2) In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson
3) The Miracle of Dunkirk by Walter Lord- Simply amazing book. Must read!
4) Americans in Paris: Life and Death under Nazi Occupation by Charles Glass- Focuses on France after Germans moved in. Great detail and characters. I loved it!
5) Charles de Gaulle by Don Cook- Fascinating man and story. Well read.
6) The Duel: The 80 Day Struggle Between Churchill and Hitler by John Lukacs- Great analysis! Found out many new things.
7) Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45 by Barbara Tuckman- You want this book! I learned so much! Covers a lot of American history.
8) Whirlwind: The Air War Against Japan, 1942-1945 by Barrett Tillman.
9) American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964 by William Manchester- Great subject, great historian and writer, need I say more?
10) Jessie Owens and Hitler’s Olympics by Jeremy Schaap.
11) Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan. Wow! Puts you in the room where the giants made the decisions! Awesome!
12) The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Volume 1: Visions of Glory 1874-1932 by William Manchester- Great book, great story. Sets up the coming war very well. Enjoyed it!
13) The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War by Andrew Roberts- Does a great job with this single volume of the war, but does an even better job of explain why the war took the turns it did. Loved it!
14) The Winds of War by Herman Wouk- I don’t care that it’s fiction. I loved it. Read it many times. I still learned a lot about the American side of the war and how everyone in Europe was viewed. You will get lost in this and be sad when it’s over. Promise.
15) The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman- A Pulitzer Prize winning book about the why and how of the beginning of WWI
16) The Zimmermann Telegram by Barbara Tuchman- During WWI Britain needed American assistance, but Wilson would not. Then in 1917 a letter from Berlin to Mexico asking it and Japan to attack the U.S. was intercepted by London.
17)The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard J. Evans- The definitive account for our time.
18) The Third Reich in Power by Richard J. Evans- The second book of his trilogy. How the Nazis reshaped Germany, its people and its culture.
19) Hitler’s Holy Relics by Sidney Kirkpatrick-Hidden away by the Nazis was the crown jewels of the Holy Roman Empire and the Spear of Destiny. Was Hitler going to have himself crowed as the Emperor of the new Holy Roman Empire? Find out.
20) The Few: The American “Knights of the Air” Who Risked Everything to Fight in the Battle of Britain by Alex Kershaw. Though the United States was still a neutral country, a few Americans decided they couldn’t remain on the sidelines. They joined Britain’s Royal Air Force to defend the country – with the future of civilization hanging in the balance. These daring Americans were the few among the “few.”
21) Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of FDR by H.W. Brands- Traitor to His Class sheds new light on FDR’s formative years; his remarkable willingness to champion the concerns of the poor and disenfranchised; and his combination of political genius, firm leadership, and matchless diplomacy in saving democracy in America during the Great Depression and the American cause of freedom in World War II.
22) American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird & Martin J. Sherwin- J. Robert Oppenheimer is one of the iconic figures of the 20th century, a brilliant physicist who led the effort to build the atomic bomb for his country in a time of war and who later found himself confronting the moral consequences of scientific progress.
23) No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin- Bringing to bear the tools of both history and biography, No Ordinary Time relates the unique story of how Franklin Roosevelt led the nation to victory against seemingly insurmountable odds and, with Eleanor’s essential help, forever changed the fabric of American society.
24) Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich by Eric Metaxas- After discovering the fire of true faith in a Harlem church, Bonhoeffer returned to Germany and became one of the first to speak out against Hitler. As a double agent, he joined the plot to assassinate the Führer and was hanged in Flossenbürg concentration camp at age thirty-nine. Since his death, Bonhoeffer has grown to be one of the most fascinating, complex figures of the twentieth century.
25) The Jedburghs: The Secret History of the Allied Special Forces, France 1944 by Will Irwin- The first full history of the pioneering Special Forces units of World War II, dropped behind German lines into France to assist with the D-Day landings, told by a former U.S. Special Forces colonel with unique access to surviving veterans. The story of the Special Forces in World War II has never fully been told before. Information about them began to be declassified only in the 1980s.
