The best submarine books

10 authors have picked their favorite books about submarines and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter this list by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to discover books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

Book cover of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

By Jules Verne,

Why this book?

As a marine biologist that enjoys reading both, fiction and nonfiction, I own a copy of the classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, one of the best novels ever written about the ocean. Verne’s adventures of Captain Nemo and life inside his underwater ship, the Nautilus, can capture anyone’s imagination. 

From the list:

The best books about the ocean and its inhabitants

Book cover of Mr. Limpet

Mr. Limpet

By Theodore Pratt, Garrett Price (illustrator),

Why this book?

This fantasy by the prolific and well-known American novelist Theodore Pratt follows the adventures of a bespectacled bookkeeper who becomes a fish, serves the American navy during the Second World War, and swims off to evolve a better species of humanity, free of those qualities that provoked global conflict. Reflecting scientific and popular embrace of the idea that life, including the human species, evolved from the sea, Mr. Limpet combines pointed commentary and humor with the growing cultural fascination of the undersea prompted by submarine warfare. Rare today because of its publication shortly after American entry into the war, the…

From the list:

The best books on human's relationships with the underwater world

Book cover of The Hunt for Red October

The Hunt for Red October

By Tom Clancy,

Why this book?

In this cold-war era submarine thriller, Tom Clancy turned everything into world-imperiling stakes. He multiplied points of view so we could see the effects of events on friend and enemyhero, bystander, and villain, alike.

Clancy showed us that deeply principled men, willing to sacrifice to protect others, existed on both sides of military and espionage conflicts. That while there might be villains on both sides, there could also be heroes on both sides. A character's motivations and actions defined them, not which uniform they wore.

His deep technical accuracy, combined with fast-paced adventure, caught my multiple interests, and…

From the list:

The best books about clever heroes risking everything to protect others

Book cover of Operation Drumbeat: The Dramatic True Story of Germany's First U-Boat Attacks Along the American Coast in World War II

Operation Drumbeat: The Dramatic True Story of Germany's First U-Boat Attacks Along the American Coast in World War II

By Michael Gannon,

Why this book?

Few people understand just how lousy the East Coast of the United States was with U-boats during the opening months of World War II. Operating with virtual impunity, they sank tankers and merchant ships up and down the coast for nearly a year before the U.S. finally organized an effective defense. Gannon does an excellent job both setting the scene and relating the history of the U-boat war—a story that few people know but will keep you riveted.

From the list:

The best books about submarine warfare during World War II

Book cover of Seizing the Enigma: The Race to Break the German U-boat Codes, 1939-1943

Seizing the Enigma: The Race to Break the German U-boat Codes, 1939-1943

By David Kahn,

Why this book?

David Kahn explains the most widely-known effort (widely-known today but in complete secrecy then) to decipher messages sent by the Germans using their Enigma machines during World War II. This book looks at the groundbreaking work done by Polish mathematicians in the 1930s, how Enigma machines were rescued from sinking German U-boats, and how Bletchley Park in Britain became the focal point of breaking these transmissions. Much of the book focuses on how Enigma machines, rotors, and codebooks were confiscated from German submarines and surface vessels, and how these were then used to allow the Allies, by the war's end,…

From the list:

The best books about how to break things (encryption, passwords, etc.)

Book cover of The U-boat War

The U-boat War

By Lothar-Gunther Buchheim,

Why this book?

Related to Das Boot this may be (same author, same boat as within the novel) but this is a factual photographic essay of photos taken by Buchheim, predominantly aboard U96 during August-September 1941 as a member of the Propaganda Company. The photographs show life as it actually was in the North Atlantic on patrol, and end with shots taken aboard U309 as it escaped Brest in August 1944 and was involved in the rescue of crew from U981 which sank after hitting a mine with twelve crewmen killed.

This is, quite simply, a brilliant and evocative set of photographs. Buchheim…

From the list:

The best books about U-boats that aren't Das Boot

Book cover of Iron Coffins: A Personal Account of the German U-Boat Battles of World War II

Iron Coffins: A Personal Account of the German U-Boat Battles of World War II

By Herbert A. Werner,

Why this book?

Being claustrophic, the title immediately caught my attention. I tried to imagine what it would be like to live in such small quarters and not being able to escape if you had a panic attack, especially while being under attack with depth charges. It takes a very special person to want to serve in a submarine. This is a fascinating autobiography written by a German U-Boat captain who survived the war to share his personal experiences in the German U-boat force in World War II. He is only one of a handful of U-boat captains that survived the war to…

From the list:

The best WWII books you have probably never heard of

Book cover of War Beneath the Sea: Submarine Conflict During World War II

War Beneath the Sea: Submarine Conflict During World War II

By Peter Padfield,

Why this book?

Malta operated a small fleet of submarines from Manoel Island in Valletta’s north harbour. Painted cobalt for camouflage, they were kept submerged at their moorings to avoid enemy attention. Padfield’s book is a huge tour de force that details all aspects of the Mediterranean campaign together with all the other major submarine campaigns during the second world war. We learn about the submarine arms of Britain, America, Japan, and Italy, as well as the anti-submarine measures deployed by all sides. First-hand accounts, from submariners at the sharp end to the decision-makers in dusty ministry offices, are used to embellish this…

From the list:

The best books about the Siege of Malta and the Mediterranean War

Book cover of Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II

Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II

By Robert Kurson,

Why this book?

Back before extreme sports were a thing, people found personal ways to test themselves. In this case, we have guys from New Jersey who did scuba diving to depths that were the edge of both human physiology and the technology of the time, while exploring sunken wrecks over 200 feet below the surface. For fun. Then they tripped over a lost Nazi submarine. Off the coast of New Jersey.  

It sounds like the worst kind of B-movie nonsense, but it’s true. Two of the men become driven to not only document the submarine’s provenance as an actual German vessel, but…

From the list:

The best books about history that read like the most gripping fiction you’ve ever experienced

Book cover of Sunk: The Story of the Japanese Submarine Fleet, 1941-1945

Sunk: The Story of the Japanese Submarine Fleet, 1941-1945

By Mochitsura Hashimoto,

Why this book?

Hashimoto was the Japanese sub captain of the I-58, who sank the USS Indianapolis shortly after it delivered the atomic bomb in the closing days of World War II. The story of the Indianapolis has been told in several excellent books including, “In Harms Way” and “Fatal Voyage” as well as the movie, “Jaws,” but never from the Japanese point of view. How Hashimoto and his crew survived the war is integral to this story which makes The Hunt for Red October seem like child’s play. And it’s all true!

From the list:

The best books about submarine warfare during World War II

Or, view all 24 books about submarines

New book lists related to submarines

All book lists related to submarines

Bookshelves related to submarines