Anyone who knows me knows that I love reading about World War II, both fiction and nonfiction. Sometimes nonfiction gets a bad rap as “boring” or “too technical,” but I discovered a slew of excellent nonfiction WW II books that read more like novels than historical accounts—sometimes because they are personal accounts, but also because the authors are excellent researchers and writers. Because I love the genre so much, and because I’m such a huge fan of World War II books, I thought I’d list my Top 5 nonfiction World War II books.
1. Flags of Our Fathers (James Bradley)
About the men in the famous flag-raising on Iwo Jima. As testament to its power, this book was made into a movie, directed by Clint Eastwood. This isn’t just one of my favorite WWII books. It’s one of my favorite books, period. I’ve read it several times and am looking forward to reading it again.
2. Ghost Soldiers (Hampton Sides)
Plugged as “the epic account of World War II’s greatest rescue mission,” this book tells the amazing story of how U.S. troops slipped behind enemy lines to rescue the last survivors of the Bataan Death March. This is one of the most powerful and disturbing books I’ve ever read—and the fact that it’s true makes it all the more potent.
3. Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand)
Uplifting and powerful, Unbroken tells one man’s incredible story of survival after becoming a castaway and being captured by the Japanese. This book was also made into a movie, directed by Angelina Jolie, and it’s probably the most uplifting book I’ve ever read.
4. With the Old Breed (E.B. Sledge)
Incredibly disturbing, parts of Sledge’s story were used in the HBO miniseries The Pacific, in which Sledge is one of the main characters. There is one scene in particular (about digging a trench) that has stayed with me for years.
5. Helmet for My Pillow (Robert Leckie)
Leckie tells his story as a marine fighting in the Pacific. There is absolutely no romancing of war or heroism here. Leckie’s story is brutal. Like Sledge’s story (see above), Leckie’s account was used in HBO’s The Pacific, and Leckie (called “Lucky”) is one of the series’ main characters.