Here, then, are 100 of your recommendations.
“Life and Fate” by Vasily Grossman
Larry Silver of Philadelphia: The 20th-century counterpart of “War and Peace,” set in Russia during the height of their fight for survival against Nazi invasion.
“Lilac Girls: a Novel” by Martha Hall Kelly
Linda B. of Madison, N.H.: Such a moving book. It takes place during WWII and has a character involved in the underground resistance movement which I learned so much about. The most disturbing historical information is about Ravensbrück, a Nazi concentration camp for women. The women in the book are true heroes. All that they went through during WWII is heartbreaking and yet inspiring.
I learned so much about that terrible time in the history of our world. I am not one to read graphic novels but I could not put this down as it makes you so sympathetic to the women and I knew it was based on real events, so I felt I should learn as much as I could. History is not supposed to repeat itself, but unfortunately it seems to be doing that in eastern Europe.
“Dispatches” by Michael Herr
Mo Mehlsak of South Portland, Me.: The book basically begat “Apocalypse Now” and “Full Metal Jacket.” New-age reporting on a new-age war: Vietnam.
“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien
Alan Berns of Jamaica Plain, Mass.: Along with “Dispatches” by Michael Herr, “The Things They Carried” is one of the best books about soldiers involved with the war in Vietnam. This is about the grunts who killed and got killed. It is somewhat about the physical baggage they carried; but also about the personal, familial, and emotional baggage that they brought with them to the conflict.
“The First World War: A Complete History” by Martin Gilbert
Ian Mark Sirota: This is a fantastic, thorough analysis of one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history, and in reading it, you will understand how/why many of the conflicts that are going on today in this world go back to the pointless slaughter that took place between 1914 and 1918.
“A Soldier of the Great War” by Mark Helprin
Leslie Fulton: You might consider this to be more about the arc of a man’s life than about war itself, but I remember being terribly moved by it.
“Catch 22″ by Joseph Heller
Maxine Arkin of Venice, Fla.: This book is about US pilots during WW2, who after many missions, say they’re battle-weary crazy, but the Army won’t excuse them from flying, because if they were crazy, they wouldn’t admit it. This book comically shows us the insanity of war.
David Vossbrink of Sunnyvale, Calif.: Of course! The classic WWII novel. Hilarious, frustrating, aggravating, and as true today as when it was published in 1961, just in time for the unspeakable tragedy of the American War in Vietnam and every stupid war since. Boiled down to its essence, war is insane, and if you’re sane enough to see that, you’re not crazy enough to avoid it. The phrase “Catch-22″ thus entered our language, along with an immortal cast of characters such as ex-PFC Wintergreen, Milo Minderbinder, Major Major Major Major, and Orr the escape artist. I wonder if it has been translated into Russian and widely distributed there?
Bonnie Maky Rosen of South Euclid, Ohio: Absurdities of war, set in Italy during WW2. I like it for its hilariously ridiculous scenes, but there is also a serious side.
“An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943″ by Rick Atkinson
Pete Madeira of Bernard, Maine: This is about the North Africa campaign at the beginning of WWII and focuses on the US Army. Well-written and talks about both the strategy and tactical aspects of fighting this opening gambit of the war in Europe and does not ignore the fumbling that occurred and how the Army leadership responded and adjusted their thinking to eventually cross the Mediterranean to Sicily. (This is the first volume of a trilogy written by Atkinson, but is the best of the three.)
“The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah
Maureen Meech of Marshfield, Mass.: This is set in France during WW2 and is written from a woman’s perspective. The story was very exciting from start to finish, heartbreaking in parts but so worth the ride! I enjoyed this book because the heroine had to deal with unimaginable circumstances and rose to help fight the war in her own way. I found it to be eye-opening as well as a real page-turner.
Lucille Furey: I loved this book about France in WWII. I read it a couple of years ago and still think about the characters today. I think everyone should read this book!
Peg McKay of Plymouth, Mass.: It’s a novel about 2 sisters in France during WWII. One sister sees her husband off to war and must contend with the Nazi invasion of her town, while the other younger sister joins the resistance and takes on daring missions. The bravery and creativity of these two characters makes the book hard to put down.I’m not a big fan of war stories. I like to read to escape, but this book drew me in and kept me interested in seeing what came next. Kristin Hannah researches her subjects well to make her stories authentic. The ending takes a turn that surprised me.
Judy Walsh of Nahant, Mass.: This is absolutely the best piece of fiction that I have read about war. It is about two sisters in Nazi-occupied France during World War II, and how each of them deals with the situation around her. Each of them takes a different path of resistance. The book is beautifully written and, once you are into it, it is hard to put it down, although some parts of it are painful to read.
Stephanie Lloyd of Eden Prairie, Minn.: This book recounts the story of two sisters living in war-torn France during WWII. Each sister finds her own way to stay alive during the war, amidst a backdrop of the struggles and pain often experienced by those left at home. I enjoyed reading “The Nightingale” because it focuses on the oft-forgotten little battles women fight when the men in their lives are suddenly drafted into a war effort that is not of their own making. It’s a story of coping, struggle, and ultimately triumph, with a few surprises that leave the reader breathless!
Also recommended by Kathleen Quinn.
“From Horror to Hope: Recognizing and Preventing the Health Impacts of War” by Barry S. Levy (of Sherborn, Mass; past president of the American Public Health Association)
Hop (Hopkins) Holmberg of Waltham, Mass.: Provides a public health perspective on war. Sections include Types of Weapons, Health Impacts on Civilians, Other Impacts and Their Documentation, and a look to Preventing War and Promoting Peace written with eight collaborating authors. Fascinating general reading; raw material for a graduate seminar.
Now when I am flooded with news from Ukraine, it gives me a perspective on the details of the processes of war and the tools for dealing with the consequences.
“Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10″ by Marcus Luttrell
Kevin Fahy of Tewksbury, Mass.: I liked this book because it showed that Special Operators face harrowing situations. They are not supermen, but they can display the qualities of one.
From The New York Times: “Mr. Luttrell was the only one of four men on the mission to survive after a violent clash with dozens of Taliban fighters. Eight members of the SEALs and eight Army special operations soldiers who came by helicopter to rescue the original four were shot down, and all died. Luttrell was then rescued by a group of Afghan Pashtun villagers who harbored him in their homes for several days, protecting him from the Taliban and ultimately helping him to safety.”
“Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand
Rosemary Verri of Sudbury, Mass.: A story of survival in WW2. Louis Zamperini participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, distance running, and set a lap record. His status as a distance runner caused problems when he was captured by the Japanese. I’m sure this book has been read by many — a movie was made, too. But it’s an excellent read.
Ned Williams of Andover, Mass.: This is a biography of World War II veteran Louis Zamperini, who was considered a juvenile delinquent in his youth. Thanks to his brother, who encouraged him into running tracking and field, Louis went on to become an Olympic track star. After joining the Air Force, he survived a B29 plane crash in the Pacific, and spent 47 days with two other crew members on a life raft. He spent 2 1/2 years as a prisoner of war under brutal conditions in three Japanese POW camps. It was a fascinating story of surviving unbelievable conditions as a POW, and the trials of re-adjusting to civilian life.
Rheta Rubenstein of Ridgefield, Wash.: Louis Zamperini was a “Dennis the Menace” type kid, great at getting into all sorts of trouble. As a teen he poured his energy into running. He ultimately competed in the infamous 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. Either of these portions of his life might have been a book unto themselves. But then World War II happened and Zamperini, formerly uneasy about flying, became a bombardier. He was lost in the Pacific with two other men for many weeks, then taken into Japanese prisoner of war camps.
Laura Hillenbrand has transformed this true life story into an amazing book that reads like a novel. Many, many times one feels like, ‘If this were fiction I’d say it was impossible.’ The book is long (over 550 pages) but is a true page-turner. You may have seen the film, but you will greatly appreciate reading the book.
“With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa” by Eugene B. Sledge
Baruch E. Kahana of Miami Beach, Fla.: The author enlisted in the Marines at age 19 (I think) and participated in the terrible battles of Peleliu and Okinawa during WW2. (Most Americans know next to nothing about those battles in the PTO, the Pacific Theater of Operations.)
