The Best of the Best in World War 2 Books

In honor of the 65th Anniversary of D-Day, here are just a few good World War II books on my book shelf:

David M. Kennedy is a well known historian. His best work, perhaps, is Freedom from Fear which deals with America from the Great Depression to the end of World War 2. But here I want to mention his equally satisfying book, The American People in World War II: Freedom from Fear, Part Two (The Oxford History of the United States, V. 9) (Pt. 2). Superbly written, it covers American social, political  and military evolution from the “Agony of Neutrality” to the the Arsenal of Democracy, to the Home front.

Rick Atkinson’s The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 (Liberation Trilogy) is Vol. 2 in a trilogy of books covering World War 2. All are excellent, but this one I like as it covers a campaign that is not well known and certainly overshadowed  by the Eastern and Western European fighting. This is an excellent and entertaining read.

Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45 (Vintage), by Max Hasting is a must read in my opinion.  An exhaustive study of the Allies struggle against Japan in the closing years. From the bloody fighting at Iwo Jima to the decision to drop the atomic bomb. The research is top notch and the writing engaging.

Jon Meacham’s Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship is a light and breezy read, yet contains keen insights and thoughtful reflection of one of the more dynamic political relationships in modern times. These two important leaders ultimately stood up to evil and helped to conquer it.

We as Americans are proud of our contribution to the war effort in Europe, yet we at times take too much credit. The most brutal and easily the most destructive fighting took place on the Eastern Front where Germans and Russians did everythng they could to kill each other. The fighting involved not hundreds of thousands (like the Western Front after D-Day), but millions of men. The Russians did the brunt of fighting in Europe, easily. So I offer you Andrew Nagorski’s The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow That Changed the Course of World War II.  A great book that exposes the true hatred each side had for the other, and the desperate struggle that indeed took place.

Endgame, 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of World War II, by David Stafford is an exceptional book that reveals the  conditions and issues that the Allies had to deal with during the closing months of World War II in Europe. The aftermath of total war, fighting the pockets of radical Nazi guerrilla fighters, and the broken and shattered condition of Europe. A great read that gets into detail on what it was like in Europe in 1945.

You can’t have a “best” book selection for World War II without mentioning one of B.H. Liddell Hart’s books. Hart is/was perhaps the first and foremost World War II military historian and expert. This renown military historian tackles the strategic side of the German war machine in his book, German Generals Talk.

Finally, I give you War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War, by John W. Dower.  Total war did not just exist in Europe. America and Japan fought a desperate and bloody battle in the Pacific where racism and hatred existed, just as it did in Europe. Dower’s book is sobering and insightful.

Well there you have it, happy reading!

PS- please post comments on your favorite World War II books!

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4 Responses to The Best of the Best in World War 2 Books

  1. Joel says:

    Excellent choices! I just finished reading volume 1 of Atkinson’s trilogy (I read vol. 2 a couple years ago) and he’s an excellent writer.

    Max Hastings is another great one. You promoted “Retribution” a while back, which pushed it up my list. You were right…very, very good. I would mention his companion work “Armageddon”, covering the War’s final year in Europe.

    Other really good recent reads for me include Sloan’s “The Ultimate Battle” and Donavan Webster’s “The Burma Road”.

    “Heisenberg’s War” by Thomas Powers also deserves a look.

    Not war-related, I’m currently working through Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton.


  2. Chris says:

    Joel thanks for posting. I have “Armegeddon” as well and it is very good.


  3. Nate Levin says:

    Thanks for the post, and for noting that the scope of fighting on the eastern front was significantly greater than in western Europe.

    As far as I know the best books on the eastern front war are by Prof. Erickson: The Road to Stalingrad and The Road to Berlin. Erickson had extensive access to Soviet records and generals.

  4. james smith says:

    Nagorski’s book about the massive Moscow Battle is long overdue. I too have been to Russia and met veterans who believed firmly that they had done ‘ the business’ with Hitler. Looking thru the book critically I thought two things;
    1/ Generaloberst Hoth is not mentioned and yet, the Vyazma Battle (which was enormous) was largely set up by his north/center Panzergruppe. By relying on Guderian all the time, the commentary is not as balanced as Stolfi…Guderian was south of Moscow and that makes one heck of a difference in the world’s biggest country!
    2/ As I read it, immediately after Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt called in his advisors and one of them (Commander King) was very prophetic about the events in Moscow. As I heard it, King said that Japan was the USA’s problem and (amazingly) ‘The Russians will do nine-tenths of the job with Hitler’ ….looks to me as if he got it right; but why no mention in the book?

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