-1922

By G.F. Abbott,

Book cover of Greece and the Allies 1914-1922

 A scathing and detailed analysis of the Ango-French invasion of Greece and the military, political, and strategic debacle that ensured as they attempted to open a third front against the Central Powers. If you’ve ever wondered why this isn’t much talked about, or even mentioned, Abbott explains it.


Who am I?

Currently a full professor at Loyola University, he entered college at 16, studying chemistry, economics, and literature. He did graduate work in German, Russian, and Philosophy, held a double fellowship in music and literature, and wrote his dissertation on the relationship between historiography and epic poetry. In 2001, his 10th book, The Myth of the Great War was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in history.


I wrote...

The Myth of the Great War: A New Military History of World War I

By John Mosier, Ltd Literary Agency East,

Book cover of The Myth of the Great War: A New Military History of World War I

What is my book about?

Based on previously unused French and German sources, this challenging and controversial new analysis of the war on the Western front from 1914 to 1918 reveals how and why the Germans won the major battles with one-half to one-third fewer casualties than the Allies, and how American troops in 1918 saved the Allies from defeat and a negotiated peace with the Germans.

Hitler, the Allies, and the Jews

By Shlomo Aronson,

Book cover of Hitler, the Allies, and the Jews

There is a common assumption among a younger generation brought up on the horrors of the Holocaust or Shoah that the Allies waged war to save the Jews. As Aronson shows in this candid and carefully researched volume, nothing could be further from the truth. The war waged by Hitler against the Jews was well-known, but the Allies did very little to try to end or modify the outcome. For anyone interested in the war, understanding the fate of the Jews in both German and Allied terms is bound up with wider issues of strategy and politics. Aronson tells a slice of the wartime narrative that many might want to forget. It is also a reminder that the war and the Holocaust were bound together, not separate histories. This perspective has not won general acceptance, but it should. 


Who am I?

I am a professional historian who has been writing books for more than forty years. Most of the books have been about war and dictatorship in the first half of the twentieth century. My last book, The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945, developed my long interest in air war history, which goes back to my first major book written in 1980 on air warfare in World War II.


I wrote...

Blood and Ruins: The Great Imperial War 1931-1945

By Richard Overy,

Book cover of Blood and Ruins: The Great Imperial War 1931-1945

What is my book about?

Instead of focusing on the war as a result of the failures of Versailles and the great power contest with Hitler’s Germany, the book argues that the crises of the 1930s and the war were a consequence of the spread of European empire in the last part of the nineteeth century. Japan, beginning in 1931 in Manchuria, Italy in 1935 with Ethiopia and Germany in 1938-9 with Czechoslovakia and Poland, were all trying to build up territorial empires based on race that imitated the empire-building of Britain, France and the other imperial powers. The search for territory to rule imperially sparked the broader crisis that led to war, while the war itself was about bringing Axis imperialism to an end.

After 1945 the other territorial empires rapidly collapsed, bringing to an end 500 years of European expansion and creating a new world of nation states. This is a global story about a war that created our current global order.

The Smoking Mountain

By Kay Boyle,

Book cover of The Smoking Mountain: Stories of Post-War Germany

Perhaps the most sweeping view of the Occupation can be found in The Smoking Mountain by Kay Boyle. An editor at the New Yorker asked Boyle, who was in Germany under the Occupation, for a fictional account. While most of the short stories, except for the first which is clearly reportorial, work as fiction, they are grounded in her experiences in a fraught world where victors and vanquished, Germans and Americans, military and civilians struggle to find a way to coexist. In Boyle’s gimlet eye, few come out blameless.

Who am I?

Surprisingly little has been written about the postwar Occupation of Germany by the US, UK, France, and USSR. Yet it was a crucial and colorful, one might say lurid, interval in recent history. Berlin, which is the setting of my novel, The Living and the Lost, was a latter day Wild West where drunken soldiers brawled; the desperate preyed on the unsuspecting; spies plied their trade; werewolves, as unrepentant Nazis were called, schemed to rise again; black markets peddled everything from drugs to sex; and forbidden fraternization between American G.Is and Frauleins was rampant. I did a great deal of research on the period and place. Here are five books that bring the world stunningly to life.


