With Christmas coming I’ve been putting some thought into reading lists.
I like to have book list prepared incase I get asked what I might want. After pawing over numerous military reading lists I thought I would draw up my personal top ten books looking at the Second World War.
I’ve found it surprisingly difficult to do. What criteria to use? Rather than worthy tombs I felt people should have read, I’ve suggested books I found worthwhile and enjoyed reading. In no way I did I find any of these hard going.
My books are currently all packed away (we’re moving house) so the list has been drawn from memory rather than perusing my shelves. I have no doubt when we unpack some books will have slipped my mind.
But, as of typing this is my top ten World War II books (not in any order of preference).
• Stalingrad by Anthony Beevor
“Many believe Stalingrad to be the turning point of the war. The Nazi war machine proved to be fallible as it spread itself too thin for a cause that was born more from arrogance than practicality. The Germans never recovered, and its weakened defences were no match for the Allied invasion of 1944. We know little of what took place in Stalingrad or its overall significance, leading Beevor to humbly admit that “[t]he Battle of Stalingrad remains such an ideologically charged and symbolically important subject that the last word will not be heard for many years”. This is true. But this gripping account should become the standard work against which all others should measure themselves”.
• Armageddon by Max Hastings
“One of the greatest military feats during the Second World War was the transformation of the German force’s activities in the weeks following the battles in Holland and the German border, where the Allies had finally inflicted the greatest catastrophes of modern war on them.
Somehow the Germans found the strength to halt the Allied advance in its tracks and to prolong the war to 1945. This book is the epic story of those last eight months of the war in northern Europe”.
• Inside the Third Reich by Albert Speer
“The classic account of Nazi Germany by Hitler’s Armaments Minister and right-hand man”.
• Marching to the Sound of Gunfire by Patrick Delaforce
“Scores of British soldiers tell their amazing stories of life – and death – at the sharp end. In the 11 frenzied months of warfare that followed D-Day, these soldiers successfully drove the Nazi hordes back into their Fatherland, and beat them into surrender”.
• First Light by Geoffrey Wellum
“Desperate to get in the air, he makes it through basic training to become the youngest Spitfire pilot in the prestigious 92 Squadron. Thrust into combat almost immediately, Wellum finds himself flying several sorties a day, caught up in terrifying dogfights with German Me 109s.
Over the coming months he and his fellow pilots play a crucial role in the Battle of Britain. But of the friends that take to the air alongside Wellum many never return”.
• Maus by Art Spiegelman
“Maus is a haunting tale within a tale. Vladek’s harrowing story of survival is woven into the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. Against the backdrop of guilt brought by survival, they stage a normal life of small arguments and unhappy visits.
This astonishing retelling of our century’s grisliest news is a story of survival, not only of Vladek but of the children who survive even the survivors. Maus studies the bloody pawprints of history and tracks its meaning for all of us”.
• The Railwayman by Eric Lomax
“During the Second World War Eric Lomax was forced to work on the notorious Burma-Siam Railway and was tortured by the Japanese for making a crude radio.
Left emotionally scarred and unable to form normal relationships, Lomax suffered for years until, with the help of his wife, Patti Lomax, and of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, he came terms with what happened. Fifty years after the terrible events, he was able to meet one of his tormentors”.
• The Other Side of the Hill: Germany’s Generals Their Rise and Fall, With Their Own Accounts Of Events by BH Lidell-Hart
“This is an account of Germany’s generals, including their own version of the military events of 1939-1945 and details of their rise and fall, presenting a picture of the Second World War as it was seen by the men who commanded the panzer divisions and the might of the Wehrmacht. Originally published in 1948”.
• Kohima: The Furthest Battle by Leslie Edwards
“By the end of 1943 the Japanese had occupied most of South-East Asia. On 6 March 1944, the first units of the Japanese 15 Army crossed the inhospitable border of what was then Burma, and invaded India. At the township of Kohima they were met by a small, hastily assembled force of Indian and British troops, later reinforced by 2 Division of Slim’s 14 Army, who fought valiantly and forced the Japanese to retreat. Described by Mountbatten as ‘the British/Indian Thermopylae’, Kohima was a turning point in Japanese fortunes, heralding their continued defeat in battle until their formal surrender on 2 September 1945.
Using extensive research in primary sources and many previously unpublished first-hand accounts, Leslie Edwards presents a definitive analysis of this pivotal battle”.
• Never Surrender by John Kelly
“Drawing on the War Cabinet papers, other government documents, private diaries, newspaper accounts, and memoirs,Never Surrender tells the story of summer of 1940, the summer of the ‘Supreme Question’ of whether or not the British were to surrender to the impending threat of Hitler’s invasion. The events, individuals, and institutions that influenced the War Cabinet’s deliberations offer a panoramic view of the summer of 1940.
Impressive in scope but attentive to detail, Kelly takes readers from the battlefield to Parliament, to the government ministries, to the British high command, to the desperate Anglo-French conference in Paris and London, to the American embassy in London, and to life with the ordinary Britons.
Bringing vividly to life one of the most heroic moments of the twentieth century and intimately portraying some of its largest players – Churchill, Lord Halifax, FDR, Joe Kennedy, Hitler, Stalin and others – Never Surrenderis a character-driven narrative of a crucial period in World War II history and the men and women who shaped it”.
This is not a definitive list there are titles that are worth reading. Alanbrooke’s diaries for one as very interesting, Churchill’s the Second World War and William Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Riech are “must reads”, but I may not revisit them from cover to cover again, rather delving into them as reference.
What have I missed out?