War Literature

The following works are important in the study of military history.

The following works are important in the study of military history. They are selected for their value in representing the conflict and/or the period in question, and they are arranged in roughly chronological subsections, within which they are arranged alphabetically by title.

Ancient World


Author: Xenophon

First published: 386-377 b.c.e. , as Kyrou anabasis

Anabasis chronicles the determined survival of an army of ten thousand Greek mercenaries stranded in northern Mesopotamia by the death of the claimant to the Persian throne who hired them. Although the author’s account of the mercenaries’ endurance against enormous military odds and great geographical obstacles is clearly colored by self-interest, the narrative is so stirring that it is said to have provided the literary inspiration for Philip of Macedon and Alexander the Great’s shared conviction that they could conquer the Persian Empire with a relatively small but highly disciplined Greek army.XenophonXenophonAnabasis (Xenophon)

The Art of War

Author: Sunzi (Sun Tzu)

First published: c. 510 b.c.e. , as Bingfa

This treatise on waging war consists of thirty-six stratagems covering everything from geopolitical strategy to battlefield tactics to the practice of espionage. In all of these areas, Sunzi advises caution over bellicosity. He argues for short wars with broad support among the population and warns against the corrosive effects of protracted conflicts. He argues for the clever manipulation of all possible advantages in everything from topography to weaponry, for the mitigation of the limitations of one’s own forces, and for the concentration of force where the enemy is most vulnerable. That many of these ideas have become truisms is a testament to Sunzi’s lasting influence.SunziSunziArt of War, The (Sunzi)

The Gallic Wars

Author: Julius Caesar

First published: 52-51 b.c.e. , as Comentarii de bello Gallico in Commentaries

This classic work of military commentary and Latin prose consists of seven books, with each book covering one year of Caesar’s seven-year campaign to subdue Gaul. Written in the third person, the narrative focuses not only on the major battles but also on the logistical preparation, intelligence gathering, political maneuvering, and tactical ingenuity that enabled Caesar’s always greatly outnumbered forces to defeat the Celtic tribes. For all of their ferocity, however, the Gallic tribes had been decimated by long, ongoing conflicts with Germanic tribes, and they remained unable to overcome their tribal divisions for any extended period.Gallic Wars, The (Caesar) Caesar, Julius

The History

Author: Herodotus

First published: c. 424 b.c.e. , as Historiai Herodotou

Known as the “Father of History,” Herodotus originally published his History in nine volumes. His primary subject was the Greco-Persian Wars (499-448 b.c.e.)[Greco Persian Wars] Greco-Persian Wars of the fifth century b.c.e. , which ensured the continuing independence of the Greek states and their formative role in the development of Western culture. He also, however, traveled widely throughout the Mediterranean world, and his histories include not only what he learned, first- and secondhand, about the lands that he visited but also what he learned about lands that lay beyond those he visited. Thus, he provides many of the earliest European references to regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and India.History, The (Herodotus) Herodotus

History of the Peloponnesian War

Author: Thucydides

First published: 431-404 b.c.e. , as Historia tou Peloponnesiacou polemou

Establishing many of the fundamental elements of modern historiography, Thucydides attempted to provide an objective history of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 b.c.e.)Peloponnesian War, despite the fact that he had been a combatant and could be expected to be biased toward the side on which he fought. The war was fought between the Delian LeagueDelian League, led by Athens, and the Peloponnesian League, led by Sparta. The war ended Athens’s preeminence and opened the way for the Macedonian conquest of Greece less than a half century later. Covering the first twenty-one years of the twenty-seven-year conflict, History of the Peloponnesian War has been divided into eight books. It is assumed that Thucydides was still working on the project when he died. History of the Peloponnesian War (Thucydides) Thucydides


Author: Homer

First published: c. 750 b.c.e.