About this book, Ken Burns said: “A classic … in all the literature of the Second World War, there is not a more honest, realistic, or moving memoir.”
I agree with Mr Burns’ assessment. People should read this book.
“The Naked and the Dead” by Norman Mailer
Tom Lynch of Ocean Grove, N.J.: I imagine you’ll receive a few votes for “The Naked and the Dead” … and probably some “nays” as well from those who object to Mailer simply because of the controversial Norman Mailer he later became.
Still, my late father, who spent most of his World War II years in New Guinea and the Philippines fighting Japanese bombers and malaria, always said it is the most realistic war novel he ever read.
I can’t speak to that, but I recall I found even my father’s 1948 sanitized first edition where the infantrymen cursed their miserable existences with “fug” and its many declensions, to be extraordinarily moving and at times terrifying.
“The Caine Mutiny” by Herman Wouk
Jim Miller of Auburndale, Mass.: This book of fiction follows the World War 2 experiences in the South Pacific of a newly-minted ensign in the Navy assigned to an aging destroyer (the fictional USS Caine) captained by a deeply-troubled commanding officer. When the paranoid captain goes over the mental edge during a typhoon at sea, Ensign Keith is a willing participant in an unauthorized command takeover by the ship’s executive officer. The resulting court martial is a classic legal undressing of a deeply troubled man. (Fact: There never has been an actual “mutiny” aboard a US vessel, the author notes.)The book also resulted in an award-winning Broadway play and a very well-received movie.
I related to Ensign Keith as my service as an equally-inexperienced naval officer (without a mutinous term of duty, I would add) occurred in the late 50s.
Raymond Winn of Stansbury Park, Utah: This book is “sorta” about war, but its main protagonist is a 1944 typhoon. Of course Wouk’s writing is flawless: gripping, descriptive, instructive.
But the emotional high point of the book (for me) was the denouement following the court-martial, wherein a Jewish lawyer had successfully defended the lieutenant who had taken command of their ship during the typhoon after the captain suffered an emotional breakdown. The lawyer says that he hated himself for having made the captain look bad enough that the court had ruled as it did. The lawyer explained that if men such as Captain Queeg had not been around in the days leading up to the war (WW2), then Hitler would have been much more successful. The lawyer figures that his family “would have been turned into soap bars” by the maniacal Nazis if our side’s Navy hadn’t been nearly ready for the effort by the time the war did break out in our part of the world. A scene so dramatically touching in its simplicity and truth that I couldn’t hold my tears.
“War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy
John C. Wilcox of New York, N.Y.: Napoleon’s Russian campaign and defeat seen primarily from the perspective of various Russian characters, including a fascinating discourse by Tolstoy that sets forth a theory that wars are won not by the planning and strategies of heroic officers or big-shot generals, but by the actions of individual front-line, rank-and-file soldiers at critical moments during a battle.
No one is better than Tolstoy at describing the impact of big-picture social and political events on individuals at all levels of society. His description of individuals caught in the panorama of history is unmatched. I consider “Anna Karenina” his greatest novel, with “War and Peace” close behind. His theory of battlefield victory is fascinating and celebrates the little guys who do the actual fighting and dying (our “GIs” or “grunts”), but his ideas are probably no longer relevant in our age of mechanized warfare.
“The Diamond Eye” by Kate Quinn
Jody Shyllberg: I just finished reading this book and it’s so well-written!
Based on a true story, it is about Mila Pavilchenko, a Russian librarian, historian, and single mother who becomes a celebrated and decorated sniper known as Lady Death in the Red Army, battling Nazis during WWII. She transforms from an unsure, bookish young woman into a sniper platoon leader (the only woman) and a national hero and eventually travels to the US on a Soviet goodwill tour to ask Roosevelt for help in the European war.
It’s especially timely now since much of the book takes place in Ukraine and, even then, many Ukrainians did not like the Russians but fought alongside them against their common enemy. There’s even actual historical photos at the end of the book of Mila in many of the situations described in the book. Can’t say enough good things about this book!
Sara Hindman: This book is fabulous! Based on a real-life Russian female sharpshooter during WWII, it juxtaposes her life as a wife, mother, daughter, and cold-blooded sniper. Quinn has written a few other great reads (“The Huntress”), but her latest may be the best.
“Winter of the World” by Ken Follett
Dan Hoyt of Haverhill, Mass.: Historical fiction. Expansive, detailed story of five families from five countries as they deal with their involvement in WWII, before, during and after. Great characters, strong women, brutal and heartwarming at the same time. Historically accurate. Has everything.
“Eagles Over Britain” by Lee Jackson
Warren C. Cook of Falmouth, Maine: 2nd in a 5-part series about WW2, this one about the Battle of Britain through the eyes of the Littlefield family, parents and 4 children, all very active in the fight in various ways, incredible story with the Blitz reflective of Ukraine today.
“The Guns of August” by Barbara W. Tuchman
Steve Blumberg: WWI was a turning point where military strategy was a century behind the military’s weaponry. Tuchman tells the story of the folly of nation’s leaders and the century of war was started by the pettiness and hubris of nations. The events of August 1914 are eerily familiar today where the technology of today’s wars have exceeded our grasp.
Gary Lacroix of Littleton, Mass.: This Pulitzer-prize winning masterpiece of nonfiction is about the circumstances leading up to WWI and the very dynamic first month of the war in which events changed rapidly.
Forget about this being a great book about war; this book is one of the best books I have ever read — period. This is not some dry military history or battles and strategy. Instead, the author presents the events like a novelist would — developing the scene and telling the story in a way that makes you suspend your knowledge of what eventually happens. She also fleshes out the central characters (and this war had some great characters), which makes their foibles and successes more understandable.
D. Ketten of Malden, Mass.: Without an understanding of how war occurs, we can never find ways to avoid it. Barbara Tuchman is arguably one of the best writers, along with William Manchester, about the history and psychology of war. “The Guns of August” is her iconic book about the origins, inevitability, and horrors of World War I.
“When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944″ by Ronald C. Rosbottom
Jack Fruchtman of Aquinnah, Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.: This book describes the German occupation of Paris when German forces took over the city in June of 1940 with all the cruelty, ruthlessness, food shortages, and whatnot that accompanied a humiliating defeat. It also demonstrates how some French people rose up in resistance and fought a guerrilla war against their enemy and were ultimately successful with the Allied victory.
It is a riveting tale and echoes so much of what we are witnessing in contemporary Ukraine as Russian forces relentlessly devastate that country, but at the same time we witness the resilience of the Ukrainian people to their miserable enemy.
“Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania” by Erik Larson
Dorothy Harp of Tyler, Texas: This is the story of the sinking of the Lusitania, one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds.” Her captain placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. Germany was determined to change the rules of the warfare. An array of forces both grand and achingly small — hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more — all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.
Switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era, “Dead Wake” brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope Riddle to President Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war, but also captivated by the prospect of new love. Gripping and important, “Dead Wake” captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster that helped place America on the road to war.
Larson takes impeccable research and weaves together multiple story lines smoothly and seamlessly. His manner of writing is conversational and he brings to light little-known details of major events. I recommend all of his books.
“Fields of Fire” by James Webb
Michael J. Brown of San Marcos, Texas: Hailed as the finest novel about the war in Vietnam, Webb’s book takes the reader to the jungle warfare of 1969 and realistically describes the struggles of a Marine platoon. This book was interesting to me because Webb fought there and then went on to serve in government. As an American of Irish descent, I recognize Webb as one of the best of us.
”My war is not as simple as yours was, Father. People seem to question their obligation to serve on other than their own terms. But enough of that. I fight because we have always fought. It doesn’t matter who.”
Neil Rossman of Salem, Mass.: If “Platoon” is the definitive cinematic view of the Vietnam War, then this work of fiction is the print version. If you ever wanted to experience what Vietnam was really like, this book provides a graphic look into the war by the ordinary young men who were sent to wage it.
The story is written by one of the most highly decorated Marines who fought (Navy Cross, Silver Star, Purple Heart, etc.). It’s all here — the fog of war, the lies, the boredom, the terror, the valor, and the randomness of death. BTW, Webb went on the become secretary of the Navy, as well as a US senator from Virginia.
