The best books about war correspondents

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

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On the Front Line

By Marie Colvin,

Book cover of On the Front Line: The Collected Journalism of Marie Colvin

On the Front Line is an award-winning collection of stories by veteran war correspondent Marie Colvin. Prior to being targeted for assassination by the Syrian government in February 2012 while she covered the civil war there, Colvin's career and writing showed peerless courage in the pursuit of stories that revealed the inhumanities of war and civil strife. The book contains insightful accounts of interviews of Arafat and Gadaffi as well as her intimate reporting of fighting in Kosovo, Chechnya, East Timor, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the chaos of the Arab Spring uprisings. Blinded in one eye shrapnel while reporting on the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers, Colvin's style and legendary courage live on in this select collection of her work.


Who am I?

K. Lee Lerner is an author, editor, and producer of science and factual media, including four editions of the Gale Encyclopedia of Science and the Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence, and Security. His expansive writing on science, climate change, disasters, disease, and global issues has earned multiple book and media awards, including books named Outstanding Academic Titles. An aviator, sailor, and member of the National Press Club in Washington, his two global circumnavigations and portfolio of work in challenging and dangerous environments reveal a visceral drive to explore and investigate. With a public intellectual's broad palate and a scientist's regard for evidence-based analysis, Lerner dissects and accessibly explains complex issues. 

I wrote...

Government, Politics, and Protest: Essential Primary Sources

By K. Lee Lerner, Brenda Wilmoth Lerner, Adrienne Wilmoth Lerner

Book cover of Government, Politics, and Protest: Essential Primary Sources

What is my book about?

Part of the Essential Primary Source series by K. Lee Lerner, Brenda Wilmoth Lerner, et al., that critics described as well-written, thoughtful and cogent. Individual volumes topically related to issues provide historical context and insights into people, places, and issues still dominating news headlines as well as the scholars, journalists and other experts who document history in the making. The series covers Terrorism; Medicine, Health, and Bioethics; Environmental Issues; Crime and Punishment;  Government, Politics, and Protest; Gender Issues and Sexuality; Human and Civil Rights; Immigration and Multiculturalism; Social Policy, and more.

"Anyone Here Been Raped and Speaks English?"

By Edward Behr,

Book cover of "Anyone Here Been Raped and Speaks English?"

Being a foreign correspondent in the so-called "developing world" is complicated in a myriad of ways, and journalists often become so deep into the story that their needs become strangely surgical, legal, and surreal.

Need some specific quotes to describe what is happening amid a bloodbath? Want to profile victims of torture and slaughter? Behr's book brings you into his experience as a foreign correspondent for Newsweek in Africa and other media work in a way few other reporters would like to admit -- except to each other.


Who am I?

I am a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978 and winner of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. My work, including this book, has taken me to Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, New York, and elsewhere. Fragments of people and their distant voices are the behavior and quotes that inspire. Slices, starting at random moments and ending in bleak locations, fascinate and hypnotize. And transcribing handwritten notes, impressions, and exclusive interviews, create my RocknRolla lyrics.


I wrote...

Rituals. Killers. Wars. & Sex. -- Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka & New York

By Richard S. Ehrlich,

Book cover of Rituals. Killers. Wars. & Sex. --  Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka & New York

What is my book about?

My exclusive interviews, first-hand descriptions, and news reports, including a Tibetan Sky Funeral of human corpses eaten by vultures. The Dalai Lama hunting for Mao's reincarnation. A Potala Palace monk kills Chinese as a horse-riding insurgent. A Calcutta Dom caste undertaker suffers discrimination. India's "Bandit Queen" Phoolan Devi justifies her revenge killings.


The CIA's Tony "Poe" demands human ears and heads during the war in Laos. James "Mule" Parker, the last CIA officer to evacuate from Vietnam, reveals the CIA paid and quoted non-existent spies. "Bikini Killer" Charles Sobhraj and his girlfriends are also interviewed. American "Jack" Idema in Kabul is convicted of torturing Afghans to "confess" they knew Osama bin Laden's location. Warfare in Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Sri Lanka also appear. Michelle describes her and her colleagues exposing themselves in Peepland on 42nd Street.


The Journal of Albion Moonlight

By Kenneth Patchen,

Book cover of The Journal of Albion Moonlight

The fiercely independent spirit of surrealists and other people trying to survive during World War 2 permeates this opulent novel with ghostly quotes and rebellious beliefs.

Laced with angels, forests, dreams, and women, this diary becomes increasingly fraught with questions of obedience, patriotism, dictatorship, and freedom.