I wrote...

The Living and the Lost

By Ellen Feldman,

Book cover of The Living and the Lost

What is my book about?

Acclaimed by Publishers' Weekly as "exquisite…will stay with readers long after the final page is turned," The Living and the Lost is the story of Millie Mosbach and her brother David, who managed to escape to the States just before Kristallnacht, leaving their parents and little sister in Berlin. Now they are back in their former hometown, haunted by ghosts and hoping to find their family. Millie, works in the office responsible for rooting out the most dedicated Nazis from publishing. During the day, David labors trying to help displaced persons. His nightly activities are more radical, and dangerous. They and most of their German-born American colleagues suffer from conflicts of rage at the former enemy and guilt at their own good fortune, but Millie’s boss, Major Harry Sutton, seems strangely eager to be fair to the Germans. The Living and the Lost is a story of love, survival, and forgiveness of others and of self.

"A compelling novel…that resonates today with disturbing themes." - NPR The Living and the Lost, is a story of love, survival, and forgiveness of others and of self.

Titanic

By Jonathan Mayo,

Book cover of Titanic: Minute By Minute

I can’t tell you how many times I consulted Jonathan Mayo’s Titanic: Minute By Minute book, checking that the Titanic’s timeline fit in with what my characters were doing at any given time. It’s non-fiction, and it’s nail-bitingly intense. The book is written in present tense, giving you a sense of urgency as Mayo tells you where everyone is, and what is happening at varying parts of the ship at that exact moment. It helps ground you in reality: The truth was, many of Titanic’s crew and passengers didn’t know the ship was sinking. And many of those who did genuinely believed another ship would arrive long before anything serious could actually happen. Mayo uses both accounts from passengers who survived the sinking, as well as the crew member’s testimony from the British and American Titanic inquiries. 

If you’ve ever wanted to know exactly what happened the night…


Who am I?

I’m a bibliophile who loves dogs and prefers the country to the city. I’m the kid who yelled at my kindergarten teacher because she hadn’t taught me to read by the end of the year. That same tenacity followed me when, at seven years old, I learned that James Cameron was making a movie based on the Titanic. With righteous fury, I yelled at my befuddled parents, before asking why they had not told me about this ship. I pleaded with my parents to take me to see the movie for my upcoming eighth birthday, and they relented, with my mum buying my first fictional Titanic novel. That’s how my Titanic obsession began.


I wrote...

The Light In The Darkness: A Titanic Novel (Book One)

By Carla Louise Robinson, Olivia Designs (illustrator),

Book cover of The Light In The Darkness: A Titanic Novel (Book One)

What is my book about?

I’ve read almost everything I can on the Titanic. I’ve collected special edition non-fiction books. I’ve watched everything there is. I’ve played every game I can. And no matter how compelling the story I always felt let down, because almost all Titanic media peddled things I’d long learnt were myths. I hated that Bruce Ismay was branded a coward, when that was the furthest thing from the truth. I hated that the characters in any story always seemed to know the ship was sinking, that wasn’t the truth at all. The engineers, along with Lead Fireman Fred Barrett, fought to save that ship. I wanted people to know why the Californian didn’t respond, and that even if they’d heard the SOS, they wouldn’t have reached the Titanic in time.

German Resistance Against Hitler

By Klemens von Klemperer,

Book cover of German Resistance Against Hitler: The Search for Allies Abroad, 1938-1945

Absolutely gripping and sometimes heartbreaking account of the Widerstand—the German Resistance to Hitler, Before reading this book I never knew that just before the fateful signing of the Munich Agreement on October 30, 1938, fifty anti-Nazi commandoes led by Captain Freidrich Heinz were all set to take Hitler out before he ordered the invasion of Czechoslovakia. But once the agreement was signed, the coup was off, and General Franz Halder—the operational leader of the coup—was utterly demoralized. When he learned what Chamberlain and French prime minister Édouard Daladier had done at Munich, he reportedly “collapsed over his desk.” With Hitler now politically invincible, the resistance lost heart, and the assault squad was dispersed. “What are we supposed to do now?” Halder asked. “Hitler succeeds in everything!”