The oldest surviving work in the Western literary canon, this epic poem describes the extended Trojan War (c. 1200-1100 b.c.e.)Greek siege of Troy, a major port in Asia Minor. Focusing on the martial achievements of the heroes on both sides and the dramatic deaths of many of the noteworthy combatants, the poem presents the great warrior as a sort of demigod. The greatest of all these warriors is the Greek Achilles, against whom no Trojan hero, not even Hector, can stand. The war and the poem conclude with the Greeks’ apparent withdrawal and their “gift” to the besieged city of the so-called Trojan horseTrojan horse. Actually filled with Greek warriors who, under cover of darkness, open the city’s gates to the returning mass of the Greek army, the Trojan horse has become a symbol for any audacious deception.Iliad (Homer) Homer

The Mahabharata

Author: Vyasa

First published: c. 400 b.c.e. -200 c.e. , Mahābhārata

One of the two great epics in Sanskrit that define much of the cultural and religious traditions of Hinduism, the Mahabharata includes more than 100,000 verse lines and 1.8 million words. On a basic narrative level, this epic poem is a chronicle of the struggle for royal succession in the Kuru kingdom of Hastinapura, a struggle that reached its great climax in the Kurukshetra War. The contending claimants to the throne are the Kaurava and the Pandava branches of the royal bloodline. Despite incredible demonstrations of valor by the great warriors on both sides during the war, the Pandava are ultimately victorious. Commentators have often drawn parallels between this Sanskrit epic and the Iliad.VyasaVyasaMahabharata, The (Vyasa)

Masters of Rome

Author: Colleen McCullough

First published: 1990-2007

Best known for The Thorn Birds (1977), the melodramatic family saga about the development of Australia, McCullough followed its tremendous commercial success, including its adaptation as an extremely popular television miniseries, with a complete change of direction. In the seven novels of her painstakingly researched series Masters of Rome, McCullough chronicles the fall of the Roman Republic and its transformation into an imperial state. The seven novels include The First Man in Rome (1990), The Grass Crown (1991), Fortune’s Favorites (1993), Caesar’s Women (1996), Caesar: Let the Dice Fly (1997), The October Horse (2002), and Antony and Cleopatra (2007).McCullough, ColleenMcCullough, Colleen[Maccullough, Colleen]Masters of Rome (McCullough)

Memoirs of Hadrian

Author: Marguerite Yourcenar

First published: 1951, as Mémoires d’Hadrien

Working from the fact that the Roman emperor Hadrian wrote an autobiography that was lost to history, Yourcenar provides a fictional version of that autobiography in this, her most acclaimed novel. Epistolary in form, the novel is framed as a letter from Hadrian to his presumptive successor, Marcus Aurelius. After years of immersing herself in Roman history and culture, Yourcenar was able to create and sustain a voice for Hadrian that won over classicists as well as more general readers, re-creating the milieu that he shaped at a level far beyond the usual “costume novel.”Yourcenar, MargueriteYourcenar, MargueriteMemoirs of Hadrian (Yourcenar)


Author: Howard Fast

First published: 1951

Fast transformed the leader of the largest slave revolt in Roman history into a champion of egalitarian, progressive ideals. The novel is divided into two types of sections. Those told in the past tense present the recollections of Roman leaders of the failed attempts to quell the uprising and the terror it created throughout Italy. These accounts exhibit the political machinations and the class consciousness that eventually subverted the core values of the Roman Republic and led to the rise of the imperial state. The other sections are told in the present tense from the rebels’ very different perspective. In contrast to the Roman vilification of Spartacus as a barbarous agent of civil disorder, to his followers he is an iconic figure, the embodiment of valor and honorableness.Fast, HowardFast, HowardSpartacus (Fast)

Medieval World


Author: Conn Iggulden

First published: 2007-2008

Called the Conqueror series in the United Kingdom, this series includes Birth of an Empire (2007), Lords of the Bow (2008), and Bones of the Hills (2008). It reconstructs the rise of Genghis Khan from the leadership of a small nomadic tribe to the master of the largest empire in human history. The series is notable both for the extensiveness of Iggulden’s research and for his unobtrusive integration of that research into the narratives. Projecting this as a seven-volume series, Iggulden has indicated that he will focus on Kublai Khan in the fourth through sixth novels.Iggulden, ConnIggulden, ConnMedieval sources;fictionGenghis (Iggulden)