Will your own perceptions be radicalized or soothed by this war story?


Who am I?

I am a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978 and winner of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. My work, including this book, has taken me to Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, New York, and elsewhere. Fragments of people and their distant voices are the behavior and quotes that inspire. Slices, starting at random moments and ending in bleak locations, fascinate and hypnotize. And transcribing handwritten notes, impressions, and exclusive interviews, create my RocknRolla lyrics.


I wrote...

Rituals. Killers. Wars. & Sex. -- Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka & New York

By Richard S. Ehrlich,

Book cover of Rituals. Killers. Wars. & Sex. --  Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka & New York

What is my book about?

My exclusive interviews, first-hand descriptions, and news reports, including a Tibetan Sky Funeral of human corpses eaten by vultures. The Dalai Lama hunting for Mao's reincarnation. A Potala Palace monk kills Chinese as a horse-riding insurgent. A Calcutta Dom caste undertaker suffers discrimination. India's "Bandit Queen" Phoolan Devi justifies her revenge killings.


The CIA's Tony "Poe" demands human ears and heads during the war in Laos. James "Mule" Parker, the last CIA officer to evacuate from Vietnam, reveals the CIA paid and quoted non-existent spies. "Bikini Killer" Charles Sobhraj and his girlfriends are also interviewed. American "Jack" Idema in Kabul is convicted of torturing Afghans to "confess" they knew Osama bin Laden's location. Warfare in Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Sri Lanka also appear. Michelle describes her and her colleagues exposing themselves in Peepland on 42nd Street.


The Lotus Eaters

By Tatjana Soli,

Book cover of The Lotus Eaters

I’ve never read anything quite like this novel centering on a female photographer, Helen Adams, covering the Vietnam War. Years after reading it, I can still picture scenes and, I swear, feel the heaviness of the air and hear the fruit falling from the trees. Soli has talked about how she got tired of reading wonderful novels where the men went off and had wartime adventures and the women just dropped off the page. So she wrote her own wartime saga.

Helen Adams never drops off the page—she leaps off them. The writing is as lush as the landscape, and you’ll fall entirely into the world of the book. There’s war and treachery and duty and passion, and nothing is ever simple.


Who am I?

As someone who loves my work, I’ve noticed that in fiction when a woman is successful at her career, often that career mainly functions as a source of guilt or stress. Fictional working women spend a lot of time second guessing their choices, and, hey, it is hard to balance work and family. Women are torn in multiple directions. But I also believe it’s okay to love your job. It’s okay to find joy in it and to not beat yourself up. I find deep satisfaction in writing, and I enjoy reading about characters who know the rush of doing a job well.  


I wrote...

Family Law

By Gin Phillips,

Book cover of Family Law

What is my book about?

Set in 1980s Alabama, Family Law follows Lucia, an accomplished lawyer who’s made a name for herself at a time when a woman in a courtroom is still a rarity. She focuses her work on domestic abuse cases, messy divorces, and custody battles. When she meets Rachel, the teenage daughter of a potential client, an unlikely friendship is born – for Rachel, Lucia is proof that there are different ways of being a woman than the ones she’s been shown at home.

But Lucia’s work has put a target on her back. When threats against her start to put Rachel in danger, Lucia must decide what’s more important: the safety of those she cares about or the rights she’s spent her life fighting for. The story is a look at how we choose mothers other than the ones we’re born to, how we shape each other, and how we make a difference.

The Huntress

By Kate Quinn,

Book cover of The Huntress

From a small office in Mariahilferstrasse, former reporter turned Nazi hunter Ian Graham exercises the war’s demons by narrowing his gaze on infamous war criminal Die Jägerin. While the action eventually moves to America in a cat and mouse chase.  Ian’s time in the occupied city, a side trip to Salzburg, and even a trip up the famous Riesenrad ferris-wheel are highlights of this atmospheric historical read proving that the shadows of Hitler’s Vienna and leftover Nazi sympathizers can be found under every uprooted cobblestone. 


Who am I?

I am the author of the Herringford and Watts mysteries, the Van Buren and DeLuca mysteries, and the Three Quarter Time series of contemporary Viennese-set romances. I am also the author of The London Restoration. My non-fiction includes Dream, Plan and Go: A Travel Guide to Inspire Independent Adventure and A Very Merry Holiday Movie Guide. I live in Toronto, Canada.


I wrote...

The Mozart Code

By Rachel McMillan,

Book cover of The Mozart Code

What is my book about?

