The most recommended Battle of the Somme books

Who picked these books? Meet our 9 experts.

9 authors created a book list connected to the Battle of the Somme, and here are their favorite Battle of the Somme books.
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Book cover of The Face of Battle

Clark McCauley Author Of Radicalization to Terrorism: What Everyone Needs to Know

From my list on to understand the experience of men in combat.

Who am I?

Research Professor of Psychology at Bryn Mawr College. Since the 9/11 attacks I have tried to understand how normal individuals, people like you and me, can move to terrorism in particular and political violence more generally. I retired from teaching in 2015 to have more time to write. I’ve written about genocide (Why Not Kill Them All? The Logic and Prevention of Mass Political Murder), about self-sacrifice (The Marvel of Martyrdom: The Power of Self Sacrifice in a Selfish World), and about terrorism (Friction: How Conflict Radicalizes Them and Us). 

Clark's book list on to understand the experience of men in combat

Clark McCauley Why did Clark love this book?

Keegan popularized a new kind of military history, history focused on the experience of those “at the sharp end” of battle. Generals may as individuals have the most influence on the course of battle, but Keegan argues that, taken together, the men doing the fighting have more influence than the generals. He describes the experiences of men in three famous battles, and shows how tactics evolved but the demands of facing death remained all too familiar. I love this book for using history to find the psychology of men in combat.

By John Keegan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


John Keegan's groundbreaking portrayal of the common soldier in the heat of battle -- a masterpiece that explores the physical and mental aspects of warfare

The Face of Battle is military history from the battlefield: a look at the direct experience of individuals at the "point of maximum danger." Without the myth-making elements of rhetoric and xenophobia, and breaking away from the stylized format of battle descriptions, John Keegan has written what is probably the definitive model for military historians. And in his scrupulous reassessment of three battles representative of three different time periods, he manages to convey what the…


Book cover of Goodbye to All That

Hal Johnson Author Of Impossible Histories: The Soviet Republic of Alaska, the United States of Hudsonia, President Charlemagne, and Other Pivotal Moments of History That Never Happened

From my list on irresponsible history.

Who am I?

I’m probably too dishonest to write a real non-fiction book, but the sort of non-fiction book that has some wiggle room for me to “improve” on reality when I think it needs tightening up, or a little more schmaltz—that’s the strange twilight area the books I write live in, and all irresponsible history books dwell in this neighborhood. Remember, kids, as long as you make it clear when you’re lying, it still counts as non-fiction! 

Hal's book list on irresponsible history

Hal Johnson Why did Hal love this book?

Graves’s account of his World War I experiences stands alongside Augustine’s Confessions and the Baburnama as one of the all-time great memoirs—except everyone who was in the war with Graves agrees that most of it is fake.

Sure, Graves fought in WWI, and the experience was unpleasant, so he captured that part accurately. But all his delightful anecdotes tend to be exaggerations, prevarications, fabrications.

Graves would become in later years best known as a historical novelist, and maybe its best to take Good-Bye as his first novel, a novel of life in the trenches of the Great War. Much like his novels of ancient Rome, this book is most fun if you can suspend your disbelief completely, and persuade yourself that this must have been exactly the way things went down.

(Maybe forget I told you it was fake until after you read it.)

By Robert Graves,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Goodbye to All That as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On the hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I: a hardcover edition of one of the best and most famous memoirs of the conflict.

Good-bye to All That was published a decade after the end of the first World War, as the poet and novelist Robert Graves was preparing to leave England for good. The memoir documents not only his own personal experience, as a patriotic young officer, of the horrors and disillusionment of battle, but also the wider loss of innocence the Great War brought about. By the time of his writing, a way of life had…


Book cover of Through German Eyes: The British and the Somme 1916

Spencer Jones Author Of Courage Without Glory: The British Army on the Western Front 1915

From my list on the British Army in World War I.

Who am I?

Spencer Jones is an award-winning historian who has written several critically acclaimed books about the British Army in the First World War. He teaches history at the University of Wolverhampton, serves as the Regimental Historian of the Royal Artillery, and is the President of the International Guild of Battlefield Guides.

Spencer's book list on the British Army in World War I

Spencer Jones Why did Spencer love this book?

At first glance, this volume may seem out of place in a list of books about the British Army. However, Christopher Duffy’s work is one of the most interesting studies of the British Army on the Somme to have emerged in recent years. By using German sources, particularly interrogation reports from captured British, Canadian and Australian soldiers, he paints a unique picture of the British Army as viewed through the eyes of its chief opponent. The result is an unusual, illuminating, and delightfully readable study.

By Christopher Duffy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The key battle of the First World War from the German point of view

The Battle of the Somme has an enduring legacy, the image established by Alan Clark of 'lions led by donkeys': brave British soldiers sent to their deaths by incompetent generals. However, from the German point of view the battle was a disaster. Their own casualties were horrendous. The Germans did not hold the (modern) view that the British Army was useless. As Christopher Duffy reveals, they had great respect for the British forces and German reports shed a fascinating light on the volunteer army recruited by…


Book cover of The Memorial to the Missing of the Somme

Rosemary Hill Author Of God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain

From my list on the way that architecture reflects British history.

Who am I?