Author: Sir Walter Scott

First published: 1819

The Anglo-Saxons[Anglo Saxons];fiction aboutmost enduring work by the prolific and popular Scottish novelist, Ivanhoe is a Romantic historical novel set in twelfth century England. The title character is a Saxon knight who not only supports Richard, the Norman king of England, but also accompanies him on his crusades to the Holy Land. Ivanhoe and the Lady Rowena, a direct descendant of the last Saxon king, are very much in love, but Ivanhoe’s father, who is also Lady Rowena’s guardian, has disinherited him for his support of a Norman king and is scheming to marry her off to Lord Æthelstane, the most powerful Saxon lord in England.Scott, Sir WalterScott, Sir Walter[Scott, Walter]Ivanhoe (Scott)

Poem of the Cid

Author: Unknown

First published: c. 1140, as Cantar del mío Cid

The hero of this great epic poem is based on Díaz de Vivar, Rodrigo[Diaz de Vivar, Rodrigo]Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar. He emerged at the head of a private army of knights in the midst of the political chaos that marked the eleventh century efforts of the Spanish states to reconquer the Iberian Peninsula from the Moorish states. Rodrigo had to anticipate the shifting alliances and conflicts among the Spanish states, the Moorish states, and the outside forces that attempted to take advantage of the chaos. In the poem, this Machiavellian figure becomes a great patriot whose fidelity to his king and the nascent notion of a Spanish state is rewarded with ingratitude and even perfidy.Poem of the Cid

Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Author: Luo Guanzhong

First published: mid-fourteenth century, as Sanguo zhi yanyi

This epic novel treats the political turmoil and the military campaigns that followed the Yellow Turban RebellionYellow Turban Rebellion against the Eastern Han Empire. The three kingdoms of the title–Wei, Wu, and Shu–enter into a precarious and frequently broken truce. The fortunes of each of the kingdoms are shown to rise and fall not simply on the skills of their kings but even more on the skills of the military advisers serving those kings. The novel chronicles the many schemes and battles that lead eventually to the defeat of both the Shu and Wu kingdoms by the Wei and the ascension to power of Ssu-Ma Yen as the first Emperor of China.Luo GuanzhongLuo GuanzhongRomance of the Three Kingdoms (Luo Guanzhong)

The Saracen Blade

Author: Frank Yerby

First published: 1952

Although Crusades;fiction abouthe has been much criticized for refusing to address issues of race in his fiction and although his early efforts and even some of his later novels can rightly be dismissed as historical romances or costume novels, Yerby was actually a fairly accomplished writer of historical novels. The Saracen Blade is a competent and even insightful treatment of the Crusades. Beyond some melodramatic inventions, Yerby demonstrates an awareness of the broad cultural conflicts that formed the backdrop to the specific battles and other historical events. Moreover, he takes pains to present a culturally balanced view of those events, representing with some nuances both the Christian and the Muslim perspectives on them.Yerby, FrankYerby, FrankSaracen Blade, The (Yerby)

The Tale of the Heiki

Author: Kakuichi

First published: 1371, as Heike monogatari

This Buddhismclassic epic of Japanese literature first appeared in oral versions, with the bulk of the composition being attributed, in the folk tradition, to a monk named Yukinaga. The most widely read and first authoritative written version, however, was completed by Kakuichi two centuries after the events described in the work. The main theme of The Tale of the Heiki is the Buddhist concept of impermanence, especially as it is reflected in the shifting centers of military and political power and in the stature of individual warriors. The work is a stylized account of the Gempei Wars (1180-1185) Gempei Wars (1180-1185), in which the Taira clan first defeated the Minamoto clan and then was defeated by it.KakuichiTale of the Heiki, The (Kakuichi)

