The best books about military desertion

2 authors have picked their favorite books about military desertion and why they recommend each book.

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Desertion During the Civil War

By Dr. Ella Lonn,

Book cover of Desertion During the Civil War

Despite this book’s age—almost a century in print—it still stands as a seminal work on an important topic: desertion and its devastating effects on both armies. Lonn was born in 1879 in Indiana, and earned her PhD at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the few female historians at the time to do so. She was not immune to the racism of her day nor the cloying ideology of the Lost Cause, yet she told her readers she wanted to understand “the ugly and sordid sides of war.” Her book offers readers a wealth of information and insight to better understand the myriad of reasons why soldiers deserted.

Who am I?

I have been reading, researching, writing, and teaching Civil War military history for nearly thirty years. I first became interested in soldiers and their experiences as a teen, and went on to earn a PhD in American History at the University of Georgia. I’ve always been fascinated by the anti-hero, and the ways in which everyday people coped (or failed to cope) with this violent conflict. I am currently writing a book about regiments accused of cowardice and how those searing allegations cast a shadow over their military record. From 2010-2015, I served as editor of the scholarly journal Civil War History, and I was recently elected President of the Society for Civil War Historians (2022-2024).

I wrote...

A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut's Civil War

By Lesley J. Gordon,

Book cover of A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut's Civil War

What is my book about?

A Broken Regiment recounts the tragic history of one of the Civil War's most ill-fated Union military units. Organized in the late summer of 1862, the 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry was unprepared for battle a month later, when it entered the fight at Antietam. The results were catastrophic: nearly a quarter of the men were killed or wounded, and Connecticut's 16th panicked and fled the field. In the years that followed, the regiment participated in minor skirmishes before surrendering en masse in North Carolina in 1864. 

The struggles of the 16th led survivors to reflect on the true nature of their military experience during and after the war, and questions of cowardice and courage, patriotism and purpose, were often foremost in their thoughts.


By Katherine Ellison,

Book cover of Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention

Katherine Ellison is a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter. When she and her pre-teen son were both diagnosed with ADHD in the same year it became her personal and professional mission to find out as much as she could about this increasingly common diagnosis. Anyone who knows and loves someone who’s been diagnosed with ADHD would do well to read this book as a guide through the often bewildering landscape of ADHD treatments. As serious and personal as Buzz is, Ellison is a great writer and her memoir is equal parts science, expert interviews and analysis, parenting angst, and humor.

Who am I?

In college, I majored in Human Development and Family Studies and found my calling – to work with kids and create SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) content for them. While still an undergrad, my first book was published (People Are Like Lollipops - a picture book celebrating diversity.) Throughout my career, I’ve continued writing books and creating multimedia content for kids and teens while helping parents support their kids’ character development in the digital age. I read a lot of parenting books, but I don’t always learn something new that opens my heart and mind. Each book I’ve recommended here did that for me. I hope the books on my list will help you on your parenting journey.

I wrote...

Teaching Kids to Be Good People: Progressive Parenting for the 21st Century

By Annie Fox,

Book cover of Teaching Kids to Be Good People: Progressive Parenting for the 21st Century

What is my book about?

We live in a world suffering from empathy deficit disorder where a viral culture of cruelty shapes opinions and behavior. Now and in the future, we desperately need more good people. But where will the next generation of good people come from? From parents who know their job includes teaching kids resilience and compassion. When we help kids develop a moral compass and the social courage to do the right thing, we help make the world a safer, saner, more accepting place for all of us. 

In Teaching Kids to Be Good People, Annie Fox has written a very personal, step-by-step guide to teaching our children to make healthy choices (online and off). Because being good is not enough. We have to do good.


By Peter Earle,

Book cover of Sailors: English Merchant Seamen 1650 - 1775

Sailors — among my favorite books — is a vivid account of the lives of English merchant seamen in the 17th and 18th centuries. These were the years when England rose to dominance in global commerce and became the greatest naval power in the world. Acclaimed historian Peter Earle explores every aspect of the sailor's life: conditions of service, wealth and possessions, life aboard ship, the perils of the sea, discipline and punishment, sickness, desertion, mutiny and mortality, and the role of the sailor in times of war. Evocative, scholarly, and colorful, this story of England's "bravest and boldest" reveals how life on the waves was not all storms and conflict, tyranny and revolt, but also one of comradeship, adventure, and love of the sea.

Who am I?

Since the publication of my first book in 1988, my emphasis has always been on history as “story.” That is, the stories of men and women in past centuries with whom we share a common humanity but who faced challenges very different from our own. My goal is to bring their stories to as wide an audience as possible. Whether they describe Newfoundland fisherman in the 17th-century North Atlantic, expatriate Irish men and women in 18th-century Bordeaux, or colonial New Yorkers defying British authority on the eve of the American Revolution, the common theme is the impact of trade and the sea on the lives of ordinary people.

