The most recommended books about war crimes

Who picked these books? Meet our 18 experts.

18 authors created a book list connected to war crimes, and here are their favorite war crime books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

What type of war crime book?

Loading...
Loading...

Book cover of Black Hearts: One Platoon's Descent Into Madness in Iraq's Triangle of Death

Jessica Scott Author Of A Soldier's Promise: A Coming Home Anthology

From my list on the Iraq War that go beyond bullets.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a soldier, an author, and an army wife – the last fifteen years of my life have revolved around dealing with the fallout of the Iraq war, not only for my family but also as a soldier and a veteran. I write books because I wanted to read about people who stayed in the military after the war started. The best writing advice I ever got came from Robyn Carr who said, write the book that only you can tell. Wrestling with the legacy of a war that we as soldiers did not choose as we return home was something I deeply wanted to understand, both as an army officer and a novelist.

Jessica's book list on the Iraq War that go beyond bullets

Jessica Scott Why did Jessica love this book?

This is a book about failure – leadership failure from every echelon.

I hesitated to ever read this book about horrific war crimes committed by American soldiers because I absolutely did not want to see “them” as “us”. What I found instead was a systematic failure of the Army from every echelon that enabled these men to slip free of the bonds of civilization and become the embodiment of humanity’s worst impulses.

The soldier who reported them was nearly murdered as a traitor. This book speaks to the burden that those who come forward carry – and how men become monsters.

I don’t know if the men who committed that horrible atrocity were ever good men who the war made evil nor do I care – but what Frederick has shown in this book is the systematic unraveling of a platoon’s ties back to what made them human and the…

By Jim Frederick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black Hearts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the story of a small group of soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division’s fabled 502nd Infantry Regiment—a unit known as “the Black Heart Brigade.” Deployed in late 2005 to Iraq’s so-called Triangle of Death, a veritable meat grinder just south of Baghdad, the Black Hearts found themselves in arguably the country’s most dangerous location at its most dangerous time.

Hit by near-daily mortars, gunfire, and roadside bomb attacks, suffering from a particularly heavy death toll, and enduring a chronic breakdown in leadership, members of one Black Heart platoon—1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion—descended, over their year-long tour of…


Book cover of We Won’t Go: Personal Accounts of War Objectors

Patrick Parr Author Of One Week in America: The 1968 Notre Dame Literary Festival and a Changing Nation

From my list on America in 1968.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a literary historian and I love reconstructing times in the past with enough factual detail that a reader feels as if they are there with the characters, side-by-side. I didn’t start this way. In fact, I wrote fiction for over a decade. It was only after writing eight atrocious, tension-less, now-in-a-box novels that I realized the books I enjoyed reading most were in the history and biography sections of a bookstore. Still, I was undeniably affected by my years in the trenches of fiction writing. As you may see from my choices, I love reading material from writers attempting to check the pulse of the country at that time. 

Patrick's book list on America in 1968

Patrick Parr Why did Patrick love this book?

We Won’t Go is a treasure trove of primary document material combined with personal accounts of regular American citizens objecting to the war in Vietnam. Instead of understanding the issue at a surface level, the stories Lynd collected help us understand the kind of arguments objectors had not just with the government, but also with each other. “If we try to avoid arrest,” wrote one conscientious objector, “or are content to let our friends be arrested instead of ourselves, we hand over to the government the key to deter everyone by jailing a few.” Whether you agree or not, Lynd’s book will give you a variety of perspectives on the issue, along with the actual ‘conscientious objector’ application.

By Alice Lynd,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We Won’t Go as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the back of the book: "We Won't Go is a collection of accounts by men confronted with the dilemma of conscience which military service poses. In addition to the accounts of these war registers, We Won't Go contains the full text of the Seeger decision, a copy of the application for conscientious objector status, a selection of documents related to war crimes, and a list of sources of information for those who are faced with the problem of the draft."


Book cover of Choices Under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II

M. Girard Dorsey Author Of Holding Their Breath: How the Allies Confronted the Threat of Chemical Warfare in World War II

From my list on World War II that make you wonder.

Why am I passionate about this?

Imagine World War II—with frequent chemical warfare attacks on cities and battlefields. Before and during World War II, laypeople and leaders held the widespread conviction that poison gas would be used in the next big war more destructively than in World War I. Churchill considered using gas if Germany invaded Britain. Roosevelt promised retaliation if the Axis used gas. Canada tested gas in Alberta’s fields. Fear and preparation for gas attacks permeated multiple countries, from laypeople to the top, from civilians to the military, but few talk about it. This is a hidden story of World War II, but one worth knowing. Just the threat of gas influenced the conflict.

