The best war books

83 authors have picked their favorite books about war and why they recommend each book.

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The Age of Odin

By James Lovegrove,

Book cover of The Age of Odin

The God: Skadi, Freya, Thor (and more!)

Another take on Ragnarok, but wholly different from Norse Code. Set in a post-apocalyptic mini Ice Age—the fimbulwinter that precedes Ragnarok—and following a soldier/mercenary who signs himself up with no real idea of what he’s in for, Age of Odin gives us an action-packed war-driven adventure with fun takes on familiar and less familiar gods along the way—even including Ratatosk, the squirrel who resides upon and spreads gossip all along the World Tree.


Who am I?

I’ve been immersed in Norse Myth for more than a decade and writing books about the Gods I’ve always wanted to read. My Fate of the Gods trilogy is a mythic mash-up of Biblical, Norse, Greek, and Egyptian myth, and writing as Amalia Carosella, my book Daughter of a Thousand Years is Viking age historical fiction about Freydis, the daughter of Erik the Red. Additionally, as a Norse Pagan polytheist myself, finding books that do justice to the Gods in our modern world is that much more important to me than your average reader - I’m always looking to celebrate the books that bring them to life!


I wrote...

From Asgard, With Love

By Amalia Dillin,

Book cover of From Asgard, With Love

What is my book about?

Samantha Connelly has no idea what she's doing with her life. That feeling leads her into the woods, where she pours a libation to a different god - a god of thunder - praying just once for a response. There's no lightning or ominous rumbles, but she does meet a man with a bow strapped to his back and an easy smile. A man named Ullr, who isn't really a man at all.

Unfortunately, he's brought ill-tidings. If Sam thought her life was a mess before, it's nothing to what's coming. Loss and pain and sorrow hang like a dark cloud over her fate, and now that she's called to the Norse gods, Ullr is determined to see her through it. Maybe it's foolish, but Sam agrees to let him. After all, with all signs pointing to ruin, how could accepting some help from the gods make things worse?

Death of a Hero

By Richard Aldington,

Book cover of Death of a Hero

Perhaps the finest and least well-known novel to come out of the First World War. Imagist poet Richard Aldington takes his own experiences of the home and Western Fronts and turns both barrels on the sanctimony of Edwardian society and its parade of sycophants, socialites, and fools. Unusually, it is a book by a poet that resists turning war into poetry. Unafraid to use realistically coarse military language, it divided the critics at the time and has divided readers ever since. It is a howl of rage that speaks across the century, a timeless reminder that there is no romance in the needless carnage of war.


Who am I?

I am not a historian but a journalist, and in writing the book I wanted to do what I have done in my political writing. Namely to cut through the lies, to bring accuracy to the distortions, and to point a finger at the politicians and pundits who would prefer that we wallowed in the phony nostalgia of our imagined past. Tackling fake history is like tackling fake news. You need not only to seek out the truth that lies underneath but also discover in whose interests myth-making works in the first place. That's why fighting fake history matters and that is why I wrote the book.


I wrote...

Fake History: Ten Great Lies and How They Shaped the World

By Otto English,

Book cover of Fake History: Ten Great Lies and How They Shaped the World

What is my book about?

Lincoln did not believe all men were created equal. The Aztecs were not slaughtered by the Spanish Conquistadors. And Churchill was not the man that people love to remember.

In this fascinating new book, journalist and author Otto English takes ten great lies from history and shows how our present continues to be manipulated by the fabrications of the past. He looks at how so much of what we take to be historical fact is, in fact, fiction. From the myths of WW2 to the adventures of Columbus, and from the self-serving legends of 'great men' to the origins of curry—fake history is everywhere and used ever more to impact our modern world.

The Sorrow of War

By Bảo Ninh,

Book cover of The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam

Much of America’s voluminous literature, scholarship, and films on the Vietnam War focus on the suffering of American G.I.s. This novel takes us into the heart of a North Vietnamese soldier struggling with PTSD. It is a gripping, wrenching tale of lives uprooted, futures destroyed, and dreams torn apart. It is a story that humanizes those seen as enemies: average people caught in the madness of war.


Who am I?

I am a historian of international conflict who focuses on understanding the enemy. For most of my career, I have studied why we so often misread others, and how those misperceptions lead to war. The current crisis in Ukraine is just one more example of how the parties involved misunderstood each other. I believe that if we could improve this one ability, we would substantially lessen the likelihood, frequency, and severity of war.


I wrote...