Spanish Conquest


Author: Gary Jennings

First published: 1980

Jennings’s novel is the first in a five-novel series, which also includes Aztec Autumn (1998), Aztec Blood (2002), Aztec Rage (2006), and Aztec Fire (2008). The series chronicles the history of Mexico Mexico from the height of the Aztec Empire just before the Spanish conquest to the Mexican war for independence from Spain. The first novel is an account of the conquest from the point of view of an elderly Aztec survivor, filtered through the point of view of a Spanish bishop who is writing a report to the Spanish king. Since Cortés, HernánCortés, Hernán[Cortes, Hernan] Hernán Cortés’s conquest of Mexico is often regarded as one of the most improbable military adventures in history, Aztec fills a fictional void in attempting to reconstruct events from the perspective of the conquered.Aztec (Jennings) Jennings, GarySpanish Conquest (Americas);fiction about

French and Indian War (Seven Years’ War)

The Last of the Mohicans

Author: James Fenimore Cooper

First published: 1826

The Last of the Mohicans is one of Cooper’s most enduring novels and one of the best-known novels about the French and Indian War. The novel emphasizes that most of the war was fought on the frontier, by colonial and Native American surrogates rather than by the French and British forces per se. In the wilderness setting, treachery and savagery reduced adherence to the “rules” of European warfare to a tragic sort of foolhardiness. In the novel’s focal event, the British garrison at Fort William Henry surrenders, and the French allow the British safe passage out of the wilderness. The Huron allies of the French nonetheless ambush the British column and massacre almost everyone in it.Cooper, James FenimoreCooper, James FenimoreLast of the Mohicans, The (Cooper) French and Indian War (1754-1763);fiction aboutSeven Years’ War (1756-1763);fiction about

American Revolution

Drums Along the Mohawk

Author: Walter D. Edmonds

First published: 1936

One of the best-known novels about the American Revolution (1775-1783), Drums Along the Mohawk is set in the Mohawk River Valley of upstate New York, at that time the frontier between colonial settlements and the territory of the Iroquois. Allied with the British and the Tory colonists who remained loyal to the British crown, the Iroquois terrorized the colonial settlers. Moreover, when the settlers banded together to present an effective fighting force, they had to leave their homes, their crops and animals, and sometimes their wives and children defenseless.Drums Along the Mohawk (Edmonds) Edmonds, Walter D.American Revolution (1775-1783);fiction about

Napoleonic Wars

Horatio Hornblower series

Author: C. S. Forester

First published: 1937-1967

Chronologically, this is the second novel in the eleven-novel series following Horatio Hornblower’s experiences as a British naval officer during the Napoleonic Wars. Published in 1952, Lieutenant Hornblower was the seventh novel of the series in order of publication but seems to have been the pivotal novel in terms of securing the popularity of the series on both sides of the Atlantic. Chronologically, the other novels in the series include Mr. Midshipman Hornblower (1950), Hornblower and the Hotspur (1962), Hornblower and the Crisis (1967), Hornblower and the Atropos (1953), Beat to Quarters (1937; also known as The Happy Return), Ship of the Line (1938), Flying Colours (1938), Commodore Hornblower (1945), Lord Hornblower (1946), and Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies (1958).Horatio Hornblower series (Forester)Forester, C. S.Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815);fiction about

Master and Commander

Author: Patrick O’Brian

First published: 1969

This is the first in a series of twenty novels featuring Captain Jack Aubrey and surgeon Stephen Maturin, serving together with the British navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Considerably different from the film adaptation in 2003, the novel follows the career of the warship Sophie from helping to protect a convoy of British supply ships to preying on French merchant ships to a vicious battle with a Spanish warship to its dramatic capture by a squadron of French warships. The novel establishes three hallmarks of the series: O’Brian’s great interest in the intricacies of naval politics, in the physical workings of ships of the period and the ways in which their crews functioned, and in the individual personalities of his characters.O’Brian, PatrickO’Brian, Patrick[Obrian, Patrick]Master and Commander (O’Brian)

