Pony Queen Jace

Looking for WWI or WWII Book Recommendations

81 posts in this topic

Welp, I recently discovered the treasure that is Audiobooks, and in general am reading more than I have in years. Over the last month or so I've wrapped up an in-depth account of Alexander's campaigns in Asia, listened to a brief but enjoyable account of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium), listened to GoT, read CoK and SoS then petered out on Feast. I listened to half of the first Mistborn book again, and am considering getting the Harry Potter series on audible.

Now that you're all suitably shocked that I can, in fact, read at an eighth grade level I wondered if you guys could help me find something on WWI or II.

I've never been particularly interested in war after the fall of the empire, I always found guns lacking in... a 'romantic' way. Very impersonal, guns. Anyways, I recently bought the new Battlefield game and was almost immediately interested in the setting. I'm not a complete moron about the conflicts, but my knowledge is admittedly severely lacking.

Anyways, good accounts of WWI and/or II is what I'm after and would appreciate any recommendations. I've never been particularly interested in the Pacific theater, I'll admit, and do have a certain facistnation (eh? eh?) with Europe but am equally interested in those damn Ottomans who overran my beloved empire in Asia.

So yeah, anyone got any recommendations? I'm shit at googling and am afraid of librarians. If it's available in Audible that'd be a plus, as I can then listen at work or in class, but that's only a bonus.

Thanks in advance.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The most powerful book I've ever read on WWII is The Nine Hundred Days by Harrison E. Salisbury, about the Siege of Leningrad. It completely pushes your understanding of what human beings are capable of doing to survive to new levels. Harrowing, powerful, incredibly grim but also uplifting.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer is a very good general overview of both the military conflict and the lead-up to it. It's written in a novelistic fashion and Shirer was an American journalist working in Berlin up to the outbreak of US-German hostilities, which means he was an eyewitness to quite a lot of events which adds a lot.

Both of those books are old (both pubilished in the 1950s and 1960s, and the early parts were written alongside the conflict) so they lack the modern historiography and greater access to records. Of the modern books on the conflicts, John Keegan's overview of WWI (just called The First World War) is very hard to beat and Antony Beevor's books on Stalingrad and Berlin (Stalingrad and Berlin: The Downfall) are very strong works.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Not sure if these are available on audiobook or not, but I really enjoyed the Cornelius Ryan Trilogy, primarily A Bridge Too Far and The Longest Day. They are a bit dry in spots, as Ryan is a journalist and he's attempting to write the most accurate account of these battles possible. He painstakingly interviews hundreds of soldiers and officers on both sides of the conflict in an attempt to piece together exactly what happened and how. Pretty fascinating stuff.

 https://www.amazon.com/Cornelius-Trilogy-Bridge-Longest-Battle/dp/B000IE8MIU

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

the keegan WWI is slick, brief, useful.  a cool leftist explanation of the transition from WWI to WWII and beyond is hudson's superimperialism, regarding the economics of the wars.  macmillan's paris 1919 concerns the peace conference. osman's dream by finkel takes up your ottomans from the inception, through WWI.

 

in addition to shirer, required reading is lemkin's axis rule in occupied europe and neumann's behemoth, both contemporary accounts of the third reich by european attorneys in exile in the US.  

useful local chapters on both wars in zinn's people's history of the US, morton's people's history of england, and nzongola-ntalaya's people's history of the congo, medvedev's let history judge (re: the soviets), misha glenny's the balkans, and aburish's brutal friendship (re: arabia).

simpson's blowback chronicles how the US rescued and hired nazi war criminals post-war.

herf's reactionary modernism is an account of the NSDAP.  paxton's anatomy of fascism and griffin's modernism and fascism are generalized accountings of the movement. loftus & aarons' secret war against the jews carries through both wars. carlton's unfit is a history of eugenics, so much coverage of the NSDAP.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Werthead said:

The most powerful book I've ever read on WWII is The Nine Hundred Days by Harrison E. Salisbury, about the Siege of Leningrad. It completely pushes your understanding of what human beings are capable of doing to survive to new levels. Harrowing, powerful, incredibly grim but also uplifting.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer is a very good general overview of both the military conflict and the lead-up to it. It's written in a novelistic fashion and Shirer was an American journalist working in Berlin up to the outbreak of US-German hostilities, which means he was an eyewitness to quite a lot of events which adds a lot.

Both of those books are old (both pubilished in the 1950s and 1960s, and the early parts were written alongside the conflict) so they lack the modern historiography and greater access to records. Of the modern books on the conflicts, John Keegan's overview of WWI (just called The First World War) is very hard to beat and Antony Beevor's books on Stalingrad and Berlin (Stalingrad and Berlin: The Downfall) are very strong works.

Thanks, Wert. I've written these down and I think I'll see if I feel up to staying at work until Barnes and Noble opens so I can swing by there in the morning.