M.'s book list on World War II that make you wonder

M. Girard Dorsey Why did M. love this book?

Bess is a tough taskmaster. He looks at twelve historical decisions and events in World War II and asks if the actors did the right thing. Did they behave morally, or could they have done better? He offers his own views, provides background, and raises questions to give readers a chance to develop theirs. 

Some events are well known—such as dropping the atomic bombs—but Bess asks the reader to look at kamikazes, war crimes trials, appeasement, and alliances with Stalin in novel ways. After reading Bess’s chapters, it can feel like you are learning about a new war. The answers to his queries are complex, but I feel like I have come to a thoughtful and informed conclusion at the end of each chapter.

By Michael Bess,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Choices Under Fire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

World War II was the quintessential “good war.” It was not, however, a conflict free of moral ambiguity, painful dilemmas, and unavoidable compromises. Was the bombing of civilian populations in Germany and Japan justified? Were the Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes trials legally scrupulous? What is the legacy bequeathed to the world by Hiroshima? With wisdom and clarity, Michael Bess brings a fresh eye to these difficult questions and others, arguing eloquently against the binaries of honor and dishonor, pride and shame, and points instead toward a nuanced reckoning with one of the most pivotal conflicts in human history.


Book cover of One Left

Peipei Qiu Author Of Chinese Comfort Women: Testimonies from Imperial Japan's Sex Slaves

From my list on comfort women enslaved by the Japanese military.

Why am I passionate about this?

A professor of Chinese and Japanese, Asian Studies, and Women’s Studies at Vassar College, my research has focused on the cross-cultural fertilization between Chinese and Japanese literary traditions. I’ve published widely on the subject, including a book, Bashô and the Dao: The Zhuangzi and the Transformation of Haikai. I began research on the “comfort women”—victims of Imperial Japan’s military sexual slavery during the Asia Pacific War (1931-1945)—in 2002  when working with a Vassar student on her thesis about the “comfort women” redress movement. Since then, I’ve worked closely with Chinese researchers and local volunteers,  interviewing the eyewitnesses and survivors of the Japanese military “comfort stations” in China, and visiting the now-defunct sites.

Peipei's book list on comfort women enslaved by the Japanese military

Peipei Qiu Why did Peipei love this book?

The novel One Left begins when the elderly protagonist hears a TV report on the last surviving Korean “comfort woman.” She is in fact also a comfort station survivor, one who has remained silent and hence unknown to the public. At the age of thirteen, she was kidnapped into a Japanese military comfort station in northeast China. The protagonist's thoughts flash back and forth between her present-day life and the wartime horrors, the details of which are drawn from  real survivors’ testimonies. “Fifteen men a day was normal,” she recalls, “but on Sunday fifty men or more might come and go from a girl.” “If a girl got pregnant, her uterus was removed fetus and all as a preventive measure.” It is a difficult read, but necessary, moving, and profound. 

By Kim Soom, Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked One Left as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During the Pacific War, more than 200,000 Korean girls were forced into sexual servitude for Japanese soldiers. They lived in horrific conditions in "comfort stations" across Japanese-occupied territories. Barely 10 percent survived to return to Korea, where they lived as social outcasts. Since then, self-declared comfort women have come forward only to have their testimonies and calls for compensation largely denied by the Japanese government.

Kim Soom tells the story of a woman who was kidnapped at the age of thirteen while gathering snails for her starving family. The horrors of her life as a sex slave follow her back…


Book cover of Balkan Justice: The Story Behind the First International War Crimes Trial Since Nuremberg

Naomi Roht-Arriaza Author Of The Pinochet Effect: Transnational Justice in the Age of Human Rights

From my list on bringing dictators and evil men to justice.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in part in Chile, and when the Pinochet dictatorship started killing and torturing people, I wanted to do something about it. Years later, as a professor of international law, I helped countries figure out what to do after mass atrocities. Seeing how trials in other countries – or in international criminal courts – could break through barriers and make it possible to bring those who killed, tortured, or disappeared thousands of people to justice gave me hope. I wanted to tell the stories of the brave people who overcame the odds to do justice, in a readable and exciting way that also explained the legal and political issues involved. 

