421 books directly related to World War 1 📚

All 421 World War 1 books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Book cover of Testament of Youth

Testament of Youth

By Vera Brittain

Why this book?

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…

From the list:

The best books that are all about womanpower

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

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

By Michael Neiberg

Why this book?

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.

From the list:

The best books to truly understand the First World War

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Book cover of The Long Shadow: The Great War and the Twentieth Century

The Long Shadow: The Great War and the Twentieth Century

By David Reynolds

Why this book?

David Reynolds is simply one of the smartest and most original historians operating today. Do we imagine that no one thought much about the poems of Wilfred Owen until the 1960s? Do we think about how important the fiftieth anniversary of the Somme was for the politics of Ireland? This book is packed full of perceptive and original insights about the Great War’s very long legacy.

From the list:

The best books on the legacy of the First World War

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

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

By Richard Van Emden, Steve Humphries

Why this book?

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.

From the list:

The most readable books on World War 1

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Book cover of 1914 Days Of Hope

1914 Days Of Hope

By Lyn MacDonald

Why this book?

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…

From the list:

The most readable books on World War 1

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Book cover of Mr. Britling Sees It Through

Mr. Britling Sees It Through

By H.G. Wells

Why this book?

H. G. Wells coined the wildly optimistic phrase “A war to end wars” in l914, but four bitter years later he would sadly admit “This war is the worst thing that’s ever happened to mankind.” His autobiographical novel traces the emotional and intellectual arc of this journey from idealism to disillusionment; a bestseller in l916, it still packs a punch, the testament of a compassionate, highly-civilized man powerless to stop the world’s agony.

From the list:

The best books that are unjustly forgotten from World War One

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Book cover of The Winds Of War

The Winds Of War

By Herman Wouk

Why this book?

Although a war novel, in essence, Herman’s second book in the trilogy is infused with a great deal of history. Wartime offers an author a wide spectrum of events, be they political or economic, philosophical or psychological, or personal challenges, which add dimension and emotional impact. In this regard, Herman’s novel offers readers a riveting rollercoaster ride on The Winds of War.

From the list:

The best historical fiction to capture the essence of 19th & 20th century America

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Book cover of The Illusion Of Victory: America In World War I

The Illusion Of Victory: America In World War I

By Thomas Fleming

Why this book?

The late historian, Thomas Fleming, was a friend. It was an article he wrote for American Heritage magazine in 1968, “Two Argonnes,” about his father, a lieutenant in the 78th Division, that inspired me to write my first World War I book centered on my great uncle as the main character, Duty, Honor, Privilege: New York’s Silk Stocking Regiment and the Breaking of the Hindenburg Line. The author of 19 books, The Illusion of Victory, his last book, Fleming paints a different picture of America’s role in the war, showing how President Wilson and our country were “duped”…

From the list:

The best books on World War I and America's role in it

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Book cover of The Doom Pussy

The Doom Pussy

By Ben Shephard

Why this book?

Elaine Shepard wrote Doom Pussy in 1967 and explained in her introduction that only the pilots who flew on missions at night to North Vietnam were entitled to wear the Doom Pussy patch on their left shoulders. On the patch was a cat with an eye patch eating an airplane, and in Vietnamese were the words “Trong miệng của con mèo của định mạng” and literally translated means, “I have flown into the jaws of the cat of death.” Most American fliers just said, “I have seen the Doom Pussy.” This was another one of those amazing stories about a…

From the list:

The best literature on the Vietnam War from a female perspective

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Book cover of The Secret Battle

The Secret Battle

By A.P. Herbert

Why this book?

Herbert served as a junior infantry officer in Gallipoli and captured his experiences in one of the grittiest and most credible accounts of the horrors of that campaign in this early anti-war novel. His hero is a brilliant young Oxford graduate (Herbert was himself an Oxford man and served as MP representing the University of Oxford from 1925 – 1940) named Harry Penrose who suffered fear, doubt, and mental illness on both the Ottoman and Western Fronts – like so many of his contemporaries. Herbert captures the injustice of wartime courts-martial in which gallant officers were condemned for failing to…

From the list:

The best books by Western veterans of the Great War in the Middle East

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Book cover of Parade's End

Parade's End

By Ford Madox Ford

Why this book?

Ford Madox Ford's magnificent multi-volume novel about British society up to and through the First World War was written out of the author's own experience and appeared in 1924. It was Ford's belief that a novelist should be a "historian of his own time". In this, he brilliantly succeeded. The events he chronicled are now 100 years in the past, but the trilogy is still a wonderfully complex set of psychological novels with an intricate plot that traces the consequences of a lie through British society before and during WWI. It is also a moving and delicate love story, and…

From the list:

The best books about history as personal experience

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Book cover of The Eye in the Door

The Eye in the Door

By Pat Barker

Why this book?

The Eye in the Door continues Barker’s exploration of the morality of war through its impacts on human beings.  While she continues the journeys of Dr. W. H. R. Rivers and Siegried Sassoon, she explores in great detail the experience of Lieutenant Billy Prior, a complex character who works as a domestic intelligence agent.  Prior is torn between his own antiwar feelings and his working class and bisexual identities as he spies on pacifists, homosexuals, and government critics.

From the list:

The best books on WW1 with insight into the time and place through multiple perspectives

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Book cover of Germans Into Nazis

Germans Into Nazis

By Peter Fritzsche

Why this book?

Fritzsche shows here how, from 1914 to 1933, middle class Germans were welded into the political block that supported Hitler. Another spellbindingly original book – among other things, Fritzsche shows very persuasively that the Great Depression had little to do with the rise of Hitler – the Nazis’ recipe of egalitarian but nationalist politics was already doing its work before 1929.

From the list:

The best books on the legacy of the First World War

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Book cover of The Paying Guests

The Paying Guests

By Sarah Waters

Why this book?

Just the most luscious plunge into the domesticity of the post-WWI period. I do quite a bit of research into the 1930s when I write Dandy Gilver, but Sarah Waters is something else again. Frances is trying to run a house for herself and her mother (plus the new lodgers of the title) and you can smell the Brasso and taste the bottled coffee as you read. The book is action-packed too – a real page-turner – but it’s Frances’ daily grind that will have you re-reading even once you know the ending.

From the list:

The best book where the house is a character (and someone’s got to clean it)

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Book cover of A Stroll Through Borneo

A Stroll Through Borneo

By James Barclay

Why this book?

This book, by a well-born English friend of mine, was written when he was young and fancy free; he was then (in 1978) accurately described on the book jacket as a cheerful young man “who greets each new acquaintance and experience with enormous enthusiasm” as he makes his way alone, without fuss (while making local indigenous friends along the way) for five months through what was then one of the last remaining wild spots in the world. 

From the list:

The best books on 20th Century Borneo

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Book cover of Adventures of a Bystander

Adventures of a Bystander

By Peter F. Drucker

Why this book?

Peter F. Drucker is the most famous and influential management thinker of the 20th century. He grew up in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which fell at the end of the First World War. His classic education, his knowledge of history, his broad horizons, his understanding of business processes make him unique among management thinkers. He outshines them all. And he is an outstanding, captivating writer. Anyone who wants to learn and understand about management must read this book. I have read it three times. I mourn this late friend.

From the list:

The best books on how to become a global business leader

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Book cover of Blood and Diamonds: Germany's Imperial Ambitions in Africa

Blood and Diamonds: Germany's Imperial Ambitions in Africa

By Steven Press

Why this book?

A brand-new gripping, revealing history of German colonialism, focused on the brutal diamond trade in Southwest Africa on the eve of World War I. With pellucid prose, Press tells how the Germans cordoned off a so-called “forbidden zone,” behind which rapacious explorers, colonial authorities, miners, and businessmen carted off these precious, if largely useless rocks, for which there was a huge, artificially created demand, especially in the United States.

From the list:

The best books on Imperial Germany before World War I

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Book cover of Le Grand Meaulnes

Le Grand Meaulnes

By Alain Fournier

Why this book?

Clumsy peasant schoolboy, Meaulnes, and his friend – the narrator of this haunting story – get lost, and happen upon a great house, deep in the woods, where a phantasmagorical fancy dress party is underway. Everything at ‘the lost domain’ is topsy-turvy. Children are in charge. The passage of time is suspended. Social inequality has been erased.   The time the boys spend there is dream-like, disconcerting, life-spoiling because nothing can ever be so strange and marvelous again.  

Later, after much searching, Meaulnes make his way back, but the domain is like youth itself. If you return, it will be to…

From the list:

The best novels about houses

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Book cover of End of Globalization: Lessons from the Great Depression

End of Globalization: Lessons from the Great Depression

By Harold James

Why this book?

Financial crises are not only catastrophic because of their devastating economic consequences. They also unleash radical political forces undermining the foundations of our free and open society. Widely praised for his work on Germany in the interwar years, Harold James is the best historian to describe the vicious circle of crisis, radicalization, and national isolation in the 1930s and to discuss the question: can it happen again?

From the list:

The best books on the Great Depression and its impact on history

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Book cover of Portrait of a Turkish Family

Portrait of a Turkish Family

By Irfan Orga

Why this book?

Orga’s memoir begins with scenes from his idyllic childhood as the son of a great beauty, adored by his autocratic grandmother and indulged by all. His was a prosperous family, their future secure under the Ottoman sultans until the First World War broke out and everything changed. They went from enjoying elaborate dinner parties, going to the hamam and sleeping on soft sheets, to living in poverty, waking in dank rooms, and never knowing if there’d be enough to eat. Orga writes without sentiment of the impact of the war on his upper-class family, and the complete reconstruction of society…

From the list:

The best books to understand the heart & soul of Turkey and its people

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Book cover of Antic Hay

Antic Hay

By Aldous Huxley

Why this book?

Set in London in the early 1920s, Huxley’s Antic Hay follows a cast of young bohemian and artistic characters, all affected in various ways by the Great War, as they search for SOMETHING to give meaning to their lives. London has changed, the world has changed, and they are lost. Cripplingly shy Theodore Gumbril, the main character, (inventor of Gumbril's Patent Small-Clothes, trousers which contain an inflatable cushion in the seat) searches for love, and meaning, in the shattered society following the end of the war. His search for love – including the donning of a false, confidence-boosting beard, makes…

From the list:

The best books on finding a new normal after World War I

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Book cover of Winter: The Tragic Story of a Berlin Family 1899-1945

Winter: The Tragic Story of a Berlin Family 1899-1945

By Len Deighton

Why this book?

While technically a prequel to Deighton’s well-known Cold War Game, Set, Match trilogy, Winter can certainly be read as a standalone novel. As the subtitle indicates, this is a book about a family. But really, this is a novel about two brothers, Peter and Pauli. The evolution of their relationship over the course of nearly half a century, 1900-1945, is the foundation on which Deighton explores this tumultuous period of German history. From their innocent and carefree youth in the late Wilhelmine period, to the trauma of their military service during the First World War, through the rise and rule…

From the list:

The best fiction books set during the Third Reich

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Book cover of The Charity of War: Famine, Humanitarian Aid, and World War I in the Middle East

The Charity of War: Famine, Humanitarian Aid, and World War I in the Middle East

By Melanie S. Tanielian

Why this book?

During the war, Beirut and Mount Lebanon were heavily impacted by a famine because of several factors, including the Allied blockade of the Mediterranean, bad harvests, heat waves, shortage of workers, and a destructive locust invasion. As a result, even though the area did not witness any battles on its territory, hundreds of thousands of people died due to famine and disease. Fiction or real, the horrors reached to a degree that “mothers eating their children” stories carved in the collective memory of the war. Drawing on the reality of famine, the book deals with how war relief and welfare…
From the list:

The best books on the Middle East during the First World War

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Book cover of Land of Aching Hearts: The Middle East in the Great War

Land of Aching Hearts: The Middle East in the Great War

By Leila Tarazi Fawaz

Why this book?

Understanding the First World War is fundamental to understanding today’s Middle East. The book offers us an impressive account of the Greater Syria at war, the region that encompasses Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and Southern Turkey. Viewing the war from a social history perspective, we read various experiences of the fishermen, peasants, deserters, migrants, entrepreneurs, profiteers, and foreign soldiers from the colonial army of Britain against the backdrop of a “changing Middle East.”
From the list:

The best books on the Middle East during the First World War

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Book cover of Neptune's Laboratory: Fantasy, Fear, and Science at Sea

Neptune's Laboratory: Fantasy, Fear, and Science at Sea

By Antony Adler

Why this book?

The title Neptune’s Laboratory invokes knowledge of the oceans through science alongside the equally central role imagination has played in the human relationship with the sea. Antony Adler astutely observes how its mirror-like qualities encouraged scientists, politicians, and the public since the early 19th century to use the ocean to spin utopian fantasies and explore dystopian fears. Most importantly, he reminds readers that our propensity to fathom oceans to project the fate of the human species and our planet offers an important key: imagination could chart a course toward a better future.

From the list:

The best books on human's relationships with the underwater world

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Book cover of Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man: The Memoirs of George Sherston

Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man: The Memoirs of George Sherston

By Siegfried Sassoon

Why this book?

This first of Sassoon’s semi-biographical Sherston trilogy is a nostalgic amble along Edwardian English lanes, across its village greens, and over its hedges, tracing the early years of likeable, witty George Sherston before the Great War. It depicts a bygone era of pearl-clutching maiden aunts, rumbustious village cricket matches, and the rigours of the hunting field, in which enthusiastic recruit George is a terrific observer of the larger-than-life characters he encounters. He is winningly grateful to his horses for being so much better at it than him, from flighty first pony Sheila to trusty hunter Harkaway, and ‘bargain’ point-to-pointer Cockbird…

From the list:

The best heart-warming and uplifting fiction about horses

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Book cover of A Lasting Moment: Marc Riboud Photographs Leeds 1954 and 2004

A Lasting Moment: Marc Riboud Photographs Leeds 1954 and 2004

By Marc Riboud

Why this book?

