975 books directly related to World War 2 📚

All 975 World War 2 books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

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

By Jeffrey Cox,

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

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 of intriguing “what ifs.”

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

By Clay Blair,

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

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

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

By Iris Chang,

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

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.

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

By Anne Applebaum,

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

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.

The American Home Front: 1941-1942

By Alistair Cooke,

Book cover of The American Home Front: 1941-1942

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 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 delinquency — husbands high on airplane wages toasting newfound chippies, [and] fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds sitting up at chromium bars starting out with Cokes and going on to Cuba Libres and highballs just for the hell of it.”

State of the Nation

By John Dos Passos,

Book cover of State of the Nation

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

Lilac Girls

By Martha Hall Kelly,

Book cover of Lilac Girls

Why this book?

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.

The Second World War: A Complete History

By Martin Gilbert,

Book cover of The Second World War: A Complete History

Why this book?

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.

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

By Liza Mundy,

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

Why this book?

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.

And No Birds Sang

By Farley Mowat,

Book cover of And No Birds Sang

Why this book?

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 combat.

A Thousand Shall Fall

By Murray Peden,

Book cover of A Thousand Shall Fall

Why this book?

As a pilot with Bomber Command, Murray Peden flew thirty combat missions and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. While many bomber veterans have written solid memoirs to their experiences, this book is also a fine examination of the Bomber Command Campaign. To my knowledge, no other memoir of Bomber Command garnered the praise of its British Commander, Royal Air Force Marshal, Sir Arthur (Bomber) Harris. “I consider it not only the best and most true to life ‘war’ book I’ve ever read about this war, but the best about all the wars of my lifetime,” Harris wrote. Not only does it relate the story of Bomber Command operations, but it authentically captures the flavour of life experienced by its aircrews both during missions and in the downtime between. Peden was a gifted writer with a mastery of language that combined with a keen ability as a witness to war and air force life that makes this book a classic of war memoir.


By William Wharton,

Book cover of Shrapnel

Why this book?

Another link is that the highly-acclaimed author fought at Cassino. In my book, I tell how US servicemen in waterlogged fox-holes suffered terribly from ‘Trench Foot’. Wharton lifts the lid on how he and his fellow GIs did everything they could to get it as it meant being withdrawn from combat! Utterly unheroic, Wharton tells of the muddle, confusion, boredom, and exhaustion of frontline infantrymen – an account much closer to the stories I heard from veterans than almost anything else I’ve read.

To Die in Spring

By Ralf Rothmann,

Book cover of To Die in Spring

Why this book?

German novelist Rothman tells the story of two young friends caught up in the death spiral of Nazism at the end of the war when they are forced to ‘volunteer’ for the Waffen-SS. Only recently translated into English, it is a masterpiece of precision and unsentimentality that packs a punch as brutal as almost any other war novel I know.

All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945

By Max Hastings,

Book cover of All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945

Why this book?

Max Hastings is the author of more than thirty books, many of them about the Second World War. All Hell Let Loose describes the Second World War in considerable detail but focuses on the human experience of what it was like to be a participant in this critical period of history. For its breadth, its power of expression, and penetrating analysis, this book is unsurpassed. There are many excellent single-volume studies of the Second World War, but I rate this as one of the very best.

The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944

By Rick Atkinson,

Book cover of The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944

Why this book?

The Day of Battle was Volume Two of Rick Atkinson’s acclaimed Liberation Trilogy. While all three volumes of this series are well worth reading, Atkinson was at his best in the second volume which deals with the much-neglected campaigns of Sicily and Italy. The doyen of British military history and a veteran of the Italian campaign, the late Sir Michael Howard wrote that The Day of Battle was ‘one of the truly outstanding records of the Second World War’. I think it is too.

The Second World War

By Antony Beevor,

Book cover of The Second World War

Why this book?

It's too easy to dismiss the Second World War. To relegate that epochal conflict into realms of ancient history, action films, kitset models, unread Father's day gifts, and black & white footage. But we all live through the consequences of this epic global struggle. This was the last time western civilisation brought itself close to destruction and it was a close call. 60 million lives were lost and no one died easily. The war was also raging just shy of 80 years ago. In the scheme of human history, that's recent.

Beevor's history of the global conflict - and it was global - is a page-turning affair. Vivid, engaging, heartbreaking, shocking. Really fine storytelling and a first class history, encompassing the great conflicts of east and west (China's experience of the war is much overlooked in the west but not in these pages). I found myself engrossed by this monumental history of the very worst ideas and behaviour that our species is only too willing to pursue in order to self-destruct. It's also a compelling tale of so many acts of courage and sacrifice. Epic in the truest sense of the word and a chilling warning from history that I wish everyone would heed and read.

Have we learned the lessons of the Second World War? I'd say they are being forgotten, or that many alive today remain unaware of the significance of the conflict. At a time when the world has never been more interconnected, when the UK leaves a united Europe, and when there are more geopolitical upheavals than we can fully acknowledge, and when we watch the rise and rise of simple fundamentalist ideologies at the expense of humanity and reason, even logic, I'd say Beevor's The Second World War offers an important perspective for right now.

No Time for Fear: Voices of American Military Nurses in World War II

By Diane Burke Fessler,

Book cover of No Time for Fear: Voices of American Military Nurses in World War II

Why this book?

It’s almost impossible to embrace what deployed nurses went through in World War II. This book reveals some of the trials they endured, depending on their theater. Some suffered imprisonment and torture, while nearly all of these women worked under duress and danger we can scarcely imagine.

Night Soldiers

By Alan Furst,

Book cover of Night Soldiers

Why this book?

God help me, along with my fascination with espionage I am a history buff. I long to discover how things became what they are today and Furst does it in this series. While seeing the forces that launched the Second World War unfold, he shows you see the seeds sown for the cold war that follows. While I picked book one from my bias toward watching a world being born, all the books in the series are a great read.

Song of Survival: Women Interned

By Helen Colijn,

Book cover of Song of Survival: Women Interned

Why this book?

A little-known aspect of the Pacific War was the imprisonment of Allied civilians. While these Japanese-run prison camps were not deliberate death machines, as were the Nazi-run concentration camps, large numbers of women and children died of starvation and disease there, or at least had their health permanently ruined. Many stories would come out of these camps, both horrific and inspiring. Perhaps the most brilliantly creative story of the latter category was the vocal orchestra, a group of imprisoned women who sought to recreate symphonic music with their voices. Colijn’s memoir was made into the film, Paradise Road.

I Saw The Fall Of The Philippines

By Carlos P. Romulo,

Book cover of I Saw The Fall Of The Philippines

Why this book?

The Philippine resistance of WWII was, in my opinion, the most admirable resistance organization of the war, whether European or Pacific. In fact, resistance among the Philippine people was so widespread, that the Japanese occupiers were almost correct in assuming any civilian they encountered was a resister on some level. Carlos Romulo, a Philippine aide de camp to General MacArthur and a hero to his countrymen, gives his personal account of the war in this excellent memoir.

All the Light We Cannot See

By Anthony Doerr,

Book cover of All the Light We Cannot See

Why this book?

A beautiful moving story of a blind French girl and a German boy, an orphan, for whom a radio is a real life saver. The two stories of two completely different lives in a divided and war-torn world collide magnificently. A true piece of art, awarded with the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Doerr is an American author from Idaho. Since I did my senior year of high school as an exchange student in Idaho, I’m always extra charmed by someone from this particular area.

The Red Lion: The Elixir of Eternal Life

By Maria Szepes,

Book cover of The Red Lion: The Elixir of Eternal Life

Why this book?

Let me begin the list with a Hungarian classic, The Red Lion from Maria Szepes. She was a prolific hermetic author, perhaps the most famous in my country. Her flagship book helped introduce hermeticism, alchemy, and spirituality in general after the Second World War. I found this to be a very readable, enjoyable and illuminating novel wrapped into a beautiful story.

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

Why this book?

Admiral Husband Kimmel, the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, was stationed in Honolulu in 1941 (and planning to play golf with Army Lieutenant General Walter Short, commander of US military installations, in the early morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941). In response to the outcry in the United States after the Pearl Harbor attack, Kimmel was relieved of his command and publicly accused of dereliction of duty because American forces were so ill-prepared for the Japanese attack. In this well-researched book, Summers and Swan conclude that military commanders in Washington and elsewhere failed to share intelligence information with Kimmel (and Short) and that Kimmel’s dismissal was nothing more than an attempt to find a scapegoat.

Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II

By Stephen Budiansky,

Book cover of Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II

Why this book?

It is hard to underestimate the significance of code breaking during World War II. Without the work of dedicated mathematicians, linguists, and others the great conflicts such as the Battle of Midway and the German U-boat "wolfpacks" that sank over 13 million tons of Allied supplies could have easily been up for grabs. But due to the codebreakers the balance shifted to the Allies. And what is even equally impressive is that the Axis powers never knew that their encoded messages were being read. Stephen Budiansky traces how the codebreakers pulled off this feat while at the same time often battling within their own ranks about who should decode the message, how the messages should be used, and who should get the credit.

Combined Fleet Decoded: The Secret History of American Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II

By John Prados,

Book cover of Combined Fleet Decoded: The Secret History of American Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II

Why this book?

A groundbreaking work of research that is at the same time a page-turning read that sheds new light on the epic battles of the conflict. Prados interweaves the intelligence successes and failures of the U.S. and Japanese combatants in a way that has not previously been attempted. The resulting work adds hugely to our understanding of the war in the Pacific.

Four Novels of the 1960s

By Philip K. Dick,

Book cover of Four Novels of the 1960s

Why this book?

“The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldridge” is the most horrifying and terrifying novel I’ve ever read. A terran psychedelic drug begins being supplanted by one from another star system. The latter compound never lets you come down—just when you think you have, you start tripping again. And so on…

Memories of War: Micronesians in the Pacific War

By Lin Poyer, Laurence Marshall Carucci, Suzanne Falgout

Book cover of Memories of War: Micronesians in the Pacific War

Why this book?

In this follow-up to Typhoon Of War, we focus on Micronesians’ memories of World War II—the stories they tell, the songs they sing, and their recollections of those years of trauma and excitement. The book includes many personal stories and describes how Islanders think about the way years, and how they pass on those memories to the next generation. The book reveals much about how Islanders lived through bombing, forced labor, family separation, displacement, invasion, and other stresses of war. The poignant and evocative stories and songs showcase Micronesian cultural themes and verbal artistry.

The Winds Of War

By Herman Wouk,

Book cover of The Winds Of War

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.

The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II

By Gregory A. Freeman,

Book cover of The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II

Why this book?

I love this book. One of my favorite movies is The Great Escape (yes, I know it was also a book) and reading this book feels like watching this movie. The story is a simliar one that is an OSS rescue mission to save 500 downed airmen stuck in Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia, while they secretly build an entire airstrip large enough for C-47s (if you’re not familiar, they are very large airplanes). Avoiding the Germans in the cover of darkness, the airmen and villagers risked their lives to build this strip in attempt of rescue. Oh, and there’s also a revolution happening at the same time in Yugoslavia. This horribly dangerous mission makes for an incredible reading experience.

History of United States Naval Operations in World War II

By Samuel Eliot Morison,

Book cover of History of United States Naval Operations in World War II

Why this book?

When I began researching and writing for my books this fifteen-volume set by distinguished historian Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison, was one of my first purchases for my World War II library. I consider his series a must-have for any WWII researcher or history buff. I did much of my research and writing on freighters and always took selected volumes with me.

The Two-Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War

By Samuel Eliot Morison,

Book cover of The Two-Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War

Why this book?

This book was published in 1963 on the heels of the fifteen-volume set by Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison. I served in the U.S. Navy, Pacific theater of war, and found this supplemental work by Morison to complement particular portions of his fifteen-volume series.

The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II

By Robert J. Cressman,

Book cover of The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II

Why this book?

Published in 2000, this reference book makes previous chronologies of the Navy at war out-of-date. My co-author and wife, Sandra McGee, uses this chronology to create social media posts, such as “On this day…” or “75 Years Ago Today…”.

Ships for Victory: A History of Shipbuilding under the U.S. Maritime Commission in World War II

By Frederic Chapin Lane,

Book cover of Ships for Victory: A History of Shipbuilding under the U.S. Maritime Commission in World War II

Why this book?

This hefty 881-page book covers in detail the story of the greatest shipbuilding program in America’s history. When America entered WWII in December 1941, I was chomping at the bit to get in the action, but I had to wait a year until I turned seventeen. I applied for a job at the Kaiser Shipyard in Vancouver, Washington, and trained to be a welder on the big ships.

Code Name Verity

By Elizabeth Wein,

Book cover of Code Name Verity

Why this book?

I was recently drawn to this book because of its unusual central characters—two young women, Julie and Maddie, from very different backgrounds, who become friends during WW2. Both women are doing crucial work, not being the object of desire for a man, not competing with one another. I read it in one sitting. The ingenious structure starts with a ‘confession’ by SOE recruit Julie, written under torture by the Nazis in France, which reveals the depth of her friendship with Maddie, a pilot, supposedly just transporting planes for the RAF, who ends up hiding in occupied France trying to free her friend from the most appalling fate. I found it clever, moving, and unputdownable. Code Name Verity is marketed as YA but was quite graphic enough for this adult!

The Red Army and the Second World War

By Alexander Hill,

Book cover of The Red Army and the Second World War

Why this book?

The Eastern Front has not always attracted the most readable scholarship, while two of the major works by British writers are by those who cannot read Russian. Hill is a welcome relief. His scholarship is impeccable and his book is readable. An important contribution.

Journal à quatre mains

By Benoîte Groult, Flora Groult,

Book cover of Journal à quatre mains

Why this book?

A funny and moving account of life in occupied Paris by two young sisters, one sensible and studious, the other fun-loving. Written in diary form by each sister in turn, hence the ‘four hands’. Some signs of touching up with hindsight before publication in 1962. There is an English translation, ‘Diary in duo’ (1965) but currently out of print.

Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS

By Elizabeth P McIntosh,

Book cover of Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS

Why this book?

McIntosh takes a fresh approach to espionage, putting aside the trench coats and Mata Haris for the real "Code-room Mata Hari" and other little-known heroines of the war. A veteran of CIA and OSS operations herself, McIntosh knows what she's writing about, and draws from more than 100 interviews with other women operatives. She portrays several dozen here, including the China escapades of Julia McWilliams (known today as Julia Child). It also features the Musac project, with broadcasts targeted at Wehrmacht troops with fake German news and music sung by agent Marlene Dietrichn designed to infiltrate their sympathies.

Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific

By Ross Leckie,

Book cover of Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific

Why this book?

