Six short years were all it took to permanently change the course of our history. The old order of European dominance was over and in its place was a bipolar world lead by superpowers. World War 2 shaped many lives and destroyed even more. Perhaps due to this the conflict even today remains a subject of public fascination. More books are written on the World War 2 than on any other topic in history. If the genre strikes your fancy, we’ve saved you the research and compiled a list of the best books on World War 2.
Also worth reading: 10 Books Every History Buff Should Read
11. The Miracle of Dunkirk
Amazing and unexpected heroism . . . well worth reading. —Milwaukee Sentinel
Walter Lord had been well known for his deeply engaging and meticulously researched accounts on some of the history’s most pivotal events. The Miracle of Dunkirk: The True Story of Operation Dynamo proves to be no exception. Through masterful narration, Lord details the events as they unfolded at Dunkirk, the place where the remnants of the defeated Allies made their stand as they evacuated. One minor critic that can be made of the book is that mostly written through the British viewpoint, with the French and German perspective not given their fair share of the spotlight.
10. The Last Panther – Slaughter of the Reich
As the Red Army blitzed through the Eastern Front towards Berlin, German troops along with countless civilians en masse fled to the relative safety of the Allied-occupied West Germany. The Last Panther – Slaughter of the Reich is an incredible firsthand account by Faust of his experience in the besieged Halbe Kessel as part of the German 9th Army. Written with exceptional clarity, Faust perfectly captures the brutality and horrors that characterized the frantic breakout, as the exhausted German troops made one final push against the overwhelming and vengeful Soviet forces in hope of reaching American held territory. Impactful, graphic and fast-paced, this is how one can describe Faust’s excellent work. However, there are a few inaccuracies, due to Faust writing largely from memory.
9. Panzer Commander
Hans Von Luck
A personal memoir of the war and the days in the Soviet labor camps, Hans Von Luck writes of his experience with vivid details and gentleman’s sincerity. A decorated tank commander, he saw engagement in such places as Poland, El Alamein, Normandy on D-Day and finally in the ill-fated Eastern Front. His writing is nicely paced, enjoyable to read and avoids getting bogged down by technicalities. More than just an interesting war story, Luck account presents an eye-opening perspective of the conflict from the eyes of a German officer.
8. The Things Our Fathers Saw Volume 1
In 6 short years, the world witnessed destruction unparalleled in history. When the guns finally fell silent, nearly 70 million lives had been lost and entire cities leveled into rubble. The Things Our Fathers Saw -Volume I: Voices of the Pacific Theater gives you the never before told accounts of young Americans who fought in the Pacific Theater, the horrors they endured and the sacrifices they made. In one account, we witness the dilemma a young 19-year-old marine must face as he receives his mother’s call, 5000 miles away, unable to tell her that he has become permanently blind. In another, we see a POW enduring the most inhuman of treatment, defiant to death’s embrace. Each memoir is gripping and a stark reminder of how brutal war can be. The book is easy to follow with maps and images to help with understanding. Upon finishing it, you’ll both be humbled and gain a newfound respect for your war veterans.
7. D-Day through the German eyes
A personal favorite, D-Day through the German eyes – The Hidden Story of June 6th 1944 is a rare account of that fateful from the German perspective. Often portrayed no more that faceless mass of an adversary, Echkertz’s work humanizes the German defenders, exploring their motivations, fear and thoughts as they faced the largest seaborne invasion launched in the mankind’s history.
An Amazon Bestseller, the book is a rewarding read, which is sure to change the way one thinks about war.
6. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
William L. Shirer
One of the most important works of history of our time. – The New York Times
A critical bestseller and winner of the US National Book Award, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany is a definitive work of non-fiction on one of the darkest chapters in Germany’s history. Written in an engaging narrative style, with attention to detail and impeccable scholarship, Shirer’s book has become a cult classic with virtually everything on the topic being covered: from the birth of Adolf Hitler to the end of World War 2.
The book was first published in 1957, 12 years after the fall of the Reich, yet 50 years on, it still remains an insightful reading, with most of Shirer’s material being derived directly from primary sources and his own experience living in Nazi Germany.
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is one monster of a book, however, comprising 1614 pages so make sure you have enough reading stamina to finish it.
