Greetings All. Below is the list of books that were sent my way. Thanks to all of you who took the time to make a suggestion during this busy time of year. Some people sent in a name or two, with or without a description, while others wrote a lengthy recommendation. I edited a few of the recommendations, and when only the name was listed, I took the liberty to add a sentence or two to describe the book. There were many repeat suggestions, as well, which served to highlight the power of certain books to resonate for many of us.
Considering the fact that we’re all reading and discovering new books all the time, I want to make this into a living list. If there is ever a book you think is worth adding, please let me know.
Rather than organize the books by year or by the war, I simply put them in alphabetical order. Hopefully this will add to your own list in some way. Happy Holidays to all!
Until Next Time,
J. A. Moad II
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
- The classic story of trench warfare. The authors descriptive gifts and vivid imagery linger and resonate like poetry.
Behind the Lines: Powerful and Revealing American and Foreign War Letters ed. by Andrew Carroll
- One of several books of war letters edited by Andrew Carroll, unique in that it shows a variety of views from across the world. We discover how the experiences and sentiments surrounding war are similar across all cultures.
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
- The great satire, in which everything happens twice—the absurdity of war shown through the experiences of an American flying unit in World War II.
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
- Students loved the book, and noted that reading it in college was a far different experience than reading it in high school, as many had. They were profoundly shaken by the thought of this mind, this girl, being taken by war.
Dispatches by Michael Herr
- An amazing collection of stories, dialogue and prose poetry on the Vietnam War.
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
- The classic novel of World War I, exploring the transformation and the loss that comes with war on a variety of levels.
Fateless by Imre Kertesz
- Written by a Nobel Prize winner about the Holocaust, it is considered by many to be one of the most powerful and touching books ever written about this theme.
The Forever War by Dexter Filkins
- An amazing and beautifully written collection of short vignettes, cataloging Filkin’s experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq prior to 2006. It opened the eyes and shattered the illusions of many cadets at The Air Force Academy.
The Forsaken Army by Heinrich Gerlach
- A novel depicting the disintegration of the German Army in Stalingrad.
Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves
- Some students hated this book, but others “got” it, understood that the reserve and ironic distance with which it is written was a deliberate, if not unavoidable, response to a meaningless and brutal war.
The Good Soldiers by David Finkel
- The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who follows the members of an Army infantry battalion during the Surge in Iraq. If you’re like me, you’ll be haunted by the images that Finkel imparts through his experiences alongside these soldiers. Although, published a little late for me to include in my syllabus last year at USAFA, I read excerpts of it to my senior War Lit class shortly after it came out. Afterwards, many of the cadets were actually motivated to go out and purchase the book on their own.
Here, Bullet by Brian Turner
- The war poet of our age. His words take us into the heart of the pain and suffering that transform all those touched by war.
Home Before Morning: The Story of an Army Nurse in Vietnam by Linda van Devanter
- This book, hands down, was the students’ favorite. They trusted the voice of the writer, her candor and clear-eyed descriptions of her experiences. I paired this book with the documentary “Vietnam Nurses” and the two together formed a vivid portrait of this war.
The Hunters by James Salter
- The story of a fighter pilot in the Korean War who is pushed to the limits. Considered by many to be the best war literature to emerge from that war.
If I Die in a Combat Zone Box Me Up and Ship Me Home by Tim O’Brien
- This book, a nonfiction precursor to The Things They Carried, has the signature O’Brien eye for detail. The book tells stories in such a way that you feel you are reading not simply personal history, but something of a mythic scale.
In Pharaoh’s Army by Tobias Wolff
- An engaging and often humorous look at the Vietnam War by one of the great writers of our time.
Jakob the Liar by Jurek becker
- From one of Germany’s greatest contemporary writers, a disturbing, original novel of the Holocaust about the virtue of lying. The film with Robin Williams is well-done, as well.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl
- This book chronicles Frankl’s experiences as a concentration camp inmate and describes the ability of humans to transcend and cope with a situation of that magnitude.
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
- This Vietnam War novel was written forty years ago, and he could find no one interested in or willing to publish a long novel about Vietnam. The book tracks the wartime development of a marine lieutenant who in discovering the fool’s errand he and his fellow marines have been sent on, also discovers himself and the worth of his comrades. It’s a visceral book that takes you into the insanity and difficulty of fighting in mountainous jungle terrain that is virtually isolated from any reliable supply chain or intelligent support from superiors. Mark Bowden (of Blackhawk Down fame) reviewed Matterhorn for the NY Times. He concluded his review: “Vladimir Nabokov once said that the greatest books are those you read not just with your heart or your mind, but with your spine. This is one for the spine.” Highly recommended.
Night by Elie Wiesel
- It feels, as one student noted, drained of all hope. However, this book serves as a powerful reminder to anyone engaged in reading about war that beyond the stories of heroism, and adventure, and drama, and transformation, there is a central feature of war: the banality of evil, as Hannah Arendt would have it. From my perspective, it is this that we must work against. Whether it is a complacent distance or a complicit engagement, no one is off the hook.
Operation Homecoming ed. by Andrew Carroll
- An amazing project from the current wars. It is written by the troops, enabling a range of voices to speak in a variety of tones. This anthology, paired with the film of the same title, shook my students out of any kind of complacent distance from the ongoing “conflicts” in the Middle East.
Peace Meals: Candy Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories by Anna Badkhen
- Yes, it’s about both war and food. Badkhen points out that “there is more to war than the macabre–the white-orange muzzle flashes during a midnight ambush; the men high on adrenaline scanning the desert through the scopes of their machine guns as their forefingers caress the triggers; the scythes of razor-sharp shrapnel whirling through the air like a lawn-mower blades spun loose; the tortured and the dead. There are also the myriad brazen, congenial, persistent ways in which life in the most forlorn and violent places on earth shamelessly reasserts itself. Of those, sharing a meal is one of the most elemental.”
A Rumor of War by Phil Caputo
- The definitive memoir of the war in Vietnam. Caputo served as a Marine and later covered the war as a reporter.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
- It’s really the first and the last, disassembling narrative itself, the great lie that allows the tragic, banal chaos of war to become a “story” at all, and so to acquire interest and meaning and all the related thrills—climaxes, suspenses…. I don’t know that the message or sophistication of delivery has ever been surpassed.
Stones From The River by Ursula Hegi
- The engaging and rich story of a dwarf in a small German village amid the societal changes of WW II.
Tempered Steel: The Three Wars of Triple Air Force Cross Winner Jim Kasler by Perry D. Luckett and Chuck L. Byler
- A rare biography on this list about an amazing experience and an impressive man.
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
- The definitive collection of short stories on what war, especially Vietnam, does to those who take part.
Tiger Force: A True Story of Men and War by Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss
- The Pulitzer Prize winning story of atrocities in Vietnan and the cover-up that followed the investigation. Riveting and engaging, it shows the disintegration of a unit in the jungles of Vietnam.
Vera Brittain: Testament of Youth: An Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-1925 by Vera Brittain
- The behind the scenes portrait of WW I and her experience as a nurse—compelling and engaging.
War by Sebastian Junger
- A brilliant story of Junger’s experience with the Army in the Korangal Valley of Afghanistan.
World War One British Poets: Brooke, Owen, Sassoon, Rosenberg and Others
- A comprehensive collection of the best war poets from World War I.
The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
- A true story of perseverance and determination amid the German occupation of Warsaw in WW II.