Richard Sharpe series

Author: Bernard Cornwell

First published: 1981-2006

Set during the Napoleonic period, Cornwell’s series follows the title character across several continents and a broad range of adventures and misadventures. Sharpe is introduced as a private serving with the British East India Company in India, serves in the extended campaigns against the French in Portugal and Spain, participates as a field-promoted officer in the Battle of Waterloo, and visits St. Helena and meets Napoleon on his way to Chile on a privately commissioned mission. The series was not initially published in chronological order. It eventually included twenty-one numbered novels and three numbered short stories, from Sharpe’s Tiger to Sharpe’s Devil.Cornwell, BernardCornwell, BernardRichard Sharpe series (Cornwell)

War and Peace

Author: Leo Tolstoy

First published: 1865-1869, as Voyna i mir

The greatest war novel ever written, War and Peace treats Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, which to that point was the greatest military undertaking and the greatest military debacle in human history. Told from the Russian point of view, with much attention to the class structure of Russian society, this twelve-hundred-page novel is equal to Napoleon’s grand ambition and the size of his Grande Armée to the vastness of the Russian landscape and of the desolation left by the retreating Russian’s “burned earth” policy and the great scope of the Russian effort, materially and morally, to drive the Antichrist from the motherland. Every ambitious war novel written since War and Peace has inevitably been compared to it and has been found wanting.Tolstoy, LeoTolstoy, LeoWar and Peace (Tolstoy)

American Indian Wars

The Court-Martial of George Armstrong Custer

Author: Douglas C. Jones

First published: 1976

The first novel by Jones, and the first novel in the trilogy that includes Arrest Sitting Bull (1977) and A Creek Called Wounded Knee (1978), The Court-Martial of George Armstrong Custer received the Little Bighorn, Battle of the (1876) Golden Spur Award from the Western Writers of America. A speculative work of historical fiction, the novel proceeds from the premise that Custer managed to survive the massacre of most of his troopers at the Little Bighorn and was subsequently placed on trial for the recklessness with which he had placed his command in jeopardy.Jones, Douglas C.Jones, Douglas C.Native Americans;fiction aboutCourt-Martial of George Armstrong Custer, The (Jones)

The Panther in the Sky

Author: James Alexander Thom

First published: 1989

Thom has made a career out of writing historical novels about the opening of the American frontier in the first half of the nineteenth century. His most commercially and critically successful novel, The Panther in the Sky is a fictionalized biography of TecumsehTecumseh Tecumseh. Within the framework of chronicling the Shawnee chief’s formative experiences, his decision to ally his tribe with the British during the revolutionary War and the War of 1812, and his partially successful attempt to unite the tribes of the Old Northwest against American expansion, Thom provides a poignant view of a still vibrant culture on the verge of near extinction.Thom, James AlexanderThom, James AlexanderPanther in the Sky, The (Thom)

Cossack-Polish Conflict

Taras Bulba

Author: Nikolai Gogol

First published: 1835, revised 1842

In this short novel, Gogol chronicles the military campaigns waged by the title character against the Poles, who are determined to dominate the Ukraine. A moving tale of determined armed resistance, a deeply ingrained spirit of independence, and a nascent sense of national spirit, the novel presents the Cossacks as archetypal Russians, with Taras and his sons playing out the sort of conflicts that often occur between great men and the sons who tragically attempt to emulate them or bitterly reject them. Thus, for all of its considerable historically accurate detail, the novel provides an idealized, if not distorted, view of the Cossacks before they became an instrument of Russian imperialism and oppression.Taras Bulba (Gogol) Gogol, Nikolai

