The best WW2 books

264 authors have picked their favorite books about World War 2 and why they recommend each book.

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Rising Sun, Falling Skies

By Jeffrey Cox,

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

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 of intriguing “what ifs.”


Who am I?

Walter R. Borneman is an American military and political historian. He won the Samuel Eliot Morison Prize in Naval Literature for The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King, a national bestseller. Borneman's other titles include Brothers Down: Pearl Harbor and the Fate of the Many Brothers Aboard the USS Arizona; MacArthur at War: World War II in the Pacific; and 1812: The War That Forged a Nation.


I wrote...

The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King--The Five-Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea

By Walter R. Borneman,

Book cover of The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King--The Five-Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea

What is my book about?

Learn how history's only five-star admirals triumphed in World War II and made the United States the world's dominant sea power. Only four men in American history have been promoted to the five-star rank of Admiral of the Fleet: William Leahy, Ernest King, Chester Nimitz, and William Halsey. These four men were the best and the brightest the navy produced, and together they led the U.S. Navy to victory in World War II, establishing the United States as the world's greatest fleet.

Hitler's U-Boat War

By Clay Blair,

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

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 hunter and hunted. Hitler’s U-Boat War makes a reliable desktop reference as well as a compelling read.


Who am I?

Walter R. Borneman is an American military and political historian. He won the Samuel Eliot Morison Prize in Naval Literature for The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King, a national bestseller. Borneman's other titles include Brothers Down: Pearl Harbor and the Fate of the Many Brothers Aboard the USS Arizona; MacArthur at War: World War II in the Pacific; and 1812: The War That Forged a Nation.


I wrote...

The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King--The Five-Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea

By Walter R. Borneman,

Book cover of The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King--The Five-Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea

What is my book about?

Learn how history's only five-star admirals triumphed in World War II and made the United States the world's dominant sea power. Only four men in American history have been promoted to the five-star rank of Admiral of the Fleet: William Leahy, Ernest King, Chester Nimitz, and William Halsey. These four men were the best and the brightest the navy produced, and together they led the U.S. Navy to victory in World War II, establishing the United States as the world's greatest fleet.

The Rape of Nanking

By Iris Chang,

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

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.


Who am I?

A native of Nanjing (Nanking), China, Shouhua Qi has published extensively in both the United States and China on academic as well as transcultural issues. He is the author of more than twenty books, including fiction, nonfiction, literary translation, and scholarly monographs. Qi’s first novel, Purple Mountain, is about the Rape of Nanking, a horrendous tragic event that happened in his hometown in the winter of 1937-08. A screenplay Qi co-wrote based on the novel has been optioned for production.


I wrote...

Purple Mountain: A Story of the Rape of Nanking

By Shouhua Qi,

Book cover of Purple Mountain: A Story of the Rape of Nanking

What is my book about?

An unprecedented historical novel, Purple Mountain presents a riveting, profoundly intimate portrait of Nanjing and its people during the first six days after its fall to the Japanese army. Within the city, walls are men and women, young and old, soldiers and civilians, Chinese and a dozen foreigners, all caught up in the whirling, turbulent fires of history.

Iron Curtain

By Anne Applebaum,

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

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.


Who am I?

Keith Lowe is the author of several works on postwar history. His international bestseller, Savage Continent, won the English PEN/Hessell Tiltman Prize and Italy’s Cherasco History Prize. His book on the long-term legacy of World War II, The Fear and the Freedom, was awarded China’s Beijing News Annual Recommendation and was shortlisted for the Historical Writers Association Non-Fiction Crown. His books have been translated into more than twenty languages.


I wrote...

Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II

By Keith Lowe,

Book cover of Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II

What is my book about?

Savage Continent is the story of post-war Europe, from the close of the war right to the establishment of an uneasy stability at the end of the 1940s. This is the chronicle of a world gone mad, the standard history of post–World War II Europe for years to come. The story of a continent where individual Germans and collaborators were rounded up and summarily executed, where concentration camps were reopened and violent anti-Semitism was reborn.

The American Home Front

By Alistair Cooke,

Book cover of The American Home Front: 1941-1942

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 found that San Diego — flush with sailors on leave and recently-arrived workers in aircraft plants — was “the greatest boom-town since the Klondike”: “In the evening, roaming the bars and saloons, you see, alongside much healthy ribaldry among sailors and Marines fresh from the Pacific, plenty of saddening adult…


Who am I?