“The Dressmakers of Auschwitz: The True Story of the Women Who Sewed to Survive” by Lucy Adlington
Sonia Lipetz of Newton, Mass.: Nonfiction. About the group of women who saved their lives by using their dressmaking skills while prisoners at Auschwitz. They sewed couture clothing for Nazi wives. It is a little-known story of the horror and outrage of the time, and the courage, loyalty, and fortitude of these women. Each young woman’s life is detailed prior to her being rounded up and transported to Auschwitz, then followed during her years in that Nazi hell hole, and post war. I’ve read a great deal about survivors’ experiences, yet I knew nothing of this group. It is a fascinating story.
“The Winds of War” by Herman Wouk
Deb Noack of Shelton, Conn.: It is a mixture of real and fictional characters who are all somehow connected to Naval Officer Victor “Pug” Henry, who is a trusted confidant of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The book begins six months before Germany invades Poland in September, 1939, and ends shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. It’s long, but engrossing — fantastic historical fiction complete with drama, romance, heroism, and, of course, war. And the best part is that there is a sequel called “War and Remembrance.” Wouk is one of my favorite authors. I become so engrossed that I read for hours.
“The Killer Angels: A Novel of the Civil War” by Michael Shaara
Bill Parent of Santa Monica, Calif.: A historical novel describing the day-to-day decision-making and battles at Gettysburg from the perspectives of the field commanders on both sides. It was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1975. One of the most vivid, powerful, intelligent, and enduring books I have ever read; its stories, imagery, and lessons are still clear to me 25 years after I last put it down.
Suzanne Fenzel of Washington, D.C.: Required reading 40 years ago in my ROTC class. First time I realized how much personal relationships impacted critical decisions (often for the worse).
“Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in WWII” by Daniel James Brown
Willow Shire of Eastham, Mass.: This book describes the best American values embodied in the young men who fought for the US in Italy as well as at home as true Americans. While being about a terrible war, it is also incredibly uplifting and challenges us today to do whatever it takes to be the best we can be even when the world is unfair and unkind.
“The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour” by James D. Hornfischer
Steve Jennette of St. Albans, Vt.: (From Goodreads) “This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can.”
With these words, Lieutenant Commander Robert W. Copeland addressed the crew of the destroyer escort USS Samuel B. Robertson the morning of Oct. 25, 1944, off the Philippine island of Samar, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. On the horizon loomed the mightiest ships of the Japanese navy, a massive fleet that represented the last hope of a staggering empire. All that stood between it and Douglas MacArthur’s vulnerable invasion force were the Roberts and the other smaller ships of a tiny American flotilla poised to charge into history.
I couldn’t put this book down. As a former Vietnam era veteran of the Navy, I was stationed aboard a WWII vintage destroyer for 4 years and fully appreciate the description of the sailors and the courage it took to stand against an overwhelming force of Japanese ships, larger and more powerful than the American “tin cans.” The guts, the conviction, the bravery of the American Navy as they attacked a much larger fleet stands as testimony that a smaller committed opponent can very often change the course of history. Very relevant today.
Kevin Gill of Boston, Mass.: The Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippine Sea Oct. 25,1944, fought by two naval forces. One made up of a battle fleet (4 battleships, 6 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, and 11 destroyers) against a makeshift grouping of 6 escort carriers, 3 destroyers, and 4 destroyer escorts left on their own by Admiral Halsey while he went to chase a phantom fleet. They protected the approach to General MacArthur’s invasion forces from the approaching Japanese fleets.
This story tells of a battle where courage is the only force that stands out. Told with interviews from both sides. You can feel the emotion expressed by these interviews and wonder how you would have reacted.
“Suite Française” by Irène Némirovsky
Paula Fuqua of Cranston, R.I.: This is the book about war that most moved and impressed me. It is a novel about the refugee exodus from Paris during the Nazi invasion and later life in wartime France. Némirovsky was a Ukrainian-born Jewish novelist living in France and writing at the time. She was deported and died at Auschwitz. The manuscript was found after the war by her daughters. The characters are full of life in a fraught time. I liked feeling myself into that world.
“A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II” by Sonia Purnell
Lee Chirgwin of Orleans, Mass.: This is a true story that no one would otherwise believe. The setting is England and France during WWII. Virginia Hall, an indulged teenager from horse country Maryland goes on to become the top female spy for the Allies. Virginia seemed to have ice water in her veins and unbridled courage. Hitler and his Gestapo considered her enemy No. 1, and never could capture her despite maximum effort. All the more amazing is her total focus on the tasks at hand, despite having lost a leg as a child and enduring constant gender discrimination by her all-male superiors. An added plus, it is extremely well written.
Wayland Currie of Westerly, R.I.: This is the story of Virginia Hall and her efforts to assist the Resistance in France during World War II, and the incredible risks and dangers she and her agents faced at the hands of the Nazi occupation. I enjoyed the book because of how it held your attention and was amazed at the hurdles she had to overcome and the personal struggles she had to endure to help rid France of its Nazi occupiers.
“Regeneration” by Pat Barker
Jackie Kinnaman of Eastham, Mass.: This is the first of a trilogy of novels about World War I and centers around the treatment and recovery of British poet and officer Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon publicly condemned the barbarity of the war, was prosecuted and sent to a hospital where he was treated by an early psychiatrist, William Rivers, who recognized the symptoms of what we now call PTSD. The dilemma for both is that if the doctor’s treatment is successful, the patient will be returned to the trenches where he will die.
Barker’s empathy for these soldiers has stayed with me for the many years since I first read it. She was nominated for a Booker prize for this book and won for the third book of the trilogy, “The Ghost Road.”
“The Red Badge of Courage” by Stephen Crane
Denise Smith of Townsend, Mass.: During the Civil War, an 18-year-old soldier faces his own cowardice. A contrast to the bravery of the citizen soldiers in Ukraine.
Ellen Jablon: A classic. A young man’s experience in the Civil War. Amazing.
“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr
Monica Kearney of Sandwich, Mass.: An extraordinary book about two children (one French and one German) during WWII. There are hundreds of books about the war, but this one runs through with such grace, kindness, and imagination it stands alone. The content is compelling, but the writing is simply gorgeous, moving, intelligent, and exquisitely moving.
Pat Danielson of Salem, Mass.: This meets the criteria for a book about war and how people on the ground (like the people in Ukraine) cope. A blind French girl and a sympathetic German boy do what they have to do to survive and persevere despite dire circumstances. “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” would have been my second choice. Both books show us war as experienced by people who do not debate policy or design weapons or plan campaigns.
Deborah B. Hill of Bloomington, Ind.: It’s WWII as seen through the eyes of two young people — a French blind girl and a German boy, and how the war affects their own lives, the lives of their families, friends, and communities. How they persevere through various trials, and under what circumstances their paths cross. It’s beautifully written and I got a very interesting perspective on that conflict.
Ken Fisher of Vero Beach, Fla. and Wilmington, Mass.: This is the story of a blind girl in occupied France in WWII living with her grandfather who built a scale model of their town for her and taught her how to navigate her way around by memorizing the details. Also, the story of a German boy, made into a reluctant but competent soldier and how their paths crossed and the humanity that arose from inhumane circumstances that stayed with them through their lives. (This is at least my recollection from reading it several years ago.) A great book I am not doing justice to in my simplification.
“Command and Control” by David Bruns and J.R. Olson
Jane Lavigne of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: This is the story of an almost-war between the US and Russia instigated by a series of attacks on US interests which appear to have been masterminded by the Russian prime minister and his cabinet. It’s set in the present day and, given the current situation in Ukraine, it makes some very on-point observations about the relationship between the two countries and is full of nifty weapons I knew nothing about (the writers are a couple of ex-US Navy, so they probably do) and it’s a real rollercoaster ride of a techno-thriller in the tradition of the best of Tom Clancy’s stories.
“Pacific Glory” by P.T. Deutermann
Doreen McNeill of Cape Coral, Fla.: This is a story about men in the US Navy fighting in WWll immediately after Pearl Harbor and the nurses who cared for them. There are many very vivid sea battles and detailed injuries, but done well and in context of what the situation was.
