Pony Queen Jace

Looking for WWI or WWII Book Recommendations

81 posts in this topic

George MacDonald Fraser, the author of the Flashman books (and the screenwriter for Octopussy, if you can imagine) served in the British Army in the Burmese Campaign, a little-known aspect of World War II from which the movie The Bridge Over the River Kwai originates.

He wrote his memoirs of his time in the service as Quartered Safe Out Here, and both the text and the audiobook are outstanding.  The reader for QSOH is "David Case", (aka "Frederick Davidson") who for those connoisseurs of the spoken word was a standard for excellence until his death in 2005.

" Life and death in Nine Section, a small group of hard-bitten and (to modern eyes) possibly eccentric Cumbrian borderers with whom the author, then nineteen, served in the last great land campaign of World War II, when the 17th Black Cat Division captured a vital strong point deep in Japanese territory, held it against counter-attack and spearheaded the final assault in which the Japanese armies were, to quote General Slim, "torn apart"."

He also wrote the "Dand MacNeil" or "MacAuslan" stories about the Gordon Highlanders in the end of World War II and the post-war period, based upon his own experiences, but allegedly fiction so as to protect the individuals described in the stories.  They are some of the funniest but also poignant writing you could ever read about war and camaraderie and life in that period for individuals.  These include the following.

- The General Danced at Dawn (1970)

- McAuslan in the Rough (1974)

- The Sheikh and the Dustbin (1988)

An Omnibus, The Complete McAuslan (HarperCollins 2000)

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If you want to read a European, and to Americans, leftist view of what the world was like in the period before, during, and after World War II, I recommend the fiction of Eric Ambler to your attention.  Here is the Wikipedia list of titles that I would consider "period correct".

Ambler was both an outstanding stylist as well as the creator of some terrific stories who was known for his realism.  Again from Wikipedia, "A recurring theme in Ambler's books is the amateur who finds himself unwillingly in the company of hardened criminals or spies. Typically, the protagonist is out of his depth and often seems for much of the book a bumbling anti-hero, yet eventually manages to surprise himself as well as the professionals by a decisive action that outwits his far more experienced opponents."  

All of these are available on audio book with a variety of different readers.

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I have a (mostly) inactive blog (although this will change next year) devoted to WWI literature/history that has a list of novels, selected histories (in a previous century, I studied WWI/Weimar/pre-WWII German cultural history), movies, poems, etc.  If you're up for a different perspective (wars as cultural events), try reading Paul Fussell or Modris Eksteins' works.  Those put the wars within the framework of modern European/Western cultural trends, plus Fussell's works provide some really neat excerpts of soldier poems, ribald jokes, etc.

But if you just really want a general history of Nazi Germany/WWII, I wouldn't recommend Shirer.  Kershaw, Fest, and Bracher are better choices for overviews of that period.  Oh, and for the love of whatever divinity/-ites/Shatner, do not read Daniel Goldhagen's works without taking copious amounts of salt.

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Try reading Alan Furst. I won't give a list but  I found all of his books on WWII absolutely fascinating. 

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Andrew Roberts' The Storm of War is an excellent WWII history. The Most Dangerous Enemy by Stephen Bungay is a brilliant in-depth history of the Battle of Britain. The best novel I have read covering WWII, though it begins before WWI, is Kate Atkinson's Life After Life. Her companion novel/sequel, A God in Ruins, is also superb, though it also covers the post-war period.

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I just remembered a book to recommend. Enemy at the Gates by William Craig. 

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I forgot to post last night, I got 'The First World War' by John Keegan. I went with my boyfriend and he wanted to get a book about the S.S. and I put a stop to that shit real quick and we settled on 'Panzer Leader' by Heinz Guderian. He's played that World of Tanks game for years, and I don't think I've ever seen him read before but he's already a good way in after only a day. I haven't brought up yet that we were in a building of thousands of books and the only two he had eyes for was one about the most horrifying war criminals since Jannissaries, and one written by a Nazi.

But baby steps, right?

Baby nazi steps... :(

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In terms of fiction, one that has just occurred to me is Unknown Soldier, by Väinö Linna - a bitter, subversive, and often darkly funny look at the Continuation War* between the Soviets and Finland. The 1950s English translation is terrible, but there's a new translation out last year (re-titled Unknown Soldiers).

*Not to be confused with the more famous Winter War. 

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13 hours ago, Pony Queen Jace said:

I forgot to post last night, I got 'The First World War' by John Keegan. I went with my boyfriend and he wanted to get a book about the S.S. and I put a stop to that shit real quick and we settled on 'Panzer Leader' by Heinz Guderian. He's played that World of Tanks game for years, and I don't think I've ever seen him read before but he's already a good way in after only a day. I haven't brought up yet that we were in a building of thousands of books and the only two he had eyes for was one about the most horrifying war criminals since Jannissaries, and one written by a Nazi.

But baby steps, right?

Baby nazi steps... :(

Jannisaries were war criminals? My knowledge of The Ottoman Empire is limited, my own fault, but were they not slaves forced into military service?  Just curious.

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6 minutes ago, maarsen said:

Jannisaries were war criminals? My knowledge of The Ottoman Empire is limited, my own fault, but were they not slaves forced into military service?  Just curious.

I was curious about this assertion, too.

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devsirme was a form of forced labor, but members of the jannisary corps could own substantial property, so it's a bizarre mix of affliction and class entitlement.  i suspect that they were not adherent to the future nuremberg principles and geneva conventions from the 14th century onward.

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Another recommendation for Alan Furst's novels.  "Night Soldiers" is probably my favourite.

