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

Book cover of Hitler's U-Boat War: The Hunters, 1939-1942

Hitler's U-Boat War: The Hunters, 1939-1942

By Clay Blair,

Why this book?

Yes, there was a naval war in the Atlantic, too. Had not the Allies defeated Hitler’s U-boats over a multi-year battle—the longest of the war—World War II would likely have been lost no matter the heroics in the Pacific. Hitler’s U-Boat War does for the Battle of the Atlantic what Blair did with Silent Victory for submarine actions in the Pacific. Hitler’s U-Boat War is exhaustive in detail—pick a boat or an engagement and Blair has chronicled it— but taken overall these volumes show the tenuous nature of the battle that was won in the aggregate by individual conflicts between…

From the list:

The best books on naval battles in WW2

Book cover of The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II

The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II

By Iris Chang,

Why this book?

When this book was first published in 1997, the world (at least the Western world) had all but forgotten the atrocity that had been inflicted on my hometown in the winter of 1937-38. Re-reading the gripping nonfictional account today would serve to remind us that we should not forget that ignoble page in our modern history and more importantly that we are all duty-bound to do all we can so such atrocities will not happen again.

From the list:

The best books about the Pacific Theater in WW2

Book cover of Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956

Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956

By Anne Applebaum,

Why this book?

People in the West tend to celebrate 1945 as a year of liberation; but, of course, in Eastern Europe, the defeat of Germany merely heralded the beginning of four more decades of repression. In this book, Anne Applebaum describes the Communist takeover of three European countries – East Germany, Poland, and Hungary. It’s a masterpiece both of research and of analysis. Communism, just like capitalism, had many faces: this book shows brilliantly just how varied repression can be. In 2013 it won the lucrative Cundill Prize, and deservedly so.

From the list:

The best books on the immediate aftermath of World War 2

Book cover of The American Home Front: 1941-1942

The American Home Front: 1941-1942

By Alistair Cooke,

Why this book?

At the end of February 1942, British-born journalist Alistair Cooke set off upon a road trip across wartime America, to “see what the war had done to people.” His observations provide a series of fascinating snapshots of the home front in the early months of the war. Shortages of civilian goods showed up everywhere, from the West Virginia soda fountain with the forlorn sign over an orange-squeezer that read, “Regret. Out of Coca-Cola,” to Houston, where rubber and gas rationing led to overcrowding on city buses that threw whites and Blacks into unwonted jostling proximity.

On the West Coast, Cooke…

From the list:

The best books on what life was like on the American homefront during WW2

Book cover of State of the Nation

State of the Nation

By John Dos Passos,

Why this book?

Reading Dos Passos’ account of his own travels across wartime America is a valuable corrective to the long-standing myth of a united home front, with civilians cheerfully sacrificing for the boys overseas. Instead, Dos Passos found rising rates of worker absenteeism in defense plants, management executives turning blind eyes to defects in airplanes in the name of profits, and lonely wives of defense workers living in makeshift housing going “trailerwacky” for lack of companionship. And when coal miners walked out on strike in 1943, imperiling war production, one miner explained to Dos Passos that “it’s the tough guys make themselves…

From the list:

The best books on what life was like on the American homefront during WW2

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