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The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman
This is the true story of a Jewish man living in Warsaw, Poland who is a prominent pianist for Polish Radio. After the Germans invade Poland, he and his family are forced to scrape together a living as the Jews are dying off day by day. For Szpilman, death is around every corner but he always seems to escape certain death with a combination of miracles and blind luck. It is a well-written book that is clear, consise, and pure in heart. Szpilman does not use flowery words to dramatize his life. He does not lament the Holocaust or feel sorry for himself. He doesn't even let bitterness or hatred prevent him from continuing his life--he even wished to help a German who helped him survive. He wrote the story immediately after the war, still in shock, and as a result we are left with a vivid account of his experiences, free of emotional or political distortions. This may be a Holocaust story but profound depth of Szpilman's narrative transcends any boundaries of the genre.

Tigers In The Mud by Otto Carius
Drafted as an infantry replacement, this young man went on to earn the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross as a Tiger commander on both the east and west fronts. This is one of the finest examples of real heroism you will ever read, regardless of what side he fought for. He's not concerned with politics or bragging about his many accomplishments, he simply wanted to honor the men of his unit and counter the "defamation of the German soldier in film, television and the press." His stories alone are worth reading (he was decorated by Himmler, wounded several times, knocked out over 150 tanks) but the book's true value is the war through the eyes of a man who feels no shame. Carius was in the mold of Rommel--not a Nazi but a true soldier to the core with an unshakable sense of duty and love of country.

An Ace of the Eighth by Norman Fortier
This is the complete account of an American fighter pilot, Norman "Bud" Fortier, from flight school to the end of the war. From his first combat missions in a P-47 to the last days over Germany in a P-51, you truly get a sense of how dangerous being a pilot was, on either side. Fortier witnessed tragic losses and unbelievable miracles nearly every day, and although the book doesn't read like a fast-paced action novel, the sheer weight of the air war is always present. His memory is backed up by other pilots from his squadron and official USAAF records, so it is a very accurate history with some of the most incredible war stories I've ever read. If you've ever thought that pilots had it easy sleeping in beds and taking hot showers while the ground troops did all the hard work, this book will change your mind.

Maus I & II by Art Spiegelman
Written by the son of a Holocaust survivor, it chronicles the life of a Polish Jew who goes from being a young man to a soldier to a prisoner in a concentration camp. The book is entirely written in comic book format with the Jews represented as mice and the Germans as cats, taking away any sense of familiarity with the Holocaust. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, it is an epic story of one man's determination to survive and his son's struggle to deal with his father's past.

The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer
Certainly one of the most amazing war books ever written, The Forgotten Soldier is an auto-biographical tale of a French boy who joins the Wehrmacht at its strongest, only to become engulfed in its consecutive defeats. It begins in the summer of 1942 and follows him to the spring of 1945, with all the horrific madness in between. In the vast steppes of Russia he learns the true meaning of friendship, happiness, suffering, and death...all the while staying one step ahead of the Soviet fury. The book suffers from many factual discrepancies, leading some historians to doubt the author's credibity, but regardless--once you begin reading it, you cannot put it down.

Band Of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose
This book covers E Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Regiment of the infamous 101st Airborne Division from its conception in boot camp through the defeat of Germany in 1945. Masterfully written, it is the best book by one of the greatest historians of our time and while it has a narrow focus, it perfectly captures the sense of comradery and brotherhood soldiers feel for one another during wartime. These men were arguably the finest unit of the military the United States has ever produced, and Ambrose's collection of narratives are wonderfully pieced together in a fluid storyline. You will not want to put this book down, and when you are finished, you will have a newfound respect for combat veterans.

The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang
This is a terribly disturbing account of the nearly forgotten Chinese holocaust during WWII. While most of the attention has been given to Jews in eastern Europe, this book is a testament to the hundreds of thousands of Chinese who were raped, tortured and murdered in just six weeks in the winter of 1937. This is a very short book, but not an easy read. If you think the Nazis were the most evil group in history, the Japanese attrocities in Nanking might change your mind. A very focused and well researched book, it should be included in any historical study of genocide.