2 hours ago, Manhole Eunuchsbane said:

Not sure if these are available on audiobook or not, but I really enjoyed the Cornelius Ryan Trilogy, primarily A Bridge Too Far and The Longest Day. They are a bit dry in spots, as Ryan is a journalist and he's attempting to write the most accurate account of these battles possible. He painstakingly interviews hundreds of soldiers and officers on both sides of the conflict in an attempt to piece together exactly what happened and how. Pretty fascinating stuff.

 https://www.amazon.com/Cornelius-Trilogy-Bridge-Longest-Battle/dp/B000IE8MIU

The Last Battle in particular has caught my eye, thanks.

1 hour ago, sologdin said:

the keegan WWI is slick, brief, useful.  a cool leftist explanation of the transition from WWI to WWII and beyond is hudson's superimperialism, regarding the economics of the wars.  macmillan's paris 1919 concerns the peace conference. osman's dream by finkel takes up your ottomans from the inception, through WWI.

 

in addition to shirer, required reading is lemkin's axis rule in occupied europe and neumann's behemoth, both contemporary accounts of the third reich by european attorneys in exile in the US.  

useful local chapters on both wars in zinn's people's history of the US, morton's people's history of england, and nzongola-ntalaya's people's history of the congo, medvedev's let history judge (re: the soviets), misha glenny's the balkans, and aburish's brutal friendship (re: arabia).

simpson's blowback chronicles how the US rescued and hired nazi war criminals post-war.

herf's reactionary modernism is an account of the NSDAP.  paxton's anatomy of fascism and griffin's modernism and fascism are generalized accountings of the movement. loftus & aarons' secret war against the jews carries through both wars. carlton's unfit is a history of eugenics, so much coverage of the NSDAP.

So, I want to ask the following question with appropriate respect. Are these books for someone like me? I'm, ya' know, I'm me right? I just don't want to pick up a bunch of books and be completely unable to make heads or tails of the material.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Do you guys know of 'A World Undone' by G.J. Meyer? It's available on audible so I could download it before I head to work and looks promising.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am not well versed in the field but a very readable and not too long book on the beginning and first weeks of WW I is Tuchman's "The Guns of August". Among the most famous fiction books (also not that long and readable) is Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One of the best written books about WW2 that I have ever read is The Battle of Britain by James Holland. It concerns itself not just about the aerial battles over Britain but also the events leading upto it like the Fall of France and parallel events like the Battle of the Atlantic. 

A big yes for Beevor. Stalingrad is an excellent book. Tuchman's Guns of August is  a very readable account of the leadup to and the first months of WW1. Another book on the same subject is The Marne by Holger Herwig. 

If you are interested in naval affairs, try Castles of Steel by Robert K Massie about the Royal Navy in WW1. 

For WW2 I highly recommend Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors and Neptune's Inferno - about the Leyte Gulf and Guadalcanal. 

For some details on Russia's role in WW2. Try Richard Overy's Russia's War. 

If you are interested in Hitler, try Ian Kershaw who has done a very detailed study.

A less mentioned part of WW2 is the bombing campaign over Germany which led to tragedies like the incineration of Dresden. Bomber Command by Max Hastings is an old but good place to start. There are more recent books but I can't remember right now. 

In fiction, All Quiet on the Western Front, and the book I am reading right now - Nicholas Monsarrat's The Cruel Sea about the forgotten Flower class Corvettes which fought to protect the Atlantic convoys. 

I don't know if you have ever read Alastair Maclean, but read HMS Ulysses - about an  Arctic convoy to Russia - one of the most harrowing passages of the war. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

HMS Ulysses is probably the best book by MacLean, certainly the darkest of the ones I read. Some others are fun but considerably lighter reading and usually cold war/espionage settings (Ice station Zebra) although a few more are also set in WW II, like Guns of Navarone.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

An even easier introduction to WWI is the spectacular podcast of Dan Carlin. He has a 6-episode show on the War, called Blueprint for Armageddon. It’s free, even! http://www.dancarlin.com/product/hardcore-history-50-blueprint-for-armageddon-i/

For books, there plenty of good ideas above. 

I recently read Peter Hart’s The Somme: The Darkest Hour on the Western Front, but won’t recommend it (very, very narrow in scope, and very, very British in perspective). On the other hand, Anna Reid’s Leningrad was fantastic and I recommend it highly (does for Leningrad what Beevor does for Stalingrad, or Finding Nemo did for clown fish).

 

Edited by Happy Ent

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sean McMeekin has some readable writing on the Ottomans in WW1 - The Berlin-Baghdad Express is my personal favorite for having, you know, a train in it, but also a lot of detail on a  bunch of other oddball side theaters throughout the Middle East in particular. David Fromkin's Peace to End All Peace is a somewhat older book in a similar vein, looking at Ottoman politics and entry into the war. There's some new writing about the Brits in the mid east as well, focused Lawrence of Arabia (Lawrence in Arabia, Scott Anderson) or Gertrude Bell (Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, by Georgina Howell.) (All of this is pretty light, at least, lightly and readably written, not super-academic stuff.) The Orientalist, by Tom Reiss, is another good biography that gives a different human perspective on WW1 as well, though more tangentially. 

