weblog/wEssays     archives     home

Reader's Choice: World War II books   (October 12, 2007)

Knowledgeable reader Lloyd L. submitted a wonderful list of books on World War II in response to Monday's entry:

Given the current interest in WWII and your seeding the topic with the book list of October 8, I offer these additional selective recommendations for serious students of this conflict. I have read all of them, and can compare with many others of this type in my role as a would-be military historian. As far as I know, all of these are currently available from one outlet or another. I will limit my "reviews" to save space.

Flights of Passage: Recollections of a World War II Aviator
Samuel Hynes
You may have seen Sam Hynes in (the PBS series) "The War". His writing is as thoughtful as his onscreen remarks were. A very good portrayal of what it meant to qualify and fly as an "underage" military pilot in the Pacific. George H. W. Bush was not alone.

Thank God for the Atom Bomb
Paul Fussell
One of my very favorite authors; please look into his other works. This book is a good essay on why the WWII generation welcomed this gruesome scientific "achievement". Fussell is a very gifted writer -- his "The Great War and Modern Memory" is a masterpiece (WWI and the lives and death of the British "soldier-poets").

We Few: The Marine Corps 400 in the War Against Japan
Bill Dickenson
A straightforward and interesting tale of a unique, special group of young USMC officers-to-be as the Pacific battles killed off those they would replace, and what happened to them. I had a relative in this group -- he was 19 when commissioned as a 2dLt, and wounded severely at 20 on Okinawa.

My Father's War: A Son's Journey
Peter Richmond
A moving tale, well done -- young newsman decides to visit the trail of his now deceased father, set in the island battles. Since his father was a very early participant in the Solomons struggle, and the holder of high decorations for valor, his piecing together of the story is quite fascinating. Good and worthwhile account; fine writing.

Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb
George Feifer
This is by far one of the best military history volumes I have ever enjoyed. Very large, incredibly detailed but easily read, this professor of history dissects the tragedy that was Okinawa from every angle, with much space devoted to the suffering of the civilian population. Please do not miss this book if you are interested in our war with Japan.

Helmet For My Pillow
Robert Leckie
A sometimes humorous and delightful though sobering early WWII personal account by a talented writer. Young men rushing into the Marines and their extremely hard existence in the years that followed.

Iwo Jima: Legacy of Valor
Bill Ross
Of the many books covering the Iwo Jima assault, this is one of the best, penned by a combat correspondent. Accurate and informative. Fewer personal anecdotes and more tactical day-by-day commentary.

The Peenemunde Raid: The Night of 17-18 August 1943
Martin Middlebrook
Take a good look at all of Middlebrook's works -- they are exceptional, including his many efforts covering WWI. This particular book presents in terrific detail the British Royal Air Force attempts to eliminate the V-rocket experimental center in north Germany. The impacts on RAF aircrew and military and civilians at the German facility are very soundly researched and dramatically presented.

Tarawa: The Story of a Battle
Robert Sherrod
A classic of direct observation war reporting by a talented newsman. Sherrod was in the landing boats and under fire with the Marines as they were cut to pieces in this 1943 assault. Horrifying and fascinating. Very little of this battle and its true casualties was revealed to the American public until later in the war.

Stopped at Stalingrad: The Luftwaffe and Hitler's Defeat in the East, 1942-1943
Joel Hayward
One of the best of many books on Stanlingrad -- this one takes in the role of the Luftwaffe in considerable detail, with many formerly unknown disclosures. For the ground battle in detail, try Cornelius Ryan.

Saving the Breakout: The 30th Division's Heroic Stand at Mortain, August 7-12, 1944
Alwyn Featherston
This is a riveting tale of smaller US Army units in the days following the D-Day invasion at Normandy. Mortain was a critical road junction and the heroism of the US troops holding without reinforcement against strong German attacks is one of the lesser-known actions of the war in Europe.

Hell in Hürtgen Forest: The Ordeal and Triumph of an American Infantry Regiment
Robert Rush
Another long, deadly and demoralizing part of the campaign in Europe involving tired US divisions against Germans resolved to keep them out of the Fatherland. Rush presents valuable information clarifying the lack of tactical skill exhibited by US generals and the effects on the ground forces. Hurtgen Forest was hell, most certainly, but is typically overshadowed by combat in the "Bulge".

A Bridge Too Far: The Classic History of the Greatest Battle of World War II
Cornelius Ryan
Another of my favorites; I re-read it every year or so. A massive and detailed work in the Ryan style; numerous personal stories knitted together in a dramatic picture of this failed Allied offensive in Holland. Read the book, and see the movie, if you have not already. Both are rewarding.

The Fall of Berlin 1945
Anthony Beevor
I believe this is superior to many competing books about the battle for and capture of Berlin by the Russian armies in 1945. Beevor is a very gifted historian (has another excellent book on Stalingrad).
Thank you, Lloyd, for the excellent recommendations.

Thank you, Dorothy S., ($50.00) for your very generous donation to this humble site and also for your many insightful commentaries. I am greatly honored by your contribution and readership. All contributors are listed below in acknowledgement of my gratitude.

For more on this subject and a wide array of other topics, please visit my weblog.


copyright © 2007 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.

I would be honored if you linked this wEssay to your site, or printed a copy for your own use.


  weblog/wEssays     home