If 100 people gave you a list of recommended WW2 readings the chances are you would get no two lists the same – there are that many stories. This was a period of huge numbers and at the same time a recognition that every individual’s story was important. Here are ten stories of fiction and non-fiction that mean the most to one of our librarians from that era.
Catch 22: a Novel by Joseph Heller
An iconic and, perhaps, the original example of black humor in a novel, Catch 22 exposes the wartime idiosyncrasies of U.S. military practices in World War II. As the Allies make their push into Italy, bombardier Captain Yossarian struggles to hang on to his sanity as he waits to achieve the ever elusive “enough flight missions” to reach the end of his tour of war. He learns, however, that there is always a “catch” to everything.
Also available as an audiobook in Libby and as an audiobook and ebook in Hoopla.
The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff
Young American women are recruited to carry out special espionage missions in occupied
France while posing as French citizens. Marie is chosen because of her fluency in a particular French dialect and her familiarity with French culture, learned from her mother. She and other volunteers are given identities and flown in secretly with their transmission codes and their radios that they must keep hidden from the German authorities. This story of these extremely dangerous missions and the extraordinary women who carried them out is based on real events.
Also available in large print and as an ebook and audiobook in Libby and Hoopla.
All the Light We Cannot See: a Novel by Anthony Doerr
A blind French girl and a young German boy, both with special skills, have an unrealized connection that comes to fruition in German-occupied France as the war reaches its end. Marie-Laure, gone blind at an early age, learns to navigate every aspect of her environment that she has memorized from the detailed model that her father has built for her. Orphans Werner and his younger sister Jutta discover an old radio and become adept at repairing and using it. When his expertise with radios is discovered, Werner is sent to an elite Nazi military academy to eventually serve the Reich as a Resistance-tracker in France. Werner’s and Marie’s paths converge at the end of the war in this dazzling and heart-breaking tale.
Also available in large print and as an ebook and audiobook in Libby and as an ebook in Hoopla.
Slaughterhouse-Five, or, the Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut
Billy Pilgrim has become unstruck in time and, therefore, relives his time spent in a German prisoner-of-war camp in Dresden when Allied planes firebombed that city near the end of World War II. But also, due to the Chrono-Synclastic Infidibulum that has “unstuck” him, Billy finds himself in future circumstances on the planet Tralfamadore with his lover Montana Wildhack. In this story of time-travel and post-war America, man’s inhumanity to man is laid bare, but also revealed is the deep-down sweetness of life that it is possible for to see even in the face of great despair.
Also available as an ebook in Libby and Hoopla.
The Winds of War: a Novel/War and Remembrance: a Novel by Herman Wouk
This two-volume set recounts the events of World War II with historical accuracy while drawing the reader into the personal stories of interconnected central characters. As a WWII aficionado, I found this to be the best attempt by historical fiction to make the history accessible. The human aspect of Wouk’s fictional characters gracefully counterpoints the documentary-like telling of historical events as only a work of fiction can do.
A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan
Operation Market Garden was the combined Allied effort to retake the German-occupied Netherlands by dropping British and American airborne troops behind enemy lines while simultaneously surging through the Dutch countryside in a frontal attack to bring a swift end to the war in Europe. If this audacious, but overreaching, offensive was successful, the capture of the bridge across the Rhine at Arnhem would allow Allied armies to flood into Germany through the previously occupied territory. In his masterful work of history, author Cornelius Ryan chronicles this operation with necessary attention to detail while telling the story with the suspense and tragedy that brings to life this enormous and daring operation. The heroic efforts of the Dutch underground and a Polish airborne unit operating under British command is also highlighted in this worthy battle history.
Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest by Stephen Ambrose
The story of Easy Company, one airborne component of the famous American 101st Airborne, follows this bonded group of men from their rigorous training in the backwoods of 1942 Georgia through their intrepid drop into France in the early morning hours of the D-Day invasion and the ensuing battle on Utah Beach. Their job not yet finished, E-Company was parachuted into Holland during the Arnhem campaign and then brought in to Bastogne to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, finally culminating with their capture of the Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s famed Bavarian outpost. These men in this remarkable brotherhood are individually depicted and Ambrose’s detailed telling clearly shows how they became a band of brothers. Made into a noteworthy multi-part series for television by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.
Also available as an ebook in Libby & an audiobook in Hoopla.
America 1941: A Nation at the Crossroads by Ross Gregory
A thoughtful study of what America looked like in the year leading up to our entrance into World War II. Impeccably researched and eminently readable this is a true piece of Americana. This is not only the story of a year it is one of an era – the time between the Great Depression and the war. For Americans the depression was not completely behind us and although we were still in peacetime, war raged around us. This book is a historical breath of fresh air that is both exhilarating and elucidating of that time.
Code Girls: the Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy
To carry out the important work of code breaking in the Second World War the U.S. military turned to mathematically-talented individuals, some of whom were ivy-league college seniors, many of whom were school-teachers found throughout the country, and almost all of whom were women. This is the story of several of these women who answered the call to serve under challenging circumstances. Some joined the military as WACS and WAVES and, hence, increased their status, but most remained civilians and put their lives on hold for the war effort. Their work was of the utmost secrecy during the war and afterwards, and they faithfully kept that secret throughout their lives. Here is a tribute to and, finally, some recognition of these individuals who carried out this crucial work that saved lives and shortened WWII. With their intelligence, skill, and crushingly hard work, these American women are truly unsung heroes.
Also available in large print and as a book and audiobook in Libby.
The Storm on Our Shores: One Island, Two Soldiers, and the Forgotten Battle of World War II by Mark Obmascik
Attu, the most remote of the Aleutian Islands, is the westernmost point of the state of Alaska and was subject to Japanese aggression during World War II. Populated by 44 natives and a couple from Ohio who ran the weather station, Attu was captured with no resistance and held by the Japanese navy until it was deemed necessary to retake it by American forces. This story is told from the point of view of two soldiers: Paul Nobuo Tatsuguschi, a Japanese surgeon and medic in the Japanese military, and Dick Laird, an American sergeant. They were fated to come together in war on the island of Attu. Having killed a squadron of Japanese soldiers in a skirmish on a mountain trail, Dick recovered a journal, which turned out to be Paul’s diary, from the body of a Japanese soldier. The journal circulated among American troops and became a poignant example of the common humanity among soldiers. This is a tale of forgiveness and redemption, especially for Dick Laird who embarked upon a forty-year search for Paul Tatsuguschi’s daughter, Laura, to meet with her to achieve an important reckoning.
Also available as an audiobook in Hoopla.