Lady Sophia Huntington Villiers works with Alan Turing’s Bombe Machines at Bletchley Park during the war attests. As part of Simon Barre’s covert team in post-war Vienna, she uses her charm and code name Starling to infiltrate the world of relics. When several influential men charge her with finding the death mask of Mozart, Sophie wonders if there is more than the composer’s legacy and finds herself drawn to potential answers in Prague.

Simon Barrington, the illegitimate heir of one of Sussex’s oldest estates, used the previous war to hide his insecurities about his past. He is in love with Sophie Villiers, and a marriage of convenience has always kept her close. Until now, when Sophie’s mysterious client in Prague forces him to wonder if her allegiance to him—and their cause—is in question.

Scoop

By Evelyn Waugh,

Book cover of Scoop

A savage counterpoint to Pyle’s brave frontline reporting. The English novelist made two trips to the Ethiopia to cover the war launched by Mussolini in 1935. While in Africa, Waugh complained bitterly about a rival reporter who “never set foot in Abyssinia . . . he sits in his hotel describing an entirely imaginary campaign.” And in this satire, he gave savage voice to this incendiary allegation, describing a group of reporters who spent the bulk of their time far from the front, writing stories based on either misleading briefings by local propaganda chiefs or ingenious inventions that fit the prejudices of their editors and proprietors back home. A hilarious romp.


Who am I?

Steven Casey is Professor in International History at the LSE. A specialist in US foreign policy, he is the author of ten books, including Cautious Crusade, which explored American attitudes toward Nazi Germany during World War II; Selling the Korean War, which won both the Truman Book Award and the Neustadt Prize for best book in American Politics; and When Soldiers Fall which also won the Neustadt Prize. In 2017, he published War Beat, Europe: The American Media at War against Nazi Germany, which won the American Journalism Historians Association 2018 book of the year, the panel judging it “a landmark work.” 


I wrote...

The War Beat, Pacific: The American Media at War Against Japan

By Steven Casey,

Book cover of The War Beat, Pacific: The American Media at War Against Japan

What is my book about?

The definitive history of American war reporting in the Pacific theater of World War II, from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After almost two years slogging with infantrymen through North Africa, Italy, and France, Ernie Pyle immediately realized he was ill-prepared for covering the Pacific War. As Pyle and other war correspondents discovered, the climate, the logistics, and the sheer scope of the Pacific theater had no parallel in the war America was fighting in Europe.

The War Beat, Pacific shows how foreign correspondents ran up against practical challenges and risked their lives to get stories in a theater that was far more challenging than the war against Nazi Germany, while the US government blocked news of the war against Japan and tried to focus the home front on Hitler and his atrocities.

The Quiet American

By Graham Greene,

Book cover of The Quiet American

I was born during the Vietnam War. I have a dim memory of watching the evacuation of Saigon on TV. Some of my friends had older brothers, or uncles, or fathers who fought. We all knew the war was a mistake, a terrible miscalculation by “warmongers” and “imperialists.” What Graham Greene’s sad, gripping novel shows is how that mistakewhich killed at least 1.3 million Vietnamesewasn’t made despite America’s good intentions but because of them. The unshakable belief that America is a force for good in the world leads directly to the arrogance that got us into the war and refused to let us get out. The entire novel takes place before the war really started, so you watch events unfold with a new and personal appreciation of how it happened, and the sinking feeling of not being able to stop the inevitable.


Who am I?

Growing up in a comfortable suburb, I was never encouraged to examine my privilege or to ask questions about our country’s social and economic arrangements. I knew shockingly little about U.S. history beyond the triumphalist narratives of great men and military victories; the dark side of that history usually came in footnotes, and always with the implication that our country’s sins are mere aberrations from its good intentions. I had to learn the most important truths about our history from literature, which shows us the impact that events have on individuals, painting a fuller picture of how America became the country it is, and the terrible price so many people have had to pay.


I wrote...

The Gringa

By Andrew Altschul,

Book cover of The Gringa

What is my book about?

Leonora Gelb came to Peru to make a difference. A passionate and idealistic Stanford graduate, she left a life of privilege to fight poverty and oppression, but her beliefs are tested when she falls in with violent revolutionaries. While death squads and informants roam the streets of Lima, and suspicion festers among the comrades, Leonora plans a decisive act of protest—until her capture in a bloody government raid, and a sham trial that sends her to prison for life.