Dirty Little Secrets Of WWII by James Dunnigan and Albert Nofi
Continuing the "Dirty Little Secrets..." series, this provides a thoroughly detailed look at the facts and statistics of WWII. Although it doesn't read like a traditional book, it is a great no-nonsense look at all aspects of WWII, even ones we don't normally think of. Packed with interesting tidbits of trivia, its simple format makes history easy to understand and even fun.

One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
This is a semi-autobiographical account of a Soviet soldier imprisoned in a Siberian labor camp for surrendering to the Germans in WWII. The author was a soldier himself who allegedly made a remark about Stalin and was put in the Gulag, only to be released many years later. A fine piece of Russian literature and a great look at life in a Soviet labor camp, written by a man who was there. The translation is a little rough, but the secret is to read it with a Russian accent in your head, which only makes it better. A quick read and a modern day classic, it is symbol for man's eternally free spirit in an unforgiving world.

With The Old Breed by E.B. Sledge
Written by a veteran of Peleliu & Okinawa in the Pacific Theater, Sledge takes a hard-hitting, no nonsense look at what the Marines went through to defeat the Japanese. He covers his first day in boot camp up to the cleanup after Okinawa, and all the terrible ordeals in between. It is a very "genuine" book because it is not written by a famous officer, or historian, or even a great writer--it was written by a young Marine Private who not only describes his feelings, but his comrades' as well, and perhaps does so in a way far better than any writer ever could.

The War In The Pacific by Harry A. Gailey
This is a perfect one-volume account of the Pacific theater during WWII. Naturally it covers everything from the rise of the Japanese empire to the end of the war in 1945, but it also is very balanced in its coverage. While it mainly focuses on the U.S. vs. Japanese scope of operations, fair attention is given to other countries and their contributions to the war. The book is easy to follow and there are more than enough battle maps to make sense of all the campaigns. A helpful bonus is that it isn't too long (497 pages) but is still in a compact paperback size. My only complaint is that all of the pictures included are portraits of high ranking officials, when there should have been some combat or "average GI" pictures as well.

Barbarossa by Alan Clark
Probably the most famous account of the Russo-German war, this takes a look at all the major events of that aspect of WWII. A thoroughly comprehensive book, it is loaded with facts and details about both sides and has plenty of eyewitness narratives inserted in. The big downside (aside from its length) is that there are footnotes on nearly every page, which can be distracting. Other than that, it is a wonderful book.

The Historical Atlas Of WWII by John Pimlott
A great coffee table book that summarizes all the big events of WWII in both theaters with lots of amazing maps. It doesn't go into much detail but covers enough to keep any WWII buff interested. The downside is that it is an expensive book, but it's at least worth checking out.

The Second World War by Martin Gilbert
A distinguished historical writer, Martin Gilbert takes on WWII this time in exhaustive detail. This very large book covers every possible battle and event of WWII, from beginning to end, making it an invaluable reference tool. The only drawback comes from its enormous detail, making it easy to get lost at times, but it is probably the best one-volume account of WWII out there.

German Generals of WWII by F.W. von Mellenthin
Written by the brother of General von Mellenthin, it only covers 14 German WWII Generals, but has more than enough info on them. Its best feature is that the author personally knew all 14, but his bias in his judgement of them is evident. Even so it is a very interesting read to see what this staff officer among the German high command has to say about Germany's famous Generals.

Here are some other books in my collection that I've used as references for my website:

Allied Fighters of World War II by Bill Gunston
A World In Flames by Martin Kitchen
Battle Winning Tanks, Aircraft & Warships by David Miller
Great Battles of World War II by John MacDonald
The Holocaust by Donald Niewyk
Hitler and Germany by William Simpson
The Nuremberg War Crimes Trial by Michael Marrus
The Simon & Schuster Encyclopedia of World War II
The multi-volume Time-Life series on World War II
Winged Victory by Geoffrey Perret

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