26) Pacific Crucible: The War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 by Ian W Toll- Pacific Crucible tells the epic tale of these first searing months of the Pacific war, when the U.S. Navy shook off the worst defeat in American military history and seized the strategic initiative. Ian W. Toll’s dramatic narrative encompasses both the high command and the “sailor’s-eye” view from the lower deck.
27) Daring Young Men: The Heroism and Triumph of the Berlin Airlift-June 1948-May 1949 by Richard Reeves- The Second World War had been over for three years when pilots, navigators, and air-traffic controllers all over America were recalled to active duty to rescue Berlin. They were there within days and weeks, flying tired planes filled with food, coal, medicine, and mail. Many had bombed the place to rubble in 1944 and 1945. Now they and the British airmen were bringing it survival.
28) The Phantom War by Virginia Cowles- In the dark and uncertain days of 1941 and 1942, when Rommel’s tanks were sweeping towards Suez, a handful of daring raiders were making history for the Allies. They operated deep behind the German lines, often driving hundreds of miles through the deserts of North Africa. They hid by day and struck by night, destroying aircraft, blowing up ammunition dumps, derailing trains, and killing many times their own number.
29) To Kingdom Come: An Epic Saga of Survival in the Air War Over Germany by Robert J. Mrazek- On September 6, 1943, 338 B-17 “Flying Fortresses” of the American Eighth Air Force took off from England, bound for Stuttgart, Germany, to bomb Nazi weapons factories. Dense clouds obscured the targets, and one commander’s critical decision to circle three times over the city—and its deadly flak—would prove disastrous. Forty-five planes went down that day, and hundreds of men were lost or missing.
30) Finish Forty and Home: The Untold World War II Story of B-24s in the Pacific by Phil Scearce- During the early years of World War II in the Pacific theatre, against overwhelming odds, young American airmen flew the longest and most perilous bombing missions of the war. They faced determined Japanese fighters without fighter escort, relentless anti-aircraft fire with no deviations from target, and thousands of miles of over-water flying with no alternative landing sites.
31) Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 by David M. Kennedy- Between 1929 and 1945, two great travails were visited upon the American people: the Great Depression and World War II. This Pulitzer Prize-winning history tells the story of how Americans endured, and eventually prevailed, in the face of those unprecedented calamities.
32) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak- Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist: books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids – as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau. Not a history book, but I loved every second of it! Made the commute zoom by!
33) Deathride: Hitler vs. Stalin: The Eastern Front, 1941-1945 by John Mosier - The conventional wisdom about the Eastern Front is that Hitler was mad to think he could defeat the USSR, because of its vast size and population, and that the Battle of Stalingrad marked the turning point of the war. Neither statement is accurate, says Mosier; Hitler came very close to winning outright. Deathride argues that the war in the East was Hitler’s to lose, that Stalin was in grave jeopardy from the outset of the war, and that it was the Allied victories in North Africa and consequent threat to Italy that forced Hitler to change his plans and saved Stalin from near-certain defeat.
34) At All Costsby Sam Moses- In 1942, the small Mediterranean island of Malta was the most heavily bombed place on earth. Its submarine and air attacks on Axis supply convoys were all that kept Rommel from marching across North Africa to take the oil in Iran and Iraq for Hitler. But Malta was out of fuel, down to its final days. Operation Pedestal was Malta’s last hope, a giant convoy with more that 50 warships escorting 13 freighters and one life-or-death tanker, the SS Ohio, carrying 103,000 barrels of oil from Texas. It was bombed, torpedoed, and abandoned. Two American Merchant Mariners, Frederick Larsen and Francis Dales, whose own freighters had sunk in towering flames along with eight others, boarded the Ohio. They repaired the guns and fought the Axis dive-bombers for two days as the sinking tanker was towed by destroyers. Malta was saved, Rommel was turned back, and the Allies started to turn the tide of war.
35) The Phantom Major by Virginia Cowles- In the dark and uncertain days of 1941 and 1942, when Rommel’s tanks were sweeping towards Suez, a handful of daring raiders were making history for the Allies. They operated deep behind the German lines, often driving hundreds of miles through the deserts of North Africa. They hid by day and struck by night, destroying aircraft, blowing up ammunition dumps, derailing trains, and killing many times their own number. These were the SAS, Stirling’s desert raiders, the brainchild of a deceptively mild-mannered man with a brilliant idea. Small teams of resourceful, highly trained men would penetrate beyond the front lines of the opposing armies and wreak havoc where the Germans least expected it.