A Sense of the Enemy: The High Stakes History of Reading Your Rival's Mind

By Zachary Shore,

Book cover of A Sense of the Enemy: The High Stakes History of Reading Your Rival's Mind

What is my book about?

More than 2000 years ago the Chinese strategist Sun Tzu advised us to know our enemies. The question has always been how. In A Sense of the Enemy, the historian Zachary Shore demonstrates that leaders can best understand an opponent not simply from his pattern of past behavior, but from his behavior at pattern breaks. Meaningful pattern breaks occur during dramatic deviations from the routine when the enemy imposes costs upon himself. It's at these unexpected moments, Shore explains, that successful leaders can learn what makes their rivals truly tick.

With vivid, suspenseful prose, he takes us into the minds of statesmen to see how they in turn tried to enter the minds of others. He shows how this type of mind-reading, which he calls "strategic empathy," shaped matters of war and peace. 

March

By Geraldine Brooks,

Book cover of March

This book is not as well known, but the author, Geraldine Brooks, did an amazing job in describing the war. She took an interesting spin by writing a side story to the famous novel, Little Women. Interestingly, Little Women was written by Louisa May Alcott, who served as a Union nurse during the Civil War.


Who am I?

J.D.R. Hawkins is an award-winning author who has written for newspapers, magazines, newsletters, e-zines, and blogs. She is one of only a few female Civil War authors, and uniquely describes the front lines from a Confederate perspective. Her Renegade Series includes A Beautiful Glittering Lie, winner of the John Esten Cooke Fiction Award and the B.R.A.G. Medallion, A Beckoning Hellfire, which is also an award winner, and A Rebel Among Us, recipient of the 2017 John Esten Cooke Fiction Award. These books tell the story of a family from north Alabama who experience immeasurable pain when their lives are dramatically changed by the war. Ms. Hawkins is a member of Pikes Peak Writers, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, the International Women's Writing Guild, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. She is also an artist and singer/songwriter.


I wrote...

Horses in Gray: Famous Confederate Warhorses

By J.D.R. Hawkins,

Book cover of Horses in Gray: Famous Confederate Warhorses

What is my book about?

Never before has there been such a comprehensive look at Confederate military horses in the Civil War and their lives before, during, and after battle. Why particular breeds or colors were chosen for specific tasks, what the life expectancy of military horses was and why they died, and the distinct challenges of caring for horses in wartime conditions are all covered. Chapters focus on how they were acquired by their owners, their lineages, the stories behind their names, and the ways in which they were immortalized. Robert E. Lee's Traveller, Stonewall Jackson's Little Sorrel, Forrest's thirty horses, Ashby's Tom Telegraph, and many more are included in this must-read history.

The English People at War in the Age of Henry VIII

By Steven Gunn,

Book cover of The English People at War in the Age of Henry VIII

Rather than examining Henry VIII’s wars as military engagements or part of international politics, this book looks at the impact war had on the English people. How were towns and villages affected by the need to provide men for the royal army? What was the impact of war on trade and agriculture? How were ordinary men persuaded to enact the violence required by war, and what was the physical and mental impact on them? How were wars justified and linked to a sense of Englishness? Originally given as a series of lectures, the chapters are connected but can be dipped into as stand-alone articles.


Who am I?

I am a historian and historic buildings consultant with a longstanding interest in 15th and 16th century England. In addition to my own work on memorials, funerals, and the Howard family, I have worked as a researcher and consultant for television and books, including being a production researcher for the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall. 


I wrote...

The Man Behind the Tudors: Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk

By Kirsten Claiden-Yardley,

Book cover of The Man Behind the Tudors: Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk

What is my book about?

Understand how Thomas' life shaped the recovery and success of the Howard family through his military prowess and navigation of the political landscape of Tudor England. Thomas Howard, 2nd duke of Norfolk, lived a remarkable life spanning eighty years and the reigns of six kings. Amongst his descendants are his granddaughters, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, and his great-granddaughter, Elizabeth I. The foundations of this dramatic and influential dynasty rest on Thomas' shoulders, and it was his career that placed the Howard family in a prominent position in English society and at the Tudor royal court.

World War Z

By Max Brooks,

Book cover of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

True terror in literature is difficult to pull off in my opinion, but no novel sends chills down my spine like World War Z. Told in a series of interviews a la Studs Terkel, it recounts the darkest period of human history, when the planet was almost overrun by the living dead, and the men and women across the world who suffered through it from its beginning to end. Since the story is entirely relayed through dialogue, the characters’ voices come alive in your mind, bombarding you with accounts of body horror, psychological trauma, and existential dread. The unknown, the implied, and the lingering “what-if” hanging over my head like a knife are what scares me most; the knot in my stomach with each reread is testament to that.