Leckie enlisted in the Marine Corps following the attack on Pearl Harbor. His story is one of the best accounts of life on the ground in combat, from induction to his time on now famous islands, Guadalcanal, New Britain, and finally Peleliu. Leckie lets the reader in on the grinding, miserable combat of New Britain, the joyous affair of Peleliu, and the pet-names he has for the men around him. At the end of it all, Leckie finds himself in the hospital for the tenth time since he entered the Marine Corps, left wondering what it was all for.

Life and Fate

By Vasily Grossman,

Book cover of Life and Fate

Why this book?

Grossman’s fictionalised expression of his experiences at the 1943 Battle of Stalingrad is one of the great Soviet novels of the 20th century. Humane and profound, it offers an insight into what World War II, and Stalingrad in particular, means to Russia. As sweeping in scale as War and Peace (and probably more challenging to read if only for the sheer number of characters and names to remember) this is a book that requires intense concentration but rewards the effort.

Choices Under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II

By Michael Bess,

Book cover of Choices Under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II

Why this book?

Leaders, soldiers, and civilians around the world faced a dizzying array of ethical dilemmas during the course of the conflict. From the decision to drop the atomic bomb and making alliances with dictators to the role of kamikaze pilots and war crimes trials, Bess considers the ethics of warfare from multiple viewpoints. He shakes up our conventional wisdom about wartime decision making and shows how the legacies of those choices remain with us today.

Our Mothers' War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II

By Emily Yellin,

Book cover of Our Mothers' War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II

Why this book?

The author’s extensive research opened my eyes to how life changed for women in World War II. The stories presented range from inspiring to heart-wrenching. Women were called on to step outside of traditional roles during the war. They volunteered to be involved in myriad ways with commitment, passion, and an earnest desire to contribute their skills. I’ve gone back to this book repeatedly when writing. A must-read for every woman interested in women’s history. 

Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan

By Tsuyoshi Hasegawa,

Book cover of Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan

Why this book?

Using newly available Soviet sources, along with Japanese and American documents, Hasegawa fills a gaping hole in the vast literature on the dropping of the atomic bombs and the conclusion of the Pacific war in August-September 1945. For too long, western historians have told this story without reference to the immense Soviet role in the drama – or if they mention the Soviets at all, it is to use the Red Army’s last-minute intervention to argue either for or against the necessity of dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to break Japanese resistance. What Hasegawa shows is how central Soviet neutrality – negotiated by Stalin in 1941 and still operative in summer 1945 – was to Japanese decision-making, right up to the moment Tokyo appealed to Stalin for mediation after Hiroshima, only to learn in horror that peace in the Far East was the last thing Stalin – with his expansionist aims in Manchuria, Korea, Sakhalin, the Kurile and Habomai islands, and Hokkaido – wanted.

Stalin’s Secret War

By Nikolai Tolstoy,

Book cover of Stalin’s Secret War

Why this book?

This book is the one exception to my rule about access to Soviet documents. Writing at a time when he had no such access, Tolstoy nonetheless blew up the field with bold arguments deriving from sources to which he did have access, from Soviet dissident memoirs to a vast trove of material he discovered in the Public Record Office in Kew Gardens, London, in particular on the often-neglected “Phony War” period of WWII between the fall of Poland and Hitler’s invasion of France and the Low Countries – a period during which Britain and France nearly went to war with the USSR after Stalin’s invasion of Finland. At a time when the Soviet bloc still denied Stalin’s responsibility for the “Katyn massacre” of Polish officers and elites in 1940, Tolstoy argued not merely for Stalin’s responsibility but explained why Stalin ordered the massacre when he did, confronted as the Soviet dictator then was by the prospect of Allied military intervention and the bombing of the Baku oilfields. Soviet documents have now confirmed the entirety of Tolstoy’s brilliant argument, down to the timing of the execution orders, as I show in my own Stalin’s War.

A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II

By Adam Makos, Larry Alexander,

Book cover of A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II

Why this book?

Pound-for-pound, this is perhaps the best military aviation book on the market today.  During the darkest days of World War II, A Higher Call tells the story of a seemingly-improbable act of gallantry in the skies over Europe.  A wounded and hardly-airworthy B-17 limps through the sky near the conclusion of its first mission. It is soon tailed by a Bf-109, the Luftwaffe’s deadliest fighter. The Messerschmitt pilot could end the B-17 crewmen’s lives with the pull of a trigger.  But what happens next will shock the reader.  

Family Lexicon

By Natalia Ginzburg, Jenny McPhee (translator),

Book cover of Family Lexicon

Why this book?

Among the greatest family memoirs of all time. Novelist, Natalia Ginzburg (née Levi) grew up in a big family in Turin between the wars. Her Jewish father was a famous and famously irascible scientist, her mother a charmer from the well-to-do bourgeoisie. The last of five, Natalia gives a sparkling picture of the loves, friendships and conflicts between her older brothers and sisters as Fascist Italy drifted toward war. Impossible not to laugh and cry, while at the same time getting a sense of the deeper forces driving Italian life.

In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War

By David Reynolds,

Book cover of In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War

Why this book?

“Another book on Churchill?” asks Reynolds on the first page. “Can there be anything new to say?” Yes, is the emphatic answer. Churchill’s magisterial memoir shaped how many readers came to understand World War II. In this equally magisterial book, Reynolds dissects how Churchill wrote his memoir, exploring how the politics of the post-war era were often as important in shaping Churchill’s judgments as the events of the war itself. Methodologically sophisticated and elegantly written.

A Mad Desire to Dance

By Elie Wiesel,

Book cover of A Mad Desire to Dance

Why this book?

A beautiful novel about Doriel, a European expatriate living in New York, who was a hidden child during the war, while his mother was a member of the Resistance, and who is still haunted by his parents' secrets. A psychoanalyst finally helps him deal with his own ghosts, which reminds me of decades of PTSD I myself inherited from that war and the associated sufferings of family and friends I had to witness.

The Codebreakers

By Alli Sinclair,

Book cover of The Codebreakers

Why this book?

The Codebreakers is based on real events and tells the little-known story of the young Australian women who worked with Central Bureau in Brisbane, during the Second World War. Ellie O’Sullivan is recruited from her aviation engineering job to decipher enemy communications. It quickly becomes evident that what happens on the home front – especially in intelligence services – is as important in deciding the outcome of the conflict as are soldiers, aeroplanes, and tanks. If Ellie misses an important code, it could cost thousands of Allied lives. What struck me most about Ellie and her colleagues was how young they were to have such a responsibility on their shoulders. They could never talk about their work and, even when experiencing the most heartbreaking grief at the loss of their own menfolk, they had to hold their nerves and carry on. Alli Sinclair tells this tale with such deep affection for the characters you can’t help but feel involved. I highly recommend it if you want to find out about an interesting part of Australian history and be delightfully entertained along the way. 

Night Witches: The Amazing Story of Russia's Women Pilots in WWII

By Bruce Myles,

Book cover of Night Witches: The Amazing Story of Russia's Women Pilots in WWII

Why this book?

After seeing a documentary on the History Channel about the female soviet air regiments that were created by aviation heroine and former opera singer, Marina Raskova, in response to the German attack on Russia during the Second World War, I wanted to know more. Bruce Myles describes the varied personalities and challenges faced by these proud, capable, and extremely young airwomen and their all-female ground crew. He tells how the women were not taken seriously at first by the military command and were provided with outdated wooden biplanes that were nothing more than crop-dusters. But the women pilots and navigators used the planes to deadly effect. They would fly at night, cutting the engine and gliding in silently over enemy targets, terrifying the German army with their tactics and earning themselves the title of ‘Night Witches’. I was so inspired by Bruce Myles’ account of the women’s air regiments, that I wrote my own novel about this fascinating period in Russian history, Sapphire Skies.

The Tenth Air Force in World War II: Strategy, Command, and Operations 1942-1945

By Edward M. Young,

Book cover of The Tenth Air Force in World War II: Strategy, Command, and Operations 1942-1945

Why this book?

If you could only have a single book about American involvement in the air war over Burma during World War II, this would be the one. Ted Young’s history of the Tenth Air Force has it all, from high-level political maneuvering (and there was plenty of it) and seemingly endless reorganizations to in-the-cockpit combat accounts and a generous selection of photos and maps. He describes in detail the constantly shifting priorities and strategies faced by the Tenth Air Force, along with the many innovative tactics and techniques developed by units such as the First Air Commando Group. In addition, Young brings fresh insight into many of the officers who led the efforts in Burma, men such as Clayton L. Bissell. Young describes him as “a capable staff officer with broad administrative experience” who nevertheless was unable to establish a good working relationship with Claire L. Chennault, his more colorful counterpart in China. This is a big book, both in physical size and the volume of material contained between its covers.

The Takeaway Men

By Meryl Ain,

Book cover of The Takeaway Men

Why this book?

Takeaway Men is a novel that proves once again that you can never forget. Aron and Judy Lubinski and their twin daughters, Bronka and Johanna, leave a Displaced Person Camp in Poland and immigrate to America, hoping to build a new life and escape the horrors of the Holocaust behind them. Through the kindness of Izzy, a cousin that immigrated earlier to America, they settle in Izzy and his wife, Faye's home in Queens, NY. In their neighborhood, we meet other immigrants, survivors, all working hard to build a better life for themselves and their children. Each of the other characters has a different story. They bring another perception of how people try to deal with the experiences of loss, trauma, doubt, and everyday complexities of life. We see this most clearly in the inner thoughts of Aron and Judy. Their struggle is, at times, painful and sorrowful and affects their daughters and those around them. For me, it is Bronka and Johanna that is the real story. The way they see their father's silence, lack of joy for anything, their mother trying to make it all right, the awareness of secrets of not only their parents but those around them, the feeling of doubt, desire to rebel are uniquely different for each of them. There are too few novels that write about the challenges of children of survivors growing up. Takeaway Men does. It is an essential part of the literature of post-holocaust coming-of-age fiction.

Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds

By Ed Rasimus, Christina Olds, Robin Olds

Book cover of Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds

Why this book?

I knew and interviewed General Robin Olds (he is in my next book out June 8th, 2021), and his daughter Christina. His story is a wonderful addition to the history of American airpower, leadership, and the character of a great man who defied the odds, and even his superiors rather than back down from what he knew was right.

Fly for Your Life: The Story of R. R. Stanford Tuck

By Larry Forrester,

Book cover of Fly for Your Life: The Story of R. R. Stanford Tuck

Why this book?

A classic biography about one of the Royal Air Force’s most colorful fighter pilots during the early part of the war.  Robert Stanford Tuck was born into a wealthy family, but had an individualistic spirit that was sometimes at odds with that family.  Prior to the war, he went to sea aboard a tramp steamer where he did much growing up. Upon his return, he was drawn to the excitement of flight and joined the Royal Air Force. Not an intrinsically gifted pilot, he nearly washed out of training, but ultimately flourished. He excelled as a leader as one of the “few” during the Battle of Britain. 

Sons and Soldiers: The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler

By Bruce Henderson,

Book cover of Sons and Soldiers: The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler

Why this book?

Sons and Soldiers tells the stories of the Ritchie Boys, a special military intelligence unit of the US Army in World War II trained in Camp Ritchie, Maryland and made up of German-Austrian men, often German Jews who had fled Nazi persecution. These men had everything to lose: if they were captured and identified behind enemy lines, they would be killed on the spot. However, they also knew that their special knowledge of the German language and German culture gave them an advantage against Hitler’s army. The Ritchie Boys were critical to the Allied victory. Not surprisingly, those who survived went on to become leaders in American society, great heroes who understood that there are some things worth dying for. 

The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway

By John B. Lundstrom,

Book cover of The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway

Why this book?

First published over thirty-five years ago, The First Team remains the definitive account of the naval air war in the Pacific from Pearl Harbor to Midway. Lundstrom, examined almost every relevant record in the National Archives and Naval Historical Center, arranged for the translation of  Japanese materials, and corresponded with, or interviewed dozens of naval aviation veterans, including the legendary John S. Thach and E. Scott McCluskey.  The book includes seven appendices that provide detailed information on subjects ranging from naval flight training to “Fundamentals of Aerial Gunnery” to a detailed list of the makeup of every fighter squadron embarked on the five U.S. carriers in the Pacific from December 1941 to March 1942. 

Unusual for such a detailed work, it also provides the reader with a genuine feel for the desperate and contingent nature of the Pacific war from Pearl Harbor to Midway when the U.S. Navy’s “First Team” of naval aviators faced a numerically superior enemy equipped with better planes and nevertheless prevailed. 

Crossing the Line: A Bluejacket's Odyssey in World War II

By Alvin Kernan,

Book cover of Crossing the Line: A Bluejacket's Odyssey in World War II

Why this book?

Though less well known than Eugene Sledge’s With the Old Breed or Richard Tregaskis’ Guadalcanal Diary, this is one of the finest memoirs of World War II and one of the few by an enlisted sailor. At his death at 94, Alvin Kernan was a recognized expert on Shakespeare with long years on the faculties of Yale and Princeton but in 1940 he was a seventeen-year-old boy from the mountains of Wyoming who enlisted in the Navy because he was unable to meet a small cash fee connected to his college scholarship. 

Kernan was aboard the carrier Hornet when it carried Doolittle's Raiders to Tokyo,  during tthe Battle of Midway and when it was lost during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands in October 1942. He served aboard two other aircraft carriers and advanced from ordnance-man to aerial gunner and chief petty officer. His descriptions of the dramatic events he experienced are decidedly undramatic but insightful, vivid, and elegantly written.

Unsung Eagles: True Stories of America's Citizen Airmen in the Skies of World War II

By Jay A. Stout,

Book cover of Unsung Eagles: True Stories of America's Citizen Airmen in the Skies of World War II

Why this book?

Unsung Eagles is an intimate tour-de-force of air combat in World War II told, literally, from the perspective of the pilots themselves. The pilots who provided their stories for this book were all unassuming men from humble backgrounds. Yet, after Pearl Harbor, they gladly raised their right hands and swore an oath to defeat the Axis Powers. These brave young men flew various combat missions over the European and Pacific theaters. Yet, after the war, they came home to resume their normal lives and said nary a word about their wartime service, until now.


By Kurt Vonnegut,

Book cover of Slaughterhouse-Five

Why this book?

Read this one a few times. The lead character, Billy Pilgrim, leads a somewhat unhinged life bouncing around in time, abducted by aliens, and seeing all that he holds dear crumbling before his eyes. The bombing of Dresden was more an act of terrorism than an act of war and this novel puts the reader in the minds and lives of those who were bombed in a way that drives home the cruelty with which we treat our own kind.

What I’ve taken away from this book and all of Vonnegut’s work is the acceptance that humor and satire are OK as tools to tell a story of horror…that the sheer casualness of the tone says so much about where we’ve arrived as a species.