36) Witness to Nuremberg: The Many Lives of the Man Who Translated at the Nazi War Trials by Richard Sonnenfeldt- In this gripping memoir by the chief American interpreter at the Nuremberg trials, Richard Sonnenfeldt recounts a remarkable life. By the time he was 18, Sonnenfeldt had grown up in Germany, escaped to England, been deported to Australia as a “German enemy alien”, arrived in the U.S., and joined the U.S. Army. By age 22 he had fought in the Battle of the Bulge and helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp, when he was appointed chief interpreter for the American prosecution of Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials. During his service, he spent pretrial time with Hermann Göering as well as other top Nazi leaders like von Ribbentrop, Rudolph Höss, and Julius Streicher, the infamous editor of the anti-Semitic Der Sturmer.
37) Beyond Band of Brothers:The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters by Dick Winters & Cole C. Kingseed- They were called Easy Company, but their mission was never easy. Immortalized as the Band of Brothers, they suffered huge casualties while liberating Europe in an unparalleled record of bravery under fire. Dick Winters led them through the Battle of the Bulge, the attack on Foy, where Easy Company reached its breaking point, and finally into Germany, by which time each member had been wounded. Outside Munich, they liberated an S.S. death camp and captured Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s alpine retreat.
38) Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War by William Manchester- In this intensely powerful memoir, America’s pre-eminent biographer-historian, who has written so brilliantly about World War II in his acclaimed lives of General Douglas MacArthur (American Caesar) and Winston Churchill (The Last Lion), looks back at his own early life. This memoir offers an unrivaled firsthand account of World War II in the Pacific – what it looked like, sounded like, smelled like, and most of all, what it felt like to one who underwent all but the ultimate of its experiences.
39) Exorcising Hitler: The Occupation and Denazification of Germany by Frederick Taylor- As Taylor describes the final Allied campaign, the hunting down of the Nazi resistance, the vast displacement of peoples in central and eastern Europe, the attitudes of the conquerors, the competition between Soviet Russia and the West, the hunger and near starvation of a once proud people, the initially naive attempt at expunging Nazism from all aspects of German life and the later more pragmatic approach, we begin to understand that despite almost total destruction, a combination of conservatism, enterprise and pragmatism in relation to former Nazis enabled the economic miracle of the 1950s. And we see how it was only when the ’60s generation (the children of the Nazi era) began to question their parents with increasing violence that Germany began to awake from its sleep cure.
40) Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love and Betrayal by Ben MacIntyre- Eddie Chapman was a charming criminal, a con man, and a philanderer. He was also one of the most remarkable double agents Britain has ever produced. Inside the traitor was a man of loyalty; inside the villain was a hero. The problem for Chapman, his spymasters, and his lovers was to know where one persona ended and the other began. In 1941, after training as a German spy in occupied France, Chapman was parachuted into Britain with a revolver, a wireless, and a cyanide pill, with orders from the Abwehr to blow up an airplane factory. Instead, he contacted MI5, the British Secret Service. For the next four years, Chapman worked as a double agent, a lone British spy at the heart of the German Secret Service who at one time volunteered to assassinate Hitler for his countrymen. The Nazis feted Chapman as a hero and awarded him the Iron Cross. In Britain, he was pardoned for his crimes, becoming the only wartime agent to be thus rewarded. Both countries provided for the mother of his child and his mistress. Sixty years after the end of the war, and 10 years after Chapman’s death, MI5 has now declassified all of Chapman’s files, releasing more than 1,800 pages of top secret material and allowing the full story of Agent Zigzag to be told for the first time.
41) The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne- This short little book packs quite the punch, and though it’s geared towards teens, I highly recommend it for adults as well. Bruno’s innocence is heartbreakingly conveyed in a powerful performance by Maloney, and the book’s ending left me quite emotional. I had to see the movie after hearing the book, but much preferred this performance. Review by Diane from NJ.
42) Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 by Tony Judt- Almost a decade in the making, this much-anticipated grand history of postwar Europe from one of the world’s most esteemed historians and intellectuals is a singular achievement. Postwar is the first modern history that covers all of Europe, both east and west, drawing on research in six languages to sweep listeners through 34 nations and 60 years of political and cultural change—all in one integrated, enthralling narrative. Both intellectually ambitious and compelling to read, thrilling in its scope and delightful in its small details, Postwaris a rare joy. AND it’s 43 hours and it’s free!
43) The Berlin Wall by Frederick Taylor- The appearance of a hastily constructed barbed wire entanglement through the heart of Berlin during the night of 12-13 August 1961 was both dramatic and unexpected. Within days, it had started to metamorphose into a structure that would come to symbolise the brutal insanity of the Cold War: the Berlin Wall. A city of almost four million was cut ruthlessly in two, unleashing a potentially catastrophic East-West crisis and plunging the entire world for the first time into the fear of imminent missile-borne apocalypse. This threat would vanish only when the very people the Wall had been built to imprison breached it on the historic night of 9 November 1989.
44) Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies by Ben Macintyre- On June 6, 1944, 150,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy and suffered an astonishingly low rate of casualties. D-Day was a stunning military accomplishment, but it was also a masterpiece of trickery. Operation Fortitude, which protected and enabled the invasion, and the Double Cross system, which specialized in turning German spies into double agents, deceived the Nazis into believing that the Allies would attack at Calais and Norway rather than Normandy. It was the most sophisticated and successful deception operation ever carried out, ensuring that Hitler kept an entire army awaiting a fake invasion, saving thousands of lives, and securing an Allied victory at the most critical juncture in the war.
45) Reach for the Sky: The Story of Douglas Bader DSO, DFC by Paul Brickhill- In 1931, at the age of 21, Douglas Bader was the golden boy of the RAF. Excelling in everything he did he represented the Royal Air Force in aerobatics displays, played rugby for Harlequins, and was tipped to be the next England fly half. But one afternoon in December all his ambitions came to an abrupt end when he crashed his plane doing a particularly difficult and illegal aerobatic trick. His injuries were so bad that surgeons were forced to amputate both his legs to save his life. Douglas Bader did not fly again until the outbreak of the Second World War, when his undoubted skill in the air was enough to convince a desperate air force to give him his own squadron. The rest of his story is the stuff of legend. Flying Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain he led his squadron to kill after kill, keeping them all going with his unstoppable banter. Shot down in occupied France, his German captors had to confiscate his tin legs in order to stop him trying to escape.
46) The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 by Barbara Tuchman- In The Proud Tower, Barbara Tuchman concentrates on society rather than the state. With an artist’s selectivity, Tuchman brings to vivid life the people, places, and events that shaped the years leading up to the Great War: the Edwardian aristocracy and the end of their reign; the Anarchists of Europe and America, who voiced the protest of the oppressed; Germany, as portrayed through the figure of the self-depicted hero, Richard Strauss; the sudden gorgeous blaze of Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet and Stravinsky’s music; the Dreyfus Affair; the two Peace Conferences at the Hague; and, finally, the youth, ideals, enthusiasm, and tragedy of Socialism, epitomized in the moment when the heroic Jean Jaures was shot to death on the night the War began and an epoch ended.
47) Tobruk by Peter FitzSimons- In the early days of April 1941, the 14,000 Australian forces garrisoned in the Libyan town of Tobruk were told to expect reinforcements and supplies within eight weeks. Eight months later these heroic, gallant, determined “Rats of Tobruk” were rescued by the British Navy having held the fort against the might of Rommel’s never-before-defeated Afrika Corps. Like Gallipoli and Kokoda, the siege of Tobruk is an iconic battle in Australia’s military history. Under ceaseless attack from Rommel’s men, the Australian defense held strong. In Tobruk, Peter FitzSimons relates the personal histories and stories not only of the men who defended the garrison against the German onslaught but of the Desert Fox, Erwin Rommel, and the powers back in both Berlin and Britain.
48) A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan- A Bridge Too Far is Cornelius Ryan’s masterly chronicle of the Battle of Arnhem, which marshaled the greatest armada of troop-carrying aircraft ever assembled and cost the Allies nearly twice as many casualties as D-day. In this compelling work of history, Ryan narrates the Allied effort to end the war in Europe in 1944 by dropping the combined airborne forces of the American and British armies behind German lines to capture the crucial bridge across the Rhine at Arnhem. Focusing on a vast cast of characters – from Dutch civilians to British and American strategists to common soldiers and commanders – Ryan brings to life one of the most daring and ill-fated operations of the war. A Bridge Too Far superbly recreates the terror, suspense, heroism, and tragedy of this epic operation, which ended in bitter defeat for the Allies.