I wrote...

Defying Empire: Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York

By Thomas M. Truxes,

Book cover of Defying Empire: Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York

What is my book about?

Defying Empire reveals the story of the bold New York City merchants who engaged in forbidden trade with the French enemy during the Seven Years’ War — together with the fate of the lone informer who dared challenge them. Ignoring British prohibitions designed to end North America’s wartime trade with the French, New York’s merchant elite conducted a thriving business in the French West Indies, insisting that their behavior was protected by long practice and British commercial law. But the government in London viewed it as treachery, and its subsequent efforts to discipline North American commerce inflamed the colonists. Through fast-moving events and unforgettable characters, historian Thomas M. Truxes brings eighteenth-century New York and the Atlantic world to life.

Road Trip

By David Keener,

Book cover of Road Trip

I love how Road Trip hooks you right away with its concept: a road for sale? What kind of road? How much? And what could be on that road? You might not be ready for it. I can assure you there is ample action on this highway, however, that could give new meaning to "road rage." Like all of Keener’s work, this book is original and well-written. You could even say it’s ass-kicking.

Who am I?

I am an author who believes stories must first entertain and thrill if they are ever to instill something powerful and unforgettable. While I would love to sit here and compile books that laud the values I believe in, that’s just not how it works. Action is the best way to convey theme – and these examples celebrate the storytelling techniques I stand by. I love ass-kickers, in literature and in life. And I hope one day to be remembered as one of them. 

I wrote...

This Is Not a Love Scene: A Novel

By S.C. Megale,

Book cover of This Is Not a Love Scene: A Novel

What is my book about?

Lights, camera―all Maeve needs is action. But at eighteen, a rare form of muscular dystrophy usually stands in the way of romance. She's got her friends, her humor, and a passion for filmmaking to keep her focus off consistent rejection...and the hot older guy starring in her senior film project.

Tall, bearded, and always swaying, Cole Stone is everything Maeve can't be. And she likes it. Between takes, their chemistry is shockingly electric. Suddenly, Maeve gets a taste of typical teenage dating life, but girls in wheelchairs don’t get the hot guy―right? Cole’s attention challenges everything she once believed about her self-image and hopes for love. But figuring this out, both emotionally and physically, won't be easy for either of them. 

The Deserters

By Charles Glass,

Book cover of The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II

Until I read this book, I knew nothing about men who broke down in battle and were unable to fight on or deserted. It is a topic that is seldom covered in hero-driven war literature or films, depicted as cowardice and still having some taint of shame.

Charles Glass uses military records and personal accounts, including detailed descriptions of battlefront incidents, to paint a picture of what it is to face the terror of war and the debilitating unpredictability of not knowing which bullet has your name on it.

Across WWI and WW2, he uses case studies to take the reader to the trenches, or to huddle behind some broken wall. What is remarkable is not how many brave men deserted, but how many did not.

Who am I?

I am a Scottish writer who has published two books, one about poker and plumbing (Bad Beat Hotel) and the other about the treatment of men who sailed in the WW2 Arctic convoys and were unable to continue fighting (Sailor’s Heart). I’m interested in how people work and how they can be “repaired” when they wear out, malfunction, or break. My professional background is in clinical psychology and the study of human behaviour. I chose “cowards who become heroes” as my book theme because I’m constantly amazed by people’s resilience when faced with the most terrible circumstances.

I wrote...

Sailor's Heart

By Martin Campbell,

Book cover of Sailor's Heart

What is my book about?

Based on true events. 1942. The war at sea is being lost. One percent of all naval personnel are being referred to as psychiatric casualties. The British Admiralty introduces the Stone Frigate approach. 

Three men fight for their country in the Arctic convoys of World War II, then for their sanity and dignity, labelled as cowards and subjected to experimental psychiatry at an isolated facility set up by the British Admiralty to recycle men back into battle. To the Navy they are faulty parts, not constitutionally suited to operate at sea. To the public they are poltroons, malingerers, and psychiatric cases. True courage is facing danger when you are afraid, surviving in the circus of war.

Going After Cacciato

By Tim O'Brien,

Book cover of Going After Cacciato

A 1979 National Book Award winner for fiction, O’Brien’s first Vietnam War novel is, for me, his best piece of writing, and O’Brien in our 2014 interview concurred. Yes, it’s a timeless but freshly told war story about one soldier’s struggle to overcome fear and act courageously on the battlefield. The book’s attraction for me, however, is the complex, engaging, lyrical manner in which the story is told—multiple time sequences and narrative strands, realism mixed with magical realism, and the central character’s interplay of memory and imagination in recalling and creating events. The book is also a how-to manual on the art of storytelling. And like all great pieces of literature, a reader’s appreciation of O’Brien’s story and art increases with multiple readings. This is a book that engages readers seeking to know more about the Vietnam War, writers studying narrative craft, and general readers wanting to be entertained and…

Who am I?

