The best books about the Western Front in World War I

8 authors have picked their favorite books about the Western Front (WW1) and why they recommend each book.

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The Swordbearers

By Correlli Barnett,

Book cover of The Swordbearers: Supreme Command in the First World War

Published almost sixty years ago, this compelling study of four senior commanders who served (mostly) on the Western Front remains as fresh as when it was first written. Barnett’s prose is exquisite, bringing us directly into the world of Helmuth von Moltke, John Jellicoe, Philippé Pétain, and Erich Ludendorff, telling us how they coped (or not) with the enormous stresses and strains they encountered as ‘supreme commanders’. It is a stunning portrait of men (and their command systems) at war. 


Who am I?

Nick Lloyd is Professor of Modern Warfare at King's College London, based at the Defence Academy UK in Shrivenham, Wiltshire. He is the author of five books, including Passchendaele: A New History, which was a Sunday Times bestseller, and most recently, The Western Front: A History of the First World War. He lives with his family in Cheltenham.


I wrote...

The Western Front: A History of the Great War, 1914-1918

By Nick Lloyd,

Book cover of The Western Front: A History of the Great War, 1914-1918

What is my book about?

A panoramic history of the savage combat on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918 that came to define modern warfare.

The Western Front evokes images of mud-spattered men in waterlogged trenches, shielded from artillery blasts and machine-gun fire by a few feet of dirt. This iconic setting was the most critical arena of the Great War, a 400-mile combat zone stretching from Belgium to Switzerland where more than three million Allied and German soldiers struggled during four years of almost continuous combat. It has persisted in our collective memory as a tragic waste of human life and a symbol of the horrors of industrialized warfare.

Paul Nash

By David Boyd Haycock,

Book cover of Paul Nash: Outline, An Autobiography

Nash never managed to finish his autobiography, and it was originally published with notes, letters and fragments edited into the second half to attempt to complete his story. This new edition adds his wife Margaret’s Memoirs of Paul Nash, 1913-1946, from a surviving type manuscript held at the Tate, to add many more colours and details to this fascinating portrait of an artist and his genius loci – sense of place. I’d also recommend James King’s biography Interior Landscapes.


Who am I?

I spent two years researching and creating the graphic novel Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash for the 14-18Now Foundations WW1 centenary art commissions, and then touring a live permanence work evolved from the book. We grew up a few miles from each other, and he convalesced after the war where I live now, and I share his sense of place, and we appear to have shared many life experiences, with the obvious exception being his time in the trenches - that was the huge black hole I tried to understand with this work.


I wrote...

Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash

By Dave McKean,

Book cover of Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash

What is my book about?

Known for his collaborations with Neil Gaiman, David Almond, Heston Blumenthal and Richard Dawkins, Dave McKean defied expectations with his stunning debut as writer and artist in Cages, winner of multiple awards for Best Graphic Album. Dark Horse proudly presents an original graphic novel by the legendary artist based on the life of Paul Nash, a young artist and officer during World War I, finding his voice and his social conscience in the trenches in Ypres. Black Dog; The Dreams of Paul Nash fuses real soldiers’ memoirs and Nash's life and work, becoming a moving evocation of how the extremities of war change us and how we deal with the resultant shock—in Nash’s case, by turning his landscapes into powerful and dreamlike 'psychoscapes'.

The Marne, 1914

By Holger H. Herwig,

Book cover of The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I and the Battle That Changed the World

Holger Herwig sheds new light on the Battle of the Marne (September 1914) in his exhaustively researched, yet fast-paced and readable account. For English readers, the Marne does not always gain the attention it deserves (British participation being relatively minor), but Herwig shows just how terrible the fighting was and why the French were able to snatch victory ‘from the jaws of defeat’. Because Herwig was able to utilise both German and French sources, it presents a fully rounded, three-dimensional portrait of one of the most decisive battles of the modern world, which ended Germany’s hopes of victory in the west in 1914. 


Who am I?

Nick Lloyd is Professor of Modern Warfare at King's College London, based at the Defence Academy UK in Shrivenham, Wiltshire. He is the author of five books, including Passchendaele: A New History, which was a Sunday Times bestseller, and most recently, The Western Front: A History of the First World War. He lives with his family in Cheltenham.


I wrote...

The Western Front: A History of the Great War, 1914-1918

By Nick Lloyd,

Book cover of The Western Front: A History of the Great War, 1914-1918

What is my book about?