By Michael Ondaatje,

Book cover of Warlight

Why this book?

Since my own novel is set partly in post-war England, I was drawn to Ondaatje’s Warlight, which begins in 1945 London as the city is recovering from brutal bombing. Another hook for me was the youthful characters; my book is also populated with war-confused children. Ondaatje’s narrator, 14-year-old Nathaniel, recalls his youth with the benefit of adult wisdom. He and his sister Rachel are abandoned by their parents to the care of some eccentric and slightly dangerous characters. Their teen years are marked by many mysterious events and experiences, only beginning to clarify in retrospect. Do we ever know what’s really happening?


By Joseph Heller,

Book cover of Catch-22

Why this book?

Catch-22 is a laugh-out-loud funny and grotesquely horrific antiwar satire that exposes the absurdity of the military bureaucracy and of war. It focuses on Yossarian, a WWII bombardier who doesn’t want to fly any more missions. The book is so complex and detailed you’ll find something new in it with each reading. The title, meaning a dilemma with no solution, has found its way into the English language—you can look it up in Webster’s. The catch-22 in Catch-22 is this: If you wanted to get out of combat duty you had to be crazy. But anybody who wanted to get out of combat duty wasn’t really crazy. Many years ago, when I was writing about the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex, I often turned to Catch-22 for inspiration.

The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War

By Andrew Roberts,

Book cover of The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War

Why this book?

There’s an expression among investigative journalists: follow the money. That’s exactly what the historian Andrew Roberts has done in this highly original and brilliant history of World War 2, full of economic insights. How about this, for instance? “Hitler’s anti-Semitism  .. did nothing to aid Germany’s chances of winning the war, and possibly a great deal to retard them. The Holocaust was a mistake, tying up railway stocks … but above all denuding Germany of millions of potentially productive workers and potential soldiers.” In other words, if railway trucks heading east through Germany had been full of soldiers heading for the eastern front instead of hapless Jews heading for Auschwitz and death, then Hitler’s invasion of Russia might have stood a better chance of success. So if following the money strikes you as an essential way of getting to the truth, even when the subject is the economics of war, then this book is for you.

A Woman's War Too: U.S. Women in the Military in World War II

By Paula Nassen Poulos,

Book cover of A Woman's War Too: U.S. Women in the Military in World War II

Why this book?

This collection of wide-ranging essays, both from women who served in WWII and from historians who have studied them, is a great place to start. It sorts out WACS from WAVES, covers cryptographers and nurses, considers racism and the political rebound of women in the military. The editors also included a useful guide to first-person material in the National Archives as well as a directory to archival collections held around the country.

Combat Crew: The Story of 25 Combat Missions Over Europe From the Daily Journal

By John Comer,

Book cover of Combat Crew: The Story of 25 Combat Missions Over Europe From the Daily Journal

Why this book?

The odds of completing a full combat tour as a bomber crewman with the Eighth Air Force over Europe during 1943 were about twenty percent. John Comer, a B-17 flight engineer and top turret gunner, arrived in England during that time and his descriptions of air combat are well worth the read.  Perhaps just as valuable are his descriptions of the relationships between his comrades, the non-combat aspects of his life as a combat crewman, and the sheer, mental and physical exhaustion that such duty exacted on the men.

God is My Co-Pilot

By Robert L. Scott,

Book cover of God is My Co-Pilot

Why this book?

The archetypal combat flying story, this is an easy, fun, and eye-opening book that Scott wrote only months after returning from the war. Scott clearly loved to fly and had done so since the early 1930s after graduating from West Point. Resourceful and tenacious, he received command of a fighter group in China after having been officially told the previous year that he was too old (at the ripe old age of 33) to fly fighters. This is a rollicking read that will be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

I Could Never Be So Lucky Again

By James H. Doolittle, Carroll V. Glines,

Book cover of I Could Never Be So Lucky Again

Why this book?

A leader, a pilot, and a scientist—and a top-notch salesman—James Doolittle was one of the most important figures in American aviation, having participated in virtually every aspect of research, manufacturing, and operations. Rather than being centered almost exclusively on air combat, this book describes Doolittle’s life, including his considerable achievements prior to World War II. Very importantly, it addresses the challenges associated with leadership at the very highest levels. This aspect is rarely ever addressed in other accounts of World War II air combat, and by itself is worth the read.

Leora's Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II

By Joy Neal Kidney, Robin Grunder,

Book cover of Leora's Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II

Why this book?

It is the captivating story of the five Wilson brothers from Iowa. Leora was their motherJoy’s delightful grandmother. All five of these brave young men enlisted. Only two came home. All served their country during WWII, two in the Navy, and three in the Army Air Corps. Kidney provides her readers with a genuine and heartfelt glimpse into the life of an American family during one of our nation's most difficult times. It is so well-crafted, combining letters, photographs, and narratives that touch your heart. Joy Neal Kidney makes you feel like a member of her family. I hoped that all men would make it back safely. Unfortunately, war is never that compassionate and affects many lives in the process. It is an absorbing read and well worth the endeavor.

LST 388: A World War II Journal

By Robert William Von Der Osten, Barbara Von Der Osten,

Book cover of LST 388: A World War II Journal

Why this book?

This is a wonderful WWII memoir on so many levels. Robert von der Osten kept a journal during his time of service. He and his journal not only survived the war, but his ship did as well. The son of a WWI veteran became a radioman on the new LST-388 (Landing Ship Tank) which hauled equipment and men to North Africa, the UK, and made landings on Sicily, Salerno, and many trips to the beaches of Normandy. The US shipped over 1000 locomotives and about 20,000 rail cars to the UK. Railroad tracks were welded to the deck and ramp of LST-388. It made 29 round trips between England and France carrying rail cars.

This is not only the story of a young sailor and his corner of the massive war, but the story of a ship, taking it to its eventual fate after the war. Robert von der Osten eventually served on the NYPD, then taught high school and college. He didn't get his book finished, but his daughter Barbara did. It has several good pictures in it and is a real treasure.

Soldiers' Stories: A Collection of WWII Memoirs, Volume II

By Myra Miller, Kenn Miller (illustrator),

Book cover of Soldiers' Stories: A Collection of WWII Memoirs, Volume II

Why this book?

I was so taken by the first handsome volume of Soldiers’ Stories that I submitted stories for this one. The Wilson family story is laid out so well across eleven pages of this treasure. Five brothers served. Only two came home.

There are stories of men and women from every branch of the service, some who survived, some who did not. The memoirs are written by the veterans themselves, by family members, or interested friends.

There are stories about the Manhattan Project, Red Cross workers, Rosie the Riveter, men who have adopted the overseas graves of American fallen, even one who found dog tags in Belgium and did the research to find family members. One veteran is honored by memories of his 12-year-old great-grandson. Michelle Obama's grandfather's service is also documented.

Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp

By Józef Czapski, Eric Karpeles (translator),

Book cover of Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp

Why this book?

It was because of Proust that I came to learn of the existence of the Polish painter and writer Józef Czapski. While a prisoner of war in the dark heart of Soviet Russia during the Second World War, this singular, cosmopolitan spirit devised a series of lectures on Proust and In Search of Lost Time as a vital counterpoint to the grim surroundings he and his fellow prisoners were forced to endure, offering them a context for addressing their lives and their bleak fates. Freezing, nearly starving, lice-ridden, Czapski mapped out Proust’s cosmology in several pages of his journal that served to fuel his talks. Scheherazade-like, night after night, he slowly revealed the already-legendary French novelist’s complex world of ideas and characters, giving voice to the life-enhancing magic great art bestows.

Anne Sexton: A Biography

By Diane Wood Middlebrook,

Book cover of Anne Sexton: A Biography

Why this book?

This poignant narrative of Anne Sexton’s life takes you inside the complicated emotions of a prize winning poet who began her career as a suburban housewife and mother. I especially loved but also envied the portrait of Sexton’s long friendship with poet Maxine Kumin with whom Sexton took her first steps in the writing of poetry. Famously, the two women kept a separate phone line open between their houses so that they could share and craft lines between domestic chores. Sadly, despite the pulls of friendship, the biography shows, even the most talented writer has demons that can’t be vanquished. Middlebrook reveals the psychic cost of creativity, especially for women artists in the years before feminism. 

La Règle Du Jeu

By V.F. Perkins,

Book cover of La Règle Du Jeu

Why this book?

Virtually any volume in the BFI Film Classics series—now sadly defunct--is worth recommending. But I’m especially fond of this one, about Jean Renoir’s masterpiece The Rules of the Game (La Règle du Jeu)--my favorite movie along with Kubrick’s 2001 (a very different kind of film!). Perkins explores each of the film’s characters, bringing out the full dimensions of Renoir’s humanism, his grand comic flair, and the bittersweet aura of this great movie completed as World War II was about to engulf Europe.

The Invention That Changed the World: How a Small Group of Radar Pioneers Won the Second World War and Launched a Technological Revolution

By Robert Buderi,

Book cover of The Invention That Changed the World: How a Small Group of Radar Pioneers Won the Second World War and Launched a Technological Revolution

Why this book?

To paraphrase Buderi, radar won the war, the atomic bomb ended it. This isn’t hyperbole. Rushed into service, radar saved Britain from invasion in the summer of 1941 and was a decisive tool in every major theatre of war, from directing night bombers to attacking U-boats.

Hitler's U-Boat War: The Hunted: 1942-1945

By Clay Blair,

Book cover of Hitler's U-Boat War: The Hunted: 1942-1945

Why this book?

The Battle of the Atlantic (or the Atlantic Campaign) was the longest and one of the deadliest battles of the Second World War. Of the 40,000 men who served in the German U-boats, 30,000 of them lie at the bottom of the ocean, while over 70,000 Allied naval and merchant marine personnel lost their lives. Blair, in what could have been a cold, impersonal recounting of facts and figures, puts a very human face on the confrontations between the U-boats and their prey – the Allied merchant ships and their naval escorts – in the battle that both sides desperately wanted to win, as whoever lost would lose the war.

Pursuit: The Chase and Sinking of the Battleship Bismarck

By Ludovic Kennedy,

Book cover of Pursuit: The Chase and Sinking of the Battleship Bismarck

Why this book?

The author, Ludovic Kennedy, was a very junior officer aboard one of the Royal Navy destroyers in the thick of the hunt for Bismarck, which lends a palpable “I was there” immediacy to his account of one of the most dramatic episodes in the naval war on the North Atlantic in World War II.  His presentation is well-balanced, and his writing style makes for an easy but thoroughly engaging read, while the vignettes of shipboard life and the naval service, in general, are by turns fascinating, gripping, and sometimes tragic.

Bulldozer: Demolition and Clearance of the Postwar Landscape

By Francesca Russello Ammon,

Book cover of Bulldozer: Demolition and Clearance of the Postwar Landscape

Why this book?

I’ll admit that bulldozers seem like the very antithesis of nature and that’s why I love this book. Francesca Ammon looks at how the cultural embrace of bulldozers following World War II, whether through planning, urban renewal, or even children’s books, reshaped the way Americans dealt with their environment in the second half of the twentieth century. Bulldozers gave Americans immense power to level hills, neighborhoods, and orange groves to create blank slates so they could build highways and redesign cities. This book changed the way I understood the cultural and technological rise (and fall) of this destructive tool.

The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy

By Adam Tooze,

Book cover of The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy

Why this book?

Tooze uses his mastery of economic sources to construct a brilliant, often startling, reinterpretation of Nazi geopolitics. He offers a comprehensive economic interpretation of the Nazi drive for expansionism in the 1930s, Hitler’s decision for war in 1939, and the timing and shape of the Barbarossa offensive against the Soviet Union in 1941. The Wages of Destruction also explores the economic dimensions of Hitler’s plans to liquidate the European Jews and other racial enemies. Perhaps his most arresting argument is that the rise of the United States as an economic superpower in the early twentieth century drove the politics of German ultranationalism between the wars.

Hitler, the Allies, and the Jews

By Shlomo Aronson,

Book cover of Hitler, the Allies, and the Jews

Why this book?

There is a common assumption among a younger generation brought up on the horrors of the Holocaust or Shoah that the Allies waged war to save the Jews. As Aronson shows in this candid and carefully researched volume, nothing could be further from the truth. The war waged by Hitler against the Jews was well-known, but the Allies did very little to try to end or modify the outcome. For anyone interested in the war, understanding the fate of the Jews in both German and Allied terms is bound up with wider issues of strategy and politics. Aronson tells a slice of the wartime narrative that many might want to forget. It is also a reminder that the war and the Holocaust were bound together, not separate histories. This perspective has not won general acceptance, but it should. 

American Kid

By Constance M. Constant,

Book cover of American Kid

Why this book?

Katherine, a Greek immigrant to the US, took her American children to Greece in the late 1930s to live on her family’s farm and escape from the Great Depression. Unfortunately, the arrival of the Nazi invaders trapped the family in Greece during the Occupation and the end of World War II. Based on a true family story, American Kid movingly describes the experiences of the children in the remote mountain village of Katherine’s birth, and their efforts to survive the occupation of their home by Nazis. Would they ever see their beloved America again? An authentic glimpse of the devastating war’s impact on innocent youth and the value of hope.

The Grand Alliance: The Second World War, Volume 3

By Winston S. Churchill,

Book cover of The Grand Alliance: The Second World War, Volume 3

Why this book?

Leave it to Churchill to sum up the events of 1941 that determined the ultimate outcome of the war. In his words, the theme of this volume of his epic account of the war is “How the British fought on with Hardship their Garment until Soviet Russia and the United States were drawn into the Great Conflict.” Much of this consists of letters, reports, speeches, and other original documents from that period, woven together by its skillful narrator. Little wonder that Churchill was later awarded the Noble Prize in Literature "for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.”

Soldier, Prisoner, Hunter, Gatherer: The Incredible True Story of Kiwi Horrie Woods, and His Battle for Survival During World War II

By Don Woods, Ken Scott,

Book cover of Soldier, Prisoner, Hunter, Gatherer: The Incredible True Story of Kiwi Horrie Woods, and His Battle for Survival During World War II

Why this book?

An epic account of Kiwi soldier, Horrie Woods, fighting the Germans in Greece and Crete to his eventual capture and incarceration in a pow camp in eastern Europe. What makes this book so unique is that the memoir was transcribed by his son Don Woods, from the actual diaries Horrie kept during his four years in captivity. A true story of survival.

The Long Road Home: An account of the author's experiences as a prisoner-of-war in the hands of the Germans during the Second World War

By Adrian Vincent,

Book cover of The Long Road Home: An account of the author's experiences as a prisoner-of-war in the hands of the Germans during the Second World War

Why this book?