From an early age, I have made a life out of listening to, telling, teaching, and writing about war stories. I am intrigued by their widespread personal and public importance. My changing associations with these stories and their tellers have paralleled evolving stages in my life—son, soldier, father, and college professor. Each stage has spawned different questions and insights about the tales and their narrators. At various moments in my own life, these war stories have also given rise to fantasized adventure, catharsis, emotional highs and lows, insights about human nature tested within the crucible of war, and intriguing relationships with the storytellers—their lives and minds.

I wrote...

Writing Vietnam, Writing Life: Caputo, Heinemann, O'Brien, Butler

By Tobey C. Herzog,

Book cover of Writing Vietnam, Writing Life: Caputo, Heinemann, O'Brien, Butler

What is my book about?

My book includes extended conversations with four prominent American soldier-authors (Philip Caputo, Larry Heinemann, Tim O’Brien, and Robert Olen Butler) who fought in the Vietnam War. These individuals tell their life stories, discuss their writing process, and advise on the teaching of writing. In addition, the authors share their war stories, specifically what they did in war, what the war did to them, and how and why they wrote about their war experiences. These conversations, along with richly annotated life chronologies, reveal that these four prizewinning authors have diverse upbringings, values, war experiences, life experiences, writing careers, and literary voices. Together, their four life and war stories also present a mini-tableaux of the fascinating and troubling time of 1960s and 1970s America. 

Do Not Become Alarmed

By Maile Meloy,

Book cover of Do Not Become Alarmed: A Novel

This book made me shudder. 

Three families on a cruise go ashore in Central America. Then the unthinkable happens: their children vanish. Thankfully, I’ve never experienced that particular nightmare, but years ago my four-year-old son went AWOL for about five minutes while we were at the airport. I was a quivering blob of panic until kiddo turned up safe and sound. Of course, for the parents in this story, the terror stretches on for much longer than five minutes—and, believe me, you wouldn’t want it any other way. The unrelenting tension is just one of the elements that make this novel such a compelling read.

Who am I?

Call me a worrier, but I’ve always viewed the world as a place fraught with danger, especially for the very young. Hidden sinkholes, falling tree branches, kidnappers lurking on street corners—there’s no threat I haven’t imagined. (Full disclosure: I’m a mom.) As a fiction author, I like to put my young characters in harm’s way and then deliver them to safety, an approach that helps me deal with my anxieties by giving me a sense of control. If I had my way, all imperiled-child stories, whether real-life or fiction, would end with a happily ever after. Alas, not all of them do.

I wrote...

Snowdrop Dreams, Cherry Thumbprint Screams

By Kimberly Baer,

Book cover of Snowdrop Dreams, Cherry Thumbprint Screams

What is my book about?

When Annie Barkley discovers a boy living in the attic of her cookie shop, she's stunned—and oddly elated. She can almost believe the universe is giving her back the infant son she lost eleven years ago. Annie senses that something bad happened to the boy, but he won't talk. All she knows is that he's terrified of being found. When her long-ago crush, police captain Sam Stern, stops by to inquire about a missing boy, Annie says she hasn't seen him.

Big mistake. Because that lie might cost her more than a romance with Sam. It also leaves her vulnerable to a ruthless pursuer, one who's determined to silence the boy for good.

Shielding Sierra

By Susan Stoker,

Book cover of Shielding Sierra

Stoker is the queen of military/former-military “families.” You pick up a book and instantly fall in love with that team of men. Shielding Sierra is her latest (as of January 2022) and it happens to be at the end of a series. Stoker writes in a single universe, so while we know this team, we also see previous teams she’s written, and the family unit that they all build with one another really shines in Sierra, when one of their own purposely becomes a POW in order to save the heroine.

Who am I?

I hate saying goodbye. Picking up a book and being introduced to an entire group of people—family, friends, teammates—and knowing you get to continue to watch these relationships bloom over a course of books is part of the reason I pick up a book in the first place. I want to see these characters pop in twenty books down the road. I absolutely love cameos of old characters! Because of this, I write in a singular world as well. My Prescotts may be the base of the world at the moment, but it’s also their friends at O’Gallaghers and their teammates with the Enforcers hockey team that keep the world growing—and it’s not ending anytime soon.

I wrote...

Butterfly Save (Prescott Brothers)

By Mignon Mykel,

Book cover of Butterfly Save (Prescott Brothers)

What is my book about?

The first to get married, the only to get divorced… Jonny Prescott is the “broken” brother. 

After his surprise retirement announcement, hockey goaltender Jonny Prescott decides to hide away in the Northern Wisconsin woods—away from everything and everyone. No limelight. Little recognition. The last thing he expects is to be drawn to his equally isolated neighbor. Summer is far too young to be so jaded, but Jonny can’t help but want to break this butterfly free.

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