A panoramic history of the savage combat on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918 that came to define modern warfare.

The Western Front evokes images of mud-spattered men in waterlogged trenches, shielded from artillery blasts and machine-gun fire by a few feet of dirt. This iconic setting was the most critical arena of the Great War, a 400-mile combat zone stretching from Belgium to Switzerland where more than three million Allied and German soldiers struggled during four years of almost continuous combat. It has persisted in our collective memory as a tragic waste of human life and a symbol of the horrors of industrialized warfare.

Matterhorn

By Karl Marlantes,

Book cover of Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

Karl Marlantes' deeply personal and gritty account of combat in Vietnam is rivaled only by Eugene Sledge’s Pacific War classic With the Old Breed. Filled with action, emotion, and inner reflection, Matterhorn sweeps the reader along with a Marine platoon plunging into the dark and dangerous jungle where seasoned guerrillas and North Vietnamese Army troops seek to destroy them. The author Karl Marlantes, a Yale graduate, left his Rhodes scholarship to go on active duty with the Marines in Vietnam.

Who am I?

After retiring from academic medicine, I moved to the ocean and learned of WWII Japanese submarine and balloon bomb attacks on Oregon. With extensive research, consultation, and trips to Europe, Latin America, and Asia, I have now published three historical fiction novels on Amazon: Enemy in the Mirror: Love and Fury in the Pacific War, The Osprey and the Sea Wolf: The Battle of the Atlantic 1942, and Night Fire Morning Snow: The Road to Chosin. My website is intended to promote understanding of America and her enemies in wartime.


I wrote...

Night Fire Morning Snow: The Road to Chosin

By Mark Scott Smith,

Book cover of Night Fire Morning Snow: The Road to Chosin

What is my book about?

In 1941 a Korean medical student, chafing under Japanese colonial rule, joins guerrillas fighting the Imperial Japanese Army in Manchuria. In 1944 a young American GI fights the Japanese in New Guinea. Both men suffer great personal losses before returning to their private lives after the war with Imperial Japan. Just as they each attain happy relationships and satisfying careers, war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula. Now two men who fought a common enemy in the Pacific War become enemies. Their paths crisscross and ultimately converge at the tragic battle of the Chosin Reservoir.

Rites of Spring

By Modris Eksteins,

Book cover of Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age

Another timeless classic. Inspired by Fussell’s The Great War in Modern Memory, Modris Eksteins produced a daring new attempt to explain the First World War in cultural terms over a decade later. Rites of Spring took analysis of the cultural meaning of the war in another direction in terms of understanding what was true and how such understandings impacted the material world. Whereas Fussell had shown how Anglophone culture had been changed by the war, Eksteins implied that the artistic imagination was in some sense responsible for the war. Whereas Fussell focused upon memoirists who had fought, Eksteins chose to emphasise someone who had fictionalized his experience. He presented the emotional truths relayed in Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 bestseller All Quiet on the Western Front as being of more significance than any set of “facts”. For Eksteins, the war marked the point in human development when Art “had become…

Who am I?

Joy Porter is an Irish writer who grew up in war (The Troubles). She is intrigued by how we relate to one another culturally and by what makes peace and conflict happen. She researches Indigenous, environmental, and diplomatic themes in an interdisciplinary context and co-leads the Treatied Spaces Research Group at The University of Hull. U.K. Fascinated by the mind, by what makes us love, persevere, transcend and escape the legacies of conflict, her work exposes how culture impacts the world.


I wrote...

Trauma, Primitivism and the First World War: The Making of Frank Prewett

By Joy Porter,

Book cover of Trauma, Primitivism and the First World War: The Making of Frank Prewett

What is my book about?

This book examines the extraordinary life of Frank “Toronto” Prewett and the history of trauma, literary expression, and the power of self-representation after WWI. Joy Porter sheds new light on how the First World War affected the Canadian poet, and how war-induced trauma or “shell-shock” caused him to pretend to be an Indigenous North American. It investigates his influence upon, and acceptance by, some of the most significant literary figures of the time, including Siegfried Sassoon, Edmund Blunden, Wilfred Owen, and Robert Graves.

In doing so, it skilfully connects a number of historiographies that usually exist in isolation and rarely meet. By bringing together a history of the WWI era, early twentieth-century history, Indigenous history, the history of literature, and the history of class, it crafts an exceptional and fresh contribution to the field.