The Trilogy

Author: Henryk Sienkiewicz

First published: 1884-1888

Although Sienkiewicz received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1905, he is remembered today primarily as the author of the international best seller Quo Vadis (Sienkiewicz) Quo Vadis (1896). In his trilogy, Sienkiewicz synthesized the conventions of the historical epic with aspects of naturalism, then a relatively new literary movement derived from the controversial theories of scientific determinism. With Fire and Sword (Sienkiewicz) Ogniem i mieczem (1884; With Fire and Sword, 1890) focuses on a Cossack revolt against Polish rule. Deluge, The (Sienkiewicz) Potop (1886; The Deluge, 1891) treats a catastrophic Swedish invasion of Poland. First in the Steppe (Sienkiewicz) Pan Michael (Sienkiewicz) Pan Wołodyjowski (1888; Pan Michael, 1893, also known as Fire in the Steppe, 1992) depicts the seventeenth century conflicts between Poland and the Ottoman Empire, which halted the Ottoman advance into eastern and central Europe.Sienkiewicz, HenrykSienkiewicz, HenrykTrilogy (Sienkiewicz)

Indian Colonial Wars

“Gunga Din”

Author: Rudyard Kipling

First published: 1892

The best known of Kipling’s Barrack-Room Ballads, “Gunga Din” focuses on the hard existence and unexpected nobility of an Indian water carrier for the British forces on the Afghan frontier. The poem exploits the fact that the title character is regarded as an inferior by most soldiers in the army that he serves and that, when he is noticed, it is generally as the target of indignities. The narrator of the poem, however, recounts how this unlikely figure heroically gave his life to save the lives of the narrator and many of his fellow soldiers.“Gunga Din” (Kipling)[Gunga Din]Kipling, RudyardIndia;fiction about

The Siege of Krishnapur

Author: J. G. Farrell

First published: 1973

Set during the Indian Mutiny or Sepoy Rebellion (1857)Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, Farrell’s novel focuses on the siege of a small fictional town. Told from the points of view of the British residents of the besieged town, the novel shows how those residents struggle to continue their daily lives without the Indian laborers on whom so much of their social rituals and basic comfort depend. Despite the inevitable leveling effects of the siege, the residents are also unable to let go of their class consciousness. Even cholera, scurvy, and general starvation are not enough to subvert completely their ingrained notions of who they are–which is, ironically, what dooms both the town and the rebellion to which it falls victim.Farrell, J. G.Farrell, J. G.Siege of Krishnapur, The (Farrell)

Crimean War

“The Charge of the Light Brigade”

Author: Alfred, Lord Tennyson

First published: 1855

As part of his duties as the British poet laureate, Tennyson produced poems on events of national interest. This poem celebrates the heroism of British cavalry that charged down a valley into Russian artillery fire during the Balaclava, Battle of (1854)Battle of Balaclava. The battle occurred during the Crimean War (1853-1856)Crimean War, which is now largely remembered as the only conflict involving most of the major European powers between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I. Tennyson’s poem turned a military debacle into an iconic, if tragic, demonstration of national character.“Charge of the Light Brigade, The” (Tennyson)[Charge of the Light Brigade]Tennyson, Alfred, LordCrimean War (1853-1856);fiction about

American Civil War

Amalgamation Polka

Author: Stephen Wright

First published: 2006

In what may be the first truly postmodern novel to treat the American Civil War, Wright focuses on the misadventures of Liberty Fish, an abolitionist who, as soon as he is old enough, predictably enlists in the Union army. What makes Liberty’s situation rich with ironic possibilities is the fact that, although his parents are staunch abolitionists, his maternal grandparents are unapologetic slave owners, and his paternal grandparents are textile manufacturers who owe their fortune to slave-produced cotton from the Southern plantations. Wright stresses that despite the unprecedented scale and complexity of this terrible conflict, it both created and was created out of complicated, multilayered antagonisms that divided individual families and the tangled internal conflicts with which its combatants struggled even as they raised arms against each other.Amalgamation Polka (Wright) Wright, StephenAmerican Civil War (1861-1865);fiction about