Another prisoner who lost five years of his life to Nazi tyranny. A real honest and at times, brutal account of what it was like in a German POW camp during WWII. It begins with the soldier's capture in Northern France, and the horrendous journey just to get to the camp in Germany. A story that captures the hopes and the hopelessness of these young men, who at first believed it, 'would be all over by Christmas' and endured year after year staring down the barrel of a gun behind barbed wire, wondering where the next meal would come from. 
A very well-written, emotional journey, not for the faint-hearted.

The Key to Rebecca

By Ken Follett,

Book cover of The Key to Rebecca

Why this book?

This is my top favourite when it comes to choosing a World War 2 spy novel. I read it several times and I never get tired of it. I adored the exotic setting and the colourful cast of characters that feel authentic and so intriguing, for they are all flawed to a certain degree and yet they pursue what, in their view, is the greater good. Follett manages to make the reader care for every single one of them, and that’s what I absolutely love about this writer.

This is a book that also gives a better understanding of what World War 2 was like in the heat of North Africa and is rich in accurate historical details. The rotation of the points of view make it fun to read and the innumerable twists and turns keep you engaged at all time. An edge-of-seat, definitely unbeatable classic by this master storyteller.

The Unlikely Spy

By Daniel Silva,

Book cover of The Unlikely Spy

Why this book?

The author clearly did a great deal of research for this book, and this is certainly something I truly love in this World War 2 novel: it provides that solid and rich actual background against which the story is set. It is fascinating to see how both the Nazis and the Allies were playing a game of deception, trying to outmanoeuvre and outsmart each other. The writing is very good, the characters are complex, all with their flaws, all very interesting indeed, all feeling very credible, real. An engaging spy thriller that remains one of my favourite in this genre.

Destructive Creation: American Business and the Winning of World War II

By Mark R. Wilson,

Book cover of Destructive Creation: American Business and the Winning of World War II

Why this book?

You can’t understand today’s privatized military without this groundbreaking new book on the history of WWII and the military-industrial complex. Wilson’s political and economic history overturns celebratory myths of American business acumen winning the war. Instead, Wilson shows that the “arsenal of democracy” lay not in the private sector but in the massive public sector of military-owned and military-operated production facilities that churned out planes, tanks, bombs, and materiel. Government production angered American businessmen who had hoped to capture wartime profits and legitimacy. Corporate leaders and their allies resisted government production at every turn and launched political and public relations campaigns to hide the government’s scope and successes. The private sector’s battle to regain control of military production and services, Wilson shows, launched a long-term movement toward military privatization and outsourcing.

The Hiding Place

By Corrie Ten Boom, Elizabeth Sherrill, John Sherrill, Tim Foley (illustrator)

Book cover of The Hiding Place

Why this book?

Wow, wow, wow, oh how I love this book and have read it so many times. Corrie Ten Boom was an “old Maid” watch repairer in Holland in WW2. She and her family rescued so many Jews from the Holocaust, only for her to be captured and sent to a concentration camp. She lived only due to an error in the Nazi’s paperwork. She would later term herself as a “vagabond” for Jesus and minister all around the world. I love her so much. Her wisdom and Christian truths ooze out of her story and are life applicable. In her journey, you grow to love her, her family, and what God did through them in such a challenging time. This book will teach you about forgiveness, perseverance, and God turning anything around for His glory.


By Dejan Tiago-Stankovic, Christina Pribichevich-Zoric (translator),

Book cover of Estoril

Why this book?

Part spy novel, part historical fiction, this book tells the tale of a young Jewish boy who’s been deposited by his parents at the Hotel Palacio in Estoril for safekeeping during WWII, when the hotel was home to exiled European nobles and royalty, British and German spies. We meet the Polish pianist, Yan Paderewski; Ian Fleming, the British spy novelist and creator of James Bond; French writer and flyer Antoine de St. Exupery; the ex-king of Romania, Carol II, and his mistress Elena Lupescu, the woman for whom he renounced the crown. We’re privy to the goings-on at the Hotel via the lives of this cast of colourful characters in a way that’s reminiscent of the quirky movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Just William

By Richmal Crompton, Thomas Henry (illustrator),

Book cover of Just William

Why this book?

Set during the Second World War, these hilarious stories are about William, a young boy who has a very strong sense of himself. I identify with the scruffy, rebellious William. He’s always in trouble but has very passionate reasons for doing the things he does. The adult world baffles him, he’s the head of a gang that he leads, with his logic, into all kinds of scrapes. The world is unjust and he has to fit in with incomprehensible family values and oppose terrors like the vile and spoilt Violet Elizabeth Bott. I cheer for William against his older siblings and against the world that just doesn’t understand.

Sharks and Little Fish: A Novel of German Submarine Warfare

By Wolfgang Ott, Ralph Manheim (translator),

Book cover of Sharks and Little Fish: A Novel of German Submarine Warfare

Why this book?

 This novel was first published in Germany in 1954, based on the author’s actual experience as a U-boat man during the Second World War. Told through the eyes of the fictional Teichmann, it is a visceral tour-de-force of German naval life beginning on minesweepers and gravitating toward U-boats. A brilliant portrayal of a grim reality.

I read this book during my teenage years and it was one of the first times I can remember reading a book that is grittily realistic; devoid of the 'boy's own' adventure style of many Second World War novels, but nor did it preach an obvious repentance by the German protagonist that also became quite common. In that sense, it’s virtually a dramatized documentary story of the author’s war.

The Thin Red Line

By James Jones,

Book cover of The Thin Red Line

Why this book?

You cannot make a list of realistic World War II novels without including The Thin Red Line. While it’s not popular to admit that Americans commit atrocities in war, James Jones goes there. Imagine that you are a Japanese soldier who has just been eviscerated by flying shrapnel. You see flies buzzing around your entrails now looped obscenely in the dirt but are too weak to shoo them away. A shadow falls across your face, and you look up to see a U.S. Marine holding a combat knife.  He uses it to pry open your mouth, then clinches pliers around one of your teeth and yanks. Mercifully darkness closes in, and you see no more.

Yes, American’s collected gold teeth from dead and dying Japanese. Why? Well, seeing what the Japanese did to captured Americans – they left the mutilated bodies to be found by advancing GIs – created a depth of hatred for the enemy hard for anyone to understand who wasn’t there. This novel’s brutal realism rubs your face in the horror of war, and that’s why I think it’s a must-read for anyone who tries to understand human nature. I read it while waiting to be drafted into the army during Vietnam and have never forgotten many of the scenes depicted in the book.

Nine Stories

By J.D. Salinger,

Book cover of Nine Stories

Why this book?

I enjoyed "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" and "De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period," but the real gem here in Salinger's Nine Stories is "Teddy." "Teddy" is one of the most bizarre (yet thought-provoking) stories I have ever read. I loved reading and exploring all of the possible themes in this short compilation of tales. It seems like Salinger was truly able to portray mental struggles with his characters. 

The Shell Seekers

By Rosamunde Pilcher,

Book cover of The Shell Seekers

Why this book?

This well-loved book was published in 1987. It’s beautifully written and takes you right to the heart of Cornwall, evoking the Bohemian lifestyle favoured by the artists who were drawn to the special qualities of the light as well as the lifestyle. It’s a story of family life and family conflict which will resonate with so many. Penelope’s garden remains with me now; the descriptions are perfect, and the characters well-drawn. It’s a story about learning true values and needing to maintain inner strength. Deservedly popular as one of Britain’s most well-loved books, it’s a long read but totally immersive.

The Origins of the Second World War

By A.J.P. Taylor,

Book cover of The Origins of the Second World War

Why this book?

Taylor’s book was controversial in many ways. He contradicted many of the conventional wisdoms about the war, but more importantly, he annoyed the stuffy world of historical academia by writing popular history which was accessible to a wide readership. He certainly led me to realise that history can be immediate and compelling rather than distant and dry.

The Wakefields of Sweet Valley (Sweet Valley High)

By Francine Pascal,

Book cover of The Wakefields of Sweet Valley (Sweet Valley High)

Why this book?

I devoured everything in the Sweet Valley world as a teen, though I was more into Sweet Valley Twins than Sweet Valley High for some reason. Maybe it’s because I liked the twins’ innocence, and the high school drama was too much (or too relatable!) to me. I like to escape to a happy ending! And in complete seriousness, I debated naming my daughter Lila because I didn’t want her to be associated with mean girl Lila Flower. In the end, I named her Delilah (Lilah—with an h!—for short) and that eased my worries.

At any rate, I’ll read a family saga any day. And we’ve established that I love historical romance and costumes, so give me all the Wakefield history.

The Swiss Courier

By Tricia Goyer, Mike Yorkey,

Book cover of The Swiss Courier

Why this book?

There were so many things that I loved about this book, starting with its riveting first scene. When I teach classes about great beginnings, I stress the need to hook a reader in the first three pages. Goyer and Yorkey did that and more. They kept me hooked until the surprising denouement. Make no mistake. I would not have wanted to live in Europe during World War II, but Goyer and Yorkey’s collaboration is filled with so many fascinating details of life during that tumultuous and dangerous time along with an introduction to the fine art of safe cracking that I couldn’t put it down. 

Uncertain Soldier

By Karen Bass,

Book cover of Uncertain Soldier

Why this book?

This story has won many awards including the Geoffrey Bilson Award for historical fiction but I love it for looking at the German side of World War II, not the battle but the prejudices a 12-year-old Canadian German and a 17-year-old German prisoner of war face in rural Alberta. Karen creates compelling fiction that humanizes instead of demonizes “the enemy.”

Sisters in Arms

By Kaia Alderson,

Book cover of Sisters in Arms

Why this book?

Kaia Alderson brings us a compelling story featuring strong female characters, complex friendships, family, love, and resilience. Her fierce young heroines blaze a trail in a world they are thrown into with little preparation, against the strong headwinds of discrimination. Alderson's witty dialogue and thoughtful prose carries the story through many poignant moments. The story of Six Triple Eight and the fascinating lives of these brave, unsung she-roes who accomplished a critical mission in the waning days of World War Two deserves a much bigger audience.

Exile Music: A Novel

By Jennifer Steil,

Book cover of Exile Music: A Novel

Why this book?

A well-written novel about a Jewish family from Vienna who escapes the Nazi regime and finds refuge in Bolivia. In a world so different from their own, the parents long for the music and culture they left behind, while their young daughter finds joy in the differences and in the people she meets. A lesson for all of us who face life-changing changes.

Defeat Into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945

By Field-Marshal Slim,

Book cover of Defeat Into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945

Why this book?

This was the book that got me hooked on the Burma Campaign. Bill Slim was the man who engineered and executed the great Allied victory in Burma in 1945. He was an extraordinary man, a great military commander, and an excellent writer. This book, his retelling of the campaign – the longest British campaign of the Second World War – has been described as the best general’s book of the war. I agree. It's beautifully written and is a moving telling of the transition from British defeat in 1942 to profound victory in 1945.

Slim was a very humble man. This book doesn’t blow his own trumpet, but that of the vast army of many nations that made victory over the Japanese possible.

Jungle Fighter

By John Hedley,

Book cover of Jungle Fighter

Why this book?

This book was published after Tom Donovan, the bookseller, came across the manuscript in a boot fair. It’s a brilliant depiction of Hedley’s experience fighting in Burma in 1942 at the height of Japanese ascendancy, through to the Chindits in 1944, and then finally in Burma behind enemy lines with Special Operations Executive (SOE) in 1945. The book engagingly recounts the extent of Hedley’s experience between 1942 and 1945: few officers were involved in the fighting at every stage of the campaign as was he. His role in helping raise the Karen levies against the Japanese in 1945 is a highlight. 

Traitor: A Novel of World War II

By Amanda McCrina,

Book cover of Traitor: A Novel of World War II

Why this book?

This is a page-turning novel set near the end of WWII about a topic rarely touched in fiction: The death battles between Poles and Ukrainians, who both feared losing their country to the Nazis, the Soviets, and then each other. A ton of research went into this eye-opening novel about Tolya, the half-Polish, half Ukrainian soldier who will be deemed a traitor no matter what he does.

White Eagles

By Elizabeth Wein,

Book cover of White Eagles

Why this book?

I could have picked any one of Elizabeth Wein’s World War II novels; all are unique and profound, and all consider aspects of the war we don’t read about too often, or that we don’t often consider through the lens of women’s roles. But I chose White Eagles, about a young Polish female pilot modeled closely on Anna Leska, because I appreciate the attention it draws to the air war on the Eastern Front and because this is another story built mainly on the humanity of its characters; pilot Kristina’s poignant relationships both with her brother and with her young passenger are the driving forces of the narrative.

The Spoilt City

By Olivia Manning,

Book cover of The Spoilt City

Why this book?

I could have chosen any of the three in Manning’s Balkan Trilogy, about a young couple who rush to get married on the eve of war and find themselves living first in Romania, then Athens (the setting for this book), and finally Cairo. I love the portrait of Athens in the period before the German invasion: the beauty of Greece in springtime, the shortages of food, the strange collection of people making up the expatriate community, and how the marriage of two young, probably mismatched people, is tried by the constant presences of war and death. The characters who drift along with the Pringles are beautifully drawn studies in their own right.  

Khaki Town

By Judy Nunn,

Book cover of Khaki Town

Why this book?

This novel is based on a true wartime story kept secret for more than seventy years. The story is set in March 1942, Townsville, Australia, after Singapore has fallen and Darwin has been bombed. The small town is transformed into a hub for 70,000 soldiers. But Australian troops begrudge the confident American soldiers, and there is growing conflict within the American ranks, and racial tensions are exposed. This compelling read is made even more poignant when you discover that it’s based on a mutiny that was covered up by the military. Khaki Town is a thought-provoking novel that will have you rallying against the injustices it exposes.

Names in a Jar

By Jennifer Gold,

Book cover of Names in a Jar

Why this book?

I love the way Jennifer Gold writes. She takes an important historical moment and turns it into a heart-stopping, rollercoaster ride that leaves the reader wanting more! That's how I felt when I read Names in a Jar. The story is an important one, historically. It's set in the Warsaw Ghetto and the Treblinka death camp. There are not many YA novels set in Treblinka, probably because so few prisoners survived that death camp. Jennifer has taken the true story of a real revolt that took place in Treblinka and adapted it for her novel. It's a story filled with courage and with hope.

Letters Across the Sea

By Genevieve Graham,

Book cover of Letters Across the Sea

Why this book?

Although I knew about the Japanese atrocities and prison camps in WWII, I’d not read about it from the Canadian perspective, and I learned about the great losses those soldiers endured in the Battle for Hong Kong and the years after. This is a tale of overcoming hate with love, of struggling with despair while holding onto hope, of acceptance and long-buried truths, and in realizing we are all equally treasured no matter our religion, station in life, or wrong decisions made in haste. Do not miss the author's notes at the end! They are a mini-history lesson in and of themselves. 