Who am I?

As a fisherman, my travels have taken me to some truly outlandish places and put me in contact with nature’s most dangerous, grotesque denizens. Coming face-to-face with teeth, venomous barbs, and viscous slime has given me a special appreciation for the bizarre, which translated perfectly to horror literature. Horror takes us by the hand and forces it upon the surface of this world’s darkest and weirdest places—the natural world, the human soul, the other side, the beyond—and I am your humble guide to those places. From those places, however? No guarantees. 


I wrote...

Hell's Gulf

By Nick Carlson,

Book cover of Hell's Gulf

What is my book about?

Rowan Vane, a young writer struggling with self-definition (really though, what young person isn’t?), finds himself in the dead center of a salty, sunbleached North Florida beach town for spring break. Emboldened by the lure of inspiration and personal growth, he sets out on a spirit journey, mind ablaze with possibility. But the further he ventures into its depths, the more he comes to realize the extent of the town’s darkness, from its diabolical menagerie of monsters to its corrupt, bloodsoaked history. Can he navigate the wilds of Hell’s Gulf and emerge a better, stronger man? Or will the horrifying truth behind it all end up killing him? 

Small Country

By Gaël Faye,

Book cover of Small Country

Sometimes fiction, with its knack for getting under the skin, is the best way of grasping the human impact of something as psychologically earth-shaking as mass murder. Set in the early 1990s, this novel’s narrator is the son of a French father and Rwandan mother, living in Bujumbura, just across the border from Rwanda. Inevitably the mass killings spill over into Burundi, exacerbating existing tensions between Hutus and Tutsis there and shattering an already precariously-poised family. I get the impression this book sold well in both French and English, and I’m not surprised. Under its deceptively simple surface, it packs a punch.


Who am I?

After working as a foreign correspondent in Italy and France I was sent by Reuters news agency to Cote d’Ivoire and what was then Zaire, the latter posting coinciding with the shocking start of the genocide in neighboring Rwanda. It was the kind of assignment you don’t forget, and when I moved to the Financial Times I continued following the larger-than-life dramas unfolding in Africa’s Great Lakes region. I’ve now written five books, the first – In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz - about Mobutu Sese Seko's imprint on the Democratic Republic of Congo and the latest – Do Not Disturb - looking at personalities and events I first started writing about a quarter of a century ago. You keep going back.


I wrote...

Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad

By Michela Wrong,

Book cover of Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad

What is my book about?

A real-life murder and spy thriller set in central Africa. Do Not Disturb uses the lurid assassination of Patrick Karegeya, Rwanda’s exiled former spy chief, to unpick the story of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the movement that went from united guerrilla group to unhappy post-genocide government, with one man – Paul Kagame – emerging as a ruthless despot, ready to eliminate all those who stand in his way. Kagame's victims include his old friend Karegeya, strangled in the Michelangelo Hotel in Johannesburg on his orders. This is a story about an African revolution gone bad, but it’s also a tale of treachery amongst friends, for the founders of the RPF attended school together, learned how to fight at one anothers’ sides, and made speeches at each others’ weddings. The personal IS the political in this slow-motion African tragedy.

Song for the Horse Nation

By National Museum of the American Indian,

Book cover of Song for the Horse Nation: Horses in Native American Cultures

A Song for the Horse Nation investigates the role and importance of horses in many Native American cultures historical and today. Most people believe that contemporary horses are not indigenous to the Americas but came with the Spanish literally carrying in the colonizers. In A Song for the Horse Nation, Herman J. Viola writes, “America’s Native peoples have little for which to thank Christopher Columbus except the horse.”

In the beginning, Native Americans were scared of the horses that came carrying white men on their backs. Viola explains, “They had never seen an animal that could carry a person. They called the horses, ‘sky dogs,’ believing that they were monsters or messengers from the heavens." The desire to have horses quickly replaced Native people’s fear. The colonizers, on horseback, stole land and life from the Native Americans whom they encountered. Native Americans stole horses from the colonizers to make…


Who am I?

Jean Halley is a professor of sociology at the Graduate Center and the College of Staten Island of the City University of New York (CUNY). She earned her doctorate in sociology at the Graduate Center of CUNY, and her master’s degree in theology at Harvard University. Halley's book with the University of Georgia Press about girls who love horses, Horse Crazy: Girls and the Lives of Horses, came out in 2019. She and her horse grew up in the Rocky Mountains. Today she lives in New York City.