Author: MacKinlay Kantor

First published: 1955

For this historical novel about the horrors endured by Union Prisoners of war;films aboutprisoners of war in the prison camp near Andersonville, Georgia, Kantor received the Pulitzer Prize. Although Kantor drew on historical sources (such as 1879’s Andersonville: A Story of Rebel Military Prisons, by John McElroy) that were largely biased in favor of Northern antipathy toward the Confederates, his novel is notable for his attempt to present balanced portraits of the key historical figures, especially the vilified camp commandant, Henry Wirz. Likewise, the novel provides a broad spectrum of fictional figures representative of the factions among the prisoners and even among the residents of the surrounding countryside.Kantor, MacKinlayKantor, MacKinlayAndersonville (Kantor)

Cold Mountain

Author: Charles Frazier

First published: 1997

Set in the closing months of the American Civil War, this debut novel by Charles Frazier juxtaposes the stories of W. P. Inman, a wounded Confederate veteran who decides to desert, and his love interest, Ada Monroe, who has moved from Charleston to the supposed safety of the mountains of North Carolina. As Inman travels the 250 miles to Cold Mountain and Ada, he confronts all sorts of scurrilous characters and is hounded by the Home Guard. Meanwhile, Ada has to cope with her father’s death and survives largely because of her growing friendship with a mountain woman named Ruby Thewes. The lovers reunite but only long enough for her to become pregnant with his child.Frazier, CharlesFrazier, CharlesCold Mountain (Frazier)

The Killer Angels

Author: Michael Shaara

First published: 1974

In this sprawling novel, Shaara attempted to describe the Gettysburg, Battle of (1863)Battle of Gettysburg from the perspectives of as many of the combatants as possible. The result is an intimate sense of the intensity with which the battle was fought, the confusion that very often caused opportunities to be lost or advantages to be gained by both sides, and the terrible carnage that the soldiers on both sides somehow managed to endure even when it became clear that the battle was moving toward some climactic slaughter–which turned out to be Pickett’s ChargePickett’s ChargePickett’s Charge. The novel received the Pulitzer Prize and was adapted for a landmark television miniseries.Shaara, MichaelShaara, MichaelKiller Angels, The (Shaara)

The March

Author: E. L. Doctorow

First published: 2005

In his previous novels, Doctorow has experimented with the conventions of the historical novel and has brought a postmodern sensibility to his treatment of historical subjects and to his fictional reconstruction of historical eras. In this novel, which depicts Sherman, William TecumsehSherman, William TecumsehGeneral William Tecumseh Sherman’s devastating march across Georgia in the fall of 1864, Doctorow explores the paradoxes in Sherman’s public persona, the ambiguities in his personal character, and the complexities in his temperament. Sherman is more a focal than a truly central character, however, for the novel presents characters representative of the many types of people affected by the devastation of a sixty-mile-wide and three-hundred-mile-long section of Georgia by sixty thousand loosely controlled troops.Doctorow, E. L.Doctorow, E. L.March, The (Doctorow)

The Red Badge of Courage

Author: Stephen Crane

First published: 1895

The best-known and most critically acclaimed novel about the American Civil War, The Red Badge of Courage was a largely imaginative work, inspired by Crane’s fascination with photographs of the battlefields and his dissatisfaction with the generally dry reminiscences of veterans. The short novel focuses on a young soldier named Henry Fleming. In his second battle, he breaks from the Union lines as the Confederates attack. Finding himself among either other deserters or the wounded, he is embarrassed by his lack of a wound. However, an argument with an artillery man leaves him with a gash in the head, and when he returns to his unit, his injury is accepted as a battle wound. In the next day’s battle, Fleming becomes almost recklessly courageous, inspiring his fellow soldiers and impressing their officers.Crane, StephenCrane, StephenRed Badge of Courage, The (Crane)