Riboud was already famous when he first arrived in Leeds to document the city in 1954. What his black and white images startlingly portray, though, is a place that could easily still be in the 19th century. He doesn’t go for the great and the good, but searches out ordinary people and children playing in the streets. It’s life among emotional and physical rubble, a contrast to the shiny, bright colours 50 years later (and now also a part of history as time speeds by). It’s searing, starkly beautiful, and the essay by Leeds-born playwright Caryl Phillips adds another…

From the list:

The best books on Leeds as it was

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Book cover of Catch a Kiss

Catch a Kiss

By Deborah Diesen, Kris Aro McLeod

Why this book?

It’s a special sadness children have when they lose something given to them by someone they love. Izze misses a kiss blown to her by her mother. No matter how hard she tries to catch it, she can’t. Her mother is wise and doesn’t just tell her it will be alright. Instead, she tells Izze a story and soon Izze is blowing kisses into the wind. The interaction is heartwarming.

From the list:

The best children’s picture books dealing with emotions and change

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Book cover of A Night to Remember: The Classic Account of the Final Hours of the Titanic

A Night to Remember: The Classic Account of the Final Hours of the Titanic

By Walter Lord

Why this book?

After the sinking of the Titanic, public interest in the disaster ended abruptly with the all-consuming tragedy of the First World War. It wasn’t until 1955 when Walter Lord wrote the definitive account of the sinking, A Night To Remember, that interest in Titanic was reignited across the world. Lord had sailed on the Titanic’s sister ship Olympic as a child and developed a fascination with the Titanic, collecting old newspaper cuttings and memorabilia. His parents thought him very odd.  

Lord carried his preoccupation with Titanic into adult life. While working in an advertising agency in New York in the…

From the list:

The best books on the Titanic from a variety of angles

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Book cover of A Countess Below Stairs

A Countess Below Stairs

By Eva Ibbotson

Why this book?

This is my favorite comfort read, the perfect book for days when life has too many sharp corners. I must have read this one at least twenty times. It has all the virtues of a classic fairytale: a pure-hearted, brave heroine; an honorable, steadfast hero; and a happy ending earned through suffering and effort and against all the odds. It tells the story of Countess Anna Grazinsky, a young refugee from the Russian Revolution, who finds work as a maid at a stately home in the English countryside, where she falls in love with the gallant war hero who owns…

From the list:

The best classic historical romance novels

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Book cover of Perilous Love

Perilous Love

By Jan Selbourne

Why this book?

Perilous Love by Jan Selbourne is an unforgettable World War I romance novel that pulled my heartstrings and brought me to tears. Adrian Bryce has a hot and steamy affair with his mistress—instead of being with his estranged wife, Gabrielle, and their children. However, circumstances bring Adrian and Gabrielle together, and he must keep his wife safe in the midst of the dangers of war. I was intrigued by the themes of trust and forgiveness, and how Adrian chooses to let go of the past and fall in love again with the person he married. I was glad I gave…

From the list:

The best bad boy romance books with a happy ending

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Book cover of The Alice Network

The Alice Network

By Kate Quinn

Why this book?

This book has parallel, connected storylines: an American girl, Charlie, teams up with Eve, a former British WWI spy. Charlie’s trying to find a lost cousin; Eve is out for revenge on the man who destroyed her life. The fact that they have a hot ex-convict Scotsman in tow just adds to the appeal. I love the glimpse into WWI espionage, something I haven’t seen elsewhere in fiction yet. 

From the list:

The best historical fiction books about WWI

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Book cover of Paris 1919-1939: Art, Life & Culture

Paris 1919-1939: Art, Life & Culture

By Vincent Bouvet, Gérard Durozoi

Why this book?

Having read well over two dozen books on the subject of French history, with a general focus on the especially vibrant period in Paris from the end of World War I to the beginning of World War II, and a laser focus on the 1920s, I find it nearly impossible to rank these five books in the order of their importance. That said, I am choosing this book as my 1st recommendation because at 416 pages, and richly illustrated by hundreds of stunning photographs and images, it casts the broadest, most comprehensive net over this extraordinary era. I proclaim the…
From the list:

The best books about 1920’s Paris (les années folles—the “crazy years”)

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Book cover of Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa

By Jason Stearns

Why this book?

The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s civil wars have claimed 5.5 million lives since the mid-1990s, but most people have never heard the stories of those who died. Stearns is an academic who spent years in the DRC researching how and why communities that once lived side by side could descend into brutal violence. This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to better understand how intercommunal conflict can turn neighbors into enemies, ethnicity into a weapon, and school children into genocidal street gangs. I spent two years living in DRC reporting on human rights abuses, and found Stearns’s…

From the list:

The best books on the human toll of civil war

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Book cover of Berlin at War

Berlin at War

By Roger Moorhouse

Why this book?

For most of us, wartime Berlin calls to mind sensational stories of Hitler and his henchmen, devastating Allied bombing, and of course, the terror and deportations that led to genocide. Without ignoring any of that, Moorhouse gives us a broader picture. Making liberal use of diaries, memoirs, and interviews, he shows us the war through the eyes of ordinary Berliners, revealing the surprising normality of most of their daily lives amid destruction, scarcity, and fear.

From the list:

The best books to understand 20th-century Berlin

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Book cover of A Long Long Way

A Long Long Way

By Sebastian Barry

Why this book?

I think Sebastian Barry is one of the greatest contemporary novelists whose prose unfailingly sings, pirouettes, and enriches. I would recommend all his novels, which take various members of the Dunne or McNulty families over time and place. This particular novel is set in the First World War and follows Willie Dunne as he leaves Dublin to fight for the British, only to find himself caught on the wrong side at the Easter uprising and having to face his own countrymen. It is a brilliant depiction of a young Irish tommy out of his depth in a brutal war, fighting…

From the list:

The best forgotten (or untold) histories of war

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Book cover of Megiddo's Shadow

Megiddo's Shadow

By Arthur Slade

Why this book?

Several things drew me to Megiddo's Shadow: 1.) It is based on author Arthur Slade’s research of his grandfather’s experience as a teenager—age 16—in the Canadian-British calvary. 2.) It takes place in 1917 during World War I. 3.) Much of the action takes place in the Middle East. Even though this story does take place on the battlefield at times, the primary story is not about military campaigns. Rather, it’s about a young man who begins his journey as a patriot with visions of grandeur, yet has his ideals of heroism and courage turned upside after his experiences in…
From the list:

The best war books that go beyond bombs: how war affects families

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Book cover of The Summer Before the War

The Summer Before the War

By Helen Simonson

Why this book?

This book is leisurely, reminiscent of Elizabeth Gaskell’s works (such as North and South or Wives and Daughters); it reads and feels like a warm summer day. It takes place in a small English town in the tense and uncertain months leading up to the war and a little beyond, featuring family dramas, romantic entanglements, spunky schoolteachers, Belgian refugees, underage recruits, life, and death, and love.

From the list:

The best historical fiction books about WWI

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Book cover of War Beyond Words: Languages of Remembrance from the Great War to the Present

War Beyond Words: Languages of Remembrance from the Great War to the Present

By Jay Winter

Why this book?

Some may disagree with me, but I think this is Winter’s masterpiece. It is a book that charts the ways our remembrance of the war dead changed from the violence of the First World War to the Holocaust to the present. He looks at film, photographs, literature, and war memorials to show how our memories have become less vertical and more horizontal over time and how we have focused less and less on the faces of the dead and more and more on the names of the masses, such as one finds on Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial in Washington,…

From the list:

The best history books on the memory of the war dead

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Book cover of Feet in Chains

Feet in Chains

By Kate Roberts, Katie Gramich

Why this book?

My father was Welsh, and so I’m drawn to Welsh stories and history. Feet in Chains is about Jane and Ifan Gruffydd’s struggle to keep body and soul together on their small holding near Caernarfon, and raise their children. Ifan is a quarryman, at the mercy of powerful employers who can lower wages or increase hours at will. Kate Roberts was herself the daughter of a quarryman and was brought up on her parents’ smallholding in Caernarfonshire. Like two of the Gruffydd children, she won a scholarship enabling her to attend school. She became a teacher, but had to give…

From the list:

The best historical books about the common people

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Book cover of Achtung-Panzer! The Development of Tank Warfare

Achtung-Panzer! The Development of Tank Warfare

By Heinz Guderian

Why this book?

Guderian, a name that is synonymous with mechanized warfare started his career as a Signal Officer in WW I. He describes in great detail how the tank changed modern warfare. This book is not only the tale of how he fought to introduce armour tactics to the German army during the inter-war years but also how armour is best employed in battle. Every armour officer must read this book; but it is also worthwhile for the general reader looking for insights into tactical employments, leadership, and history.

From the list:

The best books on military tactical thinking

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Book cover of Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith

Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith

By Andrew Wilson

Why this book?

This book about the ultimate rebel woman Patricia Highsmith explores in depth the many ways Highsmith rejected social expectations of her time in terms of her gender, sexuality, and writing material. The biography does not shy away from presenting Highsmith in all her glorious complexity – equal parts humorous, wry, loathsome, disturbing. This was one of the first biographies that I read where I realized the power of archives, what they can reveal, and how enlightening they can be when used so brilliantly, as Andrew Wilson does here. 

From the list:

The best books about rebellious women

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Book cover of The Toymakers

The Toymakers

By Robert Dinsdale

Why this book?

Set in 1917, during an era that I have always been particularly drawn to, The Toymakers is one of those rare books that manages to capture magic in a way that feels both whimsical as well as deeply poignant – it truly reads like a fairy tale for adults set against the tragic backdrop of the First World War. Reading this book was like reading the first Harry Potter book – I was totally captivated and transported back in time to London and the Emporium (a wonderful magical toy shop). This book had me spellbound – both in terms of…

From the list:

The best historical books to incorporate magic

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Book cover of The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II

The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II

By Charles Glass

Why this book?

Until I read this book, I knew nothing about men who broke down in battle and were unable to fight on or deserted. It is a topic that is seldom covered in hero-driven war literature or films, depicted as cowardice and still having some taint of shame.

Charles Glass uses military records and personal accounts, including detailed descriptions of battlefront incidents, to paint a picture of what it is to face the terror of war and the debilitating unpredictability of not knowing which bullet has your name on it.

Across WWI and WW2, he uses case studies to take the…

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The best books about true courage in facing danger when you are afraid; cowards who became heroes

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Book cover of Churchill and the Dardanelles

Churchill and the Dardanelles

By Christopher M. Bell

Why this book?

It is very difficult to say something new about the Dardanelles campaign and even harder to say something new about Winston Churchill, but without resorting to exaggeration or conspiracy theories, this book manages to do both. It offers a forensic examination of the background to the failed attempt to force the straits and a comprehensive survey of Churchill’s subsequent attempts to ensure that the re-telling of that failure did not rebound to his discredit. There is no better book on this topic.

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The best books on Churchill’s First World War Navy

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Book cover of Of Human Bondage

Of Human Bondage

By W. Somerset Maugham

Why this book?

I first read Maugham’s 1916 semi-autobiographical novel in the sixth form. It describes late-Victorian adolescence and early manhood but, from my self-absorbed point of view as an Eighties teenager, it could have been written specially for me.

The one element that jarred was Mildred, the waitress with whom Philip Carey falls madly and inappropriately (because of their class difference) in love. Maugham makes her so ghastly, it’s hard to know what his hero sees in her.

Her character makes much more sense when you know (as I didn’t at the time) that the author was discreetly gay. Maugham’s own transgression…

From the list:

The best novels where you need to read between the lines to get the point

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Book cover of The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

By John M. Barry

Why this book?

Unfortunately, the Great Influenza is no longer “the deadliest pandemic in history,” but Barry’s nonfiction book does an excellent job bringing history to life. After setting the stage of American medicine in the early twentieth century, he depicts the progression of the pandemic, showing its effect on public health and society as a whole. I was fascinated with how people communicated (colored crepe on the door, for example, to indicate a death) without our current technology. 

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The best pandemic books published pre-COVID

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Book cover of In the Foreign Legion

In the Foreign Legion

By Erwin Rosen

Why this book?

This is the ultimate in precise, deliberate, and informed military nonfiction writing. I related to the protagonist as he is a young german who is curious to see the world in 1905. He makes the fateful decision to join the legion and lives through the horrors of service therein, all the while describing the glory, valor, and traditions of this mysterious corpos. The author manages to describe very real events, organize them in a compelling manner, and elucidates a special moment in history.

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The best books about the French Foreign Legion from someone who joined

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Book cover of Elsie and Mairi Go to War

Elsie and Mairi Go to War

By Diane Atkinson

Why this book?

Atkinson’s book tells the story of Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm who were friends and motorcycle enthusiasts. When war broke out they joined a voluntary medical unit heading for France and set up a first aid post near the frontline. They were fearless, sometimes reckless, and always cheerful as they saved the wounded. I loved the way Atkinson’s book captured their youthful exuberance and gung-ho courage.

From the list:

The best books on women’s experiences in WW1

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Book cover of Female Tommies: The Frontline Women of the First World War

Female Tommies: The Frontline Women of the First World War

By Elisabeth Shipton

Why this book?

Shipton’s book is a brilliantly researched account of the thousands of incredible women who refused to sit at home knitting socks when war began. Using diaries, letters and memoirs, she tells the story of the women who put on uniforms of various hues to drive ambulances, carry stretchers, nurse the wounded and even to bear arms close to the frontlines of World War One. They included the wonderful Flora Sandes who went to Serbia to nurse casualties and ended up joining the Serbian Army. It’s a testimony to women’s bravery, daring and refusal to take no for an answer.

From the list:

The best books on women’s experiences in WW1

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Book cover of Gabrielle Petit: The Death and Life of a Female Spy in the First World War

Gabrielle Petit: The Death and Life of a Female Spy in the First World War

By Sophie de Schaepdrijver

Why this book?