I was surprised at how well the book was written with detailed knowledge of the war in the Pacific. The addition of the major players and how they performed was very enlightening and brought me to tears. Their courage was astounding!
“The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War” by David Halberstam
Peter Degnan of Brielle, N.J.: Beautifully written about reasons for and the horrors of the Korean War, as well as about the politics, Truman, MacArthur, etc. I am a Korean vet with all benefits, but deferred by college and drafted for two years after the fighting ended. Some good friends were in the fighting, yet I knew little about the war and its importance.
John F.X. Keane of New Providence, N.J.: This is a definitive book on the forgotten Korean War where US troops were ill-equipped, using old armaments and bad gear, yet were able to at least get a stalemate. The part of the book that grabbed me was the battle at Chosin Reservoir where the 7th Regiment of the 1st Marine Division held off seven Chinese divisions to make their escape. The Marines did not have winter gear despite the -10 degree weather, yet persevered.
“The Fall of Berlin 1945″ by Antony Beevor
Stephen Borucki of Southampton, Mass.: This book is about the capture of Berlin in April, 1945. It details the strategies of the Allies and Russians in the capture, but also encompasses the brutality of war, the hopelessness of war victims, and the trauma they endure. It shows that the Russian strategy and those of NATO governments in power now are repeating the errors prior to World War 2.
When Hitler is replaced with Putin, the description parallels the current invasion of Ukraine instead the fall of Berlin in regards to the military, social, and political implications in seizing Berlin in April, 1945. It reveals that the inhumanity practiced by Russia in Georgia, Aleppo in Syria, and in Ukraine will never change.
“Homage to Catalonia” by George Orwell
Michael Kaczorowski of Ottawa, Canada: To my mind, this is one of the finest accounts of the futility of war. This timeless classic is Orwell’s personal account of his experiences and first-hand observations while a volunteer for the Republican militia during the Spanish Civil War.
“Homage” stands out for its unsparing and unromantic account of the reality of war — the tedium, the violence, and the political hypocrisy far behind the front lines. Orwell was not a passive observer. He, like so many, began as an active partisan in passionate defense of democratic ideals, only to see them broken by the futile reality of bloodshed and broken dreams.
“War Horse” by Michael Morpurgo
Jacalyn E. Starr of Arlington, Mass.: A story about a horse who was bought by the British Army during WWI and the teen owner who searched the battlefields to return him home to his farm. It’s a heartwarming story that tells of heroism, loss, and devotion.
“All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque
Susan Klinger of Washington, D.C.: This book focuses on a group of school friends who are inspired to sign up to fight in WWI. Doesn’t matter that they are German; the issues portrayed — hunger, fear, cold, bravery, the lust for dry socks and boots without holes — are true for most young soldiers as they slog through war. Because the book doesn’t glorify war and German patriotism, it was banned by the Nazis. Remarque escaped to Switzerland and brought his ex-wife. His sister wasn’t so lucky; the Nazis killed her in retaliation for his stand.
I liked the book because it tells, better than any nonfiction account of battles and strategies, how it felt to be a soldier on the ground experiencing the war.
Harry Proudfoot of Fall River, Mass.: A book that portrays war so vividly it turns people into pacifists. Adolf Hitler ordered every copy in Germany burned.
Bonnie Wren-Burgess’ Sophomore Period B World Lit class, Amos Clark Kingsbury High School, Medfield High School, Medfield, Mass.: “All Quiet on the Western Front” is thrilling, engaging, and terrifying. Experiencing the rush of battle and the solitude of hope, the reader bonds with the fact that war is a pointless, never-ending cycle of death and destruction, punctuated by the grace of deep comradeship.
This German novel starts in the middle of WWI when Paul Bäumer, a high school student who enlists as a boy, quickly ages into a battle-hardened man. His dire and dangerous experience puts into perspective how traumatizing the horrors of war are, a universality no matter which side a soldier fights on. And not only does the reader come to this conclusion, but the characters you follow in this novel see it too, and they have questions … Who is right in war? Why are we even fighting? Why am I forced to kill to survive?
The novel is exciting and captivating, and many readers become fond of the characters as if they are real people. “All Quiet on the Western Front” reveals the truth of war, showing its futility and barbarism, creating a sense of shock and awe, as the seemingly human characters are mentally worn down and eventually become animals: ruthless, primal killers who will do anything if it means their own survival. Overall, the novel is heartbreaking as the reader watches the soldiers slowly lose, not only the war, but themselves.
“1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West” by Roger Crowley
Russ Taplin of San Francisco (via Allan Cohen): The battle between Mehmed II, sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and Constantine XI, the 57th emperor of Byzantium. Inside the wall were approximately 5,600 soldiers of various capacities. Outside the walls were 100,000 to as many as 250,000 fully intent on breaking through the walls. The Greeks might have still prevailed but for the lack of money to purchase a revolutionary new cannon developed by another Greek who offered to sell the cannon to the defenders, but they had been impoverished by the Venetians’ successful scaling of the walls and Dear John sold his invention to Mehmed.
I was also interested in the degree to which the Great Schism and the Pope played a role in the defeat. The priests inside the walls were telling the defenders not to give up their beliefs and their souls and not cave to the Pope. They saved their souls and lost their lives along.
“The Orphanage” by Serhiy Zhadan
Esther Boyle of Essex, Conn.: This book is not about an orphanage. It is about a three-day trip a teacher makes to retrieve his nephew from an orphanage he was put into by his mother, the teacher’s sister.
Russia and Ukraine are not mentioned in this book. But it occurs in a country ravaged by civil war, and the people speak either Russian or Ukrainian or both. The descriptions of the bombed homes and businesses, the shattered trees, the broken roads, and the scorched earth are like the pictures we see on TV from the war in Ukraine.
The country he travels through seems devoid of people, but he does meet some: groups holed up in basements, motels, parking garages, and railway stations “waiting for it to be over.” However, there are no trains running, and he walks most of the way to and from a city that is encircled and ravaged by an unnamed army. He also meets groups of soldiers at checkpoints, but we do not know which side they represent.
It is not a pleasant read; you feel filthy long before you finish it. But it is a page turner. Will he survive the unpredictability of the situations in which he finds himself? Will he find his nephew? Will they ever get home again?
“Rebel Yell & the Yankee Hurrah: The Civil War Journal of a Maine Volunteer: Private John W. Haley, 17th Maine Regiment” by Ruth L. Silliker (editor)
E. W. Sea of Hampstead, N.H.: My favorite Civil War book and one of a handful of overall favorite books. I’ve included a review of the book; unfortunately there was no credit given at the source:
”On an ‘I will if you will’ dare, John Haley enlisted in the 17th Maine Regiment in August 1862 ‘for three years, unless sooner discharged.’ Though a reluctant soldier at first, he served steadfastly in the Army of the Potomac for nearly three years, participating in some of the most significant battles of the Civil War. Once one fully appreciates and has a grasp of the incredible deadliness of the CW this work is all the more remarkable on account Haley served throughout much of the conflict — and lived. I have never seen the American Civil War and heard the bullets ‘whish’ by or feel the exhaustion he endured, the loss, the small blessings. Most of all Private Haley has a sense of humor, apt use of the most amusing slang I’ve ever read, and a deep sense of humanity and goodness. He also reflect social norms of his time and reasons it out according to his understanding. It is fascinating to read this Union soldiers literal ‘on the ground’ distinction between slavery and social equality but this provides a critical understanding of the time he lived in.”
“Irena’s Children” by Tilar J. Mazzeo
Donna Farrell of North Easton, Mass.: I just finished reading this book and it was both devastating and inspiring. It is set in Warsaw, Poland, during World War II and tells the story of Irena Sandler, a young Polish woman who set up a network that rescued over 2,500 Jewish children from the horrific conditions in the Warsaw Ghetto. The atrocities committed by the Germans throughout the city but especially in the ghetto were eerily similar to the actions of the Russians during their invasion of Ukraine during recent months. The pictures taken in 1945 of the complete destruction of Warsaw are mirrors of the contemporary pictures of the destroyed city of Mariupol, Ukraine. I also see the courage of Irena in the Ukrainians, both men and women, fighting for their freedom.