49) The Rising Tide: A Novel of World War II by Jeff Sharra- The Rising Tide begins a staggering work of fiction bound to be a new generation’s most poignant chronicle of World War II. With you-are-there immediacy, painstaking historical detail, and all-inclusive points of view, Shaara portrays the momentous and increasingly dramatic events that pulled America into the vortex of this monumental conflict. As Hitler conquers Poland, Norway, France, and most of Western Europe, England struggles to hold the line. When Germany’s ally Japan launches a stunning attack on Pearl Harbor, America is drawn into the war, fighting to hold back the Japanese conquest of the Pacific, while standing side-by-side with its British ally, the last hope for turning the tide of the war. More than an unprecedented and intimate portrait of those who waged this astonishing global war, The Rising Tide is a vivid gallery of characters both immortal and unknown: the as-yet obscure administrator Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose tireless efficiency helped win the war, and his subordinates, clashing in both style and personality, from George Patton and Mark Clark to Omar Bradley and Bernard Montgomery. In the desolate hills and deserts, the Allies confront Erwin Rommel, the battlefield genius known as “the Desert Fox”, a wounded beast who hands the Americans their first humiliating defeat in the European theater of the war. From tank driver to paratrooper to the men who gave the commands, Shaara’s stirring portrayals bring the heroic and the tragic to life in brilliant detail.
50) The Steel Wave by Jeff Sharra- General Dwight Eisenhower once again commands a diverse army that must find its single purpose in the destruction of Hitler’s European fortress. His primary subordinates, Omar Bradley and Bernard Montgomery, must prove that this unique blend of Allied armies can successfully confront the might of Adolf Hitler’s forces, who have already conquered Western Europe. On the coast of France, German commander Erwin Rommel fortifies and prepares for the coming invasion, acutely aware that he must bring all his skills to bear on a fight his side must win. But Rommel’s greatest challenge is to strike the Allies on his front, while struggling behind the lines with the growing insanity of Adolf Hitler, who thwarts the strategies Rommel knows will succeed. Meanwhile, Sergeant Jesse Adams, a no-nonsense veteran of the 82nd Airborne, parachutes with his men behind German lines into a chaotic and desperate struggle. And as the invasion force surges toward the beaches of Normandy, Private Tom Thorne of the 29th Infantry Division faces the horrifying prospects of fighting his way ashore on a stretch of coast more heavily defended than the Allied commanders anticipate – Omaha Beach.
51) Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of WWII by Keith Lowe- The Second World War might have officially ended in May 1945, but in reality it rumbled on for another 10 years…. The end of the Second World War in Europe is one of the 20th century’s most iconic moments. It is fondly remembered as a time when cheering crowds filled the streets, danced, drank and made love until the small hours. These images of victory and celebration are so strong in our minds that the period of anarchy and civil war that followed has been forgotten. Across Europe, landscapes had been ravaged, entire cities razed and more than thirty million people had been killed in the war. The institutions that we now take for granted-such as the police, the media, transport, local and national government-were either entirely absent or hopelessly compromised. Crime rates were soaring, economies collapsing, and the European population was hovering on the brink of starvation. In Savage Continent, Keith Lowe describes a continent still racked by violence, where large sections of the population had yet to accept that the war was over. Individuals, communities and sometimes whole nations sought vengeance for the wrongs that had been done to them during the war. Germans and collaborators everywhere were rounded up, tormented and summarily executed. Concentration camps were reopened and filled with new victims who were tortured and starved. Violent anti-Semitism was reborn, sparking murders and new pogroms across Europe. Massacres were an integral part of the chaos and in some places-particularly Greece, Yugoslavia and Poland, as well as parts of Italy and France – they led to brutal civil wars. In some of the greatest acts of ethnic cleansing the world has ever seen, tens of millions were expelled from their ancestral homelands, often with the implicit blessing of the Allied authorities.