The 10 Best WWII Books
This wiki has been updated 23 times since it was first published in September of 2015. One of these WWII books would be the perfect gift for any history buff or student, or could simply make an informative and attractive coffee table addition. These riveting accounts of various individuals' and groups' experiences in differing theaters of the war provide a thorough understanding of the period, and should serve as a warning to us all about the horrors of any and every armed conflict. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. If you'd like to contribute your own research to the Wiki, please get started by reviewing this introductory video.
March 26, 2020:
It is impossible to capture World War II in its entirety, so we curated a diverse list that tackles different perspectives, theaters, periods, and aspects of the conflict to help readers home in on the facet of their choice. One would have to read dozens upon dozens of books to truly consider themselves an expert, but any of the selections here offer a solid start. When revisiting this list, diversity and authenticity were top of mind, as well as meticulously researched, well-written, engaging accounts.
We wanted to bring on two new perspectives today, and so added A Woman of No Importance and An Army at Dawn, two volumes that take a detailed look at underrepresented sides. The former follows a spy who showed incredible bravery in the face of adversity from both friend and foe and highlights the fortitude of civilians who stepped up during the war. The latter meticulously details the North African campaign, explaining how British and American forces dealt with the Vichy French, and learned quickly from their mistakes after underestimating the brutality of the other side. It offers a look into the genesis and development of brilliant, yet flawed, commanders like Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, Montgomery, and Rommel. To make room for these selections we begrudgingly parted ways with World War II in 500 Photographs and The Longest Winter, which we felt were similar enough to Eyewitness to World War II and The Liberator, respectively, in tone to merit supplanting them.
Those interested in something relatively uplifting and heartwarming should take a look at A Higher Call and Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken". Neither of these books shies away from the harsh realities of war, but each also manages to focus on our shared humanity and the importance of empathy, spirituality, and perseverance when confronted with the horrors of armed conflict.
True history buffs will glean much from the comprehensive The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and should consider checking out our list of war history books for supplementary reading material as well.
A Brief History Of WWII
Smaller conflicts, such as Italy's attempt to control Ethiopia, set the stage for the great war to come.
World War II was the defining event of the 20th century, reshaping the world in ways that would echo through the following decades.
The seeds for the conflict were sown years prior. Germany was rocked by its defeat in WWI, and its wounded national pride would fester, allowing for the rise of Nazism. Meanwhile, the Italians were upset over promises that were made to them following that war that were not honored, leading to feelings of mistrust towards what would become the Allied powers.
Smaller conflicts, such as Italy's attempt to control Ethiopia, set the stage for the great war to come. German Chancellor Adolf Hitler began to acquire territory in Europe, beginning with Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia. England and France allowed Germany to make these moves, fearful that any action to stop them would only inflame the situation.
However, this didn't stop Hitler, and the war would begin once Germany invaded Poland in 1939. The Germans then mounted an offensive against France, which soon fell. In 1940, Germany, Italy, and Japan signed the Tripartite Pact, which formed the Axis Powers.
The war spread to the Mediterranean and Africa soon after, but Hitler's focus was on the United States and Soviet Union. Fearful that they would unite with Britain to oppose him, he decided to strike first, invading Russia in 1941. While successful at first, the German armies were not able to crush the Soviets before the harsh winter set in.
Meanwhile, Japan had invaded China, and was actively negotiating with the United States in an attempt to preclude American entry into the war. When they became convinced that the negotiations would ultimately prove futile, they decided to ambush American forces at Pearl Harbor, finally dragging the United States into WWII.
The Allied forces found little traction in the next few months, as Japan invaded numerous Asian countries and the Germans halted a Soviet advance. The tide soon began to turn, however, as Russian forces were able to push back against the German siege, and China began to win a war of attrition against Japanese troops.
In 1944, the Allies launched a major operation on D-Day. With the surprise invasion, they were able to liberate France and threaten the German mainland for the first time. Aided by a healthy guerrilla resistance, the Allies were eventually able to penetrate the German border and encircle their army, ultimately forcing their surrender.
On the other side of the globe, American forces had fought a bloody and constant battle against Japan in the Pacific, but it became clear that beating the Japanese conventionally would come at a prohibitive cost. Instead of risking more troops, President Harry Truman dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the exhausted Japanese were compelled to surrender.
The war — the deadliest in human history — was finally over, but its impact on the world was only beginning to take shape. As the smoke cleared, the only thing all sides could agree upon was the need to do anything possible to prevent something like it from ever happening again.
Finding The Right WWII Book
WWII is too vast and rich of a subject for any one book to comprehensively cover all aspects of the conflict, so when searching for a book on the topic, you'll need to define your area of interest. Whether your focus mainly lies on the buildup and early days of the war or the Pacific theater, there are plenty of tomes out there than can whet your appetite for knowledge.
As such, finding a book that's clinical in its appraisal of all sides is key.
Perhaps the most important thing to look for in a book is a fair and balanced perspective. It's easy in retrospect, with the atrocities of the Nazi regime in full view, to see this as a good-vs.-evil conflict. However, to do so would be to ignore the sins committed by the Allies, and would give you only a glimpse of the truth of the war. As such, finding a book that's clinical in its appraisal of all sides is key.
Also, think about the viewpoint you want to get from the book. While there are a great many titles that take a broad overview of the subject, there are an equal number that give you first-person viewpoints from the soldiers who lived it. Your WWII education will be incomplete if you don't read both.
The plain fact is that, even if you get the perfect book right out of the gate, one publication is unlikely to be enough to make you an expert on the topic. If you want to learn about WWII, you'll need to be in it for the long haul.
The good news, however, is that there's no shortage of absolutely fantastic reads on the matter.
The Importance Of Learning About WWII
As mentioned above, while the war itself had a definite beginning and end, its impact continues to be felt long after the last peace treaty was signed.
The sacrifices made by the men and women in this war still reverberate in our time, and deserve to be honored.
The war set the stage for the United States's rise to global prominence, as the country's infrastructure was largely unaffected by battle. This allowed America to quickly become the dominant economy on the planet, and the resulting boom powered decades of stratospheric growth. The introduction of women to the workplace, a necessity when most men were fighting abroad, also set the stage for a sea change in the business community.
Political leaders, not wanting to get caught unprepared in case of another major conflict, ramped up military spending, and the American armed forces soon became the most powerful military in human history.
Meanwhile, the Cold War stoked fears of nuclear Armageddon, and the lasting conflict created a strife and mistrust that lingers to this day.
Virtually every aspect of our day-to-day lives has felt some impact from this historic conflict, and ignorance of its effects can lead to ignorance of modern affairs. The sacrifices made by the men and women in this war still reverberate in our time, and deserve to be honored.
The least you can do is read about them.