“The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany” by William L. Shirer
Sarah Keith of Epsom, N.H.: Not only is this a comprehensive account of events, incidents, documents, etc. of pre-Nazi and Nazi Germany and World War II, but it also represents great journalism in being highly objective — well documented by reliable resources. So very much of the unvarnished truth.
I read it in the mid- to late-70s, but this stark history has never left my mind and resurfaced in 2018 with the appalling similarities between Nazi Germany and US politics and politicians of today. Really a must read.
“Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War” by William Manchester
Robert Miles of Rockingham, Va.: Of the many WW2 histories and memoirs, this is one of the most compelling. Manchester was an enlisted Marine during the war and, later, a college history professor. His account of combat in the Pacific is well-written and rings true.
“The Plum Tree” by Ellen Marie Wiseman
Meg Buster of Hollywood, Fla.: I just finished reading this book and it is very good. It tells the story of a young German woman and her family through the chaos of World War II and after. Hard to read about the details of what happened, but seems very realistic and beautifully written.
“Trinity” by Leon Uris
Peggy Farren of Quincy, Mass.: This 1976 work of fiction covers the war between the Catholics of Donegal (Republic of Ireland) and the Protestants of Belfast (Northern Ireland). It is both a coming of age story about two young boys and a tale of “star-crossed lovers” who try to overcome the Protestant-Catholic divide. My parents were Irish immigrants who were not big readers, and they both devoured it. This compelled me to read it as a teenager and to re-read it as an adult.
“Madame Fourcade’s Secret War” by Lynne Olson
Ann Willauer of Prouts Neck, Me.: This is a fabulous and captivating account of the largest WWII spy network in France. Loved this book!
“The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam” by Barbara W. Tuchman
Jane Pioli of Woburn, Mass.: This book describes four events in history where the actions or inaction by the government or people in charge caused calamitous results that could have been avoided by reasonable alternatives. It delves into the Trojan War, the Renaissance popes causing breakaways from the Roman church (this one section isn’t about war), the British mistakes that caused the American Revolution, and the US involvement in the Vietnam war.
I liked it for the same reason that I have liked other books of hers (“The Guns of August” is great): It was well researched and factual, and also well written and readable. Much less dull and difficult to read than many other historical books.
“The Rabbit Girls” by Anna Ellory
Lynn Feinman of Lynchburg, Va.: I’m not sure this book qualifies because there are no “battles” except mental ones. It’s the story of life in Ravensbrück concentration camp through letters from a prisoner to her lover, which were sewn into the seams of her uniform and found by his daughter as he was dying. It tells the story of the lovers, their capture and imprisonment in Ravensbrück and Auschwitz, and the daughter’s prison in an abusive marriage. This is the story of the fallout of war on vulnerable people and the lives of those around them.
“The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz” by Erik Larson
David Rumpf of Ashland, Mass.: I heartily recommend this book. Compelling story of England’s resistance during the year of the blitz. Many personal insights into both Churchill’s and Hitler’s inner circle. Inspiring.
“Glamour Girls” by Marty Wingate
Judy Ross of Franklin, Mass.: This is the little-known story of women pilots in England during WWII. These women were not allowed to fly bombing missions, but instead, as members of the Air Transport Authority (ATA), ferried warplanes across Britain to RAF bases. It is a personal account of this unheralded group of brave women – their friendships, families, and the impact of WWII on the lives of the British people.
I liked this book because it revealed yet another unsung group of courageous women, their effect on history, and how they overcame the skepticism of male pilots and ground crews.
“The Last Green Valley” by Mark T. Sullivan
Jeanne Steele of Yarmouthport, Mass.: The true story of the Martel family of German heritage who have lived in Ukraine for decades, and in 1944 struggle to escape Stalin’s brutal order to murder Ukrainians of German descent — so like Putin’s scorched-earth policy in the war in Ukraine today.
As I was reading this, I felt like I was right there with this family and their incredible will to survive during WWII, and the will to survive in Ukraine today and its people who are struggling to escape Putin’s murderous army.
“Johnny Got His Gun” by Dalton Trumbo
Barbara Cloonan of Andover, Mass.: From Wikipedia: “Joe Bonham, a young American soldier serving in World War I, awakens in a hospital bed after being caught in the blast of an exploding artillery shell. He gradually realizes that he has lost his arms, legs, and all of his face (including his eyes, ears, nose, teeth, and tongue), but that his mind functions perfectly, leaving him a prisoner in his own body.”
I read this as a 17-year-old high schooler in the midst of the Vietnam War. The sheer horror of the title character’s condition shook my teenage soul. Registered to vote within days of my 18th birthday and voted for every anti-war candidate I could, and continue to now.
Don Regan of Black Rock, Nova Scotia, Canada: Trumbo pulled the book from distribution in the late ‘30s as he feared it would dissuade young Americans from joining the fight against the Axis Powers. Trumbo was later blacklisted in Hollywood in the McCarthy Era.
It’s about the futility of war, the horror of war through the story of a young person who was terribly wounded in WWI and returned home in a near vegetative state. Trumbo was a fine writer.
John Grady of Harvard, Mass.: This book will impact you forever. All you really need to know about war. And who pays …
“The Paris Apartment” by Kelly Bowen
Betsy Orcutt of Hingham, Mass.: A heart-pounding page-turner. The City of Lights is occupied. How does a young woman survive? That is the question 75 years later as a granddaughter inherited her grandmother’s Paris apartment. Can the apartment reveal the clues as to who her grandmother was?
It always amazes me how unselfish the people of the WWII era were and willing to risk their own lives.
“The War That Saved My Life” by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Nancy Smith: This is a YA book, but without exception, every adult who read it fell in love with it. It is about Ada, a 10-year-old with a club foot and her brother Jamie who live in London with an abusive mother who is particularly cruel to her handicapped daughter. When Jamie gets sent out of London to escape the war, Ada sneaks out and they are sent to live with Susan Smith for the duration. Susan is not married and has no children of her own, but with patience and love, and Butter her horse, the two eventually thrive. But the threat of having to go back to their mother is ever present.
“The Moon Is Down” by John Steinbeck
Travis Meyer of Philadelphia: The German officer tells the mayor of an occupied town to tell his people to obey them and work in the mines. The mayor says that he doesn’t tell his people what to do, they tell him what to do; he serves them. Paraphrasing. Really an excellent book. A celebration of the durability of democracy. There are no “peaceful” people among those whose freedom has been forcefully taken away.
“Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Bob Bishop of Pompton Plains, N.J.: “Slaughterhouse-Five” tells the story of the life of the narrator Billy Pilgrim, with a focus on his time as an American soldier in Germany during World War II. It is semi-autobiographical since, like Billy, Vonnegut was captured by the German Army and survived the Allied firebombing of Dresden where he was held as prisoner.
In Vonnegut’s quirky style, there are science fiction elements in the story, including Billy’s time travels and his abduction to a planet many light-years away called Tralfamadore. It is a powerful anti-war story with the overall theme being the death and destruction that war leaves behind. As Vonnegut would say, “So it goes.”
“Girl at War” by Sara Nović
Robert Lurie of Lansing, Mich.: This novel is set in war-torn Croatia and describes the life of 10-year-old Anna Juric as she navigates the war in the Balkans. Enveloped inside the book is the story of the same 20-year-old American college student Anna, 10 years later, who struggles with her past and ultimately returns to connect with her past.
Telling the story through the perspective of both a 10-year-old living the event and the same 20-year-old looking back is very powerful. Its power is in its raw and genuine simplicity. The story of children at war, especially a young girl, is missing from many pieces of war literature.
“The Pianist from Syria: A Memoir” by Aeham Ahmad
Nancy Kelly of Cambridge, Mass.: A poignant memoir of survival and resilience by a second-generation Palestinian refugee living in Syria who is forced to flee as the Assad regime and various militia starve and strangle the close knit community where he grew up. Aeham is a remarkable young man, devoted son and father, and very talented pianist. Before he is able to escape to Germany, he immerses you in the everyday life of his family and friends, and you wonder how anyone can possibly survive and be optimistic.
It is a harrowing story but also inspirational, with villains, of course, but a surprising number of heroes. You can’t help but think about what Ukrainians are going through now. Highly recommend!