British people have often heard of Edith Cavell, who has been commemorated in Britain as a national heroine of the war after she was executed by the Germans in 1915 for her role in running an escape network in Belgium for Allied Soldiers. But Cavell was only one individual amongst hundreds who resisted the authorities in occupied France and Belgium. Like Cavell, young Belgian woman Gabrielle Petit was remembered as a national heroine after her execution during the war. De Schaepdrijver’s book vividly brings her story to life, explaining how she was became involved in espionage, as well as showing…

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The best books on women and the First World War

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

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

By David Boyle

Why this book?

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.

From the list:

The best books about British intelligence in WW1

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Book cover of Finding Thoroton: The Royal Marine Who Ran British Naval Intelligence in the Western Mediterranean in World War One

Finding Thoroton: The Royal Marine Who Ran British Naval Intelligence in the Western Mediterranean in World War One

By Philip Vickers

Why this book?

British Intelligence during the First World War is most known for the work of Room 40, which led to the more famous Bletchley Park in the next World War; however, another crucial part of the operation was all the agents in the field that reported to the same man who spearheaded the codebreaking. Those in the Mediterranean were under the command of Charles “the Bold” Thoroton, and this book, written by his granddaughter’s husband, is an enthralling peek into the life of an agent on the ground. From fascinating stories of how unnamed agents found the information the Admiralty was…

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The best books about British intelligence in WW1

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Book cover of The Crowded Hours: The Story Of 'Sos' Cohen

The Crowded Hours: The Story Of 'Sos' Cohen

By Anthony Richardson

Why this book?

The Crowded Hours tells the story of ‘Sos’ Cohen, whose eclectic military career began as an eighteen-year-old during the Matabele Wars of 1887, and then as a soldier in the Boer War. During the First World War, he first served with the Army and then transferred to the Royal Navy Air Service as a pilot. And in 1939, he joined the RAF at the age of 64, flying with RAF Coastal Command till the end of the Second World War.

Crowded Hours is a really interesting book in its own right, but in a more personal sense, it resonates with…

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The best military books that resonate with me, or inspire me, in some personal way

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Book cover of War of Attrition: Fighting the First World War

War of Attrition: Fighting the First World War

By William Philpott

Why this book?

This brilliant book pulls together many strands of the war, as presented through the lens of attrition. In his sweeping narrative, Philpott focuses on the land war – how it was fought and why, and how it evolved over 4 years – but War of Attrition also examines the politics and diplomacy of war, and the war at sea, in the air, and at home. Pound for pound, the best book yet written on the war-fighting years.

From the list:

The best books on the Great War and why it haunts us

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

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

By Paul Gough

Why this book?

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.

From the list:

The best books on Paul Nash and the impact of WW11 on artists who lived through it

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Book cover of Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia

Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia

By Michael Korda

Why this book?

This wasn't available to me when I was writing Dreamers of the Day, but it deepened my compassion and respect for Lawrence, despite and because of his complexity. IMO, this is the best and most complete biography with much detail not available to prior biographers, particularly about Lawrence's later work as a marine engineer and technical writer.

From the list:

The best books about the fragile peace after the Great War

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Book cover of A Whispered Name

A Whispered Name

By William Brodrick

Why this book?

A mystery novel, that tells a haunting, captivating story of the cost paid by one individual soldier at the battle of Messines Ridge. Impeccably researched, the reader is given a firm historical grounding of the physical, psychological, and geophysical costs of being at the explosive, bloody cutting edge of warfare on the Western Front.

From the list:

The best books about human casualties of World War One

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Book cover of Spike Island: The Memory of a Military Hospital

Spike Island: The Memory of a Military Hospital

By Philip Hoare

Why this book?

A biography of an extraordinary building: the biggest hospital ever built, to contain the casualties of Britain's biggest and worst wars from Crimea to World War Two. Perhaps the most original work of medical historical writing in the English language, as the ghosts of the nurses, doctors, and their broken shell-shocked patients haunt its pages and its writer through his family connections.

From the list:

The best books about human casualties of World War One

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Book cover of The Whistlers' Room

The Whistlers' Room

By Paul Alverdes, Basil Creighton

Why this book?

A small and beautiful story of three young soldier casualties who lie in a German hospital ward as the Great War grinds its way to an end. They've survived the bullet wounds to their throats and faces that have reduced each of their voices to a whispering whistle. But there is little left of their lives beyond survival, despite the efforts of their dedicated surgeon and their devotion to each other. A novella, based on the real-life experiences of the author, his comrades, and the English PoW they met in the Whistlers Room.

From the list:

The best books about human casualties of World War One

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Book cover of Mud, Blood and Poppycock: Britain and the Great War

Mud, Blood and Poppycock: Britain and the Great War

By Gordon Corrigan

Why this book?

The shout line on the jacket is “This will overturn everything you thought you knew about…The First World War”, and it certainly delivers. No other conflict has been so misrepresented, and for most people, their idea of it comes straight from Blackadder Goes Forth. But men did not spend months at a time in the trenches; a whole generation did not die; the generals were not cowardly, incompetent fools.

When I first began to write about WW1 for my Morland Dynasty series, I knew as little as anyone, and what I thought I knew was all wrong! By the time…

From the list:

The most readable books on World War 1

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Book cover of Great War Fashion: Tales from the History Wardrobe

Great War Fashion: Tales from the History Wardrobe

By Lucy Adlington, L.J. Adlington

Why this book?

On a lighter note, this book is a wonderful journey through what everyone wore, not just the fashions but the uniforms, the make-do-and-mend, maternity wear, underclothes, knitting for the soldiers, wartime washing-day, trousers for women (shock! horror!), a kit for lady footballers and lady drivers, and how the war changed women’s clothing along with their lives. Full of illustrations, delicious cartoons, and WW1 advertisements, this book is quite simply a wonderful read, as well as wonderfully informative.

From the list:

The most readable books on World War 1

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Book cover of Zeppelin Nights: London in the First World War

Zeppelin Nights: London in the First World War

By Jerry White

Why this book?

Having grown up in London in the aftermath of WW2, and playing on its bomb sites, I was well aware of the WW2 Blitz. But like most people, I had no idea that London was heavily bombed during the first war as well. This book is detailed and fascinating, and as well as the raids themselves, it goes into a lot of related topics, such as the black-out, prostitution, munitions factories, pub closing hours and the drive for teetotalism, refugees, women’s work, and the aftermath. Well-written and illustrated with photographs, it’s an excellent look at how London fared through the…

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The most readable books on World War 1

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Book cover of The Real Dope

The Real Dope

By Ring Lardner

Why this book?

How’s this for a challenge? Write a humorous book during World War One that can still make readers laugh 100 years later. That’s exactly what Lardner does here, when he turns his famous character Jack Keefe, the semi-literate, big-talking baseball pitcher into a soldier and sends him boasting and bragging to “Nobody’s Land,” where he hilariously ducks every dangerous situation he’s put in.

From the list:

The best books that are unjustly forgotten from World War One

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Book cover of The Guns of August

The Guns of August

By Barbara Wertheim Tuchman

Why this book?

The Guns of August is a historical volume by Barbara W. Tuchman. It is centered on the first month of World War I, and the events that led up to it. This was the last kick of the Gilded Age, of Kings and Kaisers and Czars, many who sported pointed or plumed hats, colored uniforms. Pomp and romance accompanied the beastly war. After introductory chapters, Tuchman describes in great detail the opening events of the conflict.

The war becomes a military history of the chief contestants, the great powers. Tuchman masterfully portrays this transition from the 19th to 20th Century,…

From the list:

The best non-fiction military books that you can't put down

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Book cover of Gallipoli: The End of the Myth

Gallipoli: The End of the Myth

By Robin Prior

Why this book?

The Anglo-French assault on the Dardanelles Straits in 1915 was the greatest amphibious assault in history. Its strategic design was to relieve Ottoman pressure on the Russians in the Caucasus; to bring about the collapse of the Ottoman state; to open the maritime highway for resupplying Russia; and to convince Greece to join the Allies.

In March 16 British and French battleships entered the Straits to batter the defenses and to seize Constantinople. It was a disaster. Three battleships were sunk, another three were put out of commission, and four were heavily damaged. The naval operation was followed by an…

From the list:

The best books on the most famous battles of the First World War

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Book cover of Second Harvest

Second Harvest

By Jean Giono, Louis William Graux, Henri Fluchere, Geoffrey Myers

Why this book?

A bit of a cheat, this one. It’s probably my favourite French novel, precisely because it is timeless and seems to ignore everything about French history. I don’t think there’s one mention or symptom of the Revolution, no scar of the First World War, no French over-intellectualizing. It’s just nature and humankind going head-to-head in a brutally realistic, but starkly beautiful, Provençal landscape. By the way, I don’t like the English title – Regain means regrowth, the first signs of recovery. Personally, I’d prefer a title like Signs of Life. And this novel is all about a tiny hamlet in…

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The best books on why the French seem to be in denial about their own history

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Book cover of World War One: A Short History

World War One: A Short History

By Norman Stone

Why this book?

This is undoubtedly the best overview of the war. It really is short and takes the reader on a brisk, witty, and thoroughly enjoyable canter through the events. Yet it is by no means superficial. Thoughtful and insightful, it is the work of a master.

From the list:

The best books to truly understand the First World War

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Book cover of Towards the Flame: Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia

Towards the Flame: Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia

By Dominic Lieven

Why this book?

The outbreak of war was hastened, if not actually caused by, the fact that the whole of Central and Eastern Europe was governed by failed states. The Russian, German and Austrian empires had outlived their respective raisons d’être and, either unwilling or incapable of forging new ones through radical reform, hoped to justify their survival through the pursuit of success in the international arena, and ultimately through war. This is a brilliant account of the doomed attempts to reform the greatest yet most fragile of these states, and of the slow car-crash that ensued.

From the list:

The best books to truly understand the First World War

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Book cover of The Fortress: The Siege of Przemysl and the Making of Europe's Bloodlands

The Fortress: The Siege of Przemysl and the Making of Europe's Bloodlands

By Alexander Watson

Why this book?

This book not only tells the fascinating story of the great siege in 1914-15 of the supposedly impregnable fortress of Przemyśl. It is a highly readable and often darkly humorous account, based on an extraordinary array of sources in several languages, paints a vivid picture of the political and military shambles into which the Austro-Hungarian Empire had fallen. With chilling precision, it also identifies the presence of many of the germs which would flourish into the horrors which visited the same area in the following decades.

From the list:

The best books to truly understand the First World War

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Book cover of Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World

Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World

By Margaret MacMillan

Why this book?

The complicated business of tidying up after the defeat of the Central Powers and the attempt to put in place a lasting peace is nowhere better covered than in this book. It performs the far from easy feat of explaining the myriad conflicting interests with a detached understanding, which helps one understand the power of the forces unleashed by the war and just how insoluble were the problems these had created.

From the list:

The best books to truly understand the First World War

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Book cover of No Man's Land: 1918 The Last Year of the Great War

No Man's Land: 1918 The Last Year of the Great War

By John Toland

Why this book?

Pulitzer-Prize winning author Toland, in a riveting style, gives us a detailed account of what it was like on the Western Front in 1918 for the British and French armies, their leaders and their soldiers, but more importantly for America, its crucial role and for its men, from President Wilson and General Pershing down to the mud-splattered private on the frontlines. He also delves into the Russia Revolution. When you finish this book, you get a full understanding of the war and what it was like during that last year.

From the list:

The best books on World War I and America's role in it

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Book cover of The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East

The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East

By Eugene Rogan

Why this book?

Until recently, most histories written on the First World War in the Middle East only considered the “European” perspective. However, as the book rightly emphasizes, it was the entry of the Ottoman Empire into the war that turned a “European” conflict into a world war. At the end of four years, an old empire of over six centuries was dissolved into many states. The book not only details the political and military history of the Middle East at war, but also presents the human side of the story. The book discusses the wartime Middle East from the view of different…
From the list:

The best books on the Middle East during the First World War

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Book cover of Greenmantle

Greenmantle

By John Buchan

Why this book?

John Buchan served in the War Propaganda Bureau during WWI, crafting press releases that sought to preserve public morale against the terrible losses on the Western Front. Already a successful novelist, he created a new character named Richard Hannay who starred in his 1915 adventure thriller The Thirty Nine Steps. Hannay was so popular that Buchan revived him for a 1916 sequel set in the Ottoman Empire that proved an enduring classic: Greenmantle. Through his work in intelligence and propaganda, Buchan was aware of British war planners’ concerns that the Ottoman call for jihad that followed their declaration of war…

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The best books by Western veterans of the Great War in the Middle East

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Book cover of Sea and Sardinia

Sea and Sardinia

By D.H. Lawrence

Why this book?

“COMES over one an absolute necessity to move.” Has there ever been a more appropriate opening line to any travel book? D H Lawrence moved to Sicily right after the First World War and from there got the itch to board a ship and visit Sardinia to the north with his wife Frida. He was hoping to find a primitive, pre-modern society, where men were men and women were women. He did indeed find them and was appalled. But delighted too. It’s hard to think of a book with more fun in it, more self-mockery, more pathos, and more poetry.…

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The best books for understanding the Italian mindset

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Book cover of Regeneration

Regeneration

By Pat Barker

Why this book?

Siegfried Sassoon was a decorated war hero. His friend Robert Graves described Sassoon’s unswerving bravery in volunteering for the most dangerous raids as almost suicidal. But this homosexual son of the English Jewish merchant aristocracy achieved poetic note during the Great War through lyrics he wrote in protest against the war. He finally issued a public letter condemning the casual way in which leaders sent young men by their thousands to the slaughter for “end which I believe to be evil and unjust.” That was grounds for court-martial and execution by firing squad. In part thanks to Graves’ intervention to…

From the list:

The best books on World War One from unique perspectives

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Book cover of The Ghost Road

The Ghost Road

By Pat Barker

Why this book?

