The best Korean War books

6 authors have picked their favorite books about the Korean War and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of The Hunters

The Hunters

By James Salter,

Why this book?

The best novel ever written about the Korean War by one of America’s greatest-ever stylists. Salter himself was a USAF fighter pilot in the conflict, flying over a hundred combat missions. His beautiful, crystalline prose captures the taut atmosphere of those dangerous days, and the central dilemma of the main character, Captain Cleve Connell – how to combine the daring required to shoot down Soviet MIGs with the sacred duty of the ‘wingman’ in ensuring the safety of his comrades.

From the list:

The best books if you want to understand the Korean War

Book cover of I was a captive in Korea

I was a captive in Korea

By Philip Deane,

Why this book?

A riveting first-hand account of the war from the buccaneering foreign correspondent of The Observer. Greek-born Deane, who served nobly in the Royal Navy in WW2, was captured by the North Koreans in Seoul in July 1950 and spent the next 33 months in captivity. He vividly chronicles those grim days as a prisoner, enduring torture and surviving the infamous ‘Death March’. There is also a great insight into the character of George Blake, his fellow internee and British spy, who was (unbeknown to Deane) actually recruited by the KGB in their period of incarceration.

From the list:

The best books if you want to understand the Korean War

Book cover of In Enemy Hands

In Enemy Hands

By Larry Zellers,

Why this book?

An excellent companion piece to Deane’s book. American Zellers, newly-married, who had just arrived in South Korea in 1950 to take up a post as a Methodist missionary and teacher, was also captured by the North Koreans. Zellers gives us a fascinating insight into the minds of both prisoners and captors, and the book is a testament to his eternal hope and optimism during the many months of his brutal imprisonment..

From the list:

The best books if you want to understand the Korean War

Book cover of The Korean War

The Korean War

By Sir Max Hastings,

Why this book?

Max Hasting’s book described the early days of the war, for example the actions of Task Force Smith. He provides a valuable perspective on the Korean War that includes an interesting balanced account of a war that is still considered by many to be controversial. Hastings considers the perspectives of all sides of the Korean conflict and examines the various motivations of their respective actions, such as the U.S. decision to send troops to Korea in September 1945, and to send them back in June 1950, to the Chinese decision to send their own troops into Korea in the fall…

From the list:

The best books on the Korean War from someone who served there

Book cover of The Korean War

The Korean War

By Carter Malkasian,

Why this book?

This is the perfect primer for anyone trying to get an understanding of the Korean War. It is a concise history (just 96 pages) but is packed with essential information, laying out the background to the conflict before chronologically guiding the reader through the main battles, with clear portraits of the main protagonists along the way.

From the list:

The best books if you want to understand the Korean War

Book cover of The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories

The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories

By Caroline Kim,

Why this book?

Caroline Kim’s The Prince of Mournful Thoughts is packed with stories that juggle humor and heartbreak. The book, set in California, Korea, and France, hosts a cast of rich and complex characters. Kim plumbs the experiences of Koreans and Korean-Americans with sensitivity and a fluidity that makes for a rich reading experience. “Lucia, Russell and Me,” one of my favorite pieces, follows an irreverent adolescent girl, whose family has just moved to America. That story, like the others, is filled with arresting details and characters that shift and change in unexpected ways. Other terrific stories are the genre-bending, historical titular…

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Book cover of The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War

The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War

By David Halberstam,

Why this book?

This is an interesting early description of events occurring during the beginning days of the Korean War.  The author also addressed the prominent battle at Chipyongni three months later.  The book also covers the entrance of the Chinese into the war to support North Koreans. He focuses upon the extremely cold temperatures-- dropping to a minus forty degrees. He also provides a perspective on the reasons and causes of the Korean War.

From the list:

The best books on the Korean War from someone who served there

Book cover of The Last Stand of Fox Company: A True Story of U.S. Marines in Combat

The Last Stand of Fox Company: A True Story of U.S. Marines in Combat

By Bob Drury, Tom Clavin,

Why this book?

Shortly after the beginning of the Korean War in 1950, the First Marine Division was fighting the North Korean army in the north of the Korean Peninsula. In the fall of 1950, the Chinese suddenly entered the war and the First Division Marines became surrounded and vastly outnumbered by Chinese soldiers near the Chosin Reservoir. The only way they could survive was to fight their way south through a narrow valley. Fox Company led by Captain William Barber fought a long cold struggle against the surrounding Chinese. During the relentless violence, three-quarters of Fox’s Marines were killed, wounded, or captured.…

From the list:

The best books on the Korean War from someone who served there

Book cover of The Guest

The Guest

By Hwang Sok-yong, Kyung-Ja Chun (translator), Maya West (translator)

Why this book?

In The Guest we hear the voices of the victims of a massacre that took place shortly after the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, a massacre blamed on the UN (mostly American) military but actually perpetrated by Koreans on Koreans. To allow us access to the stories of these victims the author uses a ritual in which a practitioner of native Korean spirituality channels the voices of those who have died an unnatural or premature death and who continue to wander in the ether until they are able to communicate their stories to those of us still…
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Book cover of The Old Gods Waken

The Old Gods Waken

By Manly Wade Wellman,

Why this book?

Wellman roots the adventures of his hero, Korean War vet John “the Balladeer,” in Appalachian folktale and folk customs. His hero battles strange old evils in the mountains with his faith, his traditional American folk magic (he carried a copy of The Long Lost Friend), and the evil-repelling silver of his guitar strings. Silver John was a major influence on our hero in The Cunning Man, Hiram Woolley.

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