5. The Rising Sun
A Pulitzer Prize Winner, The Rising Sun: The Decline & Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-45 narrates the dramatic rise of Japan as an imperial power and its eventual downfall with the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Riveting and factual in detail, John Toland’s masterwork tells the story from the rarely heard Japanese perspective, of the jingoism that prevailed in society and the rationale that led them to war.
Toland aims to engage his audience in the bigger picture in his narration but doesn’t fail to remind them of the individuals, big and small, who make up the story. As such, The Rising Sun, while a well-research scholarly piece of work, does a great job at humanizing the characters within. One minor caveat of the book is Toland’s handling of the Sino-Japanese war, of which Toland does not give much detail to do justice. Nevertheless, the book remains a colossus within the genre. It is a recommended reading for anyone interested in the Pacific Theater of World War 2.
4. The Holocaust: History and Memory
Black has produced a balanced and precise work that is true to the scholarship, comprehensive yet not overwhelming, clearly written and beneficial for the expert and informed public alike. ―Jewish Book Council
Deprived of their rights, their humanity and finally their existence, the Holocaust reminds of the worst of mankind. A powerful, concise and scholastic account of the terrible atrocity, Black’s The Holocaust: History and Memory deconstructs the myths and writes, with compelling evidence, how Hitler’s war was entwined with his goal of exterminating the Jewish people. Taking a step further, Black also puts stress on what extent all of Europe was complicit in the unfolding of the tragedy, something many historians shy away from. Lastly, he reminds the dangers of not learning from history and the consequences it brings. Whether an expert on the subject or a layperson, Black’s balanced and brilliantly put together study of the Holocaust is well worth the money.
The colossal scale of Stalingrad, the megalomania, the utter absurdity, the sheer magnitude of the carnage in what many military historians see as the turning point in the war, are marvelously captured – Richard Bernstein, in The New York Times
Stalingrad was more than just a bitter battle fought between two opposing armies; it was a turning point of the war in Europe and beginning of Hitler’s downfall. The most brutal battle on the Eastern front, when the smoke cleared, nearly a million were dead. Antony Beevor in his book – Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege, 1942–1943 – perfectly captures the inhuman conditions, unprecedented brutality and gallantry that characterized the conflict. It is a painful book to read, recounting the full horrors of Stalingrad but an unforgettable one.
One minor quip of Antony’s work is regarding the pace of the narrative; he tries to cover too much content in too few pages, leaving readers little room to breathe. However, this is made up by Beevor’s brilliant novelistic flair, vividly describing the details of the events as they unfold.
Winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize, the Wolfson History Prize and the Hawthornden Prize for Literature, if you are after a book on the subject that will keep you engaged from page to page then look no further.
2. The Guns at Last Light
A magnificent book…[Atkinson] is an absolute master of his material. ― The Wall Street Journal
The conclusion to Atkinson’s incredible Liberation Trilogy, The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 details the final chapter of the war on the Western Front and the eventual victory of the Allies over Nazi Germany. In a span of a year following D-day, the Allies managed to push through Normandy and to liberate France, halt the last major German offensive at Ardennes and pressed on into the very heart of the Evil Empire. Atkinson, in his masterly narrative, revisits the heroic deeds and daring gambles that made victory possible, telling the story from all perspectives, from the veteran general to that of a callow rifleman. Vivid, stirring and gritty, this is how to one best describes the book’s contents. The author had already set the bar high with his previous two, with The Guns at Last Light he managed to outdo himself.
1. The Second World War Series
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, the 6 volume series is a universally acclaimed masterpiece authored by the Statesman Winston Churchill himself. It itself is an excellent primary source, with Churchill obtaining his material from his personal notes and his access to official documents, a privilege he enjoyed during his career as a politician. Written with a scholarly yet engaging prose, Churchill’s narrative is primarily a personal perspective on the War with the focus being on the British war effort.
It should be noted that Churchill in his work, due to political considerations, could not reveal certain details, which have now become public knowledge. State secrets such as the Allied planning of the Atom Bomb are intentionally left out. Younger readers may also come across words that may be unfamiliar; no longer common terms in today’s English. Despite these minor deficiencies, the series is a worthy investment.
More than just history, the books engage the reader on many levels with lessons about leadership, crisis management, maintaining morale, and many other aspects of life in difficult times. Moreover, the series remains unique in the fact that it is the only case of a firsthand account of World War 2 by one of its leading participants.
Best Books On World War 2 History