William Klingaman is the author of ten books, most recently The Darkest Year: The American Home Front, 1941-1942, and The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano That Darkened the World and Changed History. He holds a Ph.D. In American History from the University of Virginia, and has taught at the University of Virginia and the University of Maryland.


I wrote...

The Darkest Year: The American Home Front 1941-1942

By William Klingaman,

Book cover of The Darkest Year: The American Home Front 1941-1942

What is my book about?

For Americans on the home front, the twelve months following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor comprised the darkest year of World War Two. Despite government attempts to disguise the magnitude of American losses, it was clear that the nation had suffered a nearly unbroken string of military setbacks in the Pacific; by the autumn of 1942, government officials were openly acknowledging the possibility that the United States might lose the war. This is a history of the American home front from December 7, 1941, through the end of 1942, a psychological study of the nation under the pressure of total war.

State of the Nation

By John Dos Passos,

Book cover of State of the Nation

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 respected in this man’s country, the tough guys an’ the big winds.”


Who am I?

William Klingaman is the author of ten books, most recently The Darkest Year: The American Home Front, 1941-1942, and The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano That Darkened the World and Changed History. He holds a Ph.D. In American History from the University of Virginia, and has taught at the University of Virginia and the University of Maryland.


I wrote...

The Darkest Year: The American Home Front 1941-1942

By William Klingaman,

Book cover of The Darkest Year: The American Home Front 1941-1942

What is my book about?

For Americans on the home front, the twelve months following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor comprised the darkest year of World War Two. Despite government attempts to disguise the magnitude of American losses, it was clear that the nation had suffered a nearly unbroken string of military setbacks in the Pacific; by the autumn of 1942, government officials were openly acknowledging the possibility that the United States might lose the war. This is a history of the American home front from December 7, 1941, through the end of 1942, a psychological study of the nation under the pressure of total war.

Lilac Girls

By Martha Hall Kelly,

Book cover of Lilac Girls

The lives of three women intersect in the aftermath of the Holocaust. One is an American socialite, based on a real person, working in New York to bring Jewish refugees from Europe to safety. The other is a young Polish woman who had been imprisoned in Ravensbruck, the famed women’s concentration camp where cruel experiments were conducted on the inmates. The third is a German doctor who lands a job at Ravensbruck, justifying to herself the things she has to do there.  After the war, a confrontation involving the three women reveals much about the post-Holocaust world and the different ways people of different backgrounds and experiences deal with it.


Who am I?

As the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, I have experienced, observed, and researched inherited trauma. I have also noticed the dearth of works of fiction that focus on the second generation. I believe it is time for the voices of the second generation to be heard, and for the issues facing us to be explored.


I wrote...

Escaping the Whale: The Holocaust is over. But is it ever over for the next generation?

By Ruth Rotkowitz,

Book cover of Escaping the Whale: The Holocaust is over. But is it ever over for the next generation?

What is my book about?

This novel features an adult daughter of Holocaust survivors who struggles with her legacy of inherited trauma and desperately tries to lead a ‘normal’ life in 1980 New York. Due to the stigma attached to mental illness, she feels unable to share her pain with anyone else and puts on a desperate act of normalcy, despite her fears of ‘demons’ hiding out in her closet to torment her. With the backdrop of the Iranian hostage crisis combined with a series of crises at the school where she is a guidance counselor, dealing with teen pregnancy, teen suicide, toxic relationships, and mental illness, she reaches a breaking point. No longer able to suppress her demons, she feels she must flee her life in order to find a path to healing. Will flight and physical escape be her answer?

The Second World War

By Martin Gilbert,

Book cover of The Second World War: A Complete History

This 900-page history is a vivid account of WWII across all fronts. Though the research is meticulous and covers the length of the war, the explanations are clear and fascinating and the chronology makes it feel like a guided tour through time. Along the way, Gilbert interposes a human face and a very personal account, revealing upheaval and atrocities, but ensuring that there is a permanent record of those civilians, particularly Jews, who died without just cause. And the examples and conditions endured are at times difficult to read and heartbreaking. The book covers all aspects, from battle lines to partisan attacks, to numbers killed, to firsthand accounts, to Hitler’s inners circle, and more. This is an outstanding read and this book is just one of Gilbert’s many significant contributions as a historian.


Who am I?

Gemma is the bestselling author of historical fiction novels, translated into several languages. Set against the backdrop of war in Europe, her fifth book in this genre will be released later this year. She has combined the war experiences of family members in WWI and WWII, information collected during her research and travels, and her academic studies in writing and history, to create the authentic scenes and characters for her books.