“Cartoons of World War II” edited by Tony Husband
Pat Lorje: Since graphic novels seem to be all the rage these days, I would like to suggest a book that is exclusively about war, and almost fits the category of graphic novel. It is a great book to thumb through, and your readers might see some similarities with at least one antagonist and his modern counter-part.
“The Honored Dead” by Robert N. Macomber
Ted Zebert of Hampden, Mass.: The hero is Navy officer Lt. Commander Peter Wake, and the series covers his Navy life from the mid 1800s until the early 1900s, I presume, as this is book 7 of 15 or so and I believe he just released a new one. While my preference is the time period of sailing ships, this is in the beginning of the mechanized era of steam sailing.
The “Honored Dead” takes place in Southeast Asia or Indochina in the early 1880s during the influence of and, in some cases, occupation of several countries, including Vietnam, by the French. Both Commander Wake and his aide-de-camp, Sean Rork, a rascal Irish rogue, have progressed higher than normal in rank and situation than their respective genealogical history would have promised. The series in general may not have as many battle situations as some other war novels, depending more on the situation, their characters, and interplay between the various characters.
So Commander Wake has been sent on an assignment to Indochina to present a message to the king of Cambodia from the president of the United States. Well, there is more going on than what Peter Wake was lead to believe, and somewhat more than what even the president of the United States knows. This leads Commander Wake and Bosun Rork into many misadventures in Cambodia, the South China Sea, the Makong River, and Vietnam.
Most of the time, Commander Wake, the president’s man as he has become, and Rork are trying to keep the Chinese, the Vietnamese, and the French from a needless war and from killing one another. Though he is not Catholic, he has befriended them in the earlier books and what goes around has come around. This is definitely a series to read in sequence.
I totally like the series in general, but this book hit home for me as I am a Vietnam Army veteran and a Gold Star Brother. If I had the proverbial one wish, besides having my brother back, I wish that the American government of the late 1950s had studied their history better and just maybe we wouldn’t have killed more than 58,000 American men and women in the prime of their life, as well as those of our allies and Vietnamese civilians. It’s a good story, but also an enlightening one, at least for me.
“Testament of Youth” by Vera Brittain
Saski Augustine of Sunnersta, Örnsköldsvik Kommun, Sweden: (Full disclosure: I have not yet read the book, but have just seen the film by the same name). I was profoundly moved, especially by the changes WWI wrought in her, and made her the pacifist she became.
“The Frozen Hours” by Jeff Shaara
David B. Fuller of Albany, Ga.: Shaara tells the story of the Marines involved in the Chosin Reservior campaign in November 1950 in Korea (The Forgotten War). His novel is based on reports, letters, and interviews with participants. Shaara has written more than a dozen other novels on America’s wars from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, from the Mexican War to World War II. Readers are given insight into leaders’ decision-making while getting a front-row seat to experience what front-line war fighters go through. The entire collection of books provides a picture of our nation as it developed, national leaders who emerged from the military, and how wars shaped our society.
“365 Days” by Ronald J. Glasser
Sarah Cain of Wayne, Penn.: This is a compassionate nonfiction account of the various soldiers who served in Vietnam told by a doctor who served at Camp Zama Army Hospital in Japan. Each chapter is a small essay about a particular soldier or group of soldiers.
I read this book many years ago, and it still haunts me because it shows the human cost of war. The chapter entitled “I Don’t Want to Go Home Alone” is absolutely shattering. I highly recommend it.
“Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel” by Richard H. Minear
Randy Ascher of Lewes, Del.: Dr. Seuss was a political cartoonist for the New York daily paper PM. There are more than 200 cartoons. These cartoons shine a light our society that is very similar to our past. We have not come so far in our thinking.
“Wounded: A New History of the Western Front in World War I” by E.R. Mayhew
Lynda Kamik of Northampton, Mass.: WWI trench warfare was horrendous. In 1914, the Royal Army Medical Corp was prepared for a colonial-style war, one with neat bullets that could be easily located and removed. The Western Front was not that war; its wounds were deep, rank, and rotting; horrific wounds to heads, faces, limbs, and abdomens and yes, there was poison gas. The RAMC needed to adjust quickly if it wanted to save lives. And it did — thankfully, amazingly, it did.
This is the story of the wounded soldier and the struggle of medics to save his life. Each chapter is a step in the journey from wounded to a hospital in Britain — from stretcher bearers stepping on the dead to reach the injured to arrival in Britain and, so as not to upset the public, a discreet ambulance ride to the hospital. And each chapter tells an individual story — culled from diaries, letters, forgotten archives, it does not hide the incompetence of some because that, too, is one of the horrors of war.
When I read this I thought of the show M.A.S.H. This is the 1915 version in blunt detail.
“The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War” by Malcolm Gladwell
Martin Sanchez of Long Beach, Calif.: A short yet insightful book about the planning and consequences of a new concept in war making … how theory versus practice, and conscience over results, in the end shaped the outcome of history. Gladwell, in a few paragraphs, is able to contextualize larger concepts to make not only his points but that can bridge to other aspects of life. Excellent new storytelling of topics we think we all knew about.
“Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey” by Kathleen Rooney
Candy Krumins of Jensen Beach, Fla.: This is an unusual, touching, and informative piece of historical fiction. The two main characters are non-fictional — Cher Ami, a messenger pigeon, and Major Whittlesey, an Army officer. They share the narration of this story, which revolves around a true and extremely unfortunate event in France during World War I. Yes, one must suspend disbelief to embrace narration by a pigeon(!), but it is well worth it to do so.
This story is fascinating, and since I am woefully ignorant about WWI history, I appreciated being educated. Next visit to the Smithsonian I will seek out this heroic and amazing, now stuffed, bird.
“Citizen Soldiers: The US Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany” by Stephen E. Ambrose
Charles Gordon: This book tells the story about the soldiers who served in World War II from Normandy to Germany’s surrender in 1945 when I was 15 years of age. The story is compelling yet depressing as you realize how horrific war actually is. There is relief when the author interviews WWII veterans 50 years later.
“Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families” – National Endowment for the Arts, edited by Andrew Carroll
Bronwyn Teixeira of Holden, Mass.: This compilation of letters, short stories, and private accounts from soldiers and families during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is a small window into the sorrow and joys of this period. Like similar books from other wars, it shows us non-military folks the cost these families are asked to make, and also how, while the weapons become more sophisticated, the challenges have not. I have repeatedly read this compilation, always coming away with a new insight.
“Andersonville” by MacKinlay Kantor
Amy Talanker of Newton, Mass.: This book is about the notorious prisoner of war camp built in Georgia during the Civil War. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1956 and is written from the point of view of prisoners, people who worked at the camp, and people who lived nearby. The narrative is so effective that I felt like I knew the characters by the time I finished reading it a few years ago. I honestly had a hard time getting it out of my head.
“World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War” by Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks)
Christi Bayha of Fredericksburg, Va.: I work at the Marine Corps University Library on Quantico, but my recommendation is for something a little different. Written as a series of oral history interviews, this story tells the origins, battle, and aftermath of a global zombie infestation. Although it is a horror novel, it reads more like a history. In fact, several times I found myself stopping and reminding myself that this is a novel and not a work of nonfiction! The story is engaging and exciting.
“The Good Soldier Švejk” by Jaroslav Hašek
Charlie DeWeese of Collinsville, Conn.: Translated from the original Czech. It was originally published as a series of short stories beginning in about 1911. The protagonist is a man caught up in the Austrian army before the first world war, who uses his considerable cunning to act like an absolute idiot and avoid actually going to battle. He is constantly on the verge of getting in serious trouble, but his bumbling idiocy somehow frustrates official attempts to make him comply and most importantly, keeps him from actually having to fight.
It is uproariously funny, and darkly comic, exposing the foolishness of those who are supposed to be in charge.
Peter Perlmutter: Written and published in the early 1920s. A deep dive into the European caste and class system of the early 20th century as observed by Hašek as an Austrian infantry soldier during World War I.
Hašek’s narration speaks to the idiocy of war, compounded by the incompetence of the generals, with a focus on how and why World War I was fought.
After reading this many years ago, I think that it could have been Heller’s inspiration for “Catch22.” And reading and enjoying both books, to me, Hašek’s is more authentic.