The culmination of the trilogy, The Ghost Road, continues Barker’s exploration of the morality of war as the war draws to an end.  Dr. Rivers’ successful treatment of Billy Prior has resulted in Prior’s return to the front where he prepares to enter the war’s final battles, detailing his experiences in a diary.  Rivers’ himself continues to care for patients while revisiting pivotal scenes from his own past.  

From the list:

The best books on WW1 with insight into the time and place through multiple perspectives

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Book cover of Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall

Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall

By James Polchin

Why this book?

This is a great book for discovering the way that the American Justice System has handled the LGBT community and the crimes perpetrated against them over the years. This is a detailed example of the prejudices and hidden history of violence against the gay community in history. Like it’s title, Victims were quite often accused of having made indecent advances. 

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The best books covering the criminal justice system in America

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Book cover of Hitler's First War: Adolf Hitler, the Men of the List Regiment, and the First World War

Hitler's First War: Adolf Hitler, the Men of the List Regiment, and the First World War

By Thomas Weber

Why this book?

Weber is another outstanding and original historian. Here he takes apart all the myths that have accumulated around Hitler’s military service in the First World War, showing that Hitler was a mediocre soldier with a relatively safe job who got medals because the officers knew who he was. Weber also shows how crucial a (legendary) version of Hitler’s war service was to his rise to power.

From the list:

The best books on the legacy of the First World War

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Book cover of George C. Marshall, Vol. 1: Education of a General, 1880-1939

George C. Marshall, Vol. 1: Education of a General, 1880-1939

By Forrest C. Pogue

Why this book?

Few Americans remember the Marshall Plan that helped make western Europe the economic powerhouse it is today. Fewer still remember the man behind the Marshall Plan, who led the U.S. military during World War II, and later became Secretary of State. Pogue’s four-volume biography isn’t your usual military biography with a long recitation of battles, dates, and minutiae about guns and ships. It’s about how an obscure career officer who never went to West Point became the confidant of two presidents and the mentor of a future one, Dwight Eisenhower (who later betrayed him during the Trump-like McCarthy era). When…

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The most well written political biographies

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Book cover of Behind the Enigma: The Authorized History of Gchq, Britain's Secret Cyber-Intelligence Agency

Behind the Enigma: The Authorized History of Gchq, Britain's Secret Cyber-Intelligence Agency

By John Ferris

Why this book?

This is the long-anticipated authorized history of GCHQ, one of Britain’s most top-secret intelligence agencies that was published in 2020. John Ferris was granted rare access to the majority of the archives at GCHQ headquarters in Cheltenham.  This volume of over 800 pages provides an open assessment of the crucial role of GCHQ in the most important defining moments of the 20th and 21st centuries; from the codebreakers of the First World War, to breaking of the German Enigma codes in the Second World War, and to contemporary times with the betrayal by whistleblower Edward Snowdon in 2013.…

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The best books on intelligence and espionage

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Book cover of The Golden Age of the Great Passenger Airships: Graf Zeppelin and Hindenburg

The Golden Age of the Great Passenger Airships: Graf Zeppelin and Hindenburg

By Harold Dick, Douglas Robinson

Why this book?

Harold Dick, a young American engineer, was seconded to the Zeppelin Company between 1934 and 1938, putting him in the unique position of being the only outsider ever allowed within its secretive hangars for a prolonged time. While he was there, he collected data, photos, and reports, compiled a diary, and was on excellent terms with the greatest airshipman of all time, Hugo Eckener, who had been Count von Zeppelin’s protégé and had run the company since before the First World War. All of that, plus the fact that he made no fewer than 22 transatlantic voyages on the Graf…

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The best books about Zeppelin airships

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Book cover of Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East

Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East

By Scott Anderson

Why this book?

T.E. Lawrence, best known from David Lean’s monumental film, is the centerpiece, but this book goes well beyond biography. It has the pace and feel of a thriller, but the research and analytical thinking of a serious historic account. Anderson, a novelist and war correspondent, finds the roots of today’s Middle East turmoil in World War I. He finds alliances, intrigue, and deceit that foreshadowed the turbulent future. His story provides valuable insight into the international politics that shaped the Mid-East after World War I, and set the stage for the dissonant future.

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The best books for insight into the Israeli Palestinian Conflict

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Book cover of The History of the American Expedition Fighting the Bolsheviki Campaigning in North Russia 1918-1919

The History of the American Expedition Fighting the Bolsheviki Campaigning in North Russia 1918-1919

By Joel R. Moore, Harry H. Mead, Lewis E. Jahns

Why this book?

The best account of the futile Allied attempts to keep Russia in the war.   Largely ignored, mainly because it was politically embarrassing and.  Still worse, through no fauly of the army, it was militarily unsucessful.  But the intervention left lasting scars, and consequences were fatal for the remainder of the century. 

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The best books on the other fronts in WW1

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Book cover of Practicing Democracy: Elections and Political Culture in Imperial Germany

Practicing Democracy: Elections and Political Culture in Imperial Germany

By Margaret Lavinia Anderson

Why this book?

People learn democracy by practicing it. The Germans practiced and practiced, and eventually got better at it. This is the main argument of Margaret Lavinia Anderson’s stunning book. Scrutinizing hundreds of contested elections, Anderson shows how Germans gradually reformed their authoritarian structures without significant constitutional reform. She demonstrates that the grassroots struggle for more democracy brought voters out of their narrow communities and helped form a wider civic culture. Alas, however, practice did not make perfect, and Germany was not saved from its own aggressive militarism.

From the list:

The best books on Imperial Germany before World War I

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Book cover of Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany

Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany

By Isabel V. Hull

Why this book?

No one has dissected the military culture of the German Army with such a sharp analytical scalpel as Isabel Hull. This book, “a study in institutional extremism,” takes us deep into the mind of the German military. Hull argues that since the Franco-German War of 1870, German military leaders began to conceive of war as not over until complete military victory was obtained. This insight led her to the controversial contention that Germany’s large-scale slaughter of the Herero and Nama in Southwest Africa was not primarily a result of racism or of genocidal impulses in German culture generally, but of…

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The best books on Imperial Germany before World War I

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Book cover of Advertising Empire: Race and Visual Culture in Imperial Germany

Advertising Empire: Race and Visual Culture in Imperial Germany

By David Ciarlo

Why this book?

Full with arresting interpretations of visual material, this book shows how modern advertising subtly influenced racist templates. The prose is carefully-wrought and elegant. The dissection of racist images is done with patience and subtlety. And in the process, we learn how,  in the age of high imperialism, advertising reinforced ordinary racism and white supremacy became a default position.

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The best books on Imperial Germany before World War I

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Book cover of Red Saxony: Election Battles and the Spectre of Democracy in Germany, 1860-1918

Red Saxony: Election Battles and the Spectre of Democracy in Germany, 1860-1918

By James Retallack

Why this book?

In this profound, masterfully conceived, and beautifully written study of authoritarianism and democracy in the state of Saxony, James Retallack reminds us of the political power of Imperial Germany’s anti-democratic forces. We see authoritarian elements intimidating, cajoling, and constraining the social-democratic opposition. We see them clipping voting rights where possible, bullying opponents when they could, and subverting democratic institutions when it suited their interests. Sound familiar?

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The best books on Imperial Germany before World War I

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Book cover of Wilhelm II (2 vols)

Wilhelm II (2 vols)

By Lamar Cecil

Why this book?

Wilhelm II, the last Hohenzollern kaiser of Germany, and the last King of Prussia, bears perhaps more than any other single individual the onus of causing World War I, the most industrial and catastrophic conflict ever seen on earth to that point. His flamboyant personality, erratic thought processes, and often uncontrollable outbursts of temper, disjointed the European political arena on a sometimes weekly basis, causing instability, confusion, and uncertainty in the minds of diplomats throughout Europe. His abdication of the throne in 1918 proved the end of the Hohenzollern dynasty, with East Prussia detached geographically from the rest of Germany…

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The best books on Prussia from different perspectives

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Book cover of In the Mountains

In the Mountains

By Elizabeth von Arnim

Why this book?

Immediately after the war, a bereaved woman returns alone to her family’s summer home in the Swiss Alps. It is a beautiful place, but she’s terrified of the memories it stirs, and haunted by the ghosts of those she’s lost. When a couple of lost English widows happen upon her house, she seizes eagerly on their company and the distraction they provide. She invites them to stay, and quickly forms an intense and rather desperate attachment to them. This novel gives a fine evocation of a time when so many felt displaced, when it was as if the tectonic plates…

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The best books on finding a new normal after World War I

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Book cover of The Great Silence: Britain from the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz Age

The Great Silence: Britain from the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz Age

By Juliet Nicolson

Why this book?

Enormously useful to me while researching for Blasted Things, was The Great Silence: 1918-1920 Living in the Shadow of the Great War. Taking us through chapters entitled feelingly with nouns: from Wound and Shock, through Resignation, and finally to Hope, Trust and Acceptance, Nicolson provides a chronological account of the period between the 1918 Armistice and the burial of the Unknown Soldier in 1920. It’s addictively readable, the history enriched by the recounted experiences of ordinary people from all walks of life, giving a rounded sense of the time, filled with detail about culture, music, the movies, fashion,…

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The best books on finding a new normal after World War I

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Book cover of History of London Transport: The Twentieth Century to 1970

History of London Transport: The Twentieth Century to 1970

By T.C. Barker, Michael Robbins

Why this book?

This is one of the only comprehensive books on the history of London’s transport system and though long out of print and written in the 1960s, it is still the best explanation of how the network developed. It is the starting point for anyone seeking to research this field.

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The best books on the history of London’s railways

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Book cover of French or Foe?: Getting the Most Out of Visiting, Living and Working in France

French or Foe?: Getting the Most Out of Visiting, Living and Working in France

By Polly Platt

Why this book?

Polly Platt was the first author to write about the frustrating features of French in a way that would help foreigners deal with them. In this classic, first published in 1994, she delves into their intense relationship to food, explains how to handle rudeness in stores, how to deal with the French bureaucracy, how their idea of time can drive foreigners crazy and much more. Platt’s observations were eye-opening for me when I first moved to France and are still relevant 25 years later. 

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The best books for understanding the French

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Book cover of The Broken Years: Australian Soldiers in the Great War

The Broken Years: Australian Soldiers in the Great War

By Bill Gammage

Why this book?

Bill Gammage was a doctoral candidate at the Australian National University in the early 1970s, when military history was so unfashionable he had to find a PhD supervisor among academics with whom he played football. He was the first to realise the value of the Australian War Memorial’s collection of soldiers’ letters and diaries, collected from the 1920s but which, astonishingly, no one had used. Bill used them to write a thesis published in 1974 as The Broken Years, which revealed that to Australians in the Great War it meant ‘nationhood, brotherhood, and sacrifice’. The Broken Years has appeared…

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The best books on Australian military history

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Book cover of I Was a Spy!

I Was a Spy!

By Marthe McKenna

Why this book?

Nothing so well illustrates the emotional strain of spying as I Was a Spy! After the German invasion and occupation of Belgium in the First World War, the twenty-year-old Marthe McKenna was forced to work in a German army hospital. She was recruited by English intelligence to obtain military information from wounded German soldiers. She did her job so well that she found herself nursing German soldiers wounded in British airstrikes that used her intelligence. She was under such stress that when the German military awarded her their highest honor, the Iron Cross, for her nursing work, she barely avoided…

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The best books about (or by) women spies of the First World War

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Book cover of Femme Fatale: Love, Lies, and the Unknown Life of Mata Hari

Femme Fatale: Love, Lies, and the Unknown Life of Mata Hari

By Pat Shipman

Why this book?

The image of the female spy should have been Marthe McKenna and women spies like her.  Instead, because of a nude dancer from The Netherlands, the popular but unfair image of a spy in spy thrillers and Hollywood films is often that of a devious seductress. The nude dancer’s stage name was Mata Hari, who became the mistress to senior French officers and officials during the war. She may have pretended to spy for both sides to earn money, but revealed no significant secrets. Nonetheless in 1917, the French accused her of being a German spy who had used her…

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The best books about (or by) women spies of the First World War

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Book cover of I Spied for France

I Spied for France

By Marthe Richer

Why this book?

Marthe Richer’s memoir is a bookend to Mata Hari’s story because her wartime French spy handler, Captain Georges Ladoux, was the man who had framed Mata Hari. A prostitute before the war, Richer was recruited by Ladoux to spy for France, which she did effectively. After the war, however, she claimed to have been a double agent who passed French secrets to a German official (no one really knows the truth). Richer observed that Mata Hari “was exactly what I was myself, however, I was decorated with the Legion d’honneur and Mata Hari was executed.” Later she pursued a political…

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The best books about (or by) women spies of the First World War

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Book cover of Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations

Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations

By Georgina Howell

Why this book?

Not many spies create nations, but Gertrude Bell, a multi-talented English archeologist, Arab scholar, travel writer, mountaineer, and intelligence agent, did just that. When fighting during the First World War spread to the Middle East, Bell joined British intelligence in Cairo where one of her colleagues was T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia. After the British drove Turkish forces out of Baghdad in 1917, Bell joined the British colonial administration and later drew the boundaries of the country we know as Iraq from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. 

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The best books about (or by) women spies of the First World War

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Book cover of Female Intelligence: Women and Espionage in the First World War

Female Intelligence: Women and Espionage in the First World War

By Tammy M. Proctor

Why this book?

For a wide-angle view of women spies in the First World War, none does a better job than Female Intelligence. The author discusses each of the women spies in my first four books, and many others as well, but places them in the context of the war, the status of women, and the dawn of modern espionage. As Proctor points out, before the war women spied mainly on an ad hoc basis but the manpower needs of the espionage bureaucracy created by the war gave women an opportunity to spy as part of large networks, and even in some…

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The best books about (or by) women spies of the First World War

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

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

By Modris Eksteins

Why this book?

