World War II Reading Challenge

I asked Hope at Worthwhile Books what WWII books she would suggest. She introduced me to the War Through the Generations Reading Challenge

I love the discipline of a reading challenge: I get heftier books read, ones that don’t always go down easy, when I plan my reading in advance.  Because, the truth is this: I’m never quite ‘in the mood” to read Mein Kampf.  

I’m starting the challenge with books from my bookshelf. 

Winston Churchill:

Adolf Hitler

Stephen Ambrose

Dick Winters

William Manchester

Tadeusz Borowski

Leo Marks

Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker’s War, 1941-1945
Leo Marks is the son of the owner of the Marks & Co., the bookstore at 84 Charing Cross Road.

Tom Brokaw

Elie Wiesel

Richard J. Maybury

John Betjeman

Trains and Buttered Toast: Selected Radio Talks
This isn’t specifically a WWII book, but many chapters are BBC radio talks during the war.

Thomas Keneally

Stewart Binns and Adrian Wood

Theodor Seuss Geisel

I also plan to listen to Shaara’s WWII books: The Rising Tide and The Steel Wave.   

Trolling through other participants’ reading lists, got me jonesing for more books.  Hope will write one of her stellar reviews and I’m sunk.  But I will begin with what I have available to me.  The problem with WWII literature is that the vast number of books written on this subject makes one dizzy.

I’m thankful for a summer and fall immersed in reading, viewing and listening to all things “Great War.”  That gave me the foundation (and perhaps the fortitude) to tackle and understand better another grim war. 

Onward, then.


27 thoughts on “World War II Reading Challenge

  1. You missed Once Upon a Town by Bob Greene.  I know you don’t need yet another book, but this one is a tear jerker true story about the homefront war.  It isn’t deep at all, more of a light read, but really heartwarming.  My Grandpa went west to San Diego and managed to miss it.

  2. @Wildflowersp – @chndlrs – Thanks for the recommends.  I do appreciate it.  I’m sure I will add more, especially those in the “light” category.  Suzanne, Doug Jacobson is in this reading challenge and offered two copies of his books for prizes at the end of the challenge.  I wasn’t familiar with Night of Flames but how interesting that you suggested it.

  3. That list is hefty, but if anyone I know can finish it, it’s you, Carol.  You are a reading machine!!I own the Churchill volumes and the Band of Brothers; Tom Brokaw’s; and perhaps Schindler’s List.  Interesting comments in the movie Expelled about Hitler, Mein Kampf, and Darwin.

  4. What a venture you are embarking upon!For your light category, I’d suggest not missing Albert Marrin’s books on WWII:Overlord: D-Day and the Invasion of EuropeThe Airman’s War: World War II in the SkyVictory in the PacificThe Secret Armies: Spies, Counterspies, and Saboteurs in World War IIHitlerStalin: Russia’s Man of SteelMao Tse-tung and His ChinaI look forward to following your adventure! Onward!~Janie

  5. @godsfarmgirl – Janie, if you recommend them, they are irresistible!  I very much enjoyed Albert Marrin’s book on WWI, The Yanks Are Coming.  Our library has three of the books you listed, so I can start there.  I find that Marrin gets the essential facts, in a readable format.  I do wish Barbara Tuchman had written about this war.  I’ve just spent two hours looking up more information on John Betjeman.  Fascinating! The book Sweet Songs of Zion (in my Amazon checkout) is a collection of radio talks about hymns and hymnwriters.   

  6. Carol,You are way ahead of me. I can’t stop reading about WWI even though I spent all of last year doing that. I still have A Soldier of the Great War on my list. Did your son ever read that? I also want to go back and read the book Barbara Tuchman wrote, whose title escapes me, about the prelude to The Great War.  This is my big problem with homeschooling. I go too slow through a time period. I am reading two WWII books, or at least I have started them: Suite Francais and A Thread of Grace.

  7. @Dominionfamily – Collin didn’t read Soldier of the Great War, but I did.  I read many sections aloud to Curt and Collin.  It is really worth a read. Cindy, your comment shows how much we are alike: I just received Tuchman’s The Proud Tower in the mail, and am trying to figure out how to get that read too. I’m still in mourning the fact that I never got Cotton Mather’s The Great Works of Christ in America read. Thanks for mentioning the books.  I will add them to my list.  