I wrote...

Horse Crazy: Girls and the Lives of Horses

By Jean O'Malley Halley,

Book cover of Horse Crazy: Girls and the Lives of Horses

What is my book about?

Girls love horses, but why? What does this love say about what it means to be a girl? And what does it say about the meaning of horse lives?

I explore these meanings, and this love, of girls with horses in the United States. I am interested in the girls’ experience of the horse-girl relationship. I am also interested in what the lives of horses are like, and what their lives reveal about the significance of horses in human lives. The love of horses and the girl-horse relationship in some ways reproduce traditional gender norms. In other important ways, I claim that girls’ experience of riding horses and their love of horses offers a challenge to sexist ways of thinking about being female, and to mainstream ideas of girlhood. This book combines traditional scholarly research with personal narratives about horses and girls, including stories from my own life growing up, completely horse crazy, in the rural Rocky Mountains with my horse.

Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership

By R. David Edmunds,

Book cover of Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership

Indians fought on both sides in this war, but for the British, who were tied up in the Napoleonic Wars, they played a central role in saving Canada. The preeminent Native leader was the Shawnee war chief Tecumseh, who built an Indian confederacy allied to the British and was killed in 1813 in the Battle of the Thames. Dave Edmunds does a superb job of ferreting out the details of the life of the man who was arguably North America’s greatest war chief.


Who am I?

I’m an award-winning author and professor of history at Wayne State College in Nebraska. Called “the dean of 1812 scholarship” by the New Yorker, I’ve written eleven books and more than a hundred articles, mostly on the War of 1812 and its causes. I’ve been passionate about the War of 1812 ever since first studying it as an undergraduate in college.  Although the outcome on the battlefields was inconclusive and the war is largely forgotten today, it left a profound and lasting legacy. Since first “discovering” this war, my aim has been to elevate its public profile by showing how it shaped the United States and Canada and Britain’s relationship to both nations for the rest of the nineteenth century and beyond.


I wrote...

The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict

By Donald R. Hickey,

Book cover of The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict

What is my book about?

This comprehensive history of the War of 1812, thoroughly revised for the 200th anniversary of the historic conflict, is a myth-shattering study that will inform and entertain students, historians, and general readers alike. This book explores the military, diplomatic, and domestic history of the contest, bringing the study up to date with recent scholarship on all aspects of the war and showing how it shaped the future of the trans-Atlantic English-speaking world.

Empire in Black and Gold

By Adrian Tchaikovsky,

Book cover of Empire in Black and Gold

Ten glorious books about deceitful spiders, brave dragonflies, and steadfast beetles. In a world where people possess the traits of different insects, the wasps are expanding their empire. One lone beetle decides to challenge them. Shadows of the Apt turns traditional fantasy on its head by bringing together a whole new set of protagonists - Mantis who are skilled swordsmen beyond compare, Spiders who can craft deceitful webs of intrigue, Ants who can operate within a hive mind, and the like. The storytelling is unique for never before have there been characters like this, on a scale as massive as the insect kingdom.


Who am I?

I've been passionate about Fantasy ever since I found a used copy of the Dragonlance Chronicles in a second-hand book store in India. I was 10 years old and immediately fell in love with the idea of fantasy worlds with magic and dragons. Soon after I read Terry Brooks, Neil Gaiman, Piers Anthony, RA Salvatore, Edgar Burroughs, and a host of other writers from the 1980s. What I like about the books I've chosen is that these characters are memorable. They are stories that can be re-read because the plot doesn't feel like rehashed tropes. The uniqueness of the settings, the challenges they face, and the solutions they engineer are what make them worth reading.

I wrote...

Keep Calm and Go Crazy: A Guide to Finding Your Inner Hero

By Rohan Monteiro,

Book cover of Keep Calm and Go Crazy: A Guide to Finding Your Inner Hero

What is my book about?

He had it all: a spot on the couch, a bunch of friends, and a semi-decent-paying job... What more could anyone want? But when an unexpected offer took him to Dubai, Rohan realized he was completely clueless about how to survive. And when he found the girl of his dreams, survival was no longer an option. He needed to discover the hero within him, and he was buried way too deep. In a journey across mountains, rivers, and jungles, with half-baked plans and misadventures, Rohan reinvents himself in the pursuit of true love and along the way inspires us to discover our true selves.

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