The best WW2 books 📚

Browse the best books on World War 2 as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Rising Sun, Falling Skies: The disastrous Java Sea Campaign of World War II

Rising Sun, Falling Skies: The disastrous Java Sea Campaign of World War II

By Jeffrey Cox

Why this book?

Perceptions of the first several months of World War II in the Pacific war usually focus on Douglas MacArthur’s actions in the Philippines. Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy and its British, Dutch, and Australian allies waged a largely unsung and losing battle against the Japanese onslaught to control the natural resources of the Netherlands East Indies. Rising Sun, Falling Skies scrutinizes the learning curve of allied command, the hopelessness of facing numerical superiority, and the grim awakening that airpower plays a decisive role no matter how powerful the fleet. Cox’s portraits of admirals Thomas Hart and Karl Doorman beg a host…

From the list:

The best books on naval battles in WW2

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Book cover of The Book of Lost Names

The Book of Lost Names

By Kristin Harmel

Why this book?

Again, inspired by a true story, The Book of Lost Names is an astonishing novel about a young Polish-French woman who risks her life forging identity documents for Jewish children. I’m a sucker for books about people helping people, and even more so when it has to do with kids. This story will rip your heart to pieces and then sew it back together again. It’s a testament to love and sacrifice. A beautiful page-turner with secrets and turns and all the fixings of a great novel.

From the list:

The best books on remarkable women in WW2

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Book cover of Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue Mission

Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue Mission

By Hampton Sides

Why this book?

I only had to read the headline to know this was the book for me. The Americans handpicked 121 soldiers to slip behind enemy lines in the Philippines. Their mission seemed impossible; another reason I chose this book. It was to march thirty miles in rugged terrain, and at the end, rescue over 500 POWs, amongst them the last survivors of the Bataan Death March.

I recommend this book because it engrossed me from page one to the last. The realistic imagery depicting how the prisoners lived in the camp, how they bonded together, and survived despite starvation, tropical diseases,…

From the list:

The best books about the Second World War

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Book cover of All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

By Anthony Doerr

Why this book?

This epic, exceptional novel is about a blind French girl, Marie-Laure, and Werner, a German orphan, whose lives intersect during World War II. To escape the Nazis, Marie-Laure’s father takes her to stay with her reclusive great uncle, whose home is inside the citadel walls of Saint-Malo. The novel is stunningly beautiful in all respects — not the least of which are the many loving and inventive ways Marie-Laure’s father teaches his daughter to recognize her own resourcefulness, courage, confidence, and independence. I loved this book so much.

From the list:

The best novels about families you wish were yours…and families you’re glad are not

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Book cover of Life After Life

Life After Life

By Kate Atkinson

Why this book?

Is this book about Time-Travel or Dimension-Jumping? Or about someone who’s freakishly aware of their rebirth into numerous lives? I don’t know— but I do know that it’s a breathtakingly audacious, witty, intelligent, brilliant book.

It recounts the life of Ursula Todd, born in 1910. She then lives, well, Life After Life. Some are very short: she is still-born or drowns as a child. Others, as she seems to cycle through almost every life it is possible for her to have lived, involve considerable suffering. She becomes dimly aware of these numerous lives and learns, to an extent, to…

From the list:

The best books that shake fantasy and history up together

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Book cover of The Codebreakers: The Story Of Secret Writing

The Codebreakers: The Story Of Secret Writing

By David Kahn

Why this book?

Superb. Kahn’s book, written almost fifty years ago, is rightly considered the classic work on the history of cryptography. It’s enormous, some 1200 pages, but it draws the reader in with its richly detailed portraits of code-makers and code-breakers from ancient times to the modern era. Kahn’s analysis of American cryptographic operations during WWII is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the intelligence failures that preceded Pearl Harbor. The 1996 updated edition is still in print.

From the list:

The best books about American code-breaking in World War II

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