Naomi's book list on bringing dictators and evil men to justice

Naomi Roht-Arriaza Why did Naomi love this book?

Slobodan Milosevic’s trial by the first post-Cold War international court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, required the creation of a whole new court and set of procedures, and established many of the current rules on trying war crimes and crimes against humanity. There’s a lot written on the ICTY, but I like Scharf’s book because he tells the backstories, explains the different choices that the court could have made, and makes for a fascinating read.

By Michael P. Scharf,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Balkan Justice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book is about the First International War Crime Trial since Nuremberg. Balkan Justice provides the inside story of the United Nations Yugoslavia War Crimes Tribunal charged with conducting the first international war crimes trials since World War11.


Book cover of The Sun Climbs Slow: Justice in the Age of Imperial America

Judith Armatta Author Of Twilight of Impunity: The War Crimes Trial of Slobodan Milosevic

From my list on war crimes trials and international justice.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a tired activist and recovering attorney. My professional focus on violence and humanity’s response to it began when, as a seven-year-old, the nuns at my Catholic school showed us newsreels of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps. This led me to adopt as my life’s guiding principle Julian Beck’s admonition “to redeem our share of the universal cruelty.” After 20 years in the U.S. Violence Against Women Movement, I absconded to the former Yugoslavia and found myself in the middle of a war during which I ran a war crimes documentation project (memoir in progress). I later reported on the international war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic.

Judith's book list on war crimes trials and international justice

Judith Armatta Why did Judith love this book?

I’m drawn to inconvenient truths and Canadian Erna Paris reveals them in exceptionally readable prose. Paris discusses why it took more than fifty years to establish a permanent International Criminal Court to try war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. She examines the reasons for U.S. opposition to the permanent International Criminal Court established in 2002, identifies U.S. officials who worked to undermine efforts to develop the ICC, exposes the real reasons they did so, and debunks the official position of protecting US soldiers.

By Erna Paris,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sun Climbs Slow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A powerful investigation of the story and individuals behind America’s refusal to acknowledge international law and an inquiry into the urgent role of international criminal justice from the award-winning, bestselling author of Long Shadows.

In this groundbreaking investigation, Erna Paris explores the history of global justice, the politics behind America’s opposition to the creation of a permanent international criminal court, and the implications for the world at large.

At the end of the twentieth century, two extraordinary events took place. The first was the end of the Cold War, which left the world with a single empire that dominated global…


Book cover of Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File

Jo Scott-Coe Author Of Unheard Witness: The Life and Death of Kathy Leissner Whitman

From my list on nonfiction that reclaim lost history or silenced voices.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a book lover and as a nonfiction writer and researcher, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that a book is truly a portal that can connect people across time and space. I’m a Catholic (stray) by education and tradition, and for me this interconnectivity resonates with the familiar theology of the communion of saints. Whether you are religious or not, if you love words, there is something rather miraculous about how language, past and present, from authors living and dead, can connect and surprise us and spark new conversations even with those yet to be born. You never know who may need to hear what you are putting on the page. 

Jo's book list on nonfiction that reclaim lost history or silenced voices

Jo Scott-Coe Why did Jo love this book?

I have admired Wideman for many years. As a writer, he is a virtuoso in multiple forms, making room to confront violence and racism without offering readers trite or false resolutions.

I appreciate how he keeps calling back to the themes and subjects of earlier work. His essay, “Looking at Emmett Till” (originally published in Issue 19 of Creative Nonfiction), grappled with his recollections of 1955 as a 14-year-old teenager, the same age as Emmett Till when he was lynched and murdered.

Writing to Save a Life builds upon this work, tracing a parallel history of Till’s father, Louis, and Wideman’s journey to confront official documents of Louis’s prosecution and hanging during his service in World War II. Here as in so much of his writing, Wideman chooses a unique structure for the book, braiding his own reflections on injustice into the documentary material. 

Book cover of City of Blades

Catherine Lundoff Author Of Silver Moon: A Wolves of Wolf's Point Novel

From my list on fantasy tales about women over 40.

Why am I passionate about this?

I started writing a series about menopausal werewolves eleven years ago, right before my fiftieth birthday. I wanted to see more women like me in science fiction and fantasy: middle-aged and older women who had led full lives but were still up for more adventure, new worlds, eager to see what came next. I also started a bibliography project on older women protagonists in speculative fiction and began proposing and speaking on convention programming about older women in the genre. We’ve had a lot of great discussions and agree that the needle is slowly moving toward more and better representation. I’m thrilled to be a part of that.

