War Literature – A Living List

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.


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21 Responses to War Literature – A Living List

  1. Jean says:

    Fantastic list. Wouldn’t this make a great course, an entire curriculum.

    • James A Moad II says:

      Maybe a combination of courses. One that all future politicians around the world should have to take before they commit a nation to war. By mixing in movies, readings by these authors, and other cross-genre works, it could be pretty cool. I watched the move Lebanon on the airplane to Atlanta last week and it was very insightful. It was about the invasion of Lebanon as seen through the eyes of a singular tank crew. It’s a low budget film, but captures the pain and sadness of those who are forced to fight in wars they don’t necessarily want to be a part of it. It’s in Hebrew with subtitles.

  2. James A Moad II says:

    Did you see the list of top 30 War Literature books I posted back in December. Check it out.

    All the best

  3. Michael Patterson says:

    Your list is very complete. Though he was not there, Plievier’s “Stalingrad” is one of the greats along with Remarque’s “All Quiet…”. Unfortunately, “Stalingrad” does not exist in a decent translation. In addition to Wiesel’s “Night”, Primo Levi’s “Survival in Auschwitz” (Ecce un Uomo), his first book, along with “The Drowned and the Saved” (I Sommersi et I Salvati) his last, are on my list. I personally found Levi far more compelling than Wiesel. (My comment is a bit late, I know, but I only just saw your list).

    • James A Moad II says:

      Michael, Thanks for the insights. I’ll be pushing out a new list next month, and will add these to the collection. I have a great translation of “Everyone Dies Alone”.

      All the best,

  4. diana says:

    Of the ones listed, I’ve thus far found Caputo’s A Rumor of War to be the most poignant. Strange to me that you had little to say about it.

    And why didn’t The Things They Carried make the list?


    • James A Moad II says:

      The omission of “The Things They Carried” was an oversight. Both books were supposed to be listed together. I realized that awhile back and meant to change it, but never did. I will on the new list that I’ll publish next month.

  5. Pamela Hart says:

    What about some of the newer books, like “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain? Or “The Yellow Birds” by Kevin Powers?

    • James A Moad II says:

      Exactly. That’s the kind of works I’ve been adding to my list to post soon. Thanks for the input!

  6. May I suggest another book for your list? The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell.

    Thanks for the blog and the list!

  7. Pamela Hart says:

    Brian Turner has a new collection: Phantom Noise. Life after war. And Roxana Robinson’s book Sparta -just published-also about a vet at home after deployment. Great list! Thanks for posting and adding.

    • James A Moad II says:

      Thanks for the inputs Pam. Phantom Noise is wonderful. Heard about ‘Sparta” but haven’t looked at it. Thanks for the input!

  8. Lawrence F. Farrar says:

    Without seeing the full list, it’s hard to know what other titles might be added. One I hope you have is Nicholas Monsarrat’s 1951 novel, The Cruel Sea. One you might not have is Life In The Tomb by Stratis Myrivilis (translated from the Greek by Peter Bien). Set on the Serbian-Macedonian front in 1917, this was one of the most widely read books in Greece in the 1920s.

  9. Seth Brady Tucker says:

    James–great list! We met at the 2010 WLA conference when I presented and read there (I am a fiction writer and poet who also writes about the war experience–my book Mormon Boy came out about a year after we met), and I remember your terrific reading. I teach a similar literature of war class at CU and I have found “The Immaculate Invasion” by Bob Shacochis is great for the time between Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War.

  10. Lawrence F. Farrar says:

    If you are still making lists, in addition to For Whom the Bell Tolls, I assume you have found a place for A Farewell to Arms. I also hope there is a spot for The Caine Mutiny.

    Recently after many years I re-read Mr. Roberts by Thomas Heggen. It’s a bit overwritten in places, but has a sense of authenticity. There is an especially moving passage that begins,” The dead, Roberts mused, what could you say for the dead of this war? What could you really say?” (pp. 165-166)

    • James A Moad II says:

      That was an odd oversight. It was on the list from the start–a book I’ve taught many times. I think it was a cut and paste issue. Thanks for mentioning that.

      I love that quote, by the way.

  11. Phil Poyner says:

    I would like to recommend two books about Vietnam, Street Without Joy by Bernard B. Fall and We Were Soldiers Once… And Young by Harold G. Moore and Joe Galloway. I imagine you’re familiar with both, as they’ve been standard “professional reading” for years.

    I’ll have to check out previously mentioned “The Immaculate Invasion” to see how it compares to my experiences in Port-au-Prince.

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