The Curator's Daughter

By Melanie Dobson,

Book cover of The Curator's Daughter

Why this book?

This dual timeline novel is expertly researched and woven into a tapestry. In 1940, a German archaeologist is forced to marry an SS officer—and to catalog art stolen from the Jews. In modern times, a young woman with a traumatic past in the neo-Nazi movement works with the Holocaust Museum to fight hate crimes. Their entwining stories show the courage needed to stand up against racism—and the necessity of doing so, no matter the cost.

The Lines Between Us

By Amy Lynn Green,

Book cover of The Lines Between Us

Why this book?

Filled with spunk and humor, this novel also highlights a less-known aspect of the war. A conscientious objector serves as a smokejumper in Oregon, parachuting into forest fires to fight them. His former sweetheart, who broke up with him for being “cowardly,” serves in the Women’s Army Corps. When her brother dies fighting a mysterious fire, she breaks every rule imaginable to investigate—but the results could be devastating. The exploration of the true meaning of courage and honesty adds incredible depth to this story.

The Venice Sketchbook

By Rhys Bowen,

Book cover of The Venice Sketchbook

Why this book?

If you like intrigue, then welcome to Venice in 1938. This novel features a likable heroine in search of the solution to a mystery contained in a sketchbook. It’s full of art—both real and metaphorical. Set against the backdrop of impending war, this one is full of courage and heart.

An Elephant in the Garden: Inspired by a True Story

By Michael Morpurgo,

Book cover of An Elephant in the Garden: Inspired by a True Story

Why this book?

I love historical fiction, and I love stories within stories and this novel is both! It’s set at the end of World War II, just after the Allied bombing of Dresden. We’re following 16-year-old Elizabeth, her Mutti, her little brother Karli, and a downed Swiss-Canadian airman as they flee to safety near Heidelberg in the company of—yes, really—an elephant! A story of survival, of endurance, of building lives. The human relationships, in a dark and dangerous time, are brightened by the unexpected presence of one remarkable animal. 

The English Patient

By Michael Ondaatje,

Book cover of The English Patient

Why this book?

I first read Ondaatje’s WW2 novel when it won the Booker Prize in 1992. I hated it. "Booker Prize, schmooker prize," I cried. I was at university studying English literature and I believed I knew more than the Booker judges. I didn’t connect with any of the characters, especially the title character. He was too enigmatic to be sympathetic. Having recently reread it (the same copy, actually) the story has taken on new life. It's interesting how one's perception can evolve and change with age and experience. It is Hana who resonates with me, and I now view the novel as her story, a coming-of-age story, despite the title. Ondaatje tells her story subtly and beautifully, perhaps in a way that is only possible from a male author. 

22 Britannia Road

By Amanda Hodgkinson,

Book cover of 22 Britannia Road

Why this book?

Like my novel, 22 Britannia Road sheds light on refugees in England, starting after the war when Janusz and Silvana are reunited after six years’ separation. The narrative alternates between flashbacks to the wartime traumas they each endured, and the “present” story of their struggles to rebuild their lives. When Poland is invaded, Janusz joins the underground army and makes his way to France and finally England with the anti-Nazi forces. This mirrors the story of two characters in my own novel, based on my grandfather and uncle. Silvana meanwhile escapes into the forest to hide with her infant son. When she and Janusz meet up after the war, theirs is no glossy romantic reunion; they barely know each other and both harbor secrets that must eventually come to light. 

Moon Tiger

By Penelope Lively,

Book cover of Moon Tiger

Why this book?

Penelope Lively is a rock star in England, but she’s never been quite as known in the U.S. I love all her work, but this one is my favorite. 

We meet Claudia Hampton towards the end of her life. She’s a historian, razor-sharp, fascinating and fascinated, and even at her most self-absorbed, it’s impossible not to love her. I’d name her as one of the greatest female characters of all time, just as complex and shapeshifting as we all are in real life. Every sentence is a gift. If you like Elizabeth Strout or Ann Patchett, you should give this one a go.


By Laurent Binet, Sam Taylor (translator),

Book cover of HHhH

Why this book?

You’ve heard of Hitler, Goebbels, Göring, Eichmann, and Himmler, but what about Heydrich? One of the masterminds of the terrible “final solution,” he was installed as Protector of Bohemia and Moravia under Nazi occupation and was assassinated in 1942 by two Czech patriots parachuted in by the British. I have visited the church in Prague where they were eventually hunted down and killed, so I knew I had to read this novel, and it is a delightful read. Written in short, snappy chapters, the seriousness of the underlying story is lightened by a playful double narrative with the author’s account of his own struggles while writing the book and reflections on the treatment of historical characters in fiction. 

The Longest Echo

By Eoin Dempsey,

Book cover of The Longest Echo

Why this book?

When I like an author, I do my best to tell everyone about their books, and Eoin Dempsey is one of those authors I often recommend. Lately, the WWII fiction genre seems to be dominated by female authors, but Dempsey is the exception! I fell in love with The Longest Echo by the end of the first chapter, and I haven’t talked to anyone who hasn’t loved this novel. What captured me was that I hadn’t ever read about this moment in history before, and I found myself completely immersed in the story very quickly.

Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers

By Sara Ackerman,

Book cover of Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers

Why this book?

I’m a bit of a fangirl when it comes to Sara Ackerman. I love all of her books about real people in Hawaii during World War II. Her characters are believable and compelling, and the Hawaiian setting is a different aspect of World War II than is usually presented. This book features a close-knit group of women who open a pie stand near a military base. Violet’s husband has disappeared without a word, and she suspects her daughter knows something she isn’t telling. When tension and suspicions rise among neighbors, the women are accused of being spies, and Violet must keep her friends and family safe. 

The Collected Stories of Heinrich Boll

By Heinrich Boll, Leila Vennewitz (translator),

Book cover of The Collected Stories of Heinrich Boll

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.

War and Millie McGonigle

By Karen Cushman,

Book cover of War and Millie McGonigle

Why this book?

Even though I lived across the country from San Diego where this story takes place, and even though I was several years younger than Millie McGonigle, the picture of home front USA during WW2 is familiar in many ways. Soldiers and sailors filled the streets of Chicago, and kids scanned the sky for “enemy planes.” There was the fear of polio, the struggles with rationing, and the shortage of bubble gum. 

This story is filled with humor and memorable characters. But most memorable of all is Millie, who tries to deal with the death of a grandmother and her worries about the war getting closer to home. And even though she’s obsessed with drawing in her Book of Dead Things, she comes to understand what her grandmother had told her when she said, “Whatever is lost stays alive if you remember it.”

Blackout in Gretley

By J.B. Priestley,

Book cover of Blackout in Gretley

Why this book?

J.B. Priestley produced this engrossing spy chiller written and set in the desperate days of 1942 when the future looked grimmer by the hour. A grieving middle-aged engineer goes undercover in a grimy Midland town where vital aircraft are being built. British Intelligence suspects lurking Nazi agents and saboteurs, while it is up to our man to track them down. As he investigates, it seems that everyone is hiding secrets and soon he is embroiled in a tangle of deceit and murder. The book was ahead of its time. The protagonist is quite the modern anti-hero, struggling with inner demons, echoed by the endless grind of the blackouts, and I was gripped by the way he ultimately finds something worth fighting for. The story is dazzlingly put together, filled with contemporary details and deep menace that result in a classic page-turner, ideal for a binge read on a dark afternoon. The book was ahead of its time.

The Postmistress

By Sarah Blake,

Book cover of The Postmistress

Why this book?

There are a lot of World War II books out there, and in truth, I was growing tired of them until I read Sarah Blake’s. Partially located on my home turf of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the brush against our local history pre-World War II fascinated me. But Blake doesn’t stay local; she leaves the postmistress to do—or not doher job and flies off to London with a female war correspondent. How their stories cleverly intertwine is part of my fascination with this tale. Blake has a habit of dropping unforgettable characters on my doorstep, where they tease and tantalize long after I’ve turned the last page. 

The Sand Pounder: Love and Drama on Horseback in WWII

By M.J. Evans,

Book cover of The Sand Pounder: Love and Drama on Horseback in WWII

Why this book?

I found this recent release a fascinating historical fiction for teens and older based on actual events of horses and their riders during World War II. 

Fearing an invasion by German and Japanese forces, the U.S. Coast Guard enlisted horsemen to patrol the beaches along the east and west coasts of our country from 1942 to 1944. The unit was called The Sand Pounders.

M.J. Evans wrote the book in a personal way, introducing In Tillamook, Oregon, a young equestrian, 17-year-old Jane, who decided to join the Sand Pounders. However, Sand Pounders were only accepting men. But that didn’t slow the main character and her horse down. The pair do ride successfully and serve their country well. 

This book is a good read for any horse lover of any age!

Sailor's Heart

By Martin Campbell,

Book cover of Sailor's Heart

Why this book?

Not just another book on World War II—Sailor’s Heart by Martin Campbell is a story that has not been told before. It is the fictionalized (but heavily and exhaustively researched) story of three Royal Navy sailors who experienced traumas that rendered them unable to go on. Campbell says the condition “sailor’s heart” is the loss of interest in the battle and then the will to fight or the will to live.” With no end to the war in sight, the men are sentenced to an undefined period of rehabilitation in a Royal Navy hospital that has anything but the men’s best interests at heart. Their plight and struggle to survive are palpable and gripping.

The Indomitable Florence Finch: The Untold Story of a War Widow Turned Resistance Fighter and Savior of American POWs

By Robert J. Mrazek,

Book cover of The Indomitable Florence Finch: The Untold Story of a War Widow Turned Resistance Fighter and Savior of American POWs

Why this book?

Florence Finch’s story is astonishing—in part for what this woman did to help save American prisoners of war in the Philippines during World War II. Finch received the Medal of Freedom, our highest civilian award, and has had a Coast Guard headquarters building named for her. Still, had it not been for Mrazek who discovered her story and wrote this book, relying in part on her actual correspondence, her family’s memories, and the historical accounts of the Massacre of Manila, we would not know Finch.

What I Saw and How I Lied

By Judy Blundell,

Book cover of What I Saw and How I Lied

Why this book?

Set in post-WWII with wartime flashbacks to an earlier time, Blundell uses music, dance, and fashion to capture the mood and atmosphere of the era. Her descriptions of the fashions had me drooling and wanting to run to the nearest vintage shop to buy a new dress. Blundell’s use of language, imagery, and metaphor worked well and often flirted with brilliance. She captured the dichotomy of having one foot in childhood and the other in adulthood with compelling plot twists, intertwining the complex mother and the daughter relationship from the perspective of a young woman. The romance aspect was realistic and dangerous with the character of Peter exactly what every parent fears for their budding daughter and what so many naive girls think they want.

Bat Bomb: World War II's Other Secret Weapon

By Jack Couffer,

Book cover of Bat Bomb: World War II's Other Secret Weapon

Why this book?

Strange, sick, and if this doesn't constitute animal cruelty I don't know what does, Project X-Ray planned to strap incendiaries to bats and drop them to roost on Tokyo's roofs, burning down the city and shortening the war. A dentist who had explored New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns conceived this idea, then approached the White House, where President Roosevelt surprisingly said, “This man is not a nut."  

The military duly tested the plan, and the bats burned down a brand-new airbase, effectively sending the project up in flames. And a good thing, too. I shudder to imagine the anxiety of a crew ordered to fly a planeful of explosive bats all the way to Japan.

Spy Who Loved

By Clare Mulley,

Book cover of Spy Who Loved

Why this book?

You might think that a daughter of a count and a runner-up for Miss Poland might not have what it takes to be a spy. You’d be wrong. Krystyna Skarbek was Britain’s first and longest-serving female special agent during World War II.  

When her native Poland was overrun, Krystyna and her husband sailed for London. She wasted no time in offering her services to the British against the Nazis, and the Secret Intelligence Service was happy to recruit this “flaming Polish patriot, expert skier, and great adventuress" who proved her intelligence, daring, and resourcefulness again and again.  Inspiring Winston Churchill to claim that she was his favourite agent.

The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War

By Lynn H. Nicholas,

Book cover of The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War

Why this book?

This is the go-to book for the Nazi art looting story on the non-fiction side. After I saw the film documentary that accompanies this book, I quickly read it and it got me started on my path to writing my own book. I also use The Rape of Europa as my class text for my college course: “Art and the Nazis.” Lynn Nicholas did an impressive amount of research and devotes chapters to the Nazi art looting in Poland, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy. She also discusses The Monuments Men (US and British officers who attempted to find and save Europe’s cultural items during WWII) but I think that subject is better handled by other books on this list!

Good Night, Mr. Tom

By Michelle Magorian,

Book cover of Good Night, Mr. Tom

Why this book?

This is an exceptionally good middle grade book! It tells what really happened to British children who were evacuated from the cities to the countryside during WWII. It caused me to question my English grandparents about their experiences during WWII. Imagine how people would react today if the government ordered them to put their children on a train to go live with strangers in some other part of the country.

Code Name Hélène

By Ariel Lawhon,

Book cover of Code Name Hélène

Why this book?

Ariel Lawhon is one of my favorite authors. I will read anything she writes, and this novel is one of her best. Not many people have heard of Nancy Wake, but she was an Australian expatriate living in Paris during the years preceding World War II. I, for one, am glad she’s finally getting her due, for her story is one of those “I can hardly believe this really happened” tales. Nancy Wake started out as a reporter, but when Germany invaded France she joined the Resistance and smuggled people and documents across the border. The Nazis nicknamed her “The White Mouse” and put a bounty on her head, forcing her to flee France. Any ordinary person would have called it a day. But not Nancy Wake. She returned to France as Hélène under the aegis of England’s Special Operations Executives. Her cleverness and courage are guaranteed to thrill any reader.

The Naked and the Dead: With a New Introduction by the Author

By Norman Mailer,

Book cover of The Naked and the Dead: With a New Introduction by the Author

Why this book?

This is a fictionalized account of Mailer’s WWII experience during the amphibious invasion of a Japanese-held Island and shows the courage and cowardice of men in war. I decided to read this after meeting Mailer at my cousin Jack Gelber’s Manhattan Apartment in 1966. Upon learning that I had received a battlefield commission in Vietnam, Mailer, who was drunk, called me a baby killer, jerked me from a chair, and assumed a boxer’s stance, meanwhile challenging me to fight him. He was unceremoniously shoved into his overcoat and out the door. But the man could write

They Were Expendable

By W. L. White,

Book cover of They Were Expendable

Why this book?