Who am I?

I was born on April 22, 1939, just over four months before the start of World War II, and the very first words I can remember reading were a big black headline in August 1945: The War is Over. Ever since, I’ve been fascinated with that war, and about 75 years after it ended, I felt moved to write a book about how it began. Since I hold a PhD in English from Princeton, taught English at Dartmouth for nearly forty years, and I’ve been studying, teaching, and writing about literature for sixty years, I decided to make it a book about literature: the fiction, poetry, and drama inspired by World War II.


I wrote...

Politics and Literature at the Dawn of World War I

By James A. W. Heffernan,

Book cover of Politics and Literature at the Dawn of World War I

What is my book about?

Since Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has brazenly re-enacted what Adolph Hitler did to Czechoslovakia and Poland in “the long 1939,” this book could hardly be more timely. Mining the borderlands where history meets literature, it shows how the imminence and outbreak of World War II inspired writers ranging from Ernest Hemingway to Henry Green, whose novel Caught re-creates his experience as an auxiliary fireman in the London Blitz.

Graham Greene once called Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls “more truthful than history.” By steadily comparing historical accounts of World War II with re-creations of its major events written well before anyone knew how the war would end, this book aims to show just how much the truths of literature can rival those of history. 

A Very Long Engagement

By Sebastien Japrisot,

Book cover of A Very Long Engagement

Unable to walk since childhood, Mathilde Donnay never lets her limitations get in her way. She is on the search for her fiancé who was reported killed in the Great War, but whom she believes might still be alive. Mathilde is feisty, caring, strategic, and driven—all things I’d like to be.


Who am I?

I was raised in a family of seven girls—no boys—with a tough but loving mother. I’ve been around strong women all my life. As a teenager I got tired of reading about smart, capable heroines who, by the end of the story, are oppressed and defeated. I get it: women have been stomped on. And I appreciate authors in past centuries who acknowledge that fact. But now I want to see women win; it’s as simple as that. This is what I like to read about and what I like to write about. The battles are never easy, but hey, that’s half the fun.


I wrote...

The Physician's Daughter

By Martha Conway,

Book cover of The Physician's Daughter

What is my book about?

It is 1865, the American Civil War has just ended, and 18-year old Vita Tenney is determined to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a country doctor like her father. But when her father tells her she must get married instead, Vita explores every means of escape - and finds one in the person of war veteran Jacob Culhane. Damaged by what he's seen in battle and with all his family gone, Jacob is seeking investors for a fledgling business. Then he meets Vita - and together they hatch a plan that should satisfy both their desires.

From the winner of the North American Book Award for Best Historical Fiction comes this compelling new novel of female perseverance. Set in the aftermath of the Civil War, The Physician's Daughter is the engrossing story of two people trying to make their way in a world that is struggling to escape its past.

The Origins of the Second World War

By A.J.P. Taylor,

Book cover of The Origins of the Second World War

Taylor’s book was controversial in many ways. He contradicted many of the conventional wisdoms about the war, but more importantly, he annoyed the stuffy world of historical academia by writing popular history which was accessible to a wide readership. He certainly led me to realise that history can be immediate and compelling rather than distant and dry.

Who am I?

Stewart Binns is a former academic, soldier, and documentary filmmaker, who became a writer quite late in life. He has since written a wide range of books in both fiction and non-fiction. His passions are history and sport. He has completed a medieval quartet called the Making of England Series, two books about the Great War and a novel set during Northern Ireland’s Troubles. His latest work of non-fiction, Barbarossa, tells the story of the Eastern Front (1945 to 1944) from the perspective of the peoples of Eastern Europe. He is now working on a history of modern Japan.


I wrote...

Barbarossa: And The Bloodiest War In History

By Stewart Binns,

Book cover of Barbarossa: And The Bloodiest War In History

What is my book about?