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Hmmm, I was really just reaching for a despicable bunch of psychos to add a bit of color and they seemed to fit since as I understand it, the SS was originally devised as the arm of the party leader and then became its own army.

My apologies if that wasn't a good comparison, I did in fact start this thread because I'm ignorant of such things.

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On 28/10/2016 at 0:42 AM, maarsen said:

I just remembered a book to recommend. Enemy at the Gates by William Craig. 

It's good,but suffers from a lack of access to good sources on the Soviet side. Enemy at the Gates is actually probably better-written but Stalingrad is far more exacting in its coverage of the battle and has far more resources to call on.

Quote

'Panzer Leader' by Heinz Guderian. He's played that World of Tanks game for years, and I don't think I've ever seen him read before but he's already a good way in after only a day. I haven't brought up yet that we were in a building of thousands of books and the only two he had eyes for was one about the most horrifying war criminals since Jannissaries, and one written by a Nazi.

That's a good one. Guderian was a constant thorn in Hitler's side because he was completely, 100% immune to Hitler's weird charisma. There'd be a bunch of generals in a room and Hitler would outline some bullshit insane plan and everyone else, even solid military commanders, would be like, "Oh, that's amazing" and Guderian would step up and say "That's horseshit." Hitler fired him about four times, but always recalled him because he was good at his job. Guderian was also pretty honest in that he stole the basic idea behind Blitzkrige from the work of British tacticians (who couldn't even get listened in London) from before the war.

He wasn't a nice guy and, although he wasn't a dyed-in-the-wool believer in Nazism, he still signed up to the regime, but he's one of the more interesting and sensible historical figures on the German side of the conflict.

Edited by Werthead

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6 hours ago, Werthead said:

It's good,but suffers from a lack of access to good sources on the Soviet side. Enemy at the Gates is actually probably better-written but Stalingrad is far more exacting in its coverage of the battle and has far more resources to call on.

That's a good one. Guderian was a constant thorn in Hitler's side because he was completely, 100% immune to Hitler's weird charisma. There'd be a bunch of generals in a room and Hitler would outline some bullshit insane plan and everyone else, even solid military commanders, would be like, "Oh, that's amazing" and Guderian would step up and say "That's horseshit." Hitler fired him about four times, but always recalled him because he was good at his job. Guderian was also pretty honest in that he stole the basic idea behind Blitzkrige from the work of British tacticians (who couldn't even get listened in London) from before the war.

He wasn't a nice guy and, although he wasn't a dyed-in-the-wool believer in Nazism, he still signed up to the regime, but he's one of the more interesting and sensible historical figures on the German side of the conflict.

Is he the one who kept getting told that the SS was murdering the fuck out of people in Poland and Russia and refused to do anything about it and claimed ignorance at Nuremburg?

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15 minutes ago, Pony Queen Jace said:

Is he the one who kept getting told that the SS was murdering the fuck out of people in Poland and Russia and refused to do anything about it and claimed ignorance at Nuremburg?

I think that was Manstein, who was more senior to Guderian in Poland and Russia. Possibly von Paulus, who certainly was aware but backtracked massively after being taken prisoner by the Russians (and had been in their custody for three years by Nuremberg). Guderian wasn't put on trial at Nuremberg. Later on he acknowledged the difficult relationship between his troops and the Einsatzgruppen forces responsible for mass executions of Russian Jews, mainly as it fucked up the chain of command when there needed to be a clear command structure, so he certainly admitted some awareness of it, but as they were outside his chain of command he couldn't do anything about it.

It's difficult to be sure because Guderian, Manstein, Speer and Rommel were all to some extent involved in the "Clean Wehrmacht" (or "Good Nazi") myth, which suggested that only the Nazis, SS and special formations conducted war crimes and the actual Wehrmacht - which consisted of professional and honourable career soldiers - was not involved. Which of course is complete and unmitigated horseshit, with the likes of von Reichenau merrily telling his soldiers to break formation and massacre everyone in sight who looked even vaguely Jewish being quite common.

Guderian was also the West's favourite German general, for both his extreme cooperation post-WWII and his formidable tactical skills which they wanted to use to form a new German army to resist against any Soviet push into Western Europe. Liddel-Hart and other Western military experts who wanted to tap Guderian's knowledge for their own ends also intervened on his behalf. But in general, if you were a senior German general during WWII, not to mention the fucking Chief of Staff for nine months, you certainly knew about some of the shadier shit going down.

Edited by Werthead

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On 10/25/2016 at 4:31 AM, Happy Ent said:

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/

I just enjoyed the first two episodes last week, thanks for the recommendation. Very detailed and compelling.

To my east coast US ears, Carlin has no discernible accent aside from pronouncing 'again' as a-GIN rather than ah-GEN.  That cracked me up for some reason.

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All my recommendations are for The Great War:

  • The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
  • The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War by Peter Hart

Tuchman has been recommended several times, but I have to add my own voice to it.  If you're interested in tactics and strategies of the military campaigns then I would say Hart is something you might be interested in.

Also if your interested in a week-by-week look at World War I, then I suggest the YouTube channel The Great War.  Since July 2014, they have  relating what happened in WWI that week a hundred years ago plus special bios, nations in WWI, and many other things.

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Again, thanks to everybody. 

I never knew how close the Germans were to reaching Paris in 1914. it kind of breaks my heart for the 7th army.

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I have to say that I'm not very fond of The Guns of August.  The first third or so that is devoted to explaining the military mindsets of the various countries is great stuff but once the war starts it becomes a chronicle of various battles that doesn't add to an understanding of WWI and largely is useless.

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