  8. Ok, two more suggestions, but these are easypeasey reads. I never learned beans about WWII in school. So, when Bodie Thoene wrote The Zion Covenant and The Zion Chronicles series way back when, I read them. I learned more about WWII through those than anything I ever knew [which, of course, was not much :)]. I would not recommend them as a review of the war, but I would recommend them as an interpersonal landscape on which the meatier books are painted. Thoene has a gift for telling stories too, just as Marrin, but in a different way.Enjoy!Janie

  9. Another easy read: Tamar by Mal Peet. This one is YA fiction, set after the war, but dealing with things that happened during WW II.Then not so easy, or short, is Herman Wouk’s two volume fictional survey of WW II: The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. Good fiction for a break from the nonfiction titles.I read Night a couple of years ago, and it’s a quick read but very sad and nearly hopeless.Oh, I would also suggest the miniseries I watched last year on Churchill: The WIlderness Years. It’s about the years leading up to the war, but it is excellent.Sherry

  10. Oooo! AWESOME! If I had enough time to plan ahead I would SO love to join you! What a fantastic challenge! I’d love to follow along with you as you read so I’ll be subscribing to your blog now….- Carrie, Reading to

  11. @Sherry – Thanks, Sherry.  You have steered me to some amazing books in the past.  Barbara Tuchman is an author I wouldn’t know if it weren’t for you.  Thanks for the tip on the Churchill miniseries.  I just added The Gathering Storm to my Netflix. I don’t know if this is part of what you are talking about, or something different.  I’ll do more research.@Carrie – Thanks for the enthusiasm and kinds words, Carrie–whom I always think of as CarrieRTK from your posts on Saturday Review of Books. 

  12. Hello Carol, You have an impressive list of books, but I can’t help but recommend two of my all-time favorites.  Ernie Pyle, as you know, was one of the most well-loved journalists of the war and his books (compilations of his newspaper column) are fabulous.  I’d recomend BRAVE MEN.  The other book that blew me out of the water was MIRACLE ON THE RIVER KWAI about God’s transforming power in a P.O.W. camp.  The movie version (called “To End All Wars”) came out a few years ago, but my husband previewed it for me and said I wouldn’t be able to hack it – I trust his judgement so I haven’t seen it.I am putting together a list of lesser known WWII movies which I’ll post on my blog later.

  13. Wow!  That’s quite an impressive list!  I taught high school history and I am ashamed to admit that I’ve not read a single one of those in its entirety.  If you’re in the mood for a lighte (?–maybe in terms of style, not subject matter) YA read, you might try The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  I reviewed it on my blog here–>'s narrated by death.  It’s a really unusually written book.

  14. @Amy – Hi Amy. Thanks for the recommendation.  Our library has The Book Thief both in print and audio.  Because my other reading is so heavy, I may try to listen to this one.  BTW, I have to admit that I have not read any Victor Hugo in its entirety.  Would you recommend where to begin?  I have collected so many astounding quotes (including your blog title) that I know I would not want to die before reading some serious amounts of Hugo.

  15. @R1R2ish – Ruthie, you are so right.  I do like AVM, though it does get preachy in places. Funny how evangelical (as in proselytizing) the liberals can get.  Her daughter reminded me of a fundamental Sunday School child spewing out the “correct” answers! (giggle)  I much preferred the sections Barbara wrote to those of her husband and daughter.  I thought her defense of eating meat was the best argument against vegetarianism that I’ve read.  I also–finally–made the connection about heirloom seeds and heritage animal breeding.  I had been changing my mind about our eating habits over the years (we almost never eat fast food anymore) and this book was the one that made me willing to spend more for better quality food.  We now buy chickens from a local farmer and spend (gasp!) $2.30/lb for them.  We also buy raw milk locally for $5/gallon.  I thought their experiment was fascinating and it reminded Curt and me of the way our grandparents ate on their farms. 

  16. @R1R2ish – Oh Ruthie, this brings back the memory of a funny moment in our homeschooling life.  I started to read HND aloud to our boys.  After lunch.  Warm living room.  I managed to put everyone, including myself, to sleep!  The first chapter described the details of Notre Dame and we all just….drifted….off………I will have to revisit it.  Victor Hugo is an author I need to read.  And dearie, you may interrupt anytime!

  17. @Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit) and @diaryofaneccentric – Thanks for hosting the challenge.  This is exactly what I needed to read some of the books on my shelf.  I’ve started reading Churchill as an easy way to dip my toe in the water.  His grasp of language and syntax is delightful.  His self-vindicating tone is a bit off-putting.  I’m hoping to get Churchill and Hitler read first and “reward” myself with some fiction later.  My street is being plowed as I write this, so I can run down to the library and pick up an audio book or two to add to the collection.

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