Reading List: World War 2 Nonfiction

May 24, 2006 | 15 books mentioned 9 3 min read

After yesterday’s World War II fiction post, now it’s time for the non-fiction. Once again culling from the excellent comments left in my original post on the topic from a while back, here are the books:

covercoverMany readers suggested Anthony Beevor’s books Stalingrad and The Fall of Berlin 1945. Writes Steve: “Beevor’s Stalingrad is the better of his two books on the war. Stalingrad was the true turning point in the European war (although you will see many smart folks argue that the turning point was Pearl Harbor, the Russian Front broke the Wehrmacht and Stalingrad, with Kursk following, was the breaking point). The scale of the battle is just amazing. I loved Atkinson’s book, but reading about Stalingrad makes you wonder whether we could have won a battle like that and thankful we did not have to find out.” Tripp writes, “Fall of Berlin 1945 is great, but is also terribly depressing. The end of the catastrophic Russo-German conflict is described in all its brutal horror.” Also fans of the Beevor books were CHatten and S. Dougherty.

coverTripp also recommends Eric Bergerud’s Touched With Fire: “It concerns the land war in New Guinea and the Solomons. The fighting differed from Europe in a number of ways. For one it is tropical, making the fight somewhat similar to Vietnam. For another the two sides were more closely matched in air and sea power which forced the US to fight differently. It’s an excellent read.” coverSteve also suggests Russia’s War by Richard Overy, “a very good overview of the Russian Front” and Five Days in London by John Lukacs “about the period immediately following Dunkirk, when any sane nation would have sued for peace and the British decided to fight on alone,” and says that “William Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich sets the standard and rightly so. For a thousand page tome it is incredibly readable and never less than fascinating.” Sand Storm also recommends Shirer, but S. Dougherty says “it was poor history by the time it was published.”

coverAnother controversial pick is Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose, which Sand Storm liked, but S. Dougherty suggests steering clear. Sand Storm also liked a pair of biographies, Patton by Ladislas Farago and American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur by William Manchester, as well as In Harms Way by Doug Stanton about the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis in shark-infested waters. Bryan D. Catherman suggests Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley. Don Napoli recommends Serenade to the Big Bird by Bert Stiles who was killed in action during the war. coverKate S. likes Paul Fussell’s Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War as well as Uwe Timm’s In My Brother’s Shadow: A Life and Death in the SS, “an extraordinarily powerful memoir that has to do more with the aftermath in Germany than with the war itself.” “For a more personal look at the war,” CRwM recommends Studs Terkel’s The Good War: “I’m a sucker for almost any Terkel book, but this one stands out even that body of excellent works.”

coverCHatten has “a couple of other suggestions on the eastern front, a side of the war which Americans tend to not know much about. Years ago I read a book by a German war correspondent: it’s just called Stalingrad by Heinz Schroter. It’s doubtless out of print and it’s journalism more than history and only from the German side. But still, it’s worth reading. The author was at the battle and the horrific stories and sheer immediacy conveyed by the book gives you a real sense of what it was like to endure this military disaster from the German side. I recently also read Writer at War by Vasily Grossman. Grossman was a Russian writer who worked as a war correspondent; most of the book is excerpts from his journals and reporting. Again, there’s some vivid writing about the unbelievably horrible eastern front, and the entire book gives you a sense of the mixture of idealism and brutality which characterized the Soviet side of that monumental conflict.” Grossman’s newly rereleased novel also appears on our fiction list. coverS. Dougherty has four suggestions, The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer, “an engrossing memoir written by a German soldier.” “Ian Kershaw’s recent biography of Hitler is excellent — though there are other good ones, his is bifurcated and the second volume deals with the 1936-1945 time period, which fits your bill nicely.” A World at Arms by Gerhard Weinberg is “massive and slow-going, but comprehensive).” Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning is about “the banality of evil — a look at the killing squads that moved through Poland in the wake of the fighting.”

Really great suggestions everybody. I’ll be bookmarking this post as well. Obviously this list could go on forever, but if you have anything to add, please leave us suggestions in the comments.

Update: Lynne Scanlon suggests the first book on the list by a female author. To War with Whitaker by The Countess of Ranfurly is “a diary of an audacious woman who manages to follow her soldier husband to the Middle East. Whitaker is the “faithful servant” who accompanies them. Fascinating. Funny. Fraught.” It was recommended to her by Grumpy Old Bookman.

See Also: World War 2 Fiction

created and edits The Millions. He is co-editor of the collection of essays The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books, called "funny, poignant, relentlessly thought-provoking" by The Atlantic. He and his family live in New Jersey. If you'd like to correspond, please don't hesitate to email.

9 comments:

  1. I am currently reading flags of our fathers…

    it is written with a very interesting perspective…

    also get reading it so you can read it before Eastwood's film adaptation of it comes out.

    –RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com

  2. This is a great list. Thank you for remembering a subject that has so changed the face of our world. Readers often overlook the subject of war, but there are few subjects that deeply change a man (or woman) as war. And it's change, conflict, or some other high emotion that books spend so many pages on. Thanks again for taking an interest in the subject.

  3. No problem, Bryan. I'll admit that I'm entertained by the subject matter, but I also think that it's important to read about war because it is perhaps the only good way to understand what it means to be in a war without actually being in one. It helps us take sending our countrymen to war less lightly.

  4. Thought you might like to know that some questions have been raised about the authenticity of The Forgotten Soldier.

    Someone who's interested in the Eastern front from the German individual soldier's perspective might want to look at In Deadly Combat by Bidermann, Feuer by Adamo, and Frontsoldaten
    I'd add some submarine captain memoirs. Take Her Deep by R. O'Kane is a good one
    And let's not forget about Burma. Quartered Safe Out Here by G. Fraser (the author of the Flashman series)is a good choice.
    A few others worth looking at are Shattered Sword by Parshal and Tully (about the Battle of Midway) and Empires in the Balance and The Javelin and the Barrier both by HP Willmott, both are about the strategy of US and Japan in the early part of WW2.
    Correlli Barnett's Collapse of British Power, isn't strictly about WW2, but it has some interesting insights into WW2 from the British perspective.

    AYY

  5. I am 32 and had a grandfather in the war. I am canadian. this is the most interesting subject I can find as I find non fictoin is caught up with dates and facts and misses the essence(incorrect spelling) of what happened. I think it is a tragedy as my father does that we have not feced such circumstances. it would shape a man. sometime leads to alchahoism. there is a great tri by a canadian. I dont know his name. easy to find. blew me away. I never thought to check the net for good books. I am always looking for a good read. please help. [email protected] com

  6. once again its jsherritt76. I have never done this. The book about the USS. Indy broke my heart. Stalin was also great. this is what I like. Thank you. I am from southern ontario and now live in north vancouver.

  7. even some current books non fiction on that son of a bithch(a bit racy) Slobadan Molosabitch. I had the honor of seeing him the Hauge. My sister maried a Duch cop. it was very impressive how they deal with these criminals of war.

  8. I just read the "please note". Please post what I have to say as I feel I represent A substantial portion of my demographic. They know nothing of the TWO great wars. Less we forget. maybe I am just old fashioned.

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