Inspired by the real-life story of Lori Berenson, who spent fifteen years in a military prison following her conviction on terrorist charges, The Gringa maps the blurred boundaries between fact and fiction, author and text, resistance and extremism. 

You Don't Belong Here

By Elizabeth Becker,

Book cover of You Don't Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War

These three women journalists broke the barrier of women reporting on war. All were different in terms of background and approach, but all were gutsy and told the story from a different perspective than their male colleagues. Given they were reporting in the 1960s, there were overt barriers that each faced to doing what they loved, whether those were rules about women’s presence on the frontlines or norms about what kind of reporting women should do. In each of their own ways, they broke down those barriers and gave us all fresh, important reporting on the conflict in Vietnam.

Who am I?

I grew up in an Italian-American, Catholic household. Early in life, I was told I couldn’t be an altar boy. When I asked my mom why, she told me that girls weren’t altar boys…that seemed ridiculous to me and it started me on a lifelong journey of advocating for the rights of women and girls. I have built a career out of pushing for better laws and policies to provide women the same opportunities and resources as men. I’ve served as Chief of Staff to two U.S. Senators on Capitol Hill, General Counsel in the Executive Branch, and in senior leadership in the non-profit sector.


I wrote...

Take Action: Fighting for Women & Girls

By Stephenie Foster,

Book cover of Take Action: Fighting for Women & Girls

What is my book about?

Take Action: Fighting for Women and Girls is a well-sourced and important toolkit covering advocacy & activism, with specific information about four issues related to girls, women, and gender equality—the power and importance of education, expanding economic opportunities, eliminating gender-based violence and participating in politics and public life. Filled with loads of tangible resources—such as specific questions to ask, ideas for identifying decision makers, influencers, and organizations that can help, books and movies that inspire action…

Would-be activists will start their work, stay focused and goal-oriented and make positive change in the world, while finding themselves referring back to this guide again and again.

Dispatches

By Michael Herr,

Book cover of Dispatches

As a Vietnam veteran, teacher of war literature, and writer, I am disappointed that I never interviewed Michael Herr. I can only imagine what such an encounter might have been like with this larger-than-life figure, at least the persona (adrenaline junky, reporter on drugs) found in this fragmented collection of war reportage. With its New Journalistic style and content, the sensory-overload writing might be best described as a collection of literary illumination rounds (their underlying message—war is hell and addictive). As a freelance journalist, Herr arrived in Vietnam wanting to reveal the large ugly truths about the war, which he succeeds in doing, but I find the soldiers’ personal war stories more gripping and truthful. For me and even Herr, the real surprise is that this book ultimately chronicles the author’s own war story of innocence lost: the anti-war reporter becomes just as addicted to war as some of his…


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. 

The Canal House

By Mark Lee,

Book cover of The Canal House

Okay, this fine novel is only partially set in Africa, in Uganda, where intrepid fictional journalist Daniel McFarland treks into the jungles to find and interview the leader of a rebel group based on the Lords Resistance Army. Told from the vantage point of world-weary photographer Nicky Bettencourt, the action later shift to East Timor during the fight for independence against Indonesia. This novel comes as close as any to describe the real lives of foreign correspondents — the unnecessary risks, the loneliness of life lived constantly on the road. It’s beautifully written, a good read, and reeks of authenticity.

Who am I?

I’ve been a journalist since high school and I spent 33 years as a reporter for The Washington Post, mostly as a foreign correspondent based in Asia, Africa, and Paris. My book Out Of America chronicled my three years as a correspondent in Africa during some of its most tumultuous events, the Somalia intervention, and the Rwanda genocide. I’ve always thought a well-crafted novel often captures a place or a time better than nonfiction — books like The Quiet American about the Vietnam War, and The Year of Living Dangerously about Indonesia. I now teach a university course on The Role of the Journalist in Popular Fiction, Film and Comics.


I wrote...

Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa

By Keith B. Richburg,

Book cover of Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa

What is my book about?

Keith B. Richburg was an experienced and respected reporter who had paid his dues covering urban neighborhoods in Washington D.C. and won praise for his coverage of Southeast Asia. But nothing prepared him for the personal odyssey that he would embark upon when he was assigned to cover Africa. In this powerful book, Richburg takes the reader on an extraordinary journey that sweeps from Somalia to Rwanda to Zaire and finally to South Africa. He shows how he came to terms with the divide within himself: between his African racial heritage and his American cultural identity. Are these really my people? Am I truly an African-American?

The answer, Richburg finds, after much soul-searching, is that no, he is not an African, but an American first and foremost.

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