The best World War 1 books

77 authors have picked their favorite books about World War 1 and why they recommend each book.

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Testament of Youth

By Vera Brittain,

Book cover of Testament of Youth

Just before World War I began, Vera Brittain finally got permission from her father to attend Oxford - then watched as her brother and all his friends went off to serve in the war. Vera left school to volunteer in the war herself, joining the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) as a nurse. Women in the VAD, like Brittain, largely had no medical backgrounds and learned their nursing skills on the job, trying - at times, frantically - to help put back the pieces as they watched the world shatter around them. Brittain's world was never the same, and her autobiography will give you a glimpse of World War I like you've never seen before.


Who am I?

I discovered women's history in college, and it's become a lifelong passion for me. I love uncovering women's history in my own writing, as a reader, and as a history teacher. When we study and read women's history, we see the world in new ways. I studied women's history for my PhD, and my book is all about womanpower in the U.S. military. In this list, I've used a broad definition of "womanpower," considering the various ways in which women have power or come into their power or strength as a person. I find books like these uplifting, and I'm always on the lookout for similar works.


I wrote...

Her Cold War: Women in the U.S. Military, 1945-1980

By Tanya Roth,

Book cover of Her Cold War: Women in the U.S. Military, 1945-1980

What is my book about?

While Rosie the Riveter had fewer paid employment options after being told to cede her job to returning World War II veterans, her sisters and daughters found new work opportunities in national defense. The 1948 Women’s Armed Services Integration Act created permanent military positions for women with the promise of equal pay. Her Cold War follows the experiences of women in the military from the passage of the Act to the early 1980s.

Tanya L. Roth shows us that the battles these servicewomen fought for equality paved the way for women in combat, a prerequisite for promotion to many leadership positions, and opened opportunities for other service people, including those with disabilities, LGBT, and gender-nonconforming people, noncitizens, and more.

The Beauty and the Sorrow

By Peter Englund,

Book cover of The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War

The Swedish historian stitches together diaries and letters from twenty unknown people - from a Hungarian cavalryman to a German schoolgirl, the American wife of a Polish aristocrat to an English nurse – to tell the history of the First World War as an epic tapestry, with dizzying novelistic shifts from banal human moments to a wide scope of political and military affairs. Riveting and emotional.


Who am I?

I dig deep for research for my novels and am entranced by history. It is the soil we grow from; without a sense of history, we have shallow roots. Many history books, however, are academic and tedious. Accounts by living witnesses – from interviews, letters, diaries – bring the past to life with vivid detail.


I wrote...

The Redeemed: The West Country Trilogy

By Tim Pears,

Book cover of The Redeemed: The West Country Trilogy

What is my book about?

It is 1916. The world has gone to war, and young Leo Sercombe, hauling coal aboard the HMS Queen Mary, is a long way from home. The wild, unchanging West Country roads of his boyhood seem very far away from life aboard a battlecruiser -- a universe of well-oiled steel, of smoke and spray and sweat, where death seems never more than a heartbeat away.

Before Enigma

By David Boyle,

Book cover of Before Enigma: The Room 40 Codebreakers of the First World War

This is a short punchy book that provides a great introduction to the topic of codebreaking in England during the Great War, giving a sweeping overview and then some entertaining and tantalizing stories about the people involved. At just over a hundred pages, this is a quick read that serves as a fun introduction to the topic.


Who am I?

Roseanna M. White is a historical fiction writer whose bestselling stories always seem to find their way to war, espionage, and intrigue. A fascination with her family’s heritage led her to tales set in Edwardian and Great War England, and she’s spent the last seven years studying that culture and how the era’s events intersected with things like faith, family, the arts, and social reforms. Of course, she does all this study and writing about war and mayhem from the safety of her home in West Virginia, where life is blessedly ordinary and no one expects her to actually crack any codes in order to survive...which is definitely a good thing.


I wrote...

The Number of Love

By Roseanna M. White,

Book cover of The Number of Love

What is my book about?

Three years into the Great War, England's greatest asset is their intelligence network--field agents risking their lives to gather information, and codebreakers able to crack every German telegram. Margot De Wilde thrives in the environment of the secretive Room 40, where she spends her days deciphering intercepted messages. But when her world is turned upside down by an unexpected loss, for the first time in her life numbers aren't enough.

A Rifleman Went to War

By Herbert Wes McBride,

Book cover of A Rifleman Went to War

An excellent narrative of the experiences of a Canadian infantry officer who served in France and Belgium from Sept. 1915 to April 1917. There is a lot of emphasis on the sniping weapons utilized by the Allied forces during the early part of the war.