I wrote...

The Road Beyond Ruin

By Gemma Liviero,

Book cover of The Road Beyond Ruin

What is my book about?

August 1945. As Stefano, an Italian POW, heads toward home across war-ravaged Germany, he encounters a young child beside his dead mother. Unable to leave him to an unknown fate, Stefano takes the boy with him, finding refuge in a seemingly abandoned house in a secluded woodland. But the house is far from vacant. Stefano wakes at the arrival of its owner, Erich, a former German soldier, who invites the travelers to stay until they can find safe passage home. Stefano cautiously agrees, intrigued by the disarming German, his reclusive neighbor Rosalind, and her traumatized husband, Georg. Stefano is also drawn to Monique, the girl in a photograph on Rosalind's wall, who went missing during the war. But when he discovers letters written by Monique, a darker truth emerges. This place of refuge could be one of reckoning, and the secrets of the past might prevent the travelers from ever getting home.

Code Girls

By Liza Mundy,

Book cover of Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II

Mundy’s unputdownable book tells the story of the women behind some of the most significant code-breaking triumphs of the war. The work of women like Elizabeth Friedman – who got her start unpicking the codes of Prohibition-era liquor smugglers – was one of the war’s best-kept secrets.


Who are we?

Anthony Summers and I are the authors of several books that focus on the world of intelligence, including The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden- which was a Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. As we revealed in our most recent book, A Matter of Honor, U.S. code-breaking efforts in World War II began with a colossal failure – Pearl Harbor. According to the first official report on the disaster, the attack “had been clearly foreshadowed” in the Japanese diplomatic traffic the U.S had decoded. The story of how the Americans turned that initial failure into success came to fascinate me.


We wrote...

A Matter of Honor: Pearl Harbor: Betrayal, Blame and a Family’s Quest For Justice

By Anthony Summers, Robbyn Swan,

Book cover of A Matter of Honor: Pearl Harbor: Betrayal, Blame and a Family’s Quest For Justice

What is our book about?

On the seventy-fifth anniversary, the authors of Pulitzer Prize finalist The Eleventh Day unravel the mysteries of Pearl Harbor to expose the scapegoating of the admiral who was in command the day 2,000 Americans died, report on the continuing struggle to restore his lost honor--and clear President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the charge that he knew the attack was coming.

And No Birds Sang

By Farley Mowat,

Book cover of And No Birds Sang

Mowat’s title is taken from John Keats’ poem La Belle Dame Sans Merci: “O what can ail thee, Knight in arms, Alone and palely loitering? The sedge has withered from the Lake, And no birds sing!” 

Best known for his books People of the Deer and Never Cry Wolf, Farley Mowat here turns his naturalist’s eye to the experience of war. His brief memoir describes joining, training, and fighting as part of Canadian forces in WWII. He led a rifle platoon in the invasion of Sicily and up the spine of Italy against fierce German resistance. From humorous to horrible, from youthful fervor to enormous weariness, Mowat takes us with him. He was relieved of combat duty after crying over the unconscious body of a friend brought in with an enemy bullet in his head. I love this book for its vivid observations of men before, during, and after…

Who am I?

Research Professor of Psychology at Bryn Mawr College. Since the 9/11 attacks I have tried to understand how normal individuals, people like you and me, can move to terrorism in particular and political violence more generally. I retired from teaching in 2015 to have more time to write. I’ve written about genocide (Why Not Kill Them All? The Logic and Prevention of Mass Political Murder), about self-sacrifice (The Marvel of Martyrdom: The Power of Self Sacrifice in a Selfish World), and about terrorism (Friction: How Conflict Radicalizes Them and Us). 


I wrote...

Radicalization to Terrorism: What Everyone Needs to Know

By Sophia Moskalenko, Clark McCauley,

Book cover of Radicalization to Terrorism: What Everyone Needs to Know

What is my book about?

Our book uses a question-and-answer format to tell everything we have learned about violence in intergroup conflict. Political violence requires individual motivations, small group dynamics, and a mass political base of sympathizers and supporters—all of these, and their interactions, contribute to the escalation of conflict to violent conflict. Individuals join a violent group for many reasons, including personal and political grievance, thrill and adventure, status, escape, and personal connection with individuals already fighting. Once engaged in a violent struggle, reasons for joining fade, and killing becomes an act of love, to save comrades now closer than brothers. This psychology of violent conflict can be found, not only in radicalization to terrorism, but in five classic books about soldiers in combat.

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