For WW2, I really enjoyed Ivan's War, by Catherine Merridale, and Leningrad, by Anna Reid, for the Russian front - both are more social histories, not so much military ones - the former of the experience and memory of front line soldiers, the latter of civilian Leningrad during the siege. Both well written (Merridale is a little more methodology-focused, since she's working from fairly recent interviews and that's a part of the story, not just straight-up narrative of the war.) Since they're about Russia, they're both also, well, appalling and grim. But that's kinda it for Russia. 

Lizzie Collingham's Taste of War is about all aspects of food in WW2 and is unbelievably fascinating in about nineteen billion ways. It's a weirdly radical perspective to take and it delivers a completely different and new narrative and set of information from anything else I've ever read about WW2. 

If you're looking for fiction, I was oddly impressed by A Sailor of Austria, by John Biggins, about the Austro-Hungarian Submarine Corps during WW1, which is a weirdly dry tragi-comedy, and, as far as I can tell, meticulously in terms of historical detail. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Datepalm said:

Lizzie Collingham's Taste of War is about all aspects of food in WW2 and is unbelievably fascinating in about nineteen billion ways.

This sounds great. (I hope it’s not a recipe collection.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'd endorse the recommendations above.

Max Hastings' book on the last years of the war in the East, Nemesis, is excellent too, if harrowing in places.  Even more harrowing is The Knights of Bushido, by Edward Russell (one chapter is entitled Torture, Cannibalism, and Vivisection), but still the classic account of atrocities by the Imperial Japanese Army.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 hours ago, Pony Queen Jace said:

I just don't want to pick up a bunch of books and be completely unable to make heads or tails of the material.

most of the ones that i noted are standard history in terms of rigor.  anything 'people's history' will be in-your-face leftist, but normally will stay within range of popularizing historian readability.

neumann and griffin have a bit more theoretical complexity, whereas lemkin and neumann are more heavily law-related. hudson is economics/banking, so some labor-intensity.  herf and paxton are analytical rather than chronological, but are geneally readable.

these ones singled out as non-standard I'd recommend most stridently, of course.

Edited by sologdin

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Happy Ent said:

This sounds great. (I hope it’s not a recipe collection.)

Definitely read it. I think I need to re-read it - its got everything from the starvations policies of the Third Reich in Eastern Europe to British logistic chains throughout the empire to class and national tensions over food allowances in allied armies to how the French countryside retreated into medieval farming practices for self sufficiency with lots of thorny hedges.

Speaking of Max Hastings, All Hell Let Loose is an enjoyable one-volume social history of WW2. (I think it was called Armageddon or Inferno or something like that in the US.) 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

While it's not an audiobook, the graphic novel The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks is pretty good.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I recently listened to Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, which is WW2 historical fiction.  I enjoyed the audiobook a lot, interesting story, good women characters, and some delightful use of unreliable narrator. 

My favorite WW2 book of all time is Japan at War: An Oral History.  Tons of amazing interviews with Japanese soldiers and civilians that gives an incredible account of the war from the Japanese perspective. 

My favorite WW1 book is already mentioned, the unimaginatively named The First World War by John Keegan. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'll second Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August and really anything by her. Her The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 and The Zimmerman Telegraph are also informative. She writes excellent narrative history.

I would also suggest some of the memoirs of the Great War such as Robert Graves' Goodbye to All That and Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth.

Maybe Alistair Horne's The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 (Horne wrote a trilogy on Franco-German relations and conflict, if that interests you.)

All of those books deal with the Western Front and they also may be a bit more specific than what you are looking for initially. I generally like to start with broad overviews of historical events or time periods and then focus on particular elements I am more interested in after grasping the general history. Hell, even starting with simple internet searches.

There are some wonderful documentaries on the subject and IMO these are one of the most accessible entry points to learning more about history. Netlix has a wonderful anecdotal BBC series on WWI based on the diaries of participants, The Great War Diary.

If you are a gamer, I've had my eye on  Valiant Hearts for a while now. It was recently on sale on Steam for a very low price, but the UPlay account requirements kept me from purchasing it. If that requirement is ever removed, I'll jump on that game.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Good question, as there are so very many books written about the Wars.

A summation of Max Hastings work as a writer and historian of WW2 is his book Inferno. It covers the entire war, a lot from the perspective of ordinary people. I'd highly recommend reading this.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just wanted to say thanks to every for their recommendations, I didn't feel up to it today but I'm going to Barnes and Noble tomorrow after class armed with a list.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now