Who am I?

I have written 13 books and over 200 national magazine articles on U.S. Military weapons and am Field Editor for the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine. The story of the World War II weapons and campaigns have been widely covered but the First World War is sometimes all but forgotten. Those who are not familiar with America’s rather brief, but important, role in the conflict often do not realize how the First World War helped make the United States one of the world’s “superpowers.”


I wrote...

U. S. Infantry Weapons of the First World War

By Bruce Canfield,

Book cover of U. S. Infantry Weapons of the First World War

What is my book about?

The definitive guide to U.S. infantry weapons of World War I. Best-selling author and arms expert Bruce N. Canfield gives you the inside scoop on everything that was carried into combat by the Army and Marines, including rifles, pistols, shotguns, automatic rifles, machine guns, bayonets, knives, grenades, mortars, flame throwers, and accessories. It's all in here! Filled with the kind of practical, "hands-on" advice and information that you will turn to again and again, with unique "collector's notes" that tell you what you need to know about markings, rarity, rebuilds, and fakes. Nowhere else will you find this amount of useful information under one cover - and it's complete with exciting combat reports describing how this equipment performed at the front!

The Doughboys

By Laurence Stallings,

Book cover of The Doughboys: The Story of the AEF, 1917-1918

Stallings was there, on the frontlines, fighting. He was wounded, lost a leg. He received the Croix de Guerre from the French government and the Silver Star and Purple Heart from his government. Reading his book, you’re right there with the first Americans landing in France and then following them and those who came after right up until the armistice on November 11, 1918. He also published an award-winning photographic history of the war, wrote a novel about his experiences and, in 1924, with playwright Maxwell Anderson, co-wrote the famous play that twice was turned into a movie, “What Price Glory.” If you want to know what World War I was like for America, it’s well worth the read.


Who am I?

Reading my great uncle’s war letters home to Kansas City and seeing his artwork—he was a magazine illustrator in civilian life and then editor of the 27th Empire Division’s magazine, Gas Attack—I knew, as a writer, I had to put his story down on paper. What his National Guard regiment did, the 107th, simply blew me away. From writing about what the 107th endured in the Great War, I was carried away to tackle the all-black 369th Regiment, famously known as Harlem’s Hell Fighters. I then had to tell the story of New York City’s most famous regiment, the Fighting 69th. My trilogy of New York’s National Guard in the war is now done.


I wrote...

Duty, Honor, Privilege: New York City's Silk Stocking Regiment and the Breaking of the Hindenburg Line

By Stephen L. Harris,

Book cover of Duty, Honor, Privilege: New York City's Silk Stocking Regiment and the Breaking of the Hindenburg Line

What is my book about?

On September 29, 1918, a regiment of volunteers from New York State, many of them rich boys from Manhattan, attacked the feared Hindenburg Line, one of the strongest defensive systems ever devised. At a frightful cost, suffering more killed on a single day than any other regiment in American history, they broke the enemy and helped conclude World War.

Dance of the Furies

By Michael Neiberg,

Book cover of Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I

This book provides a radically alternative perspective on what this event meant for ordinary people. Using a wide range of letters, diaries, and memoirs, Neiberg reveals that most people had no idea what the war was about and saw no good reason for it, while the soldiers were often confused as to whom they were fighting and which part of the world they were in. It is a short book but an enlightening read.


Who am I?

Adam Zamoyski is a British historian of Polish origin. He is the author of over a dozen award winning books. His family originates in Poland. His parents left the country when it was invaded by Germany and Russia in 1939, and were stranded in exile when the Soviets took it over at the end of World War II. Drawn to it as much by the historical processes at work there as by family ties, Zamoyski began to visit Poland in the late 1960s. His interest in the subject is combined with a feel for its connections to the history and culture of other nations, and a deep understanding of the pan-European context.


I wrote...

Warsaw 1920: Lenin’s Failed Conquest of Europe

By Adam Zamoyski,

Book cover of Warsaw 1920: Lenin’s Failed Conquest of Europe

What is my book about?

Zamoyski documents the dramatic and little-known story of how, in the summer of 1920, Lenin came within a hair's breadth of shattering the painstakingly constructed Versailles peace settlement and spreading Bolshevism to Western Europe.

Enduring the Great War

By Alexander Watson,

Book cover of Enduring the Great War: Combat, Morale and Collapse in the German and British Armies

Amid the industrial war of fire and fury, a key question remains on how the soldiers survived. Watson’s book explores the experience for British and German soldiers, drawing upon their letters and diaries. Enduring the Great War offers new ways to understand the war of the trenches, how morale was sustained, and it provides an inner portrait into the men who took in the grinding warfare.