All Quiet on the Western Front

By Erich Maria Remarque, Arthur Wesley Wheen (translator),

Book cover of All Quiet on the Western Front

I discovered this classic First World War novel in a bookcase in our crowded basement rec room when I was eleven. I read from it anytime I went down there, and it really impressed itself upon my consciousness and helped inspire me to (eventually) write my own modern war story. In it, Paul Baumer, a sensitive German high school student and patriot, joins the German Army at the behest of a patriotic teacher, and he soon finds himself embroiled in the chaos and carnage of the Western Front. There is no plot, really, just the story of a young man being hardened into a soldier in the worst possible conditions, losing friends on a daily basis, and in the end just trying to survive until the impending armistice. 


Who am I?

War has interested–and frightened–me ever since I was a little boy in the latter-day stages of the Cold War, when I learned that the fate of the world depended on a couple of old men who, to paraphrase Carl Sagan, were standing knee-deep in gasoline and holding lit matches. From then I sought to learn about war, why and how it occurs, and what pushes people to fight. I knew from a young age that I was going to become a novelist, and that one of my novels (my first one, it turns out) was going to be about war. The following books helped me in writing Beckoning War.


I wrote...

A Beckoning War

By Matthew Murphy,

Book cover of A Beckoning War

What is my book about?

Captain Jim McFarlane, a Canadian infantry officer, is coming apart at the seams. It’s September 1944, in Italy, and the allied armies are closing in on the retreating Axis powers. Exhausted and lost, Jim tries to command his combat company under fire while waiting desperately for letters from his wife Marianne. Joining the army not out of some admirable patriotic sentiments but rather because of his own failings and restlessness, he finds himself fighting in a war that is far from glorious.

Farley Mowat based his beautiful and wrenching anti-war memoir, And No Birds Sang, on the Italian campaign in World War II. Now with echoes of war ringing again, Matthew Murphy has taken the same campaign to tell a story of love and war, brilliantly capturing our ambiguous relationship to war. 

A Killing for the Hawks

By Frederick E. Smith,

Book cover of A Killing for the Hawks

Smith served in WW2 in the RAF and is more famous for his 633 Squadron series set in WW2, which coincidentally is one of the best WW2 flying movies. The flying scenes are as good as they get, the aircraft details and performance are accurate, the plot twisting, and the love relationships are…complicated. But in this book, you will identify with the hero and find yourself rooting for him as he battles Germans in the air and an enemy in his own squadron while on the ground. Gripping and fast-moving.


Who am I?

My father was a pilot in WW2 and I learned to fly in Africa when I was 17. Subsequently I flew biplanes, some of them like the ones in these books, made of wood, glue, and fabric. Since childhood, I've been fascinated by flying in WW1. It was a time of incredible change. The dawn of aviation, when designers and pilots barely understood what they were doing. Biographies written at the time are typically laconic, “emotionally repressed” might be modern. So these novels help us understand today some of those stresses and joys of these remarkable adventurers who dared to undertake what mankind had never done before; fight in the heavens.


I wrote...

Knights of the Air, Book 1: Rage

By Iain Stewart,

Book cover of Knights of the Air, Book 1: Rage

What is my book about?

Action, loyalty, valor, and blood make Stewart’s series kicker in the Knights of the Air series a remarkable historical novelA sharp and effective blend of WWI aviation action and adventure, a hefty dose of emotion and human drama, plus a dash of romance keep the pages flying. Finely written and vividly imagined, this is a complex, gritty novel delving into the brutalities of war. Stewart is an author to watch." Bookview gold award

Hell's Bells and Mademoiselles

By Joe Maxwell,

Book cover of Hell's Bells and Mademoiselles: A True Story of Life, Love and Larrikinism on the Western Front

Joe Maxwell was an Australian Soldier in WW1 who wrote this story of his time in the 18th Battalion (same battalion as my Grandfather, Stan Dunkley). Chances are they knew each other. Joe wrote the story from his own perspective and told of his mates and the fun they had behind the lines. Interestingly, when it came to the actual fighting, he tended to write little; perhaps because it was too horrible to write about but his bravery is well documented. He was the only soldier of the 18th BN to win the Victoria Cross after single-handedly taking a German machine gun nest. He also had the rare distinction of fighting the entire war without gaining so much as a scratch. I highly recommend this for its personal account of one man’s experience.