“Century Trilogy War Stories Collection” by Ken Follett
Sandy Keese of Rochester, Mass.: My faves thus far by Ken Follett, his trilogy of “Fall of Giants,” “Winter of the World,” and “Edge of Eternity.” Beginning in pre-WWI in England, Russia, and Germany, there are reigning oligarchs who intermarried, their exploited household help, and assorted nefarious characters including a Russian gangster who finds a home in NY after he runs from family commitments. A look at the struggles of the working class as they try to rise to equality in England. Horrible how the first world war was so avoidable, but as we know, poor men fight rich men’s wars.
What I took from these historic/fictional reads is that one set of promises that are made to set things right and equal just fall away to the next opportunist regime promising the same. Russia never changes, surprise, surprise. Great reads that kept me entertained, educated, and mesmerized the way Follett usually does.
“A Newburyport Marine in World War I: The Life and Legacy of Eben Bradbury” by Bethany Groff Dorau
Jean Lambert of West Newbury, Mass.: The tale of a young Massachusetts WWI soldier in France 1917-18, this story moves far beyond a foreign battlefield to discover the rich and complex family to which he belonged and the truly American small city he called home.
“House Divided” by Ben Ames Williams
Jean Maybell of Clatskanie, Ore.: This historical novel takes place during the US Civil War. Five adult siblings from a “Good Southern” family learn they are related to Abraham Lincoln. This book takes them and their children through those war years and tells how each of them dealt with their new-found relative. It shows how that knowledge and the horrors of war affected this family and how some of them survived to become better people, and some of them did not.
“We Were Soldiers Once… and Young: Ia Drang – The Battle that Changed the War in Vietnam” by Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore (Ret.) and Joseph L. Galloway
Otto Kreisher of Arlington, Va.: This Vietnam War book was co-authored by Moore, who commanded the unit engaged in the 1965 bloody battle in the Ia Drang Valley, and Galloway, a reporter who was in the middle of the fight. It describes in graphic detail the horror and the vital personal loyalty of close quarters land warfare between well-trained and well-led American soldiers and zealously committed North Vietnamese regulars.
But what makes it such a profound and gut-wrenching read is how it draws you intensely into knowing and caring about the men fighting the battle and the anguish of the wives waiting at home for the terrible telegrams revealing the bitter toll of the fight.
“Miracle at St. Anna” by James McBride
Mary Miller of Colorado Springs, Colo.: This is inspired by a true story about the savage fighting in Italy during WWII. Four members of the 92nd Division, Buffalo Soldiers, get trapped behind enemy lines. They are given shelter by the villagers and become involved with partisans. They are drawn to trying to protect and save a small Italian boy. There is cruelty, passion, heroism, and love.
I am reading it right now because it covers three topics that interest me: WWII, African American experiences in the war, and Italy, which I am hoping to visit this year.
“A Thousand Ships” by Natalie Haynes
Sarita Arden of Pittsford, N.Y.: (From Goodreads) “From the Trojan women whose fates now lie in the hands of the Greeks, to the Amazon princess who fought Achilles on their behalf, to Penelope awaiting the return of Odysseus, to the three goddesses whose feud started it all, these are the stories of the women whose lives, loves, and rivalries were forever altered by this long and tragic war.”
I loved that “A Thousand Ships” is the story of the Trojan War, written in the voices of the women, girls, and goddesses. Refreshingly centered on them and their experiences of the war.
“The Rose Code” by Kate Quinn
Ellen M. of Concord, N.H.: Very engaging story of three young women growing up and breaking code at Bletchley Park in England. Plenty of romance, but not too much, if you like that sort of thing. Plenty of royalty, bombings, secrets and secret meetings.
I read it in large chunks, which is not typical of me, because I just couldn’t put it down. I enjoyed the author’s notes at the end where she explains which book characters are based on real people, which incidents were adapted for the sake of the story, and so forth. Pretty hefty summer read at 600+ pages.
Barbara Burke of Westbury, N.Y.: Fascinating account of the code breakers at Bletchley Park, most of whom were women or men too old or unfit for combat, who worked tirelessly to break German codes and helped turn the tide of the war. A well-written and well-researched look at those who worked behind the scenes, with no recognition even after the war ended, combined with stories of love and friendship. One of the best books I’ve read in a long time!
“Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory” by Ben Macintyre
Cathy Mueller of Grand Rapids, Mich.: Macintyre writes a spellbinding account of how the British convinced the Germans into believing the invasion of the Allies from Africa was going to happen in Greece rather than the obvious Sicilian route. Floating a dead body with appropriate classified documents and theater tickets off the Portuguese coast are just a couple of the many, many details and timing issues the Brits had to coordinate in a planned air crash.
“The Summer Before the War” by Helen Simonson
Wendy Prest: This book is set at the beginning of the first world war. It has a wonderful atmosphere, a fine love story, and what (to me) seemed like a Jane Austen heroine, who is perfectly capable but whose inheritance is in the charge of a parsimonious aunt. There is certainly a strong sense of the miseries caused by war as the novel progresses. It’s a super book.
“War” by Sebastian Junger (basis for the documentary “Restrepo”)
Stephen King: Truth is, I’d read anything by him: “The Perfect Storm” etc. This book is about a firebase in Afghanistan named after a deceased army medic. It details the day-to-day and person-to-person experiences of what we think of as modern day war. It’s enlightening, dark and disturbing all at once, revealing how little we’ve traveled in this arena since Vietnam. Junger reports from the base itself and so is both national and personal in perspective.
It makes you contemplate the reality and need.
86. “The Great War and Modern Memory” by Paul Fussell
William F. Wieting of York Harbor, Me. (combat veteran of Vietnam; captain, Medical Corps, USN, Ret.): Fussell is a combat veteran of WWII who went on to become a writer, literary critic, and professor of English literature. “The Great War and Modern Memory” is a deeply engaging and enlightening discussion of the literature — chiefly the poetry — that emerged from the experiences of soldiers on the Western Front in World War I.
Fussell’s central thesis is that it is utterly impossible for anyone to understand the experience of combat without having been there, and that literary works such as memoirs, reminiscences, and poems are inevitably colored, if not distorted, by the cultural and emotional background of each author.
Fussell is a thoughtful, erudite, and profoundly sympathetic commentator, and quickly weaves a web around his reader from which I, for one, found it difficult to escape — even reading it the fourth time! Everyone should read this moving book every 10 years or so.
87. “Barbed Wire and Rice: Poems and Songs from Japanese Prisoner-of-War Camps” by Bishop D. McKendree
Edie Shipley of Brentwood, N.H.: This book is an autobiography and poem collection written by a young man from west Texas who enlisted in the Army at the beginning of WWII. He was shipped out to the Philippines, captured when Corregidor fell, and spent the remaining 3 1/2 years of the war interned in Japanese prison camps.
During this horrific time in his life, he took solace and found hope by collecting poems and songs that his fellow prisoners wrote, sang, and recited in the few moments they had when they were at leisure.
At first he committed these to memory, but in one camp he found what he considered a precious treasure: a cement sack, composed of many layers of paper. He fashioned a small booklet and found pieces of charcoal with which to write down his poems and songs. The booklet and he survived the war. Upon returning home, he went to university on the GI bill, married, settled in Austin, Texas, and raised three children — one of whom is me.
My father tried for 50 years to find a publisher for his little cement sack booklet before the Cornell East Asia Press finally saw its priceless historic value, and it was one of the proudest achievements of his life when his book finally came out in print. My dad was a remarkable man with a remarkable intellect and sense of humor, but also the most humble and kind person I have ever met.
His story will enrich anyone who reads it; the poems and songs are an invaluable look into the real lives of men in inhuman, brutal, and seemingly hopeless circumstances who nevertheless found the inspiration to create little things of beauty for themselves and their fellow prisoners.
88. “Meeting Steve Canyon … and Flying with the CIA in Laos” by Karl L. Polifka
Jim Johnson of Thurston County, Wash.: This is the story of a classmate of mine from US Air Force Pilot Training, class of 1968H, Karl L. Polifka. It is about his “adventure” in going over to Vietnam, assigned as a spotter and controller in small observation planes, and how he ended up getting pulled into serving with the CIA in Laos instead.