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…
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The best books on the cultural history of the First World War

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Book cover of Ottoline Morrell: Life on a Grand Scale

Ottoline Morrell: Life on a Grand Scale

By Miranda Seymour

Why this book?

Miranda Seymour sits at the head of critical and biographical writing on the literary elite at the time of the war. This book about an outrageously flamboyant aristocrat who knew intimately the cream of literary and political society in Britain is a must. Ottoline was rumoured to have had a long-term dalliance with H. H. Asquith, the Prime Minister who took the empire into war. She cultivated (and was said to have had affairs with) almost all the great minds of the era. Miranda Seymour’s elegant writing gives us an unforgettable window on the world at a point of profound…
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The best books on the cultural history of the First World War

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Book cover of Women and the First World War

Women and the First World War

By Susan R. Grayzel

Why this book?

This is an excellent introduction to the varied experiences of women in the war, both those on active service as workers or volunteers, those who were victims of the war, fleeing their homes as refugees, and those who remained at home, carrying out domestic roles as wives and mothers in what were often difficult circumstances. It is a book I regularly recommend to my students. Although no book could cover all nations and contexts in a four-year global war, it shows not only how the war had an impact on millions of women’s lives, but also how women’s actions had…

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The best books on women and the First World War

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Book cover of Unknown Warriors: The Letters of Kate Luard RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918

Unknown Warriors: The Letters of Kate Luard RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918

By John Stevens, Caroline Stevens

Why this book?

Although it’s not as well-known as Vera Brittain’s powerful 1933 memoir Testament of Youth, British military nurse Kate Luard’s letters deserve to be widely read, for the vivid and moving picture they paint of life in a front-line hospital in the last two years of the war. Luard had already worked as a military nurse in the Boer War, and was a confident and highly skilled nurse, but it is clear that four years of nursing seriously ill and wounded soldiers often stretched her to her professional and emotional limits. There are lighter moments, too, and Luard pays tribute…

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The best books on women and the First World War

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Book cover of They Fought for the Motherland: Russia's Women Soldiers in World War I and the Revolution

They Fought for the Motherland: Russia's Women Soldiers in World War I and the Revolution

By Laurie S. Stoff

Why this book?

Although they are largely forgotten now, the five to six thousand Russian women who enlisted as soldiers were amongst the most photographed and written about women in the First World War, especially the charismatic but tyrannical leader of the 1st Russian Women’s Battalion of Death, Maria Bochkareva. Stoff’s book gives a highly readable and fascinating account of their formation, their military action, their ill-fated involvement in the defence of the Winter Palace when it was stormed by the Bolsheviks in November 1917, and their reception by the rest of the world as the only battalions of women to carry…

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The best books on women and the First World War

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Book cover of Sunset Song

Sunset Song

By Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Why this book?

Written in 1932, but set at the turn of the twentieth century, this beautifully written and evocative novel has been adapted to both stage and film. I love this book with a passion, because of the beautiful prose and because in a way it taught me how the ordinary lives of my people are inextricably intertwined with the land. Sunset Song follows the life of Chris Guthrie a young woman on the east coast of Scotland, her relationship to the land and to the poor farming community she has grown up in. Like my novel, it is the first installment…

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The best Scottish books to lose yourself in the dream that is Scotland

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Book cover of A Whole Empire Walking: Refugees in Russia During World War I

A Whole Empire Walking: Refugees in Russia During World War I

By Peter Gatrell

Why this book?

There has been a revival of the study of the Russian experience in World War I over the last twenty-five years. Much of this can be explained by the opening of archives after 1991 and by the centennial of the war in 2014-2018. But the publication of this book was also enormously important. It recast the impact of the war by focusing on the experience of regular individuals rather than Petrograd elites and labor leaders. It also highlighted the massive scale of social dislocation – more than six million uprooted Russian subjects in all.

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The best and most recent books on Russia in World War I

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Book cover of Mobilizing the Russian Nation: Patriotism and Citizenship in the First World War

Mobilizing the Russian Nation: Patriotism and Citizenship in the First World War

By Melissa Kirshcke Stockdale

Why this book?

One of the most pernicious myths surrounding the Russian population in the years of the war is that the subjects of the tsar were too provincial and ignorant to really have a sense of what was going on or why. This myth was perpetuated above all by political and military elites after the war as a way of explaining the reasons they had lost the war. Stockdale’s work makes this myth almost impossible to maintain. In chapters on the effectiveness of mass media, on the role of the church, on the heartfelt hatred of the enemy, and more, she shows…

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The best and most recent books on Russia in World War I

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Book cover of Entangling Alliances: Foreign War Brides and American Soldiers in the Twentieth Century

Entangling Alliances: Foreign War Brides and American Soldiers in the Twentieth Century

By Susan Zeiger

Why this book?

Most war books focus on soldiers, Entangling Alliances does not. Instead, it provides a fascinating look at the women who married soldiers. Despite the romanticism often associated with wartime marriages, many readers may be surprised to discover that war brides were rarely welcomed. In fact, these marriages were primarily treated as undesirable and problematic. Nevertheless, despite this opposition, tens of thousands of war brides immigrated to the United States throughout the 20th century and their entry forced America to confront its xenophobia and reevaluate its beliefs about the purpose and benefits of marriage. Through an exploration of wartime marriages, Entangling…
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The best books on the history of love and marriage

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Book cover of When the War Came Home: The Ottomans' Great War and the Devastation of an Empire

When the War Came Home: The Ottomans' Great War and the Devastation of an Empire

By Yiğit Akın

Why this book?

The book is a well-written account on the Ottoman home front detailing the Ottoman experience of the Great War from a perspective of social history. It deals not only with the difficulties of the Ottoman conscription and the provisions, but also provides deep insight into the lives of women, Armenian deportees, and refugees. The book tells us that besides the political and military defeats it was the home front that mattered when it came to the legitimacy of the empire; after all the suffering that the population had to endure, people were alienated from the state and began to question…
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The best books on the Middle East during the First World War

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Book cover of Good Morning, Midnight

Good Morning, Midnight

By Jean Rhys

Why this book?

“I want a long, calm book about people with large incomes – a book like a flat green meadow and the sheep feeding in it… I read most of the time and I am happy.” First published in1939, this novel is a portrait of a woman who struggles in Paris. She is on her own and has no job or money.

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The best books about ups and downs in Paris: C'est La Vie

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Book cover of Bad Land: An American Romance

Bad Land: An American Romance

By Jonathan Raban

Why this book?

Evocative and clear-eyed introduction to the western landscape; this compelling read orients readers firmly in place and time. It’s carefully researched nonfiction that reads like a suspense thriller; you’ll spend many nights reading it past your bedtime.

From the list:

The best books on Montana during WWI

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Book cover of When You & I Were Young, Whitefish

When You & I Were Young, Whitefish

By Dorothy M. Johnson

Why this book?

Dorothy M. Johnson wrote three short stories that were made into Western movies: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance; The Hanging Tree; and A Man Called Horse. But this collection is a light-hearted visit to her childhood, growing up near Glacier National Park. A quick but delightful read to balance out some of the chewier reading I’ve suggested.

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The best books on Montana during WWI

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Book cover of A Peaceful Conquest: Woodrow Wilson, Religion, and the New World Order

A Peaceful Conquest: Woodrow Wilson, Religion, and the New World Order

By Cara Lea Burnidge

Why this book?

Although there is no shortage of books on the 28th president and his foreign policy—we even use “Wilsonian” as a shorthand for the embrace of idealism, liberal internationalism, and democratic capitalism in U.S. foreign relations—Burnidge’s work offers an exceptional exploration of how religion and religious ideas informed Wilson’s approach to world affairs. She sets her chronicle of Wilson’s life and spiritual development within the context of the broader religious history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and weaves in expert analysis of the relationship between Wilson’s Christianity, race, and racism in that era. This provides…

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The best books on the history of religion in U.S. foreign relations

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

The Swordbearers: Supreme Command in the First World War

By Correlli Barnett

Why this book?

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. 

From the list:

The best books to truly understand the Western Front of WW1 (1914-18)

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Book cover of Haig's Enemy: Crown Prince Rupprecht and Germany's War on the Western Front

Haig's Enemy: Crown Prince Rupprecht and Germany's War on the Western Front

By Jonathan Boff

Why this book?

Boff’s book, impressively researched with extensive use of rare primary sources, and winner of two impressive British book awards, examines the war life and times of Bavarian Crown Prince Rupprecht. In high command on the Western Front for the entire war, Rupprecht remained in position to witness the limitations of Prussian generalship, especially in 1914 and 1918; the growing preponderance of allied strength after U.S. entry in 1917; and divisive home front politics throughout Germany. He lost not only the war, but also a son, as well as his throne, which was swept away in the revolutionary upheaval at the…

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The best books on the German army in World War One

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Book cover of Learning Empire: Globalization and the German Quest for World Status, 1875-1919

Learning Empire: Globalization and the German Quest for World Status, 1875-1919

By Erik Grimmer-Solem

Why this book?

I appreciate books that challenge my preconceptions. Grimmer-Solem does that by insisting that we understand German Weltpolitik before WWI not as an aberrant or markedly aggressive outlook, but as a normal response to the pressures and opportunities of turn-of-the-century world politics. The German search for colonies, spheres of influence, and a large navy were comparable to other nations—notably the United States. Such policies are unsurprising in a world where globalization has made developed nations dependent on intercontinental trade but where possibilities for future commerce and investment seemed to be closed off by the imperial scrambles of the late nineteenth century,…

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The best books on economics and geopolitics

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Book cover of East of Eden

East of Eden

By John Steinbeck

Why this book?

What is a story without great characters? Steinbeck himself believed this novel was the apex of his career, citing all his previous works as working towards this summit. East of Eden has some very dark and chilling moments and captures a rawness of human nature rarely seen in books of his era. This emotional grit draws the reader in and showcases Steinbeck’s literary skills as a progressive, one perhaps not welcomed as readily in his day, but one that’s proven to withstand the test of time. For a vivid recreation of a distant era with characters that sizzle with emotion,…

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The best historical fiction to capture the essence of 19th & 20th century America

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Book cover of The Unconsoled

The Unconsoled

By Kazuo Ishiguro

Why this book?

In this extraordinary novel, a famous pianist arrives in an unnamed middle European city to give a recital.  But he is constantly thwarted by events. The story works like one of those anxiety dreams in which you are trying to get somewhere, but can somehow never quite reach it. And this is not a coincidence because Ishiguro quite deliberately set out to write a novel that used the narrative devices of dreams to tell its story.  In dreams, for instance, we can open a door and step right through into a different part of town, or we can hear people’s…

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The best hard-to-categorize novels

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Book cover of A Local Habitation (Life And Times, Volume 1: 1918-1940)

A Local Habitation (Life And Times, Volume 1: 1918-1940)

By Richard Hoggart

Why this book?

Another memoir, but very different to Waterhouse. An academic, Hoggart had already drawn on his Leeds childhood for the seminal text, The Uses of Literacy. This expands on that, fleshing out the bones of the other work. It paints a broader picture of Leeds, overlapping a decade with City Lights. Hoggart has a prodigious memory, and while he can tend to paint the poor, working-class past with rosy colours sometimes, he certainly does evoke a time, seeing the events of the days through a child’s – and adolescent’s – eyes. He made good, going on to university, and…

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The best books on Leeds as it was

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Book cover of Fear: A Novel of World War I

Fear: A Novel of World War I

By Gabriel Chevallier, Malcolm Imrie

Why this book?

Not as well known as Henri Barbusse’s great novel Under Fire (Le feu), Chevalier’s book should be on everyone’s shelf of works on the Great War. This aptly titled novel is very obviously based on Chevalier’s own experiences serving as a soldier at the front. The writing is haunting and evocative of the extreme trauma of combat, the miseries of life in the trenches, and the emotional responses of young soldiers to the broader society that sent them to war. 

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The best books on France and the first World War

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Book cover of The Living Unknown Soldier: A Story of Grief and the Great War

The Living Unknown Soldier: A Story of Grief and the Great War

By Jean-Yves Le Naour, Penny Allen

Why this book?

With some 1.5 million men dead, and several million more wounded, the story of France and the Great War is in many ways simply the story of grief, and this work captures that beautifully. Through the tragic, true story of a wounded amnesiac veteran whose name and family are unknown, Le Naour tells the crucial story of women, families, and an entire culture in mourning, in many ways hopelessly. Yet the veteran and the people who try to help him or claim him as their own retain their dignity and humanity in this account.

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The best books on France and the first World War

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Book cover of Out of the Everywhere and Other Extraordinary Visions

Out of the Everywhere and Other Extraordinary Visions

By James Tiptree Jr.

Why this book?

This anthology has one of my favorite stories by Tiptree, it is called "We who stole the dream". The Joilani have long been enslaved and abused by humans. So has another race, of “delicately winged creatures”, whose sweat is a powerful intoxicant to humans. It is most potent when the donor experiences pain and fear, so humans have taken to torturing mated pairs of them, so the partners can watch each other suffer. The resulting sweat is a drug called Star Tears. Although that unnamed race plays no active role in the story, they are on my list because…

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The best aliens in science fiction books

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Book cover of Age of Pandemics (1817-1920) : How They Shaped India and the World

Age of Pandemics (1817-1920) : How They Shaped India and the World

By Chinmay Tumbe

Why this book?

It manages to leverage the world history of coping with pandemics over the last couple of centuries by focusing on India’s Experience with them. A readable academic book with frequent reference to the author's own life experience. It uses the history of public health to illuminate all aspects of the nation’s history
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The best books about India now

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Book cover of The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend

By Dan Santat

Why this book?

An unnamed imaginary friend waits and waits for a child to choose him; but when he has waited long enough, he sets out on an adventure into the real world to find his Alice. The sweetness of Alice and Beekle’s new friendship is heartwarming, made all the sweeter by the wait. Beekle won the Caldecott Medal, so it won’t surprise you that the illustrations are brilliant. Santat’s use of shadow and color is just mesmerizing.