Catherine's book list on fantasy tales about women over 40

Catherine Lundoff Why did Catherine love this book?

General Turyin Mulaghesh is on the brink of retiring to her long dreamt of remote island post where she can lay around on a beach, getting happily drunk with a beautiful young man or two and do as little as possible.

But she’s a legendary hero of the Saypuri Republic, or perhaps a war criminal, depending on which side of the many battles that she’s fought you were on. So instead, she gets pushed into one last mission, one that has her confronting the deeds of her past and, possibly, getting a shot at redemption.

She is cynical and sweary and has done terrible things, as well as good ones and, at least for me, is one of the most relatable older women in fantasy. 

By Robert Jackson Bennett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked City of Blades as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A triumphant return to the world of City of Stairs.
 
A generation ago, the city of Voortyashtan was the stronghold of the god of war and death, the birthplace of fearsome supernatural sentinels who killed and subjugated millions.
 
Now, the city’s god is dead. The city itself lies in ruins. And to its new military occupiers, the once-powerful capital is a wasteland of sectarian violence and bloody uprisings.
 
So it makes perfect sense that General Turyin Mulaghesh— foul-mouthed hero of the battle of Bulikov, rumored war criminal, ally of an embattled Prime Minister—has been exiled there to count down the…


Book cover of A Gallant Company: The Men of the Great Escape

Marc H. Stevens Author Of Escape, Evasion and Revenge

From my list on POW escape books of World War 2.

Why am I passionate about this?

My father, Squadron Leader Peter Stevens MC, died in 1979, when I was 22 years old, before I'd had the chance to speak with him man-to-man about his war. I later began researching his wartime exploits, which would consume a good part of 18 years of my life. I initially had no intention of writing a book; I just wanted to find the original document that recommended him for the Military Cross. I finally located it in Britain's National Archives in 2006. Along the way, I discovered that my father had actually been born a German Jew (he had told his immediate family in Canada that he was British and Anglican), and that some 15-20 family members had been murdered in the Holocaust. Further research showed that Dad had been the ONLY German-Jewish bomber pilot in the RAF, and that he had been the object of a country-wide manhunt by the British Police as a possible enemy spy. 

Marc's book list on POW escape books of World War 2

Marc H. Stevens Why did Marc love this book?

While Paul Brickhill's book was written by someone who was actually there during the escape, it is incomplete by necessity, since Brickhill was not himself privy to all of the secrets behind the scenes.  Professor Vance's book required a great deal of painstaking research to uncover the whole story of this most famous escape of World War 2. Brickhill's book gives the basics, Vance's gives every last minute detail.


By Jonathan Franklin William Vance,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Gallant Company as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A GALLANT COMPANY goes beyond the bestselling Great Escape by Paul Brickhill and tells the only full and complete account of the dramatic escape of Allied airmen from Stalag Luft III in World War II that was the basis for the hit movie The Great Escape starring Steve McQueen. Stalag Luft III was a specially built German prison camp designed to hold the most determined escapers - officers and men from the RAF. Their spectacularly daring escape plan was on an awe-inspiring scale: 650 prisoners working for an entire year to build the longest and most sophisticated tunnel under a…


Book cover of One Man's Justice

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

From my list on knowing your enemy.

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

Zachary's book list on knowing your enemy

Zachary Shore Why did Zachary love this book?

Set in the years immediately following Japan’s surrender in WWII, this less well-known novel offers insight into how some Japanese soldiers saw their behavior: not as war criminals, but as acting in retaliation for American bombing raids. The story should not be read as an exoneration of Japanese atrocities, but rather as a window into the much larger problem of understanding an enemy’s perspective. Warning: this perspective shift is sure to make you uncomfortable, forcing you to revisit some assumptions about the “Good War.” 

By Akira Yoshimura,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked One Man's Justice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been destroyed. Japan is in ruins and occupied by the Americans.

Takuya, an ex-officer in the Imperial Army, has returned to his native village only to learn that the Occupation authorities are intensifying their efforts to apprehend suspected war criminals. And those who are found guilty are being sentenced to death.

Fearing that his role in the execution of a number of American pilots, Takuya takes to the road and becomes a fugitive in his own country.

One Man's Justice is both a reflection on the murky reality of war and a page-turning novel of pursuit…