Who am I?

Tim Cook is the Great War historian at the Canadian War Museum. Since 2002, he has curated the permanent First World War gallery of the CWM, which has been visited by an estimated 8 million people, and he has created many temporary, traveling, and digital exhibitions. He is also the author or editor of 13 books of Canadian military history. For his contributions to the study of Canadian history, he is a member of the Royal Society of Canada and the Order of Canada. He has selected five books that cover the scope of the war, from its origins to the legacy.


I wrote...

The Secret History of Soldiers: How Canadians Survived the Great War

By Tim Cook,

Book cover of The Secret History of Soldiers: How Canadians Survived the Great War

What is my book about?

Based on over twenty years of reading soldiers’ letters, diaries, and memoirs, this book explores the lives of Canadian soldiers in the trenches and behind the lines. It focuses on the unique soldiers’ culture of songs, trench newspapers, rumours, theatre, superstitions, ghost stories, and death culture that helped to shield soldiers from the unending strain of war and to bind them together in the face of the storm of steel.

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'.

All Quiet on the Home Front

By Richard Van Emden, Steve Humphries,

Book cover of All Quiet on the Home Front: An Oral History of Life in Britain During the First World War

Wonderfully readable, and full of first-hand accounts via interview and letter, this book tells you what it was really like for the people of Britain during WW1 – the rationing, the blackout, the Blitz, the shortages; how the women took over the men’s jobs, from driving railway engines to ploughing the fields; the emotional impact of dealing with the flood of wounded and the deaths; and the hardship and increasing mental problems as the war seemed never to be going to end.


Who am I?

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles is the author of the internationally acclaimed Morland Dynasty books. Five volumes of this comprehensive historical series focus on WW1, covering the military campaigns and the politics behind them. With the approach of the WW1 centennials, she was asked to write about the period again, this time from the point of view of the people who stayed at home. The result was the six-volume series, War At Home, which views the war from a more personal perspective, through the eyes of the fictional Hunter family, their servants, and friends.


I wrote...

Goodbye, Piccadilly: War at Home, 1914

By Cynthia Harrod-Eagles,

Book cover of Goodbye, Piccadilly: War at Home, 1914

What is my book about?

In 1914, Britain faces a new kind of war. For Edward and Beatrice Hunter, their children, servants, and neighbours, life will never be the same again. For David, the eldest, war means a chance to do something noble; but enlisting will break his mother's heart. His sister Diana, nineteen and beautiful, longs for marriage. She has her heart set on Charles Wroughton, son of Earl Wroughton, but Charles will never be allowed to marry a banker's daughter. Below the stairs, Cook and Ada, the head housemaid, grow more terrified of the German invasion with every newspaper atrocity story. Ethel, under housemaid, can't help herself when it comes to men and now soldiers add to the temptation; yet there's more to this flighty girl than meets the eye.

1914 Days Of Hope

By Lyn MacDonald,

Book cover of 1914 Days Of Hope

Lyn Macdonald is my go-to historian for WW1, and I only pick out this volume – she has written one for each year of the war – because if you want a thorough, detailed account of the war you will want to start at the beginning. She is a fine writer, and very readable, and her books are full of extracts from letters and diaries of the men at the front, and their families back home, which give you the genuine, authentic flavour of how people thought and spoke at the time, and allows you to feel you were really there.


Who am I?

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles is the author of the internationally acclaimed Morland Dynasty books. Five volumes of this comprehensive historical series focus on WW1, covering the military campaigns and the politics behind them. With the approach of the WW1 centennials, she was asked to write about the period again, this time from the point of view of the people who stayed at home. The result was the six-volume series, War At Home, which views the war from a more personal perspective, through the eyes of the fictional Hunter family, their servants, and friends.


I wrote...

Goodbye, Piccadilly: War at Home, 1914

By Cynthia Harrod-Eagles,

Book cover of Goodbye, Piccadilly: War at Home, 1914

What is my book about?

In 1914, Britain faces a new kind of war. For Edward and Beatrice Hunter, their children, servants, and neighbours, life will never be the same again. For David, the eldest, war means a chance to do something noble; but enlisting will break his mother's heart. His sister Diana, nineteen and beautiful, longs for marriage. She has her heart set on Charles Wroughton, son of Earl Wroughton, but Charles will never be allowed to marry a banker's daughter. Below the stairs, Cook and Ada, the head housemaid, grow more terrified of the German invasion with every newspaper atrocity story. Ethel, under housemaid, can't help herself when it comes to men and now soldiers add to the temptation; yet there's more to this flighty girl than meets the eye.

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