The best POW books 📚

Browse the best books on prisoner of war as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Chaucer: A European Life

Chaucer: A European Life

By Marion Turner

Why this book?

I love this book despite feeling frustrated by the excessive detail. Turner brings Chaucer’s cosmopolitan world and diverse literary works to life by focusing on places and spaces significant to him. I especially enjoyed the chapter on Households, where Chaucer was sent to serve in his adolescence, like many of his contemporaries, as page-boy, valet, entertainer, general factotum. I also learnt about his international travels, as a diplomat, prisoner of war, member of Parliament, and the sadness of his unfulfilled private life.

The last two chapters recount Chaucer’s final year living in the precincts of Westminster Abbey, his sudden death,…

From the list:

The best books about medieval life and widows who prefer independence to remarriage

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Book cover of We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of the American Women Trapped on Bataan

We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of the American Women Trapped on Bataan

By Elizabeth M. Norman

Why this book?

The titular angels were military and civilian nurses who nursed wounded Americans and Filipinos during the Battle of Bataan and the siege of Corregidor. After the fighters finally surrendered to the Japanese, their nurses were imprisoned with Allied civilians for three and one-half years. They were phenomenally strong, courageous women in impossible circumstances and their story is remarkable.

From the list:

The best books on the Pacific Theater of World War II

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Book cover of Survival in Auschwitz

Survival in Auschwitz

By Primo Levi

Why this book?

Like Wiesel, Levi explains his daily survival at Auschwitz and we learn about how vast and huge the camp was during its peak operation. Levi goes into the sociology of camp life and tries to explain what Auschwitz did to the mind and spirit. Importantly, he tries to help us understand what survival did to those who managed to walk away from the killing, and he is deeply thoughtful. He nudges us to ask what it means to be human after experiencing the Holocaust. I had a hard time choosing between this book and his other masterpiece, The Drowned and…

From the list:

The best books about the concentration camps of the Holocaust

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Book cover of Under the Wire: The Wartime Memoir of a Spitfire Pilot, Legendary Escape Artist and "Cooler King"

Under the Wire: The Wartime Memoir of a Spitfire Pilot, Legendary Escape Artist and "Cooler King"

By William Ash, Brendan Foley

Why this book?

One of the great "characters" of World War 2 escapes, "Tex" Ash was an American who travelled from his home state to Canada in order to enlist in the RCAF and fight the Nazis before the US entered the war.  A Spitfire pilot of great bravery, Ash was shot down and captured in France. His tale of wild and woolly escapes and escapades makes for a rollicking good read. Some might say that his story is too far-fetched to be true; I believe every word of it.

From the list:

The best POW escape books of World War 2

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Book cover of Free As a Running Fox

Free As a Running Fox

By T.D. Calnan

Why this book?

Tommy Calnan was as brave as they come.  Flying an unarmed Spitfire of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, Calnan's plane was hit by flak and set afire.  He bailed out, but was badly burned in the process. Barely surviving his wounds, including third-degree burns to his face and hands, Calnan spent several months recovering in a German hospital. One might think that he had done enough for the Allied cause, but despite his face being badly scarred, Calnan became a serial escaper of great courage and determination.

From the list:

The best POW escape books of World War 2

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Book cover of When We Were Brave

When We Were Brave

By Suzanne Kelman

Why this book?

This is a ‘going back in time’ novel, not original, but well-written and very engaging. A woman finds a photograph of a woman in an attic. She discovers the woman is an aunt no one talks about. Her crime: to fall in love and flee to Paris with a Nazi prisoner of war.

I am recommending this book because of the emotions it evoked in me, the tension throughout, and the beautiful love story that unraveled in a time of war. It has stuck with me.

From the list:

The best books about the Second World War

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