It is an insider’s perspective of the war our government would not admit to, to the public, any more than they would not admit that the alleged Gulf of Tonkin “incident” was not true, but needed to help sway public opinion and draw the US into the Vietnam War.
Karl’s background as a kid born into a military family happens to be similar to mine, and we lived (i.e. were stationed) in some of the same places, but never met until 1967 when we were assigned to the same undergraduate pilot training class.
89. “The First Day on the Somme” by Martin Middlebrook
Michael Achow of Tenterden, Kent, England: On 1st July, 1916, on what became known as the blackest day in the history of the British Army, 20,000 soldiers were killed trying and failing to break the German lines. What made the loss particularly tragic was that the casualties fell mainly among those who had volunteered in the patriotic upsurge in 1914 and for whom this would be their first experience of war.
Middlebrook relies heavily on the testimony of ordinary soldiers to evoke the pathos of a war that haunted Europe for the rest of the 20th century: As one diarist wrote of that day, “so ends the Golden Age.”
90. “A Long Petal of the Sea” by Isabel Allende
Ginny McNamara of Dublin, Ireland: I thought of this novel in regard to today’s Ukrainian refugees. It’s the story of Roser and Victor and their journey out of Spain to Chile during the Spanish Civil War. They face insurmountable conditions, but never lose heart.
Much of this book is based on real events and even Victor is based on a friend of Allende. Roser is one of the most vividly written female protagonists that I have ever read. Roser’s journey, both in terms of her physical struggles as a refugee, her beauty, her talent as a musician, and her love of her native culture — although displaced — resonates with me as I see and read of the many strong Ukrainian women living amongst us now in Ireland.
Thank you, Isabelle Allende, still writing the most wonderful novels and still being committed to social justice, freedom, and democracy.
91. “The Lost Girls of Paris” by Pam Jenoff
Karin Adams of London, Ontario, Canada: Based on true events, this book tells the story of the female agents from Britain who went overseas to transmit radio broadcasts and do other undercover work during WWII. It focuses on three women: the head of the unit in London, one of the agents overseas, and a third woman who unwittingly discovers the story and works to uncover the truth behind how so many of them just disappeared.
A great story about how much women contributed to the war effort in ways we really knew nothing about.
92. “City of Thieves” by David Benioff
Jeanne Carey Ingle of Quincy, Mass.: This is a wonderfully funny, tragic, sometimes a little macabre, wartime buddy book about getting eggs for the wedding cake of a general’s daughter during the siege of Leningrad in WWII. It doesn’t shy away from the tragedies of war, but also shows how life goes forward amidst these horrors. It really is the story of an unlikely friendship and even less likely heroism.
I’ve recommended or given this book to so many people and they have all enjoyed it and I hope you do, too!
93. “The Island of Missing Trees” by Elif Shafak
Tracey Brown of Clayton, Ontario, Canada: Beautifully written book that takes place in Cyprus, a country divided and conquered numerous times. Ottomans, Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Arabs, and Cyprus became a British colony in 1914.
The country has been barraged by violence and divisions between the Turks and Greeks. Kostas (Greek) and Defne (Turkish) have to hide their relationship. Civil war ensues in 1970s and they escape, marry, and move to England.
As a botanist, Kostas brings a fig tree from Cyprus to the UK. A loving journey to bring the tree home for himself and a young daughter who had never been to Cyprus. A story of love lost, family, history, displacement, the trauma of war, and secrets.
94. “On the Beach” by Nevil Shute
Michael Young of Guelph, Ontario, Canada: This is a novel about post-World War III. Basically, the Northern Hemisphere has been shrouded in a deadly nuclear cloud, killing all the inhabitants. As there are very few winds that blow north to south, the inhabitants of Australia have been spared, but realize that there is an almost certain chance that the cloud will carry south eventually.
To me, this novel is certainly up to the minute today, given the threat of escalation of the war in Europe. There is a side story involving a US nuclear sub that was not in the north and goes to investigate strange Morse code signals emanating from the west coast of the USA. Not much in the novel dates it.
95. “The Ritchie Boys: The Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned to Fight Hitler” by Bruce Henderson
Karen Shepard of Arlington, Mass.: This is the true story of courageous and highly motivated German-born Jews who fled Nazi Germany and came to America. During World War II, the Ritchie Boys were a special military intelligence unit that trained at Camp Ritchie in Maryland. Henderson interweaves interviews of surviving Ritchie Boys and extensive research to capture this fascinating moment in history. The Ritchie Boys’ secret intelligence helped the allies to destroy Hitler’s regime.
I liked this book because I was intrigued and impressed by the Ritchie Boys’ bravery and determination. They collected valuable intelligence about Nazi Germany’s strength, troop movements, and defensive strategies. In essence, these heroic intelligence officers were instrumental in helping the allies to defeat Hitler and win World War II.
96. “The Nine: The True Story of a Band of Women Who Survived the Worst of Nazi Germany” by Gwen Strauss
Maurice Jackson of (beautiful sunny) Edinburgh, Scotland: I found this book totally riveting from the minute I picked it up. I normally am a “who done it” book reader and wasn’t sure about this choice, but it immediately gripped my attention.
It is about a band of daring resistance women, captured and held in death camps by the Germans, who escaped and undertook a long, dangerous trek from Nazi Germany. It is a true story. The determination, resilience, camaraderie, and friendship binding these women through a hellish ordeal is unbelievable and heartwarming.
For me, it is even more poignant as my daughter and family now live happily in the area of Germany where these women passed through some 77 years before in fear of their lives. Oh how things can change … or do they really … Ukraine being the case in point.
97. “The Pear Tree” by K.M. Sandrick
Mariann Stephens of LaGrange Park. Ill.: This is a deeply researched historical novel set in 1940s Eastern Europe. The story is centered on families in a small town that Hitler destroyed to set an example for those who might be considering joining the Czech Resistance. Within a few chapters, I felt as though I knew the characters and experienced the profound upheaval and destruction along with them.
Survivors of the initial assault were sent to concentration camps where most were gassed, worked, or starved to death. Children deemed likely to “pass” as German were stolen. It’s a 360 view of cultural madness.
Sandrick’s account continues after the war, tracing exhausted parents’ searches for children whose records had mostly been destroyed and former soldiers’ return home. “The Pear Tree” is both arms-length accurate and deeply empathic, beginning in the “before times” and continuing through the Nuremberg trials.
Because I had read this book, I have followed Putin’s invasion of Ukraine closely, realizing day by day that we must recognize and resist the human capacity for atrocity.
98. “August 1914″ by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Sylvia Lack of New Haven, Conn.: I read this WWI classic in August, 2014. Russia sent two huge armies to surprise-attack Germany in the first month of WWI. The result was massive Russian casualties and defeat. The commanders of the Russian armies refused to cooperate with each other, communication was horribly slow, orders always arrived too late, and Russian generals were promoted according to political loyalty, not military competence. The brave peasant soldiers were left in the dark about the mission and daily maneuvers and were hungry. Both the leaders and the fighters are portrayed in all their humanity. So relevant to 2022.
99. “Patches of Fire: A Story of War and Redemption” by Albert French
Jerry O’Brien of Kingston, R.I.: This is an extraordinary memoir of the Vietnam War and of a Black soldier’s difficult return to a changed America following the assassination of Martin Luther King. French is a wonderful writer and a deeply sensitive soul. His encounters with wartime horror, relentless memory, homegrown disappointment, and spiritual anguish are vividly rendered and achingly sad. But rising nobly from this terrible landscape is French’s indomitable spirit and thrilling need to express himself through literature. More than a remembrance of war, this is truly an unforgettable celebration of life.
100. “Dragon Seed” by Pearl S. Buck
Mary Zawoysky of Falmouth, Mass.: This book describes the lives of Chinese peasants in a village outside Nanjing, China, immediately after the Japanese invasion in 1937.
I found it in my mom’s library during the pandemic and I liked it because it showed the complexity and humanity of the people being invaded, how they reacted, and why some became collaborators. I think the emotions it showed and the varied responses of the people to having their land taken and the brutality of some of the invaders could apply today to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It drew me in when I would not have normally chosen a war-themed book.
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