The Greatest Generation
With three words one of our country’s greatest journalists, Tom Brokaw, coined a term, but more importantly gave us a magnificent testament to the men and women from every walk of life who sacrificed much and asked little. With eloquent prose and poignant photos, Brokaw honors not just the military heroes but the community leaders and ordinary citizens that together were “the greatest generation.” Read this book. Now.
In the Garden of Beasts
In 1933, a mild-mannered professor from Chicago, William E. Dodd was sent to Berlin as America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Nazi Germany. With him were his wife, son and dangerously extravagant daughter Martha. While Martha cavorted with the handsome young men of the Third Reich, Dodd became increasingly alarmed by evidence of Jewish persecution, but his missives to the State Department were largely ignored. Larson gives us a chilling, stunning and addictively readable account of the beginnings of an era of unimaginable horror.
Flags of Our Fathers
After his death, John Bradley’s son James discovered boxes of letters and photos that revealed that his father was one of the six men who raised the flag on Iwo Jima depicted in famous photograph. John never spoke of the photograph or the war so it was left to his son to tell the heartrending story of six extraordinary men. If you haven’t read this unforgettable #1 bestseller, don’t wait another second.
Scholars of Mayhem
Daniel C. Guiet
Guiet tells the astonishing story of his father, the lone American on a four-person team of Allied secret agents dropped into Nazi-occupied France whose extraordinary, James Bond-life feats had a profound effect on the success of D-Day and the outcome of the war. American born but a child of France, the senior Mr. Guiet was recruited by the CIA for his fluency in French—and his intelligence.
In recognition of her enormous talent and ability to eloquently tell the stories of courage and suffering in our time, Alexievich won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2015. In her newest book, Last Witnesses, she turns to a specific group of sufferers during the war—children—and brings together dozens of their voices in this powerful and poignant collection.
Rose gives us an compelling combination of history and biography about the 39 women who were—in an unprecedented act—recruited by Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) in 1942 to serve as spies and saboteurs in occupied France. Rose layers her rigorous, detailed research with wit and novelistic detail, rendering it as much a smoothly written and irresistible thriller as a history book.
Boverie offers a gripping chronicle, beginning in 1933, of the disastrous diplomacy—specifically Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 “peace for our time” capitulation to Hitler that was quickly followed by Germany’s invasion of Poland and subsequently the start of WWII. This groundbreaking history draws on deep archival research and previously untapped sources to offer a timeless lesson on standing up to aggression and authoritarianism.
The Cut Out Girl
Bart van Es
Anne Frank’s famous diary is only one of the many harrowing stories of young Jewish girls hidden during the war. Van Es gives us the story from his Dutch childhood of Lientje, whose parents handed her over to relatives to hide her from the Nazis. Haunted by her story and the unpredictable outcome, Van Es sought—and found—Lientze, now in her 80s, and unravels the astonishing and deeply moving truths of her experience.
In this utterly captivating, layered look at a slice of history, Paxson, an anthropologist, delves into the psyche of a remote and beautiful pocket of Nazi-occupied France where ordinary people risked their lives to rescue strangers – mostly Jewish children. Paxson discovers a place with a centuries-old tradition of harboring refugees and gives us an inspiring journey with great relevance to our contemporary conflicts.
Madame Fourcade's Secret War
Privileged, beautiful and glamorous—and a mother of two young children—is not the typical profile of a spy—but that is what Marie-Madeleine Fourcade was indeed. She headed the largest spy network in occupied France, escaped capture by the Nazis twice—once by slipping naked through the bars of her cell and supplied crucial intelligence to the American and British forces. Olson (Last Hope Island—see below) tells the riveting story of this unlikely hero with drama and verve.
Last Hope Island
Another of Olson’s not-to-be-missed books this is the story of how Britain, the only European democracy still holding out against Hitler, became a refuge and base of operations for the exiled leaders of Europe and thus became known as “Last Hope Island.” Olson draws us into the lives of King Haakon of Norway, the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina, Charles DeGaulle, and the Earl of Suffolk, among many other fascinating players and offers an spellbinding look at a treacherous time.
With the recent 75th anniversary of D-Day and the fast approaching anniversaries of VE Day and VJ day, now is the perfect time to dive into these best WWII nonfiction books that read like gripping novels. The ten authors here share wide and fascinating perspectives on myriad events and lives caught up in the horror, the devastation, and the inhumanity of a horrific time. But more importantly the lives chronicled in these books are ones of remarkable heroism, compassion, and courage, displaying the best of humanity. From the ambassadors to combatants, from debutantes to dignitaries, men and women from all walks of life changed the course of history, wrenching it from the fists of tyrants. We kick off the list with three classics to remind you that it’s high time to read—or reread—these then we move on to more recently published must-reads.
Featured image: @dantes1401 via Twenty20