Since childhood I have wanted to know why things look as they do. Every object expresses what was once an idea in someone’s mind. Looking from things to the people who made them and back again, we understand both better. This single question has led me through a lifetime of writing about material culture, architecture, applied art and craft. I have written books about Stonehenge, the Gothic Revival and antiquarianism in the Romantic age. I also hosted a podcast series, for the London Review of Books

Rosemary's book list on the way that architecture reflects British history

Rosemary Hill Why did Rosemary love this book?

This is my most personal choice. The architectural historian and critic Gavin Stamp, who died in 2017, was my husband. This was one of his best and most deeply felt books. It tells the story of the memorial arch at Thiepval in Belgium designed by Edwin Lutyens, which bears the names of 73,000 men whose bodies were never found after the catastrophic Battle of the Somme in July 1916. It shows how architecture can bestow dignity on loss, how it can both embody grief and to some extent relieve it. Gavin’s book looks beyond the monument itself to meditate on the greater tragedy of the First World War. 

By Gavin Stamp,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Memorial to the Missing of the Somme as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Edwin Lutyens' Memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval in Northern France, visited annually by tens of thousands of tourists, is arguably the finest structure erected by any British architect in the twentieth century. It is the principal, tangible expression of the defining event in Britain's experience and memory of the Great War, the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916, and it bears the names of 73,000 soldiers whose bodies were never found at the end of that bloody and futile campaign.

This brilliant study by an acclaimed architectural historian tells the…


Book cover of The First Day on the Somme

Nick Lloyd Author Of The Western Front: A History of the Great War, 1914-1918

From my list on the Western Front of WW1 and what it was like.

Who am I?

Nick Lloyd is Professor of Modern Warfare at King's College London, based at the Defence Academy UK in Shrivenham, Wiltshire. He is the author of five books, including Passchendaele: A New History, which was a Sunday Times bestseller, and most recently, The Western Front: A History of the First World War. He lives with his family in Cheltenham.

Nick's book list on the Western Front of WW1 and what it was like

Nick Lloyd Why did Nick love this book?

There is little that has not been said about this readable, engaging, and deeply moving account of the disaster on 1 July 1916 – the worst day in the history of the British Army. Middlebrook’s book was a revelation when it first appeared; utilising recollections and stories from veterans, whom Middlebrook met and interviewed, giving it an immediacy and power that captivated readers. The book charts the birth and development of Britain’s New Armies and their subsequent destruction on the Somme. Piece-by-piece Middlebrook examines how the battle was planned and prepared, before going on to detail the progress of the fighting at set-times, allowing us to grasp the ebb and flow of the battle. This remains a much-loved classic. 

By Martin Middlebrook,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The First Day on the Somme as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The soldiers receive the best service a historian can provide: their story is told in their own words - Guardian

'For some reason nothing seemed to happen to us at first; we strolled along as though walking in a park. Then, suddenly, we were in the midst of a storm of machine-gun bullets and I saw men beginning to twirl round and fall in all kinds of curious ways'

On 1 July 1916, a continous line of British soldiers climbed out from the trenches of the Somme into No Man's Land and began to walk towards dug-in German troops armed…


Book cover of Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme and the Making of the Twentieth Century

Spencer Jones Author Of Courage Without Glory: The British Army on the Western Front 1915

From my list on the British Army in World War I.

Who am I?

Spencer Jones is an award-winning historian who has written several critically acclaimed books about the British Army in the First World War. He teaches history at the University of Wolverhampton, serves as the Regimental Historian of the Royal Artillery, and is the President of the International Guild of Battlefield Guides.

Spencer's book list on the British Army in World War I

Spencer Jones Why did Spencer love this book?

The Battle of the Somme 1916 was the longest and bloodiest battle ever fought by the British Army. In popular imagination, the battle tends to focus on its first day – 1st July 1916 – when British forces suffered almost 60,000 casualties. Yet the battle was much more than this single, dreadful day and the fighting would rage for another 140 days. What happened? This meticulously researched book tells the full story of the Somme campaign and shows how it was planned and fought. It is immense in scope, taking the reader from the corridors of high politics to the smoldering shell holes of no-man’s land. Ultimately, it reaches provocative conclusions that may change your thinking about the battle.

By William Philpott,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

1 July 1916: the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The hot, hellish day in the fields of northern France that has dominated our perception of the First World War for just shy of a century. The shameful waste; the pointlessness of young lives lost for the sake of a few yards; the barbaric attitudes of the British leaders; the horror and ignominy of failure. All have occupied our thoughts for generations. Yet are we right to view the Somme in this way?

Drawing on a vast number of sources such as letters, diaries and numerous archives, Bloody…


Book cover of The Old Front Line

W.D. Wetherell Author Of A Century of November

From my list on unjustly forgotten books from World War One.

Who am I?

Novelist, essayist, and short-story writer W. D. Wetherell is the author of over two dozen books. A visit to the World War One battlefields in Flanders led to his lasting interest in the human tragedies of l914-18, inspiring his novel A Century of November, and his critical study Where Wars Go to Die; The Forgotten Literature of World War One.

W.D.'s book list on unjustly forgotten books from World War One

W.D. Wetherell Why did W.D. love this book?

Masefield, before his 50-year tenure as Britain’s Poet Laureate, spent the war writing dispatches from the front. This slim book from l917 is his honest, soberly graphic description of what the Somme battlefield looked like after the fighting moved on—an approach that conveys war’s horrors without any moralizing or exaggeration.

By John Masefield,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.