Thursday, November 14, 2013

Nonfiction November - Become an Expert

If I was going to say I have expertise in any non-fiction subject, it's World War 2. This is a time period that has fascinated me since my childhood. Not so long ago (in fact, I've talked to my own grandparents about their memories of the time) but still far enough removed to feel quite different from my own life.

I've read many books on the subject, including scholarly books which will never be found on anyone's bestseller list. If you want to take a crash course in WW2, here's my recommended reading list:
1. Winston Churchill's series The Second World War (6 Volume Set). An inside look and many subsequent books are based on this series because Churchill was granted access to documents that other writers couldn't see. These are written in Churchill's imitable style. The first three are probably the best, mostly because Britain had to take an increasingly backseat role once America got well and truly in.
2.Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 by Max Hastings. One of the best (possibly THE best) single book treatments that covers the entire war. This book successfully shares both the big picture and the smaller, more identifiable stories. I recommend this one every chance I get.
3.The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World Warby Andrew Roberts. Another fantastic one volume treatment. When I first picked up this book I was afraid it would be revisionist history. I think the subtitle is a bit misleading. This is not revisionist history, if anything it is setting the revisionists and modern moralists straight.

Any books by Richard Overy should be on your WW2 reading list but I particularly recommend these two:

4.The Battle of Britain: The Myth and the Reality
5.Why the Allies WonThese are the two I find most helpful but Overy has several others and they are all interesting and well researched.

Books primarily about America's war:
6. The War: An Intimate History, 1941-1945. Companion to the excellent documentary by Ken Burns.
7.The Twilight Warriors by Robert Gandt. This reads almost like a novel and that's a good thing. This is about U.S. naval pilots at Okinawa. Hard to put down.
8.Since You Went Away: World War II Letters from American Women on the Home Front by Judy Barnett Litoff. Occasionally heartbreaking and always compelling.
9.The Library of Congress World War II Companion. Useful reference material with lots of charts and maps.

Books About Europe:
10.Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europeby Mark Mazower. How the Nazi's conquered and ruled Europe, although the "why" is a little harder to explain.
11.The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Parkby Sinclair McKay. One of my favorite aspects of the war.
12.Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victoryby Ben Macintyre. One of the proofs that "truth is stranger than fiction".

13.Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Powerby Andrew Nagorski. Some Americans in Germany witnessed Hitler's rise to power with nearly front row seats. And those stories make for fascinating reading.
14.Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hourby Lynne Olson. And then there were the Americans in London who had stories to tell.
15.London War Notes, 1939-1945by Mollie Panter-Downes. My favorite firsthand account of London during the war.

Books with Numbers in the Title:
16.Sealing Their Fate: The Twenty-Two Days That Decided World War IIby David Downing. One of the books that tries to explain WW2 by examining the most decisive moments.
17.Five Days That Shocked the World: Eyewitness Accounts from Europe at the End of World War IIby Nicholas Best. Carefully examines five days (April 28 - May 2, 1945) through several different perspectives.

The Aftermath:
18. Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War IIby Keith Lowe. One of the sad facts about the Second World War is that Hitler's death (and Japan's surrender) didn't end the killing and brutality. This book deals with this.
19.Hunting Evil: The Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped and the Quest to Bring Them to Justiceby Guy Walters. This book is controversial because it questions Simon Wisenthal's contributions to this cause. Maybe read Wisenthal and then compare this book to try to get a more complete picture.
20.The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in Historyby Robert Edsel. Fabulous book and story. Read this before you watch the upcoming movie.

There you have it: a crash course in Second World War History.

In what subject would you consider yourself an expert?

This post is linked to Nonfiction November at Sophisticated Dorkiness.
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7 comments:

bookmammalmusings said...

What a great list! "Since You Went Away" looks particularly interesting to me. Have you read "The Good War: An Oral History of WWII" by Studs Terkel? That's one of my favorites on this topic.

julzreads said...

Awesome list! I added a handful to my wish list. I'm a huge WWII buff, too. Reading one now called The Night of Broken Glass, firsthand accounts of Germans (mostly Jews) who survived to tell about the pogrom. If you liked Monument Men, you would like The Rape of Europa (Germans plundering). If you liked Hunting Nazis, you'd like Nazis on the Run. I think you and I could have some great conversations.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

This is an amazing list! I tend to avoid books about WWII, but there are several on this list that are intriguing. I love spies and codes, so I've added The Secret Lives of Codebreakers to my list!

52booksorbust said...

The Secret Lives of Code Breakers is on my list too. My mom is a huge WWII buff, so your list has also helped me find Christmas presents for her. Thanks.

Cindie said...

Wow, what an awesome list! I always find myself gravitating towards WWII, but have only read a few of these (and have now added a whole bunch more to be read!). I'm determined to finish Monuments Men before the movie comes out, if not I'll just have to watch it on Netflix.

Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll) said...

These are terrific. I just finished a new book -- Brave Genius by Sean B. Carroll that taught me so much about the War from the French perspective. Now, I'm looking for more!

maphead said...

Wow! Great list!!
Where do I begin? Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945, The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War and Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II are all on my TBR. I've owned an unread copy of The Twilight Warriors for a few years and after reading your post now I REALLY wanna read it!
I reviewed Hunting Evil: The Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped and the Quest to Bring Them to Justice last year. Here's a link to my review:http://maphead.wordpress.com/2011/12/22/guy-walters-goes-hunting-for-nazi-war-criminals/
Thanks to you, Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe is now on my TBR. Have you read Mazower's Salonica? Here's a link to my review: http://maphead.wordpress.com/2010/12/11/mark-mazowers-salonica/
Great list and great blog! I must visit more often!!

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