The author recreated as a novel the adventures of a handful of Navy officers whose tiny Patrol Torpedo Boats more than held their own against the full might of the Japanese Navy during the fall of the Philippines. Told in the first person by three of the principal characters, we meet Douglas MacArthur, seasick and soaking wet, as he flees Manila in an overloaded PT Boat, and eventually reaches a smaller island from which he is flown to safety in Australia. And we see and are in awe, of these young naval officers. In 1951, when I was ten and perched on my father's shoulders, I saw MacArthur from just a few feet away as he passed during a Chicago parade. I became fascinated with the man and his legend, and here he is presented as a very human creature.

I-Boat Captain

By Zenji Orita, Joseph D. Harrington,

Book cover of I-Boat Captain

Why this book?

This is the first book I’ve ever read written by a Japanese sub commander that describes submarine warfare from the Japanese point of view. Few Japanese sub commanders survived the war, so how Orita lived to tell the tale is just one of the many remarkable stories he recounts in his book. Not only does it read like a suspense thriller, you’ll have newfound respect for the suffering he and his crews went through. Bottom line: The Japanese version of Das Boot!

Sunk: The Story of the Japanese Submarine Fleet, 1941-1945

By Mochitsura Hashimoto,

Book cover of Sunk: The Story of the Japanese Submarine Fleet, 1941-1945

Why this book?

Hashimoto was the Japanese sub captain of the I-58, who sank the USS Indianapolis shortly after it delivered the atomic bomb in the closing days of World War II. The story of the Indianapolis has been told in several excellent books including, “In Harms Way” and “Fatal Voyage” as well as the movie, “Jaws,” but never from the Japanese point of view. How Hashimoto and his crew survived the war is integral to this story which makes The Hunt for Red October seem like child’s play. And it’s all true!

Undersea Victory: The Influence of Submarine Operations on the War in the Pacific

By W. J Holmes,

Book cover of Undersea Victory: The Influence of Submarine Operations on the War in the Pacific

Why this book?

Undersea Victory is the definitive history of submarine warfare in the Pacific during World War II. Holmes was a giant in the field and really knows his stuff. You’ll come away having a much greater appreciation for how sub combat operations were conducted both by the U.S. and Japan. Importantly, Holmes doesn’t hesitate to tell you the good and the bad regardless of which side he’s writing about. No sub enthusiast’s library is complete without it.

Run Silent, Run Deep

By Edward L. Beach,

Book cover of Run Silent, Run Deep

Why this book?

This is one of the classics that started it all. Although fiction, Beach was a sub commander during World War II who fought against the Japanese. As a result, he really knows his stuff. The sometimes fraught personal dynamics between sub commanders and their first officers (as well as the crew) are one of the driving forces of this narrative. And you’ll never forget Bungo Pete!

The Beantown Girls

By Jane Healey,

Book cover of The Beantown Girls

Why this book?

I’ve read this book twice in the last year. Even though I knew what happened, it was a page-turner the second time through. Healey clearly did extensive research to give her characters such authentic things to say and feel–they became very real to me. This book doesn’t hide the realities of war. The descriptions of the hard work Red Cross Clubmobile girls did near battlefronts are spot on and the camaraderie between the trio of main characters is beautifully written. Make sure you have a box of tissues handy! 

Eastern Approaches

By Fitzroy Maclean,

Book cover of Eastern Approaches

Why this book?

In the 1990s when I worked at the British Embassy in Moscow organising social functions I met a kind, elderly, white-haired man who came to visit the ambassador. Sir Fitzroy Maclean was a distinguished former diplomat, war veteran, politician, and writer, but still he found time to chat with a lowly staff member about Soviet history – and when he got home, he sent me his book. Eastern Approaches is a captivating memoir of Maclean’s diplomatic service in the USSR during Stalin’s Terror, when he sneaked undercover into Central Asia and experienced many escapades, including run-ins with the Soviet secret police. His tales of derring-do evoke a bygone age – but his expressive portrayals of the people and landscapes of Central Asia are recognisable to anyone travelling in this alluring region today. 

Instruments of Darkness: The History of Electronic Warfare, 1939-1945

By Alfred Price,

Book cover of Instruments of Darkness: The History of Electronic Warfare, 1939-1945

Why this book?

British Radio Direction Finding stations (RDF), later to be dubbed Radar, with their iconic arrays of masts along England’s south coast, contributed greatly to the RAF’s success in the Battle of Britain by detecting approaching raids and giving early warning. Both sides in the European war possessed similar technologies operated from ground stations. The race to miniaturise RDF sets for airborne interception, once realised, would have devastating consequences for intruding bomber crews facing A.I. equipped night fighters over Britain and Germany. Price takes an even-handed approach in relating the development of these technologies in Britain, Germany, the US, and Japan, making this an absorbing and enjoyable read that demystifies an aspect of the war that is usually only mentioned in passing.

The Secret Purposes

By David Baddiel,

Book cover of The Secret Purposes

Why this book?

Jewish internment in Britain is a little-known aspect of WW2. Baddiel based this novel on his grandfather's experience as a German-Jewish refugee to Britain, fleeing Nazi persecution. It is an ironic story of a man interned on the Isle of Man as an “enemy alien,” when war breaks out. Baddiel’s excellent story-telling led me to write a scene in my own family-inspired novel; between a character based on my father, also interned on the Isle of Man, and a Jewish refugee he encounters in the camp. They meet in the potato fields and, after some bristling, form a bond.

Royal Institute of Magic: Elizabeth's Legacy

By Victor Kloss,

Book cover of Royal Institute of Magic: Elizabeth's Legacy

Why this book?

The Royal Institute of Magic was a story that was character driven. Victor Kloss did such a great job distinguishing each character from the other that I felt I knew them personally. At the end of each book, I found myself ordering up the next installment because I wanted to find out what happened to each character and how they grew into adults and as friends. It was pure entertainment.

The UNtied Kingdom

By Kate Johnson,

Book cover of The UNtied Kingdom

Why this book?

A similar concept to Man in the High Castle, The UNtied Kingdom explores an alternate reality in which the Axis won World War II. The book begins in modern-day England where down-on-her-luck and former pop star, Eve, suffers a hang-gliding accident while filming a has-been “where are they now” reality TV show. She falls through a wormhole into the WWII alternate reality and is saved by Major Harker, only to be arrested as a potential Axis spy. When Harker embarks on a mission to infiltrate enemy lines, he drags Eve along on his mission for her Axis intelligence, and so begins their exciting, adventure-filled romance. Will he ever believe that she came from a different reality? Will she be able to help right the wrongs in his? Is this world the one she belongs in—with him? The questions that Johnson (no relation!) explores are intriguing, heart-wrenching, and kept me riveted until the very last word.

World War II Almanac 1931-1945

By Robert Goralski,

Book cover of World War II Almanac 1931-1945

Why this book?

The Second World War was the largest inter-state conflict to date, and largely informs contemporary patterns of geopolitics, international institutions, and military technology, like nuclear weapons. Knowledge of the Second World War, which is nevertheless complex, is therefore vital. The World War II Almanac’s format as a day-by-day chronological account of the conflict provides unique political, strategic, diplomatic, economic, and military insights, which would otherwise be inaccessible without having read at least ten times as many sources. Because the book covers events from 1931 to 1945, it describes the early Japanese policies in China as well as the crucial evolution of fascism within Europe. It also comes with a detailed appendix of charts and tables on a variety of topics, which makes it pedagogically invaluable as an introduction to the Second World War.    

Company Commander: The Classic Infantry Memoir of World War II

By Charles B. MacDonald,

Book cover of Company Commander: The Classic Infantry Memoir of World War II

Why this book?

An infantry company commander’s first-hand account of his experiences in the European theater. His first command was to be thrust smack dab into the middle of the Battle of The Bulge, and his account is filled with surprisingly raw and honest observations not only about the war but about his reaction to it.

Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II

By Roger Daniels,

Book cover of Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II

Why this book?

This book is a classic and of the first that I read on the subject. It’s a concise introduction to this shameful moment in America’s WWII era history that carefully explains how decades of anti-Japanese sentiment along the West Coast reached a peak following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. But Daniels also provides in-depth detail on what life was like for Japanese Americans who spent some of if not most of their time during the war behind barbed wire and how they struggled to return to “normal” when released from the camps. Most importantly, the book has a compelling concluding chapter that asks its readers, “Could this happen again?” Daniels doesn’t give an answer but encourages us to read more and think about the legacy of incarceration.

Khan Al-Khalili

By Naguib Mahfouz,

Book cover of Khan Al-Khalili

Why this book?

Khan al-Khalili is a famous bazaar in the historic heart of Cairo, and the setting of this powerful and thought-provoking novel by Naguib Mahfouz. One of the most important Egyptian and Arab authors of the Twentieth century, in 1988, Mahfouz became the first Arabic-language writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Mahfouz spent much of his life in and around Khan al-Khalili, which gives this novel an intimacy and sense of place akin to Dicken's writing about Victorian London. It is 1942, and Egypt is tense as the war moves closer and closer to the capital, and Cairenes from different generations thrust together in the crowded neighborhood variously argue for and against tradition, modernity, religious faith, and secularism. This is a great read, and even better if you’re able to read it while sitting in a café in Khan al-Khalili. 

Cairo in the War, 1939-45

By Artemis Cooper,

Book cover of Cairo in the War, 1939-45

Why this book?

Cairo in the War, 1939–1945 is a brilliant, fast-moving, narrative-driven piece of historical writing focussed on the British ruling elite in Egypt, before they won the war and subsequently lost this once vital North African imperial land-holding. The cast of characters reads like a Who’s Who of mid-century literary heavyweights, political operators, and military strategists, including everyone from Lawrence Durrell (whose Alexandria Quartet is also set in this period), Evelyn Waugh, Fitzroy Maclean, Olivia Manning, the brilliant Alexandrian Greek poet C.P. Cavafy, and Paddy Leigh Fermor. While much of the rest of the world burned, the British elite in Cairo partied, and in the process managed to annoy many American, Australian, and New Zealand allies and Egyptian foes alike, while sowing the seeds of an anti-monarchical feeling that eventually saw King Farouk toppled in 1952.

And Where Were You, Adam?

By Heinrich Boll, Leila Vennewitz (translator),

Book cover of And Where Were You, Adam?

Why this book?

Boll, a Second World War veteran, tells this episodic story from the perspective of a German soldier during the last year of the war. Loosely episodic and propelled by a kind of grim, fatalistic absurdity, it follows the hapless infantryman Feinhals as he lurches from misadventure to misadventure on the Eastern Front. What really stuck with me is the awfulness of the predicaments Feinhals finds himself in, such as the moment when a soldier sets out to surrender a hospital full of wounded men, only to accidentally set off a dud shell beside the hospital’s cesspool. The Soviets, thinking they have been attacked, respond by levelling the place. "This war’s a load of shit," says one cynical character, and with a magnificent kaboom, that statement becomes literal. 

Heirlooms: Stories

By Rachel Hall,

Book cover of Heirlooms: Stories

Why this book?

An unforgettable collection of linked stories, Heirlooms follows one Jewish family escaping Holocaust-era St. Malo, France through to present-day America and Israel. Hall depicts with masterful, exquisite prose just what it means to be a refugee, to rebuild a life outside one’s own country, to survive and endure. I recently taught Heirlooms to a class of fiction writing students who deeply appreciated this stunning collection and what they could learn from it about storytelling, and about resilience.

On Hitler's Mountain: My Nazi Childhood

By Irmgard Hunt,

Book cover of On Hitler's Mountain: My Nazi Childhood

Why this book?

Born in 1934 in Berchtesgaden, in the shadow of Hitler’s Eagles Nest, Irmgard Hunt witnessed the growth of fascist ideology among the people she loved during an otherwise idyllic childhood. As the shadow of World War II fell over the mountain, however, Hunt began to question and then disavow the Nazi doctrines she had accepted as a young child. As time went on and the regime crumbled literally before her eyes, she was vocal in confronting her country’s criminal past and in championing the democratic principles her elders had so easily dismissed.

The Men of Company K: The Autobiography of a World War II Rifle Company

By Harold P. Leinbaugh, John D. Campbell,

Book cover of The Men of Company K: The Autobiography of a World War II Rifle Company

Why this book?

I love reading true stories of WWII told by people who lived through it. I find it difficult to understand how ordinary men could live, fight, and die in a foreign land without questioning in order to protect the United States; they were certainly true patriots. In the fall of 1944, two hundred true patriots of K Company, 333rd Infantry, 84th Division landed in Europe. For the next one hundred days, they were on the edge of the Allied spearhead into Nazi territory. If you ever wanted to be in the infantry, you need to read this book. 

War at the End of the World: Douglas MacArthur and the Forgotten Fight For New Guinea, 1942-1945

By James P. Duffy,

Book cover of War at the End of the World: Douglas MacArthur and the Forgotten Fight For New Guinea, 1942-1945

Why this book?

I thought I knew a thing or two about the history of World War II. Somehow, the battle for New Guinea escaped me, despite the role played by the American General, Douglas MacArthur. Significant as a turning point in the war and enabling MacArthur's return to the Philippines, the fight in New Guinea deserves mention in the same breath as the stepping-stone battles of the Pacific islands. The fighting was brutal and the conditions for both Japanese and Allied troops were horrid—trails ascending rugged mountains, supply-chain difficulties, diseases that diminished the abilities of troops to fight. I have been to New Guinea twice. Duffy captured the ruggedness of the land and his telling of the stories made me feel the place, the people, and their challenges.

Light Perpetual

By Francis Spufford,

Book cover of Light Perpetual

Why this book?

In 1944, the Woolworth’s in London was bombed, killing 168 people. 15 were kids.

In this story, the author brings back 5 of those children and writes a story of how they might have been growing up and as adults. It is a tearjerker and really makes you wonder what all of those 15 children would have been like.

Several senseless tragedies leave a lot of “What-ifs,” and this one really pulled at my heartstrings.

The Girls from the Beach

By Andie Newton,

Book cover of The Girls from the Beach

Why this book?

Andie Newton writes historical fiction with strong female leads, set during World War II. In The Girls from the Beach, Kit, an American nurse, is sent behind enemy lines to infiltrate the Reich and steal something critical to the outcome of the war. It’s a gripping, edge-of-your-seat story that’s guaranteed to have you bawling by the end.  

Obviously, I’d need a time machine to have dinner with Kit as a young woman, but she could still be around today, recounting heroic tales from that awful time. Kit is super brave and she’s persevered through unimaginable circumstances. Even if she didn’t want to share her stories, I’d invite her as a thank you for the sacrifices she and all service people made so we have the freedom we have today. 

