5 of My Favorite Books About War

Books about war? Yup.

I love reading non-fiction. Before I got back into fiction a few years ago, I read 99% non-fiction. And about 85% of those books were about wars.

Might seem like an odd thing to be into. But, maybe not, history is important. I’m fascinated by world history. The things that march countries towards conflict.

We don’t have much time to tap into the details. In school, I took a every AP history class I could: American History, European History, and World History. But I still don’t know much about World War I, the Korean Conflict, or the Vietnam War, to name a few.

Even having lived half my life while the US is at war in the Middle East, the real reasons and experiences of the people on the ground (and I don’t just mean the soldiers) are often ignored.

That’s why I like to read books about war. To understand the horrors behind it. What the man or woman private experiences, what the reporter really sees, what the people who are on the other side deal with.

So, in this post, I’m showing you my favorites. They aren’t in any particular order. If you don’t like reading about this stuff, that’s fine. But, you can learn so much about why we head to war as you do about the war itself.

All too often, you’ll find out, the story repeats.

books about war

Flyboys by James Bradley

 

This book covers the stories of a crew of airmen who were shot down during a bombing raid of Chichi Jima. One survived. He went on to become the 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush. In Flyboys, you’ll learn the terrible fate of the other eight.

I learned a lot about the European front in school, but the battle in the Pacific was often an afterthought. This book brings the Pacific theater into sharp focus. It winds together the stories of both American and Japanese veterans

As a warning: this book is graphic, violent, and shocking. We’re often told that WW II was the ‘good war’ but some of the things done in the Pacific theater (by both sides) are horrific. Bradley goes back in time to cover the 100 previous years of American-Japanese relations to give us some context as to why.

The Forever War by Dexter Filkins

 

Wow, this book was great. Filkins is a New York Times war reporter and a Pulitzer Prize winner, and it shows. In this book, Filkins is on the front line of the ‘War on Terror.’ He travels around the Middle East both on his own and with units.

What struck me about The Forever War is the way Filkins looks at all sides. It wasn’t just about the US side. He covers a lot about the ramifications of war. Especially for Iraqi’s who have lived under such enormous upheaval and the day to day of their lives.

Filkins doesn’t guide you through with his opinions. He uses facts and the stories of the people effected to leave you thinking is this war, the ‘War on Terror’ one that will go on forever?

For more from war reporters who are also authors, check out this talk from the 2011 New Yorker Festival:

To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild

 

Hochschild is another of my favorite historical authors, I loved King Leopold’s Ghost. With this book, I finally decided to dig into more about World War I. As the last few years have been about the 100 year anniversary of it, I wanted to know more.

First, Hochschild weaves an incredible story of completely different factions all colliding. The Suffragettes and the socialists who were anti-war. The pro-war faction like writer Rudyard Kipling and other Imperialists. You can just feel the march towards war and the conflict building. When the war started, people in England were excited!

Then you get to the facts. He leads up to this war from the Boer War, the things learned, the ever deadlier tools and weapons. And it’s hard not to see why this war was just so damaging on so many levels. World War I was carnage, and often feels like it was fought for no real purpose.

We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese by Elizabeth M. Norman

 

We rarely get war stories from women. History often forgets that there were thousands of women who served in wars before today. This is the story of one group of women, nurses, who served in the Pacific during WW II.

When the nurses first arrived in the Philippines, it was a relatively swanky post, the war hadn’t come close to their shores. And then…bombs rain down and the women were forced to set up a field hospital in the jungles of Bataan to tend to the wounded. It doesn’t get better. Soon after, the Japanese arrive the majority of the nurses are held as prisoners of war in camps for three years.

Finally, they go home, but not quite to the same welcome of their male counterparts. This book gives a great first hand account through letters and interviews of what it was like to be a woman at war. If you want to know more, watch this 1 hour interview with the author:

Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War by Mark Bowden

 

There’s no doubt you’ve heard of the popular 2001 movie, Black Hawk Down. It’s based off of this book. In it, Bowden tells basically a minute by minute account of the events that transpired in a raid, under the auspices of a humanitarian mission ordered by both President’s Bush (41) and Clinton, gone terribly wrong.

In 15 hours, 18 US soldiers were killed and over 500 Somalis, many combatants, some not. The book is told through the eyes of the various soldiers both on the scene at command. He also speaks with Somalis who were there at the time and help convey the anger of the city towards Americans, a massive contributing factor. As you read, you can tell the extensive research and interviews works, it feels like you’re there.

What’s so fascinating about this battle is it foreshadows a future. It turned out the might and technological advancement of the US military could be swarmed by a hostile crowd in an urban landscape half a world away.

Your Turn

 

Alright, I shared mine, now show me yours. Let me know books I should read about war. I’m all ears.