Who am I?

I’m an author, radio broadcaster, journalist, and podcaster. I’ve been in the media for almost 40 years. Oddly, writing came to me very late but it hit me light a lightning bolt when it happened. I researched my Grandfather’s time on the Western Front in WW1 after discovering a letter he wrote to a friend. That was the moment I knew I had to write a book. My career has taken me from rock n roll radio to talkback in Commercial, Public, and now Community radio in Australia. I love what I do, but most of all, I just love telling stories to my audience, whatever the platform.


I wrote...

All I See Is Mud

By Andrew Dunkley,

Book cover of All I See Is Mud

What is my book about?

I was inspired to write this book after researching my grandfather’s (Stan Dunkley) time on the Western Front in Belgium and France. He was only 16 years old when he signed up, forging his father’s signature on a letter to gain permission. He joined the 18th Battalion and travelled from Sydney to England in 1917. After months of training, he was sent to the front and fought in some of the biggest battles of the war. This account is based on letters, diaries, and documents to put together a semi-factual account of his time on the Western Front. I did some deep research for this book; my aim was to put the reader in the trenches. The feedback I have received suggests that it is exactly how people felt.

Mr Standfast (1919).

By John Buchan,

Book cover of Mr Standfast (1919).

The most influential spy novelist of them all, John Buchan, had the Germans planning to disable the British army with anthrax germs. While an admittedly small part of all the various plots in the complex novel, Buchan’s Richard Hannay touched all the bases in the five books in which he starred. For another example, in 1924 The Three Hostages, international demigods stirred up trouble with brainwashing and hypnotism. This device was a popular weapon employed by the likes of Fu Manchu.


Who am I?

Dr. Wesley Britton is the author of four non-fiction books—Spy Television, Beyond Bond: Spies in Fiction and Film, Onscreen and Undercover: The Ultimate Book of Movie Espionage, and The Encyclopedia of TV Spies. He's also the author of eight Beta-Earth Chronicles sci-fi stories. For seven years, he was co-host of online radio’s Dave White Presents. He earned his doctorate in American Literature at the University of North Texas. In 2016 he retired from teaching English at Harrisburg Area Community College, after 33 years as an instructor. He lives with his wife, Grace, their dog Joey and their cat Molly in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Wesley also has a Radio show and podcast called Remember When.


I wrote...

Behind Alien Lines

By Wesley Britton,

Book cover of Behind Alien Lines

What is my book about?

Behind Alien Lines is a collection of short stories derived from the Beta Earth Chronicles. The same characters and adventures that you love. We take the genres of science fiction and spy thrillers and mash them together as SpyFi.

Brothers in Arms

By Paul Gough,

Book cover of Brothers in Arms: John and Paul Nash and the Aftermath of the Great War

A thoroughly researched visual study of two brothers, close and highly imaginative playmates as children, but then gradually divergent adults as they came to terms with their war experiences. John had a tougher war, yet seems to have been able to leave the horror behind as he embarked on a brighter, more decorative illustrative style. Paul would be haunted his entire life by shadows of death and depression, but would become one of this country's most important and powerful artists.


Who am I?

I spent two years researching and creating the graphic novel Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash for the 14-18Now Foundations WW1 centenary art commissions, and then touring a live permanence work evolved from the book. We grew up a few miles from each other, and he convalesced after the war where I live now, and I share his sense of place, and we appear to have shared many life experiences, with the obvious exception being his time in the trenches - that was the huge black hole I tried to understand with this work.


I wrote...

Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash

By Dave McKean,

Book cover of Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash

What is my book about?

Known for his collaborations with Neil Gaiman, David Almond, Heston Blumenthal and Richard Dawkins, Dave McKean defied expectations with his stunning debut as writer and artist in Cages, winner of multiple awards for Best Graphic Album. Dark Horse proudly presents an original graphic novel by the legendary artist based on the life of Paul Nash, a young artist and officer during World War I, finding his voice and his social conscience in the trenches in Ypres. Black Dog; The Dreams of Paul Nash fuses real soldiers’ memoirs and Nash's life and work, becoming a moving evocation of how the extremities of war change us and how we deal with the resultant shock—in Nash’s case, by turning his landscapes into powerful and dreamlike 'psychoscapes'.

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