Outside Is the Ocean

By Matthew Lansburgh,

Book cover of Outside Is the Ocean

Why this book?

Outside Is the Ocean reads like a novel, with stories interlinked and main characters growing more faceted as you read. The book centers on Heike, who left her native Germany after the war to settle in America, and her son Stewart, who both loves her and yearns for freedom from the drama she creates. Lansburgh presents a fascinating portrait of Heike at various junctures in her life, with a small cast of characters orbiting around her. Be prepared to be drawn into Heike’s chaotic world as you read, and to oscillate back and forth between shock and empathy. This is a book about family and enduring bonds between mother and son. That it is so beautifully crafted only adds to the delight. 

Macarthur's Victory: The War in New Guinea, 1943-1944

By Harry Gailey,

Book cover of Macarthur's Victory: The War in New Guinea, 1943-1944

Why this book?

This book gave me a basic understanding of the New Guinea war into which my father was sent. It gave me the framework with which I could piece together the timeline of my father’s service. It gave me an idea of the progress of the war and a context for all of his military orders, his stacks of correspondence, and all of his photos, long stored away in his Navigation Case.

Destination Unknown: Adventures of a WWII American Red Cross Girl

By LeOna Cox, Kathleen Cox,

Book cover of Destination Unknown: Adventures of a WWII American Red Cross Girl

Why this book?

I absolutely love the layout of this book–the title, the photos, and the fonts. This irresistible chapter heading made me want to know more: “Training: Thrilled to Death with Everything.” At the start of the book, I knew nothing about World War II Red Cross volunteers and next to nothing about the war in Africa. LeOna’s letters are so exuberant with descriptions so vivid you feel like you are walking in her footsteps. I love the photos with her smiling face. I finished this book with a deep respect for the dedicated women who worked so hard to provide soldiers with comfort and a connection to home.

The Red Cross Letters: A Real Life Account 1944-1946

By Dorothy Trebilcox,

Book cover of The Red Cross Letters: A Real Life Account 1944-1946

Why this book?

My favorite thing about this book is that it contains copies of the actual letters sent home by Dorothy, about half handwritten and the other half typed. The accompanying photos and newspaper clippings enhance the narrative of her work and travel in England. This is one of the most complete sets of letters I’ve ever seen. Dorothy was the Red Cross secretary at a U.S. Army hospital located at a country estate (think Downton Abbey). I love her conversational tone, charming descriptions, and positive attitude. I almost felt like I was her mother reading the letters as they arrived so many years ago.  

All Ships Follow Me: A Family Memoir of War Across Three Continents

By Mieke Eerkens,

Book cover of All Ships Follow Me: A Family Memoir of War Across Three Continents

Why this book?

A remarkable and incredibly brave epic saga of a young woman struggling with the inheritance of her father who grew up in the colonial era of the Netherlands in the Dutch East Indies and who had been interned in a concentration camp by the Japanese as a child and her mother who had been abandoned as a little girl at the end of WWII because her parents were Nazi sympathizers and were therefore imprisoned. The author grew up in California, USA, with many questions about her family’s identity and secrets in the war. A courageous book breaking the taboo of shedding light on ‘the other side.’ The author is a personal friend of mine.

Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision

By Roberta Wohlstetter,

Book cover of Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision

Why this book?

Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision is the baseline for researchers interested in the story of early cryptology and why the surprise attack happened at Pearl Harbor. She reveals who knew what, when, and exposes the disasters reaped by hubris and uncoordinated intelligence often quoting original communiques and cables.

Lee Miller's War: Beyond D-Day

By Antony Penrose (editor),

Book cover of Lee Miller's War: Beyond D-Day

Why this book?

In an alternate universe, I am a fearless combat photographer like Margaret Bourke-White, Dickey Chapelle, or Lee Miller. This book of Miller’s work in particular I find so interesting because it covers so many aspects of life during wartime and its immediate aftermath—ordinary civilians, soldiers on the front lines, prisoners of war, and, most powerfully, victims of concentration camps. Before the war, Miller was a model and apprentice of Man Ray and shot for Vogue magazine. Her photos convey a strong artistic eye even in their vivid realness. Miller herself was of course always pushing boundaries. She was living in Hitler’s Munich apartment when Germany surrendered and was famously photographed in his bathtub (those pics are not in this book).

The Persecution of the Jews in Photographs: The Netherlands 1940-1945

By Rene Kok, Erik Somers,

Book cover of The Persecution of the Jews in Photographs: The Netherlands 1940-1945

Why this book?

This book is the catalog of a 2019 exhibition of the same name. It’s a collection of 440 images that cover all facets of Jewish life in the Netherlands during the German occupation. What’s most interesting and compelling are the rare, so-called bystander photos that show what life under Nazi rule looked like for ordinary people going about their lives, both those who were persecuted and those who committed genocide, as well as those who witnessed it. While we can look into the faces of people knowing the horrors that were to come, seeing these images—weddings, dinners, strolls in the parkas a preface to the more familiar images of round-ups, transports, and concentration camps provides deeper insight into history. I revisit the photos in this book often.

We Went Back: Photographs from Europe 1933-1956 by Chim

By Cynthia Young,

Book cover of We Went Back: Photographs from Europe 1933-1956 by Chim

Why this book?

Technically about World War II, this work covers Chim’s work depicting culture, politics, and life before and after the war, so the circumstances leading to conflict and its aftermath. Chim was the co-founder of Magnum Photos, so his contribution to photojournalism is immense, and his photos are beautifully lit and composed even as they capture fleeting moments: Polish school children waiting for a bus in the rain, a baby reaching for bread at a displaced person’s camp or a boy playing in the ruins of a bombed building. The book also includes later photos of celebrities and movie stars, which, when seen alongside his earlier work creates an interesting narrative of a world putting itself back together and once again seeking out joy and beauty.

The Road to San Giovanni

By Italo Calvino, Tim Parks (translator),

Book cover of The Road to San Giovanni

Why this book?

Calvino, like Perec, was an experimental novelist, interested in imposing games and rules on what he created. Here, he took the convention of the short story collection and used it to dramatise the arrival of the twentieth century into rural Italy—the machine age, but also the fascist age, and the consuming fires of the Second World War. The incremental tension that comes from time passing is a powerful reading experience.

Last Man Out: Glenn McDole, USMC, Survivor of the Palawan Massacre in World War II

By Bob Wilbanks,

Book cover of Last Man Out: Glenn McDole, USMC, Survivor of the Palawan Massacre in World War II

Why this book?

Last Man Out is the true account of a U.S. Marine who surrendered to the Japanese on the Philippine Island of Corregidor. I find this book and its account very interesting because Ed Babler was at the very same POW camp on the Island of Palawan during the time that Glenn McDole was and only escaped being murdered by the Japanese with the bulk of the rest of the Marines there due to having been injured and transferred off prior to the massacre. Last Man Out tells the harrowing account of the massacre and how McDole was able to escape, one of the very few to do so.

Hero of Bataan: The Story of General Wainwright

By Duane P. Schultz,

Book cover of Hero of Bataan: The Story of General Wainwright

Why this book?

The Hero of Bataan is an excellent book that tells the story not of General Douglas MacArthur, but General Jonathan Wainwright, the real hero of Bataan and Corregidor. It covers the battle of the Philippines at the outset of the U.S. involvement in World War II, the fall of the Philippines, and Wainwright’s experiences as a Japanese-held POW for the rest of the war. It describes that even as the senior U.S. POW in Japanese hands, Wainwright was treated as poorly as any other POW, as were other Allied general officers listed in the book. I find this an excellent, interesting, must-read to understand what really occurred in the Philippines during the early stages of the war and to those who survived the battles.

How War Came, The Immediate Origins of the Second World War 1938-1939

By Donald Cameron Watt,

Book cover of How War Came, The Immediate Origins of the Second World War 1938-1939

Why this book?

First recommended to me by a renowned authority on European history, this big book is far and away the most comprehensive study of the origins of World War II that I read while preparing to write my own book. Watt not only traces the rise of Hitler and the absolutely ruthless steps he took to make himself master of Germany throughout the 1930s; Watt also shows exactly how Roosevelt maneuvered his way around American isolationists who were dead set against any American involvement in the new war. On top of that, Watt shows how Britain and every other European country outside Germany were responding to the prospect that within twenty years of a war that had taken 20 million lives and wounded 21 million more, Europe was facing the unthinkable: a second World War. 

1939: The Alliance That Never Was and the Coming of World War II

By Michael Jabara Carley,

Book cover of 1939: The Alliance That Never Was and the Coming of World War II

Why this book?

Irresistibly clear and readable, this book explains the biggest mistake that France and Britain made before war broke out. Gripped by “ideological anti-Communism,” they simply could not bring themselves to forge an alliance with the Soviet Union against Hitler’s Germany. As a result, Hitler beat them to the punch. After he struck his own deal with Stalin and thus neutralized any Soviet threat to his belligerence, Germany and the Soviets carved up Poland between them. And even though Britain and France had pledged to defend Poland, the only thing they did for that poor, brave nation after Hitler invaded it was to declare war on Germany—and then do nothing for the next seven months of what came to be known as the “joke war.”

German Resistance Against Hitler: The Search for Allies Abroad, 1938-1945

By Klemens von Klemperer,

Book cover of German Resistance Against Hitler: The Search for Allies Abroad, 1938-1945

Why this book?

Absolutely gripping and sometimes heartbreaking account of the Widerstand—the German Resistance to Hitler, Before reading this book I never knew that just before the fateful signing of the Munich Agreement on October 30, 1938, fifty anti-Nazi commandoes led by Captain Freidrich Heinz were all set to take Hitler out before he ordered the invasion of Czechoslovakia. But once the agreement was signed, the coup was off, and General Franz Halder—the operational leader of the coup—was utterly demoralized. When he learned what Chamberlain and French prime minister Édouard Daladier had done at Munich, he reportedly “collapsed over his desk.” With Hitler now politically invincible, the resistance lost heart, and the assault squad was dispersed. “What are we supposed to do now?” Halder asked. “Hitler succeeds in everything!”

The Japanese Merchant Marine in World War II

By Mark P. Parillo,

Book cover of The Japanese Merchant Marine in World War II

Why this book?

This book doesn’t have a catchy title and sounds rather pedestrian, but we are told never to judge a book by its cover and in this case it’s true about the title as well! Mark Parillo’s magisterial thesis taught me a great deal about why the Japanese lost the Pacific War. He explains why they stubbornly refused to convoy their merchant fleet even when, by failing to do so, they were aiding the enemy’s cause. Japan needed to import most of its war material, but once the US submarine campaign began to decimate the ships that were bringing in those vital supplies in 1944-45 the game was essentially up. Therefore, a case can be made that the war was effectively lost before the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

The All Americans

By Lars Anderson,

Book cover of The All Americans

Why this book?

On November 29, 1941, Army played Navy in their annual football classic. But, eight days later, the United States was suddenly at war. The All Americans follows four of the men who played in that fateful Army-Navy game—two from West Point, and two from Annapolis—through the next four years of war. Anderson’s book was clearly a labor of love and it reminds the reader of the words of Douglas MacArthur: “Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown that seeds that, on other fields, on other days, will bear the fruits of victory.”

Fields of Battle: Pearl Harbor, the Rose Bowl, and the Boys Who Went to War

By Brian Curtis,

Book cover of Fields of Battle: Pearl Harbor, the Rose Bowl, and the Boys Who Went to War

Why this book?

1942’s Rose Bowl game was moved, in the wake of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, from Pasadena, California, to safer environs on the East Coast in Durham, North Carolina. In North Carolina, Oregon State beat host Duke 20-16, but even greaterand far more deadlycontests were ahead for the team’s players. Brian Curtis takes his readers from the Rose Bowl to the battles ultimately fought in Italy, Normandy, the Ardennes, and the Pacific.

The Cloudbuster Nine: The Untold Story of Ted Williams and the Baseball Team That Helped Win World War II

By Anne R. Keene,

Book cover of The Cloudbuster Nine: The Untold Story of Ted Williams and the Baseball Team That Helped Win World War II

Why this book?

In The Cloudbuster Nine, Anne Keene not only channels her father’s memories of his own dreams of baseball glory but also recounts the tale of a collection of fighter-pilot cadets—men like the legendary Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, and Johnny Swain—who, while preparing for flight training in the U.S. Navy’s V-5 pre-flight program during World War II. In doing so, she provides a fascinating overview (and reminder) of what World War II meant for many of America’s star athletes—and what those athletes meant for America’s war effort. 

The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg

By Nicholas Dawidoff,

Book cover of The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg

Why this book?

As Dawidoff writes in this account of elusive Berg (1902-72), the major league catcher who also worked for the US as a spy, “[Hank] Greenberg punctured the stereotype that Jews were unathletic. Berg suggests that you could get a top education and be a ballplayer too.” A Princeton graduate who could speak twelve languages (but couldn’t hit in any of them), the OSS sent him to Germany during World War II to determine the state of Germany’s atomic bomb capacity. Rebuffed by the CIA after the war, the secretive, impoverished, self-consciously Jewish Berg became a world-wandering Jew. One of his prized possessions: a card that let him in for free to any major league stadium.

Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage

By Douglas Waller,

Book cover of Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage

Why this book?

No matter how much of a junkie you think you are about Special Operations and our history, you don’t know anything about where modern American spycraft and Special Ops came from unless you’ve studied Wild Bill Donovan and his creation, The Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

To truly understand the present, you must first understand the past. If you consider yourself a student or fan of Special Operations, read this book to learn more about the man, and his baby that eventually led to both the US Army Special Forces and the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Light Years

By Elizabeth Jane Howard,

Book cover of The Light Years

Why this book?

Opening in the second half of the 1930s, this is the first in a five-book saga chronicling the extended Cazalet family living under the shadow of World War Two, based loosely on the author’s own life. We hear from a whole cast of characters, their loves, fears, and foibles: the children’s excitable, misguided take on war, and the adult’s version, when they know only too well. The different voices are distinct and relatable; the writing is a lesson in storytelling. Immersed in the almost-century old world of London and the Sussex countryside, I devoured the whole series, finishing one book only to pick up the next.

A Bell for Adano

By John Hersey,

Book cover of A Bell for Adano

Why this book?

I was a senior in high school, and my English teacher gave us customized reading recommendations. He thought I might like this book. He had no idea. Though often a serious work—it’s set in World War II Italythis novel exudes charm like nothing I’d ever read. There are books, TV shows, plays, and movies that you may like or even love, but when they charm you? You never forget them. Also, there’s a minor character in the book who shares my last name. I returned the favor in my novel by giving my protagonist the last name Adano.

Pearl Harbor: Final Judgement

By Henry C. Clausen, Bruce Lee,

Book cover of Pearl Harbor: Final Judgement

Why this book?