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The best children’s picture books about navigating friendship

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Book cover of Torchbearers of Democracy: African American Soldiers in the World War I Era

Torchbearers of Democracy: African American Soldiers in the World War I Era

By Chad L. Williams

Why this book?

Torchbearers is a pathbreaking history of the fight for American democracy during World War I, told from the perspective of African American servicemen who joined, fought, and returned from battle. Already engaged in conflict over civil rights in the US, African Americans took seriously the call to “make the world safe for democracy.” Through writing, activism, and organizing, they linked their domestic fight to the foreign fight against democracy’s enemies. Perhaps no other group in the US, Williams shows, was poised to engage the very biggest questions that animated the war – questions of citizenship, rights, freedom, and empire –…

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The best books on the history of the military, war, and society in the twentieth-century United States

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Book cover of Out of the Ashes

Out of the Ashes

By Keren Hughes

Why this book?

In Out of the Ashes our heroine, Jenna Morgan, is another great example of the strength needed…this time to preserver. She starts over, which can be scary, but does it with confidence. She enjoys her newfound freedom and gets a new tattoo…which leads to meeting our hero, Nate. Drama and tension ensue, Jenna proving she’s a strong, confident woman. 

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The best romance books with strong, confident female main characters

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Book cover of Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Goodbye, Mr. Chips

By James Hilton

Why this book?

Goodbye, Mr. Chips is supposed to be a sentimental paean to a lost England. I am here to say that this is wrong. The sentiment in Goodbye, Mr. Chips is a true sentiment: a sentiment for what was lost – the ideal of the gentleman – and grief for what those good, earnest teachers turning out schoolboys had done: turned boys, with all their enthusiasm and courage and hope, into meat for the grinder of the First World War. Goodbye, Mr. Chips is not the story people think it is. Read it and see.

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The best overlooked and/or largely forgotten historical fiction novels

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Book cover of All Among the Barley

All Among the Barley

By Melissa Harrison

Why this book?

Is this historical fiction or is it sublime nature writing?  Answer: it's both. Melissa Harrison completely immersed me into the rural Sussex world of Edie in 1933, a world unchanged for centuries. It is described in achingly beautiful, hypnotic, poetic language: the kind of prose I'd hoped I would write when I turned from poetry to fiction, but which has so far escaped me. I was utterly captivated by the multi-textured world she creates, and the shock of the ending, and the darkness which lies beneath. I loved the way she trusted the reader to understand what was going on,…

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The best women's historical fiction

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Book cover of A Mathematician's Apology

A Mathematician's Apology

By G.H. Hardy

Why this book?

I read this in one gulp at the age of sixteen, but it has remained part of my mental furniture to this day. There is a story from the First World War of a Cambridge don accosted in the street with a demand to explain why he was not at the front. "Madam, I am the civilisation they are fighting to preserve." Written in a very dark time, it is a celebration of the value of intellectual endeavour independent of practical utility. Beautifully written it gives genuine insight into the nature of mathematical thought.
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The best books about the mathematical life

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Book cover of Flowers from the Storm

Flowers from the Storm

By Laura Kinsale

Why this book?

Laura Kinsale is another magnificently individual voice, and her unusual, complex, emotional stories are among the best in the genre. Flowers from the Storm is probably her masterpiece. I’m in awe of how she brings off this heartrending story of a humble Quaker girl and a duke. Maddy’s religious conviction is woven into her personality in a way that’s true to the time but rarely explored in romantic fiction. Even more unusual, while rakish dukes are a staple of the genre, rakish dukes who suffer a stroke and end up in a madhouse are less common! What lifts this Cinderella…

From the list:

The best classic historical romance novels

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Book cover of Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend

By Susan Orlean

Why this book?

There is always something more behind the image of the celebrities we love to watch on the screen, and it’s even truer when the star is a dog. Susan Orlean writes in her signature propulsive style of the life and times of the German shepherd who became an American icon. Of the puppy who was discovered in France by an American soldier in World War I, Orlean says, "He was born in 1918 and he never died." Rin Tin Tin was in many ways a symbol—the aspirational vessel for a nation’s striving—even as he was himself, a loyal friend to…

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The best books that prove we don’t deserve dogs

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Book cover of Slippery Creatures

Slippery Creatures

By KJ Charles

Why this book?

I’m stretching this category because neither of the protagonists here are actually cops, but Kim Secretan does work for a shadowy government agency and there’s a real mystery in this three-book series, though there is also a lovely romance between Kim and World War I veteran and bookseller Will Darling. KJ Charles is one of my all-time favorite authors, and everything she publishes becomes a must-read for me.

From the list:

The best mysteries with gay cops

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Book cover of The Thirty-Nine Steps

The Thirty-Nine Steps

By John Buchan

Why this book?

Written at the start of the First World War, when victory was very much in doubt, this cracker of a thriller sees Richard Hannay evade both crooks and cops in a chase across Scotland to preserve the secret of a murdered man. If he loses, the war might be lost – the stakes are that high. Hannay’s ingenuity is pushed to the utmost as the hunted fugitive. Buchan’s love of Scotland shines through, a terrific background to an unputdownable thriller. Filmed many times, the book has a tension and a pace that has never been really captured on screen.
From the list:

The best classic mysteries ever written

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Book cover of A Passion Most Pure

A Passion Most Pure

By Julie Lessman

Why this book?

Julie is my go-to author for great characters, a heart-rendering romance, and a plot that keeps you turning pages. Her expertise is characters. After I read this book, I felt like all the characters were my best friends. The romance and passion are over the top for a Christian novel, but not too far. If you like family sagas, this is a great book to start. Julie is just one darn good author.

From the list:

The best Christian romance novels that will keep you on the edge of your seat

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Book cover of Dreamhunter

Dreamhunter

By Elizabeth Knox

Why this book?

Elizabeth Knox is a world-class writer with an exceptional imagination and her fantasy novel, Dreamhunter, is a great introduction to her work. Set in an alternative past, dreamhunters harvest dreams which are transmitted to the public for entertainment and therapy – or worse. Fifteen-year-old Laura Hame must enter The Place of Dreams to uncover what happened to her missing dreamhunter father and in the process reveals how the government has used dreams to control an ever-growing population of convicts and political dissenters. Those who love Philip Pullman or Garth Nix won’t be disappointed.

From the list:

The best books for an introduction to Aotearoa New Zealand's YA writers (IMO)

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Book cover of All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front

By Erich Maria Remarque, Arthur Wesley Wheen

Why this book?

I have always been passionate about history. As one who believes we can’t understand where mankind is going if we don’t understand where we’ve been this work found me in my teens and is one I’ve never been able to shake. Based on his years as a German soldier in the trenches of World War I, Remarque’s novel is a masterpiece on the realities of war. Inside its pages you will find a vivid, incredibly realistic tale, compelling characters, and a gut-wrenching story.

While all the books I am recommending are works of fiction, each provides compelling insights into the…

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The best oldie, but goldie, books of the past century

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Book cover of The Accident Man: A Novel (A Samuel Carver Novel)

The Accident Man: A Novel (A Samuel Carver Novel)

By Tom Cain

Why this book?

This is the first book in Tom Cain’s series about the assassin Samuel Carver. It’s full of believable action and has a great storyline. Do you remember the conspiracy rumours surrounding the death of Dianna Princess of Wales? Well, in this story, Carver was responsible for the car crash that killed her, having been tricked into setting it up.

It’s a great thriller, full of exciting action from start to finish as he tries to work out who set him up. Carver then becomes the target himself when those who tricked him realise he is learning too much and…

From the list:

The best page-turning assassin thrillers

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Book cover of Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway

By Virginia Woolf

Why this book?

No great events, nothing unusual happens in Mrs. Dalloway’s 140-odd pages. It took my breath away, though, because of Virginia Woolf’s microscopic examination of her main characters’ personalities through their own thoughts. You reach a point where it’s hard to believe the writer knows so much about them, knows how their minds work. And all this takes place in a single day in central London. Clarissa Dalloway, wife of an MP, is putting on a dinner party that night and she needs flowers. What a ridiculously creaky springboard from which to launch one of the world’s greatest novels! But…

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The best novels to challenge hardcore readers

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Book cover of Birdsong

Birdsong

By Sebastian Faulks

Why this book?

This is the most touching love story I have ever read. I do not tend to read period dramas, and so I was hesitant to read a book set during the first world war. However, this book had me in tears so many times. I read this book over ten years ago, yet it is still my favorite love story of all time to date. Beautiful, just beautiful.

From the list:

The best vacation reads about love and friendship

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Book cover of Contesting the Origins of the First World War: An Historiographical Argument

Contesting the Origins of the First World War: An Historiographical Argument

By Troy R. E. Paddock

Why this book?

Paddock brings together the work of three revisionist historians, myself, McMeekin, and Schmidt, in one slim (136 pages) volume. In particular, Paddock gives access to Schmidt’s important work on French planning for those who do not read German. Paddock not only presents German, Russian, and French military planning, but correlates them. The result is a fundamentally new and convincing picture of pre-war military planning and diplomacy.

From the list:

The best new revisionist military history books

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Book cover of The Watermelon Boys

The Watermelon Boys

By Ruqaya Izzidien

Why this book?

Again set in the Middle East, this novel about Ahmad and Carwyn, Arab and Welsh, who are both drawn into the war on its Eastern Front, is an absorbing story from a part of the world that has been neglected in World War I fiction. The two men are both betrayed by the English in different ways, and Izzidien’s Iraqi-Welsh heritage allows her to draw a compassionate picture of both protagonists. It also shows how the rapacious European colonialist mentality that underpinned the entire war created the conditions for terrorism and strife in the region today.

From the list:

The best books about World War One that don’t have the same old story

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Book cover of German Strategy and the Path to Verdun: Erich Von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition, 1870-1916

German Strategy and the Path to Verdun: Erich Von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition, 1870-1916

By Robert T. Foley

Why this book?

Foley’s solid analysis of “the path to Verdun,” a horrible battle in 1916 that inflicted a million casualties, opens with an informative discussion of recent work on the Schlieffen Plan that brings Ritter’s book up to date. Next, he provides an in-depth look at General Staff Chief Erich von Falkenhayn’s attempt to win a sweeping victory on the Eastern Front in 1915. Like Tannenberg, however, extensive gains could not eliminate a vexing enemy. Thus Falkenhayn turned to the west with operational plans almost as ingenious as Schlieffen’s. He wanted to smash through the seemingly impregnable fortress zone of Verdun in…

From the list:

The best books on the German army in World War One

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Book cover of The Defeat of Imperial Germany, 1917-1918

The Defeat of Imperial Germany, 1917-1918

By Rod Paschall

Why this book?

Paschall brings to this book his insightful experience of army organizations and war as an infantry officer and veteran of the Vietnam conflagration. Readers can follow in detail the allied offensives of 1917, Germany’s last gasp effort to win on the Western Front in 1918 after Russia’s collapse in the east, and the retreat and breakdown of the once impressive German army in the waning months of the war.  

From the list:

The best books on the German army in World War One

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Book cover of The Lost Domain: Le Grand Meaulnes

The Lost Domain: Le Grand Meaulnes

By Hermione Lee, Alain-Fournier, Frank Davison

Why this book?

The story of a boy growing up in France before World War 1, of friendship and love and a mysterious house to which the hero finds it hard to return, I have been mesmerized for a lifetime by this short novel, and it’s the basis for my own novel about Fournier’s life and loves.  

From the list:

The best books set in France with themes to match

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Book cover of The Parisian

The Parisian

By Isabella Hammad

Why this book?

This is a recent first novel, set mostly in France, about a young Palestinian man who goes there to study medicine and falls in love with the daughter of his host. I’m still reading it, and admiring the sureness of touch, the knowledge of history, and above all the sense of the period – it’s set before World War 1 and continues through the 20th century. Brava, Isabella Hammad!

From the list:

The best books set in France with themes to match

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Book cover of The Compensations of Plunder: How China Lost Its Treasures

The Compensations of Plunder: How China Lost Its Treasures

By Justin M. Jacobs

Why this book?

A good deal is known about the Westerners who dug up ancient artifacts in Central Asia (China’s Far West) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, not least because these explorers were great self-promoters. This book tells the story from the Chinese side, and it is a lot more interesting and complicated than you might expect. It is only with the birth of Chinese nationalism that the tens of thousands of artifacts now found in the museums and collections of the West came to be defined as Chinese and their loss defined as imperialist looting. By academic standards, this…

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The best books on how imperial China became modern China

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Book cover of Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars

Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars

By George L. Mosse

Why this book?

This may be the book that started it all. Mosse has many books that try to explain the rise of the Nazis in Germany who Mosse and his parents fled in the 1930s. Here Mosse describes how Nazis used the war dead from the First World War in an explicit attempt to harness the nationalism of Germans to support Nazi politics. Winter disagrees with Mosse and developed arguments that are probably more accepted by historians today but, for me, that doesn’t take away from the power of Mosse’s argument. Even though I don’t always agree with Mosse’s analysis, I can’t…

From the list:

The best history books on the memory of the war dead

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Book cover of Goshawk Squadron

Goshawk Squadron

By Derek Robinson

Why this book?

This was the first of Robinson’s many outstanding flying books set in WW1 and WW2. This novel came out in the Seventies when cynicism was in vogue and is full of disquieting dark humour. Historians have quibbled that the dialogue and thoughts used are not true to the period and that is probably a valid call, but the aircraft research and flying scenes are spot on so this must have been a deliberate call by the author. He became a best-selling author, so who is to say he was wrong? Beautifully written, with whip-smart dialogue, his books are nevertheless like…

From the list:

The best WW1 flying novels that take you into the skies with the first men to fight in the heavens

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Book cover of Biggles of 266

Biggles of 266

By Captain W.E. Johns

Why this book?

