World War II: The War in Europe

This reading list is designed to help those who are interested in engaging historical fiction and non-fiction surrounding World War II Europe.  I have tried to create a well-rounded list, including a variety of sub-genres and setting locations.  To browse the titles by sub-genre or setting, follow this link.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Death encountered Liesel, the young book thief, three times during her childhood.  Now, having discovered her journal of memories, he strives to share her story and the story of all of those on Himmel Street in during the Third Reich.  Death recounts the mischief Liesel concocts with Rudy Steiner, her complex and beautiful relationship with her foster family, the terrifying business of hiding a Jew, the tragedy of war, and the enduring hope and beauty of life.  Ultimately, it is the words—of the author, of the characters, of the past—that bring the story to life so vibrantly and unforgettably.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Juliet Ashton is a writer, living in post-war London, who receives a request for book recommendations from a man living on the Channel Island of Guernsey. As their correspondence grows into a friendship, Juliet begins to learn about the impact that the German occupation has had on the lives of the islanders, and of the sometimes humorous ways that they resisted their German oppressors.  It’s a charming, hopeful story about friendship, relationships, life in an occupied territory, and the life of an independent career woman in the 1940s.

Maus by Art Spiegleman
Art Spiegleman’s parents survived a concentration camp and became two of many Polish-Jewish refugees of the war.  In his graphic-memoir, Maus, Art tells his parents’ story and tries to come to terms with this horrific and life-shaping event and its resonance in his own life. Spiegleman won a Pulitzer Prize for Maus and completed his story in Maus II.  

Miracle at St. Anna by James McBride
During a campaign in the mountains of Italy, four American soldiers become separated from the rest of their all-Black division of the army and find themselves behind enemy lines.  As the German army closes in, the soldiers get swept up in the politics of the small Italian village where they’ve taken refuge, forced to face the frustrations of racism and the reality of war and death all around them.  Together with a vengeful villager named Peppi and young mute boy with a silent secret, the soldiers strive to uncover the identity of the traitor who opened the door for siege and massacre.

Ordinary Men by Christopher R. Browning
The men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 were given a choice by their commanding officer: to follow the orders from a higher command to shoot the men, women, and children of a Jewish town in Poland, or to opt out of the assignment, with no punitive consequences.  Given these options, hundreds of ordinary men chose to become murderers.  Christopher Browning looks at the testimonies of the soldiers of Reserve Police Battalion 101 as they describe their experiences and grapples with the perplexing question: Why?

The Siege by Helen Dunmore
Anna’s apartment is freezing cold.  Her father is ill.  Her five-year-old brother is malnourished.  And they are all slowly starving to death.  Outside of Leningrad, the Germans have laid a siege, burning the food and cutting off access to the city’s kindling.  It is all they can do to survive and keep warm.   As the hunger and the cold of Russian winter grow increasingly acute, Anna struggles to survive, to care for her family, and to imagine a future with the man she loves while death seems to hover over them.

The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst
Jean- François Mercier, a French army officer finds himself assigned to serve as a spy in the Polish city Warsaw.  In 1937, as tensions between Germany and other European nations begin to mount, Mercier begins to uncover Germany’s plans for invasion.  As the clock ticks down, Mercier struggles convince the complacent French and Polish governments of the real threat that Germany poses and strives to maintain his own personal life and romantic attachments as the imminent war closes in.

The Steel Wave by Jeff Shaara
On June 6, 1944, 24,000 American, British, and Canadian men dropped from the sky into German-occupied France.  160,000 more men sloshed through the ocean onto Normandy beach.  Approximately 10,000 of these men were killed or wounded.  But the Allied victory that drove the Germans back from the French coast was the beginning of Germany’s defeat.  InThe Steel Wave, Jeff Shaara tells the whole story of the D-Day invasion at Normandy through the eyes of a range of players, from fictional foot soldiers, to General Eisenhower himself.  The book gives a play by play account of the military strategy, the major decisions, the mistakes, the fears, and the courage that led up to one of the most important military victories in the war.  This book is the second of Shaara’s three WWII novels–preceded by The Rising Tide and followed by No Less Than Victory.  

Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi
Primo Levi survived eleven months in the infamous Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz.  He recounts his experiences in horrific detail, describing not only the physical trauma of the events but also effect of the Nazi’s treatment of the Jews on their minds and feeling of human dignity.

The Unlikely Spy by Daniel Silva
In 1944, Germany has captured France, and the Allied forces are determined to get it back.  As the Allies prepare for the D-Day invasion, the British Military Intelligence agency MI5 learns that Nazi spies may be receiving information about the secret operation.  It is up to the shrewd former history professor Alfred Vicary to mislead the German spies and track down the most dangerous spy and assassin, the elusive “Catherine.”  Vicary must race against time as D-Day draws nearer and Catherine gets closer and closer to the information that could destroy the entire Allied operation.

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