On June 22nd 1941, the largest military invasion in human history was launched - an attack on the Soviet Union by almost four million men of Nazi Germany's brutal war machine. Operation Barbarossa led to the bloodiest military campaign mankind has ever known. The statistics of death and destruction are almost impossible to believe. The cruelty, suffering and destitution it wrought are unimaginable . . . over forty million people lost their lives.

Yet, the real story of the Eastern Front is still not truly understood outside of Germany and Eastern Europe. Little is known of those who suffered in the horror of Hitler's 'War of Annihilation' - the soldiers and civilians of Eastern Europe who fought and died trying to save their homelands and their loved ones.

Garden Allies

By Frederique Lavoipierre,

Book cover of Garden Allies: The Insects, Birds, and Other Animals That Keep Your Garden Beautiful and Thriving

This author’s thesis sounds radical, but it shouldn’t be. She argues persuasively for us to leave bugs in our yards and gardens be, or even to encourage them. Why? Because for every pest, there is a natural enemy. Tolerate a couple of tomato hornworms and they’ll become beautiful sphinx moths, zipping around your flowerbeds, pollinating “more than 200 plants in less than 7 minutes!” Leave nibbling aphids in your garden, and hungry ladybugs will show up and dispatch them. Stop damaging the food web by using pesticides and herbicides/weedkillers. Learn how closely plants and animals are related; indeed, they co-evolved. Such an interesting and important book!


Who am I?

Hiking in the flower-covered hillsides of Central California as a nature-loving kid, I couldn’t help but wonder about my companions. One of my first purchases (with babysitting money!) was a wildflower guide. I’ve moved around the country many times and every time I’ve had to start over, make new plant acquaintances and discoveries—always an orienting process. Of course, I’ve also studied plants formally, in college and in my career, and (honestly, best of all) via mentors and independent study. All this has shown me that flowers are more than just beautiful! They’re amazingly diverse, and full of fascinating behaviors and quirks. In fact, they are essential parts of the complex habitats we share.


I wrote...

Seeing Flowers: Discover the Hidden Life of Flowers

By Teri Dunn Chace, Robert Llewellyn (photographer),

Book cover of Seeing Flowers: Discover the Hidden Life of Flowers

What is my book about?

Seeing Flowers is a visual feast that gloriously highlights 343 popular gardens and wildflowers. My collaborator Robert Llewellyn’s photographs are undeniably magnificent, but my job was the words. So I strove to really “see” each flower. His daring and unique images gave me the will to try!

My broad approach to “seeing” is what makes this book unique. Yes, I included the botany (distinguishing characteristics), biology (a flower’s relationships with other creatures, insects and more), and useful gardening info—and I made sure to use clear language that anyone could follow and enjoy. 

But the reader will also encounter fascinating tidbits, tales, and lore. Every living thing including flowers has context, history and stories, which I believe are rightfully part of the wide net of exploration and learning.

Fair Stood the Wind for France

By H.E. Bates,

Book cover of Fair Stood the Wind for France

Less involved with the moral and political dilemmas than some of the other novels I’ve listed, this is more of a straightforward adventure story about a British aircrew who survives a crash landing in France and hides out in a farmhouse. Naturally one of them falls for the farmer’s daughter and she helps him on his way to the border. A great romantic adventure but tinged with the real horror and pain of warfare.


Who am I?

My novel Nourishment is loosely based on stories I was told about the war by my parents who lived through it. My mother was a firewoman during the Blitz and my father was in Normandy after the D-Day landings. They married during the war. I wish now I’d written down the stories my parents used to tell me. There was always humour in their stories. My parents could both see the absurdity and the dark comedy that can sometimes be present in wartime situations, especially on the home front, and I hope some of that comes through in Nourishment.


I wrote...

Nourishment

By Gerard Woodward,

Book cover of Nourishment

What is my book about?

Nourishment is set during the Blitz and is the story of Tory Pace, who lives with her elderly mother in southeast London. Her husband Donald has been missing in action for several months and is assumed to be dead. When a letter from him arrives from a prisoner of war camp, she is thrown into turmoil by the unusual request he makes. Her mother has always strongly disapproved of Donald, but this request of his is beyond the pale. No decent woman would comply, and certainly not her daughter. Or would she?

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