Johns wrote nearly 100 Biggles books, with this one published amongst the first in 1932. He actually fought in WW1 as a pilot, then was shot down, and became a prisoner of war. So he certainly knows whereof he speaks, and this carries through in his descriptions of fighting in the air and the loss of friends. Nevertheless, this book is essentially light-hearted despite its moments of pathos, being aimed primarily at what would be called today “young adults.” I loved them as a boy and love them today as an adult. The plot and characters are not complex, but…

From the list:

The best WW1 flying novels that take you into the skies with the first men to fight in the heavens

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Book cover of The Collected Stories of Heinrich Boll

The Collected Stories of Heinrich Boll

By Heinrich Boll, Leila Vennewitz

Why this book?

In this devastating collection, Böll explores the emotional aftershocks of war. German soldiers grapple with the desire to flee, to understand what they’ve lost in the fighting, and to make even fleeting connections with each other and the civilians they meet in the bombed out cities and towns. In “Stranger, Bear Word to the Spartans We…” a wounded soldier only gradually comes to realize the extent of his injuries. The weight of the war works its way through all the stories in one way or another, even when the narrators don’t expressly refer to combat or the regime.

From the list:

The best personal books about German complicity and resistance in WW2

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Book cover of The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

By Marie Benedict

Why this book?

Marie Benedict is an author after my own heart – she decided to solve the historical mystery of Agatha Christie’s eleven-day disappearance, for which no explanation was ever given. When I wrote my own book I decided to solve another old mystery: who was the mother of Franklin’s illegitimate son, a boy he convinced his common-law wife to raise as her own? Benedict does an excellent job of capturing the fascinating Christie and presenting a plausible tale grounded in historical fact, a must for all good writers of historical fiction. In addition, much is learned about Mrs. Christie – did…

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The best novels for her side of history

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Book cover of The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918

The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918

By Stephen Kern

Why this book?

This is a breathtaking exploration of how ideas of time and space changed between the 1880s and World War I. Stephen Kern’s mastery of all genres of the arts and literature and throughout the Western world—Europe, Russia, and the US—is beyond belief. No matter who is your favorite intellectual of this era, s/he is right in the narrative. We learn of the massive changes in culture that we owe to this momentous period of time, changes that are still very much with us today.

From the list:

The best books on time, space, and modern urbanism

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Book cover of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Medical Missionary's African Challenges

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Medical Missionary's African Challenges

By Lowell A. Gess

Why this book?

I found Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory a compelling and interesting book about Dr. Gess and his work as a doctor in Africa. Although he treated various medical conditions, his work focused on the plight of the blind in Africa. This dedicated Christian doctor brought not only physical healing to his patients, but also spiritual help and guidance to his patients and their families. The book includes many photographs of the events being described. By end of the book, I had a new awareness of the physical and spiritual needs of the people in this vast continent.

From the list:

The best Christian fiction books to highlight the wonders of life and mission work in Africa

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Book cover of Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea

Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea

By 0679456716

Why this book?

Massie is a university-trained “popular” historian, that is, he writes especially for the broad, history-loving public audience rather than for professorial specialists. In Castles of Steel, his term for the biggest ships of that day, he succeeds in surveying the entire war at sea in World War One: the Pacific, the South Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the U-boat (i.e. submarine) - infested sea lanes to Britain and France, and of course the critical North Sea, where Britain and Germany squared off against one another for the entire war (1914-1918), not just at Jutland. His fine, very well-written work…

From the list:

The best books on naval warfare in World War One

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Book cover of The Kaiser S Pirates: Hunting Germany S Raiding Cruisers 1914-1915

The Kaiser S Pirates: Hunting Germany S Raiding Cruisers 1914-1915

By Nick Hewitt

Why this book?

Readers will find Hewitt’s book a fascinating read. Along with the stories of five German ocean liners converted into armed merchant cruisers (AMCs) for raiding enemy commerce, especially the most successful of them, Kronprinz Wilhelm and Prinz Eitel Friedrich, which destroyed twenty-six vessels totaling nearly 100,000 tons, he also relates the dramatic raiding campaigns of German warships like light cruisers Karlsruhe and Emden, which bagged thirty-two merchantmen (over 140,000 tons). Other chapters cover the Goeben episode (described above) as well as the victory of Graf Spee’s East Asiatic Squadron at Coronel and its tragic demise at the Falklands…

From the list:

The best books on naval warfare in World War One

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Book cover of The Passing Bells

The Passing Bells

By Phillip Rock

Why this book?

I came upon this 3-part series almost by accident and quickly gobbled it up, surprised that it is not more well known. It is a fabulous upstairs/downstairs type of saga in which both the aristocracy and the servants who wait upon them are upended by the outbreak of WW1. Excellent writing; hard to put down.  

From the list:

The best books if you love upstairs/downstairs historical sagas with a mystery twist

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Book cover of The Secret Life of Violet Grant

The Secret Life of Violet Grant

By Beatriz Williams

Why this book?

Williams is another of my absolute favorite authors. I love anything she writes, but I chose to showcase the Schuler Sisters series because, again, it consists of an overarching saga with some fantastic mystery elements. Williams’ strength is that she is able to place the reader directly in the scene with her perfect attention to detail without overdoing it. She expertly weaves multiple storylines in different eras to produce one delicious book.  

From the list:

The best books if you love upstairs/downstairs historical sagas with a mystery twist

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Book cover of Sisters of the Great War

Sisters of the Great War

By Suzanne Feldman

Why this book?

Two sisters from Baltimore volunteer for WWI, one as a nurse, one as an ambulance driver. Though this isn’t a romance, each find love amid the gruesome reality of war – one with a doctor, one with another (female) ambulance driver. The sheer number of amputations will leave your head spinning.

From the list:

The best historical fiction with rockstar nurses

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Book cover of Tear Gas: From the Battlefields of World War I to the Streets of Today

Tear Gas: From the Battlefields of World War I to the Streets of Today

By Anna Feigenbaum

Why this book?

Democratic governments want to control riots, but they are generally reluctant to use firearms against crowds that include nonviolent protestors and wholly passive bystanders. When chemists developed gas weapons during World War I, army officers argued that irritants—colloquially known as tear gas—could solve the dilemma: forcing crowds to disperse without inflicting permanent injury. But as Feigenbaum shows, tear gas was never as simple, effective, or harmless as its promoters claimed. And no technological fix can reconcile the rights to security and protest.

From the list:

The best books on mob violence

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Book cover of The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy

The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy

By Ninette Kelley, Michael Trebilcock

Why this book?

Canadian immigration policy has always been a subject of fierce political and public debate and in this authoritative work Ninette Kelley and Michael Trebilcock examine the interests, ideas, institutions, and rhetoric that have shaped it. The authors begin their study in the pre-Confederation period and interpret major developments in the evolution of Canadian immigration policy. Among the shameful episodes they describe are the deportations of the First World War and Great Depression and the uprooting and internment of Japanese Canadians after Pearl Harbour.

From the list:

The best books to capture Canada’s colourful immigration history

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Book cover of Gallipoli

Gallipoli

By L.A. Carlyon

Why this book?

As a researcher and Historian, L.A. Carlyon was a genius. Gallipoli was a WW1 campaign that failed for the Allies; the brainchild of Winston Churchill and a complete disaster. And yet, it was the first big battle fought by Australians under a National identity and has been written into folklore. Many saw this as the blooding of our nation. What I really loved about this book is that it went into the deep truth about Gallipoli, things I never imagined could have happened, and a land offensive that was never supposed to happen. What we were taught at school…

From the list:

The best books about World War 1 in the trenches

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Book cover of The Fear of Invasion: Strategy, Politics, and British War Planning, 1880-1914

The Fear of Invasion: Strategy, Politics, and British War Planning, 1880-1914

By David G. Morgan-Owen

Why this book?

This book genuinely changes our understanding of British defence policy before the First World War. It is often assumed that the German challenge to British naval supremacy before 1914 was a mirage and that fears that Germany might launch an invasion of the British Isles were simple scaremongering. The reality was different. The Royal Navy may have been bigger and stronger than its German counterpart, but its task was harder and its leaders were not confident that they could prevent German soldiers from landing on British soil. Based on first-rate research, this book explains why.

From the list:

The best books on Churchill’s First World War Navy

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Book cover of Dreadnought Gunnery and the Battle of Jutland: The Question of Fire Control

Dreadnought Gunnery and the Battle of Jutland: The Question of Fire Control

By John Brooks

Why this book?

A lot of ink has been spilt on why the Royal Navy was unable to overpower the German fleet at the battle of Jutland. Some focus on flaws in equipment and ship design, others on flaws in leadership and tactics, others still on poor fighting methods. This book examines the subject in the round and shows, contrary to received wisdom, that in gunnery at least, the Royal Navy entered the battle with the instruments best suited to its needs. Such failures as there were – and there were many were largely down to individual command decisions on the day.

From the list:

The best books on Churchill’s First World War Navy

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Book cover of Britain and the Mine, 1900-1915: Culture, Strategy and International Law

Britain and the Mine, 1900-1915: Culture, Strategy and International Law

By Richard Dunley

Why this book?

Underwater weapons of all types have had a major influence on naval warfare in the twentieth century. Despite this, studies of them to date have not been all they might be either in terms of quantity or quality. Richard Dunley rectifies this in respect of the mine with a major evaluation of its place in Royal Navy thinking and planning in the first decade and a half of the twentieth century. As a result, this is an important book and a major contribution to the literature.

From the list:

The best books on Churchill’s First World War Navy

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Book cover of Flambards

Flambards

By K.M. Peyton

Why this book?

The glorious Flambards series, starring gutsy heroine Christina, was a staple for pony-mad teenagers in the 70s and 80s and is still held in great affection by its legions of fans. It’s so full of heart and life that it’s stayed relevant and readable today. Orphaned at the turn of the twentieth century, Christina Parsons is sent to live with tyrannical, hunting-mad Uncle William and his two sons in their impoverished estate. One son, dashing thruster Mark, is thought to be a good match for Christina, but it’s his younger brother, the clever, awkward would-be aviator William who she falls…

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The best heart-warming and uplifting fiction about horses

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Book cover of The Making of a Legionnaire: My Life in the French Foreign Legion Parachute Regiment

The Making of a Legionnaire: My Life in the French Foreign Legion Parachute Regiment

By Bill Parris

Why this book?

This tome was the size of a phone book but it has relevance even today. It's one of the slightly obscure classics but it speaks to the profound spiritual questions that transcend time. Parris was an idealist Englishman who served in the legion in the early 90s. but this was not a story of glory and medals. Parris saw action in Chad and had to spill blood. This chilling act never left him and he was haunted by his actions for years to come. The author passed from illness but dedicated the book to his son.

From the list:

The best books about the French Foreign Legion from someone who joined

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Book cover of Fields of Glory: A Novel Fields of Glory

Fields of Glory: A Novel Fields of Glory

By Jean Rouaud

Why this book?

This is the first book of a fictionalized family history, starting with the omniscient narrator’s maternal grandparents and paternal aunt, who are all born in the late 1880s: the World War I generation. The story takes place near Nantes, which until 1956 was part of Brittany, but then was administratively moved to a new department, the Loire Atlantic—though most people in Nantes and Brittany continue to believe the Nantois are Breton. As with many things French, the issue is far from settled.

Rouaud creates character through vignettes—and they’re wonderful: grandpa smoking; grandpa driving; grandma complaining about grandpa smoking and driving;…

From the list:

The best books about the magic of Brittany France

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Book cover of No Man's Land: The Trailblazing Women Who Ran Britain's Most Extraordinary Military Hospital During World War I

No Man's Land: The Trailblazing Women Who Ran Britain's Most Extraordinary Military Hospital During World War I

By Wendy Moore

Why this book?

So great was the demand for hospital beds for the wounded, that medical facilities were a feature of most of Britain's cities, part of daily civilian life. At the heart of London's Covent Garden was the Endell Street Hospital, run entirely by women whose medical expertise and skill was matched by their direct experience of the war itself. But their achievements and experience were wasted after the war by a medical profession that reverted all too easily to pre-war prejudice and discrimination. Much was lost, especially to their patients whose recovery prospects were damaged, never to be restored.

From the list:

The best books about human casualties of World War One

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Book cover of Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Seven Pillars of Wisdom

By T.E. Lawrence

Why this book?

This is a brilliant autobiographical account of the astonishing experiences of British Army Colonel T.E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia") as he served as a military advisor to Bedouin forces during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks, 1916-1918. With the support of Emir Faisal and his tribesmen in Wadi Rum, he helped carry out attacks on the Ottoman forces from Aqaba in the south to Damascus in the north. Many sites inside the Wadi Rum area have been named after Lawrence, including the rock formations near the entrance now known as "The Seven Pillars."

From the list:

The best books to read to understand the Middle East

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

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

By Peter Englund

Why this book?

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.

From the list:

The best books about memories of war

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Book cover of 'Blinker' Hall: Spymaster: The Man Who Brought America into World War I

'Blinker' Hall: Spymaster: The Man Who Brought America into World War I

By David Ramsay

Why this book?

Any research into the codebreaking arm of British Intelligence during the Great War will quickly point to one man as the mastermind: Admiral Sir Reginald “Blinker” Hall. He is, at a glance, one of the most intriguing historical figures you’ll ever come across…and the more you learn, the more convinced you’ll be of that. In Blinker Hall, Spymaster, Ramsay delivers not only a thorough look into intelligence and codebreaking, using documents that have been declassified only recently to his writing, but also an insightful look into the man who orchestrated one of the most complex intelligence systems of the modern…

From the list:

The best books about British intelligence in WW1

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Book cover of A Rifleman Went to War

A Rifleman Went to War

By Herbert Wes McBride

Why this book?

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.

From the list:

The best books on America's crusade in the Great War 1917-1918

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Book cover of Make the Kaiser Dance: Living Memories of a Forgotten War: The American Experience in World War I

Make the Kaiser Dance: Living Memories of a Forgotten War: The American Experience in World War I

By Henry Berry

Why this book?

