Reading List: World War 2 Fiction

May 23, 2006 | 1 book mentioned 14 2 min read

Last week you guys left some excellent recommendations for World War II books on my post about Rick Atikinson’s An Army At Dawn. As promised, here is a post devoted to those recommendations. These books all sound great; I know I’ll be bookmarking this post and selecting books from it for years to come. I was especially excited by the number of novels that were recommended, so I’ll start with a post about those before moving on to non-fiction tomorrow.

coverCorelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres was recommended by a couple of people. An anonymous commenter wrote that the book “is the story of a Greek island that comes under the control of the Italians and then the Germans in WWII. It’s a fantastic read and one of those relatively untold stories of the war you were mentioning.” coverSteve recommends some intriguing genre fiction that takes place during the war era: “Philip Kerr wrote three detective novels that have been anthologized under the title Berlin Noir. They are set in Berlin in 1933, 1938 or so (just prior to Kristallnacht) and in post-war Berlin around 1946. Spectacular – Kerr hasn’t written anything close to this good since, but these are just fantastic. The changes in German society over the course of the three books are worth the price of admission by themselves, and the stories are quite good.” Steve also recommends J. Robert Janes, Alan Furst, and Eric Ambler along those same lines.

coverDon Napoli reminds about some classic novels that center on the war: The Naked and The Dead by Norman Mailer, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw, The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk, A Bell for Adano by John Hersey, Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener, Guard of Honor by James Gould Cozzens, and A Walk in the Sun by Harry Brown. To that list, I would add Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

coverThe Happy Booker suggests Articles of War by Nick Arvin: “This new novel was inspired by Arvin’s grandfather’s service in WWll. I’ve heard it compared to Red Badge of Courage.” And finally, Kate S. suggests Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader, and S. Dougherty suggests The Book Thief by Markus Zuzek. So, non-fiction will be up tomorrow. Thanks for all the great suggestions and if anyone wants to make this list a work in progress, feel free to suggest more books in the comments.

Update: Laurie suggests The Thin Red Line by James Jones. She also proposes that we look to other countries for fiction about the war. For a Russian view, try Life & Fate by Vasily Grossman, a thick novel on the siege of Stalingrad finished in 1959 that never saw print in Russia in his lifetime. Along those lines I’d also suggest Vassily Aksynov’s Generations of Winter, a sprawling Russian epic, the last part of which takes place during the war. I wrote about it last year. Laurie also points to a terrific bibliography of World War II novels from a community college library in Kansas City.

coverUpdate 2: A new World War II novel has just come out. It’s called Suite Francaise and it’s by Irene Nemirovsky. The book consists of the first two parts of what was intended to be a five-novel suite about the war in France. Nemirovsky started the book in 1940 but in the summer of 1942 she was sent to Auschwitz where she died. Her manuscript surfaced after being lost for more than 60 years. Scott read the book and liked it.

See Also: World War 2 Nonfiction

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. "The Thin Red Line" by James Jones comes to mind.

    Since it was a *world* war, maybe you also better include more than just one non-American author. A good list that includes writers from Albania, Germany, Korea, Japan, Poland, Malaysia and just about every country hit by the war (though strangely no Russian authors) is available from the Billington Library in Overland Park, Kansas (and likely elsewhere, too, if you Google a little):

    For a Russian view, try "Life & Fate" by Vasily Grossman, a thick novel on the siege of Stalingrad finished in 1959 that never saw print in Russia in his lifetime. An English-language edition has just been reissued in paperback (May 2006).

  2. To War with Whitaker by The Countess of Ranfurly, 1939-1945. Grumpy Old Bookman recommended it recently. I bought it online. I can't put it down! It's 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.–
    Lynne AKA The Wicked Witch of Publishing

  3. Now, how about a list of books on the First World War. Obviously, All Quiet on the Western Front, would be required reading, but anything else out there?

    I just finished Shaara's To the Last Man, and found that it was dull and incoherent drivel. Anything better out there?

  4. If we're listing WW2 fiction, can I recommend "The Cruel Sea" by Nicolas Monsarrat – in my opinion, one of the greatest, most honest and believable novels about naval combat. Another novel in a similar vein, is "Das Boot" by Lothar-Günther Buchheim. Albeit from the German perspective.

    World War One novels are also interesting – recommended would be "Johnny Got His Gun" by Dalton Trumbo, "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" by T E Lawrence, the "Regeneration" Trilogy by Pat Barker and "Birdsong" by Sebastian Faulks.


  5. Looking for fiction or non-fiction British books about the bombing of London during WWII. Any ideas?


  6. Half: Re WWI, Try Ernst Junger's non fiction Storm of Steel.

    Another one of Monsarrat's to read is Three Corvettes.


  7. I’m interested in fiction that takes place in the years between WW1 and WW2, especially anything set in the Balkans or in the Middle East. Any thoughts?

  8. A Bell for Adano and Slaughterhouse-Five are two of my favorite books of all time, not just WWII novels. I also really like Jim Proebstle’s Fatal Incident ( – it’s about the 1944 plane crash that happened in Alaska. None of the bodies were ever found and the story’s kind of a mystery. I like Proebstle’s version of what happened- it’s really engaging and interesting.

  9. A new author that a lot of people miss is David Andrew Westwood. He’s just released books 4 and 5 in his World War Two Series, Deauvenoy, 1939 and Valdinato, 1943. They’re only available as eBooks.

  10. am looking for a ww2 book i read in the 80’s. it is called “runner’, about 2 american soldiers in the battle of the bulge,. one was a full blooded indian, the other a new drafty. does anybody know this book

  11. A great book I read recently is ‘Sofiah’ by Rob Shepherd – well worth tracking down. It tells the stroy of two soldiers on opposing sides and the ending is worth waiting for.

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