This book describes the Clausen investigation that prompted the Congressional hearing into Pearl Harbor. Its spellbinding revelations leave the reader on the edge of their seat. Clausen details the U.S.’s ability to break codes but shows how they did not the common sense to know what to do with the information.  

When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler

By David M. Glantz, Jonathan M. House,

Book cover of When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler

Why this book?

The Great Patriotic War is central to Russian politics and thinking about international affairs today. It is important as a symbolic and political reference, but senior military figures often point to the war’s relevance to how Russia should think about war today. There are so many good books to read on this, but I think David Glantz is the doyen of Western historians of the Russian military, and this book is the ideal overview guide to understanding the trajectory and key features of the war: a concise but highly informative examination of one of the most catastrophic wars. Essential reading, I think, and shows why history is important to understanding where we are today.

D-Day and Beyond: The Things Our Fathers Saw-The Untold Stories of the World War II Generation-Volume V

By Matthew Rozell,

Book cover of D-Day and Beyond: The Things Our Fathers Saw-The Untold Stories of the World War II Generation-Volume V

Why this book?

Matthew Rozell was teaching history in Hudson Falls, NY, when he asked his students to find people in town who had served in World War II. Interviewing them was very well received and became his passion. By 2004, he had published his first book of interviews with WWII veterans. Since then, he has produced seven additional volumes, spanning both European and Pacific Theaters. Face-to-face interviews are becoming harder to come by and Rozell did a wonderful job for history in compiling personal descriptions that detail the daily lives of soldiers in WWII.

Ernie's War: The Best of Ernie Pyle's World War II Dispatches

By David Nichols (editor),

Book cover of Ernie's War: The Best of Ernie Pyle's World War II Dispatches

Why this book?

I haven’t found anyone better at describing the personal situations and experiences of soldiers in war than Ernie Pyle. In this compilation, he interviews soldiers at every level, in a wide variety of duties, with honesty, directness, humor, and literary style. It is no wonder that his syndicated columns appeared in over 400 daily and 300 weekly newspapers, making him the voice of war-time America.

Fragments of Light

By Michele Phoenix,

Book cover of Fragments of Light

Why this book?

When Ceelie, reeling from everything cancer has stolen from her, sets out to track down her ailing friend’s father, who disappeared decades ago, she uncovers a story of faith, heroism, and heartbreak dating back to the Normandy beaches in World War II—and finds her own life transformed.

Michele Phoenix does it again in Fragments of Light. With prose that takes your breath away, she expertly navigates two time periods while exploring themes of loss, love, forgiveness, regret, and redemption. And France! What could be better! These themes often populate my novels and Michele’s novel was an inspiration for me.

In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors

By Doug Stanton,

Book cover of In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors

Why this book?

When the USS Indianapolis was sunk in WWII by a Japanese submarine the survivors expected that because they were overdue, U.S. search planes would find them within a day. The survivors, however, spent days in shark-infested waters in the Pacific under the searing sun by day and strength-sapping cold at night. Stanton brings the story to life by focusing on four survivors, including the ship’s Doctor and the ship’s Captain McVey. We feel their will to live and the pain they must endure.  

McVey was later court-martialed because he failed to have the ship zig-zag at night, but the author shows how the Navy was unjust as it used him as the scapegoat for a series of blunders no fault of the Captain.  I love a book that exposes a cover-up and Stanton delivers.

Captured: The Japanese Internment of American Civilians in the Philippines, 1941-1945

By Frances B. Cogan,

Book cover of Captured: The Japanese Internment of American Civilians in the Philippines, 1941-1945

Why this book?

This is evidence of the enduring appeal of the Santo Tomas story. More than half a century after the events that it describes, Cogan makes good use of interviews and printed sources. The Japanese Internment of American Civilians in the Philippines is especially valuable for its scholarly tone and comprehensive nature. It described the lives of internees in several camps.

The Santo Tomas Story

By A. V. H. Hartendorp,

Book cover of The Santo Tomas Story

Why this book?

This book is a must-read for any serious student of the Santo Tomas story. It might need to be requested by Interlibrary Loan, but they are worth the wait. I believe that this books put the reader "on the ground" because of the skill of Hartendorp's writing and research, as well as his personal knowledge of the detainees in the camp (and others like it). This book also contains experience that comes with reflection over time, containing interviews with people who survived camp life for several years after their period of captivity that is especially valuable because they were able to place their experience into a later and larger context, such as the resumption of peaceful relations with Japan.

Santo Tomas Internment Camp: STIC in Verse and Reverse, STIC-Toons and Stic-tistics 1942-1945

By James McCall,

Book cover of Santo Tomas Internment Camp: STIC in Verse and Reverse, STIC-Toons and Stic-tistics 1942-1945

Why this book?

This book is an on-the scene compilation of statistics and drawings, most of which were gathered at the camp. Some of the statistics seem rather trivial, but taken together they provide a fascinating portrait of life at the camp. The same is true for the simple drawings done with rudimentary tools. This book provides a “picture” of the camp that is not available in other sources.

War Without Garlands: Barbarossa 1941 - 1942

By Robert Kershaw,

Book cover of War Without Garlands: Barbarossa 1941 - 1942

Why this book?

I’m an Eastern Front buffespecially the beginning of the war and its end. And this is the very best book on the first six or so months of the titanic clash between Hitler and Stalin. Robert Kershaw is one of the best (largely) WW2 historians because he gives the ordinary soldier a voice. There are other books that go into greater detail on specific actions, and it is more German than Russian focused, but for an overview from Leningrad to the Crimea, with the emphasis on the Moscow axis, it’s the best general read by some distance.

The Words of War: British Forces' Personal Letters and Diaries During the Second World War

By Marcus Cowper,

Book cover of The Words of War: British Forces' Personal Letters and Diaries During the Second World War

Why this book?

Although it has no illustrations (and seeing the face of the soldier writing the letters is very important to feel connected), reading these archives from the Imperial War Museum, focusing on British Forces’ Personal Letters and Diaries during the Second World War, was a fantastic read. The soldiers’ names and personal stories are disclosed and there’s a historical context for the neophytes. It also deals with battles that we seldom hear about (looking at you, books about D-Day on Omaha Beach!!).

Letters from the Greatest Generation: Writing Home in WWII

By Howard H. Peckham (editor), Shirley A. Snyder (editor),

Book cover of Letters from the Greatest Generation: Writing Home in WWII

Why this book?

This could be the American version of The Words of War, since it has the same qualities and flaws, this time focusing only on American troops (in Europe as in the Pacific). The quality of the letters is excellent, and I know how difficult it is to find some with historically relevant content (due to the censorship of the time). They were in fact collected during the war, thanks to solicitations through Indiana newspapers, and the authors chose 131 letters out of the 3,500 they received! As far as I am concerned, my selection for my own book was even stricter and more difficult, since I was not dealing with one American State but with all the allied countries, that I was collecting the letters by myself (auction sites, other collectors...), and that this search was done 70 years after the facts. Anyway, those are fantastic accounts!

World War II Letters: A Glimpse into the Heart of the Second World War Through the Eyes of Those Who Were Fighting It

By Bill Adler (editor), Tracy Quinn McLennan (contributor),

Book cover of World War II Letters: A Glimpse into the Heart of the Second World War Through the Eyes of Those Who Were Fighting It

Why this book?

Finally, a book with WWII letters that doesn’t focus exclusively on the British or Americans! Some of the soldiers are also from Australia, New Zealand, and even Germany! It helps to have a broader view of the conflict and it is very interesting to observe the differences in points of view. Moreover, this book provides the reader with beautiful photos of the letter writers, in addition to their names and stories before and after the war. Unfortunately, there is little or no historical context surrounding each letter, which is not disturbing when one is already familiar with the subject but is essential to understand all their subtleties.

The Air War, 1939-1945

By Richard Overy,

Book cover of The Air War, 1939-1945

Why this book?

Single most comprehensive study of the air war, from primary production to combat tactics and most notably, air strategy. No other work so capably weaves together the critical technical issues and statistics of productive capacity with how these factors underlay, and in a real sense almost predetermined, why the Allies won and the Axis lost the war in the air in both the ETO and PTO. Superbly researched, conceived and written. You will never again think of air war merely as a compilation of dog fights or squadron actions over Britain, or Germany, or Japan. 

Pacific Payback: The Carrier Aviators Who Avenged Pearl Harbor at the Battle of Midway

By Stephen L. Moore,

Book cover of Pacific Payback: The Carrier Aviators Who Avenged Pearl Harbor at the Battle of Midway

Why this book?

It was the carrier-based dive-bombers that carried the day at Midway, and Moore’s narrative non-fiction account of the battle through the eyes of the actual men who fought at Midway in these dive-bombers is an entertaining and gripping page turner. You learn of their fears, the uncertainty, and of their humble courage. Moore brings you with them in their SBD Dauntless cockpits. These men were what the United States had at the onset of the Pacific War, and Moore’s tribute to them is moving.

A Dawn Like Thunder: The True Story of Torpedo Squadron Eight

By Robert J. Mrazek,

Book cover of A Dawn Like Thunder: The True Story of Torpedo Squadron Eight

Why this book?

The story of the ill-fated Torpedo Squadron Eight of USS Hornet – all planes lost and only one survivor out of 30 men - is the stuff of legend. In this essential non-fiction tome, Mrazek introduces the reader to these men and explores what made them tick. It is not always pleasant, and Mrazek pulls no punches as he delves into the human side of these flawed men, who in some cases did not like each other, which increases the empathy for the sacrifice of the squadron at Midway. The reader can imagine him or herself in a tight-knit squadron arguing and irritating one another as humans can do at times – before having to fly into combat in planes they knew were obsolete. While the human cost and poignant stories of loss are part of all Midway books, A Dawn Like Thunder lays it out the best.

Yesterday's Gone

By N.J. Crisp,

Book cover of Yesterday's Gone

Why this book?

The book tells the story of the fictional Squadron Leader David Kirby, from the slums of Southampton, to flying training in Oklahoma, to his final operation in command of a Lancaster. Crisp was one of the most prolific stage and TV writers of his generation (credits include Secret Army, Colditz, and Enemy at the Door), and his novel has all of the authenticity of a man who clearly went through many of the experiences he describes. If you know nothing about Bomber Command and want to bring some meaning to the experiences they went through and the places they trained, and distinguish between your ITWs and OTUs, this is a great way of doing it with a fabulous story besides.

Night Bombing

By Hector Hawton,

Book cover of Night Bombing

Why this book?

My favourite reference book is another wartime publication, the little-known Night Bombing by Hector Hawton (who also wrote The Men who Fly). First published in 1944, the tiny volume looks at the history and principles of air bombing, including the technical aspects, and goes on to explore methods of attack, targets, and the effectiveness of enemy defences including the ballistic characteristics of various flak guns. It feels and reads like a contemporary handbook for bomber captains, and the fact that my copy still bears the signature of the original owner, a Flight Lieutenant with the DFC, probably tells you everything you need to know about its authenticity and importance.

Stumbling Colossus: The Red Army on the Eve of World War

By David M. Glantz,

Book cover of Stumbling Colossus: The Red Army on the Eve of World War

Why this book?

A truly extraordinary examination of the army that would do a majority of the fighting and suffer as well as inflict the largest portion of the military casualties of the European part of World War II. The "Bibliographic Essay and Selective Bibliography" is extraordinarily helpful in its account of the fate of Soviet archives and publications over the years.

Emperor Hirohito and the Pacific War

By Noriko Kawamura,

Book cover of Emperor Hirohito and the Pacific War

Why this book?

At last (2015) there is a balanced and carefully researched study of a central figure in the modern history of Japan and the war in the Pacific. The substantial utilization and integration of Japanese sources enhances the work but does not lead to any distortion of the real picture.

MacArthur at War: World War II in the Pacific

By Walter R. Borneman,

Book cover of MacArthur at War: World War II in the Pacific

Why this book?

In view of the numerous controversies and varied views of General MacArthur’s actions and policies in the Pacific War, it is great to have a balanced and very carefully researched and presented account of a commander who was in it from Japan’s attack on the United States to Japan’s surrender. While dealing fairly with some of the criticisms of the general, Borneman does note his repeated announcements of battles being ended when they were not as well as the hopeless incompetence of his intelligence chief.

In the Ruins of the Reich

By Douglas Botting,

Book cover of In the Ruins of the Reich

Why this book?

There are dozens of excellent books about Germany and Germans in the wake of defeat – I could mention Giles MacDonogh’s After the Reich, or R.M. Douglas’s Orderly and Humane – but Douglas Botting’s book is by far the most engaging history of the subject that I’ve ever read. It was written in the 1980s, so it is not quite as up-to-date as the more recent histories, but what it lacks in cutting-edge research it more than makes up for in narrative immediacy. It is impossible not to be moved by Botting’s descriptions of postwar chaos, of orphans hiding in the ruins, of lawlessness, starvation, desperation and retribution. An absolute classic.

Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

By John W. Dower,

Book cover of Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

Why this book?

Winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction, this book gives the reader an in-depth analysis of the effects of World War II on the political, economic, and social life of the Japanese people. It depicts the ways in which Japan moved into the twentieth century and gave up many of its feudalistic habits – some for the better and some for the worse. 

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II

By Sonia Purnell,

Book cover of A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II

Why this book?

When I read this book, I couldn’t believe that I and most other people knew nothing about the one-legged American the Nazis called the most dangerous of all Allied spies. This biography is as exhilarating as any good thriller. Throughout Virginia Hall’s sensational career, she dealt not only with the enemy but with needless obstacles posed by men who were her colleagues. With only brief training in spy craft and short-lived college education, the 35-year-old Hall masterminded prison breaks for Allied agents, organized French resistance to that country’s German occupiers, and re-established a broken chain of radio operatives throughout the region. As the Nazis closed in on her in winter 1942, she limped to freedom on her wooden leg across “one of the cruelest mountain passes in the Pyrenees.” Within two years she was back in Nazi-occupied France to risk her life again supplying money, weapons, and organization to French Resistance fighters. 

One Man's Meat

By E.B. White,

Book cover of One Man's Meat

Why this book?

No one wrote better than E. B. White, and no one captured the essence of daily life on the home front better than White in this collection of essays. “This is my country and my night,” he wrote from his farm in Maine, “this is the blacked-out ending to the day, the way they end a skit in a revue.” Yet White acknowledged that it was nearly impossible for him or anyone else to truly convey all the ways that the war was changing ordinary Americans. “You write something that sounds informative, throwing the words around in the usual manner, then the thing explodes in your hands, and you look down at your hands,” he explained. “As though you had crushed a light bulb and were bleeding slightly.”