Numerous fascinating first-hand accounts of American “Doughboys” who saw front-line service in World War I. Many of the stories are poignant and personal.

From the list:

The best books on America's crusade in the Great War 1917-1918

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

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

By Laurence Stallings

Why this book?

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…

From the list:

The best books on World War I and America's role in it

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

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

By Alexander Watson

Why this book?

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.

From the list:

The best books on the Great War and why it haunts us

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Book cover of Your Death Would Be Mine: Paul and Marie Pireaud in the Great War

Your Death Would Be Mine: Paul and Marie Pireaud in the Great War

By Martha Hanna

Why this book?

One of the very best books in English about France during this time, Hanna mines a treasure trove of letters between a married peasant couple from southwest France to tell an intimate history of the war, of its effects on families, women, villages, men, and the countryside. War stories take place on battlefields, of course, but also in homes and in hearts. Anyone wanting to understand the experience of the Great War at the front, on the home front, and everywhere in between, should start here.

From the list:

The best books on France and the first World War

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Book cover of Death of a Hero

Death of a Hero

By Richard Aldington

Why this book?

This semi-autobiographical novel is the most emotionally accurate story of the irruption of the First World War on the mind of a young Englishman that I’ve read.

Aldington sets his pen to exposing the ‘Old Lie’ that it was ‘sweet and right to die for your country’ – a lie indulged in most ostentatiously by the very politicians and press barons who were responsible for sending Aldington and millions of young men like him to face needless death in an unjust war.

From the list:

The best books on 20th century conflict

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Book cover of The Woman Who Saved the Children

The Woman Who Saved the Children

By Clare Mulley

Why this book?

The life story of Eglantine Jebb, founder of Save the Children, who fought for the millions of children left destitute and starving in the ruins of Europe's Great War and, along the way, changed the mind of the British nation about the costs, consequences and responsibilities of victory.

From the list:

The best books about human casualties of World War One

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Book cover of Hell's Foundations: A Town, Its Myths and Gallipoli

Hell's Foundations: A Town, Its Myths and Gallipoli

By Geoffrey Moorhouse

Why this book?

A striking look at the devastating impact the war had on one English town, hundreds of whose young men died in the disastrously bungled Gallipoli campaign.

From the list:

The best books on the human impact of World War I

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Book cover of Suicide of the Empires: The Battles on the Eastern Front, 1914-18

Suicide of the Empires: The Battles on the Eastern Front, 1914-18

By Alan Clark

Why this book?

This book brings to life a part of the war Western readers know far too little about: the vast battles that ranged back and forth across Eastern Europe and Russia. Two of the three armies involved, those of Tsarist Russia and Austria-Hungary, were spectacularly incompetent, and saw their soldiers needlessly slaughtered by the millions before these two empires dissolved under the war’s impact.

From the list:

The best books on the human impact of World War I

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Book cover of A Very Long Engagement

A Very Long Engagement

By Sebastien Japrisot

Why this book?

Unable to walk since childhood, Mathilde Donnay never lets her limitations get in her way. She is on the search for her fiancé who was reported killed in the Great War, but whom she believes might still be alive. Mathilde is feisty, caring, strategic, and driven—all things I’d like to be.

From the list:

The best historical novels with kick-ass female leads

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Book cover of A Hilltop on the Marne

A Hilltop on the Marne

By Mildred Aldrich

Why this book?

The good news? After a long career as an editor in Boston, Ms. Aldrich retired to her beloved France in June l914. The bad news? The cottage she bought was only a few miles behind the front lines once the war started later that summer. This is her eyewitness account of what the Great War does to her adopted village, and memorably combines two literary genres that would seem to be incompatible: a book of simple rural pleasures with a book on war.

From the list:

The best books that are unjustly forgotten from World War One

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Book cover of Paths of Glory

Paths of Glory

By Humphrey Cobb

Why this book?

Film historians regard the movie version as one of Stanley Kubrick’s most powerful achievements, thanks in no small measure to Kirk Douglas, who, in the role of a French colonel desperate to preserve the life of his men in a suicidal attack, gives a performance for the ages. The l935 novel the film is based on stands on its own as one of the great anti-war books that followed in World War One’s wake.

From the list:

The best books that are unjustly forgotten from World War One

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Book cover of The Old Front Line

The Old Front Line

By John Masefield

Why this book?

Masefield, before his 50-year tenure as Britain’s Poet Laureate, spent the war writing dispatches from the front. This slim book from l917 is his honest, soberly graphic description of what the Somme battlefield looked like after the fighting moved on—an approach that conveys war’s horrors without any moralizing or exaggeration.

From the list:

The best books that are unjustly forgotten from World War One

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Book cover of The Razor's Edge

The Razor's Edge

By W. Somerset Maugham

Why this book?

The Razor's Edge tells the story of Larry Darrell, a young American traumatized by his experiences in World War 1 seeking the Absolute. There are other characters in the story who have their own goals in life, which are materialistic, unlike Larry’s. The story indicates that how different people pursue different things in life, which ultimately define their life purpose. Larry’s abandonment of the conventional life and quest for the meaning of life provide him the freedom to live in the moment, whereas other characters are enslaved by their habits and fears.

From the list:

The best books for living a life of purpose

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

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

By Holger H. Herwig

Why this book?

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…

From the list:

The best books to truly understand the Western Front of WW1 (1914-18)

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Book cover of Blood on the Snow: The Carpathian Winter War of 1915

Blood on the Snow: The Carpathian Winter War of 1915

By Graydon A. Tunstall

Why this book?

The book is a stunning tale of death and disaster. In February 1915 one Austro-Hungarian army and one German army tried to relieve the Russian-besieged Habsburg fortress of Przemyśl and its 120,000-man garrison. The Austro-Hungarian troops advanced along the 1,200-meter high ridges of the Carpathian Mountains in snowstorms and dense fog. Intermittent sleet, snow, wind, and ice battered the men. Temperatures plummeted to -25 degrees Celsius. Sudden thaws turned the battlefields into seas of mud. Men either froze to death or drowned in the ooze. Hunger, starvation, disease (typhus and cholera), frostbite, and wolves took their toll. Horses and dogs…

From the list:

The best books on the most famous battles of the First World War

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Book cover of Caporetto 1917

Caporetto 1917

By Cyril Falls

Why this book?

Some books, like Alistair Horne’s The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916, have stood the test of time. The same is true of this work, first published in 1965. Caporetto (Karfreit to the Germans) was an epic mountain struggle, brutal and deadly. It was fought in October and November 1917 in the 2,000-meter-high Julian Alps. Snow, sleet, rain, fog, and poisonous gas dominated the battlefield. Otto von Below’s German Fourteenth Army, using new innovative infiltration tactics, surprised Luigi Capello’s Italian Second Army. By the end of October, the Italians had been driven south to the Piave River. Only the hasty…

From the list:

The best books on the most famous battles of the First World War

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Book cover of The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916

The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916

By Alistair Horne

Why this book?

Although originally published almost 60 years ago, this work remains a classic account of the longest battle of the war, a battle that still stands as the most symbolic of the war for France. The only book on my list that is not focused on an individual’s experiences, or those of a few people, this broader account of the huge battle nonetheless captures the many ways individuals experienced its horrors. Horne is a vivid writer and skilled historian, and this work has stood the test of time as a key work not only about the Great War but also about…

From the list:

The best books on France and the first World War

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Book cover of Borrowed Soldiers, Volume 17: Americans Under British Command, 1918

Borrowed Soldiers, Volume 17: Americans Under British Command, 1918

By Mitchell A. Yockelson

Why this book?

A leading archivist at the Modern Military Records Branch at the National Archives, Yockelson, another good friend, tackled a subject rarely covered, United States troops attached to the British where they fought with very little recognition back home for their valor on the battlefields of Flanders and the Somme. Two National Guard divisions, the 27th from New York State and the 30th from North and South Carolina and Tennessee, formed the American II Corps. They took part in some of the bloodiest battles of the war. The 27th Division’s 107th Regiment from New York’s wealthy Upper East Side broke through…

From the list:

The best books on World War I and America's role in it

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Book cover of The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women

By Kate Moore

Why this book?

In the 1910s and 20s in the USA, young women were employed to illuminate the numbers on dials with radium paint. In the years that followed the women began to suffer mysterious agonising illnesses as their jaws rotted and their spines collapsed. So far so tragic – but what I found totally devastating and gripping were the monumental battles that followed as the companies and their paid doctors and scientists fought to deny what was happening to protect their profits. And I was absolutely inspired by the courage of the women who kept fighting for the truth even as one…

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The best books about conditions which people say don’t exist but do

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Book cover of The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America

The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America

By Douglas Brinkley

Why this book?

Here, Brinkley manages to write both a conventional biography of Roosevelt and a study of his impact on America’s natural heritage. In doing so he casts light on stories and evidence that most other biographers have overlooked. And it doesn’t help that Brinkley’s angle shows Roosevelt at his most exciting, climbing the Alps, trekking through the West, and exploring the Amazon.

From the list:

The best books on the life and times of Theodore Roosevelt

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Book cover of The Daughters of Mars

The Daughters of Mars

By Thomas Keneally

Why this book?

The Daughters of Mars provides a unique account of war through the lens of two sisters from New South Wales who serve as nurses on an Australian ship carrying soldiers wounded at the Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey.  After the ship is sunk, the sisters end up nursing on the Western Front.  The novel is a page-turning, authentic account of the personal and professional experiences of Australian nurses dealing with the horrific impacts of war.

From the list:

The best books on WW1 with insight into the time and place through multiple perspectives

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Book cover of Imagining the Unimaginable: World War, Modern Art, and the Politics of Public Culture in Russia, 1914-1917

Imagining the Unimaginable: World War, Modern Art, and the Politics of Public Culture in Russia, 1914-1917

By Aaron J. Cohen

Why this book?

Fully abstract art was a Russian invention, but until this remarkable book by Aaron Cohen came out, there was no treatment of the subject that explained the historical context in which it emerged in the work of Kandinsky, Malevich, Tatlin, and others. Other art historians have traced the aesthetic process that led, seemingly ineluctably, toward abstraction, but Cohen shows us how closely linked it was to the despair felt during the First World War. In this short but accessible work that makes extensive use of previously untouched Russian sources, he brings to life the debates over the issue among Russian…

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The best books on modern Russian history

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Book cover of The Great War and Modern Memory

The Great War and Modern Memory

By Paul Fussell

Why this book?

There’s a good reason this book remains current after so many years- quite simply, it is brilliant. It has all the grit and élan of a great and thoughtful writer who has seen combat. Fussell used the war of 1914 to articulate to American audiences what they needed to hear – that someone else appreciated the grim, visceral realities of warfare and loss, recognized the gap between rhetoric and reality, and understood the flood of irony it generated. As he admitted long after his best-selling book was published, The Great War in Modern Memory was “really about the Vietnam War…
From the list:

The best books on the cultural history of the First World War

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Book cover of Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker, 1914-1918

Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker, 1914-1918

By Louis Barthas

Why this book?

A day-to-day chronicle of a remarkably observant Frenchman who served from the beginning to the end of the war, this fascinating book is full of minute observations, perceptive insights, and the real, gritty texture of military life, service at the front, visits home, and confrontations with civilian life and politics. Barthas recounts all of this with an engaging immediacy and passion that makes the reader sad to part company with him at the war’s end.

From the list:

The best books on France and the first World War

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Book cover of Sagittarius Rising

Sagittarius Rising

By Cecil Lewis

Why this book?

Pilots in World War One were a breed apart. They had embarked on the creation of an entirely new dimension of warfare and, in many aspects, leaped off the earth like gods while the Tommies, poilus and doughboys battled in the trenches and mud below. But these warriors were doing so in the most harrowing conditions, in flimsy wood and canvas biplanes, risking hypoxia and hypothermia, anti-aircraft fire, and deadly dogfights, and, on the Allies’ side, being shot down without parachutes. Little wonder that fighter pilots lived on average for less than three weeks at the front. Cecil Lewis describes…

From the list:

The best books on World War One from unique perspectives

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Book cover of Goodbye to All That

Goodbye to All That

By Robert Graves

Why this book?

Unlike Lewis, Robert Graves was bitter, angry, determined to make apparent the savage waste and stupefying horror of the soldier’s experience at the front where he narrowly averted death from his bullet wounds. The author of many books, perhaps most famously I, Claudius, lived to enjoy a storied literary career, mostly in exile because of his attitude toward the war, expressed with sarcasm, macabre humor, and gory detail in this postwar autobiography. There are many extraordinary antiwar books and much moving poetry that emerged from the First World War-- Siegfried Sassoon’s and Wilfred Owen’s lyrics, the great antiwar novels…

From the list:

The best books on World War One from unique perspectives

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Book cover of Dangerous Jane: the Life and Times of Jane Addams, Crusader for Peace

Dangerous Jane: the Life and Times of Jane Addams, Crusader for Peace

By Suzanne Slade, Alice Ratterree

Why this book?

This is a marvelous picture book on Jane Addams, founder of Hull House in 1889. Hull House was a Chicago settlement house for newly-arrived European immigrants. When we first meet Jane, she is a sad, sickly child who relates to those living without hope. She promises to help them when she grows up – and she does! Through her tenacity and grit, she studies, travels, and figures out how to help struggling families. 

Called “Saint Jane” when Hull House opened, she also formed the Women’s Peace Party during WWI. A Nobel Peace Prize winner, Jane Addams is an inspiration. The…

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The best picture books on strong inspiring women

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Book cover of The Eastern Front 1914-1917

The Eastern Front 1914-1917

By Norman Stone

Why this book?

Not only does Stone demolish the many false ideas held about this part of the war, but he provides us with insights that allow us to understand the important connections among the three fronts of the war that impacted decisions in Paris and London—and vice versa.

From the list:

The best books on the other fronts in WW1

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