Spanish-American War

Cuba Libre

Author: Elmore Leonard

First published: 1998

Leonard’s novel was published on the hundredth anniversary of the event that made the Spanish-American War inevitable, the explosion on the battleship Maine, USS Maine in Havana harbor. Although Leonard had begun his career as a novelist writing Westerns, this foray into the genre of the historical novel at the height of his fame as a crime novelist surprised reviewers and readers. However, the novel explores familiar Leonard themes–in particular, the way that most moneymaking schemes inevitably become more complicated and corrupting. In this instance, two cowboys set out from Arizona to deliver thirty-one horses to a Cuban plantation. When the purchaser reneges on the deal, they keep trying to recoup their losses and end up in the middle of the wars between the Spanish and the Cuban insurgents and then between the Spanish and the invading Americans.Leonard, ElmoreLeonard, ElmoreCuba Libre (Leonard)

Boer Wars


Author: Giles Foden

First published: 1999

In this, one of the most significant novels about the Boer Wars (1880-1902)Boer War, Foden focuses on the lengthy Ladysmith, Siege of (1899-1900)Boer siege of the British town of Ladysmith. The siege followed some early Boer victories over the British, which surprised not just the British military and government but also observers from all over the world. The outcome of the siege became a critical issue for the British and the Boers, not only because the town was located near the Boer republics and strategically important but also because of the psychological effect of a clear victory for the Boers or even a stalemate for the British.Ladysmith (Foden) Foden, GilesBoer Wars (1880-1902);fiction about

Russian Revolution and Civil War

Doctor Zhivago

Author: Boris Pasternak

about>Russian Civil War (1918-1921);fiction about

First published: 1957

Pasternak’s epic novel treats the Russian Revolution and the Civil War between the Red and White forces that followed it. In the half decade between 1917 and 1922, imperial Russia was wrecked and the Bolsheviks created the Soviet Union at the cost of several million of lives. Most of the dead not were combatants but civilians unable to escape the carnage or unable to survive on the devastated landscape that was its aftermath. Pasternak’s protagonist, a physician and a poet, represents those who somehow managed to survive but at a considerable physical and psychological cost.Doctor Zhivago (Pasternak) Pasternak, BorisRussian Revolution (1917-1921);fiction

Mexican Revolution

The Underdogs

Author: Mariano Azuela

First published: 1916, as Los de abajo

Written while Azuela served as a surgeon with Pancho Villa’s forces in northern Mexico in the mid-1910’s, this novel is not only the most significant work about the decade-long Mexican Revolution but also one of the most influential works of social protest in Mexican and Latin American literature. Azuela conveys the massive dislocations of the population caused by the almost continuously shifting alliances that made each successive leader’s hold on power very tenuous. Likewise, he captures the extraordinary brutality of the conflict, which was fueled as much by feverishly confused ideologies as by ideological fervor.Azuela, MarianoAzuela, MarianoMexican Revolution (1910-1920);fiction aboutUnderdogs, The (Azuela)

World War I

All Quiet on the Western Front

Author: Erich Maria Remarque

First published: 1929

One of the most highly regarded novels to come out of World War I, All Quiet on the Western Front is also one of the few German novels about that war to have been made widely available in translation. It focuses on a group of school friends who are encouraged to enlist for idealistic reasons that quickly seem bitterly delusory amid the carnage of trench warfare. When the soldiers return to their homes on leave, they realize that in going off to save their homeland, they have lost all connection to home.Remarque, Erich MariaRemarque, Erich MariaWorld War I (1914-1918)[World War 01];fiction aboutAll Quiet on the Western Front (Remarque)


Author: Sebastian Faulks

First published: 1993

This novel is the middle volume of Faulks’s French Trilogy, which also includes The Girl at the Lion d’Or (1989) and Charlotte Gray (1998). The most commercially successful and critically acclaimed novel of the trilogy, Birdsong has, moreover, been one of the most popular and most highly regarded British novels of the last quarter century. The main character is Stephen Wraysford, and the primary focus is on his experiences during World War I, especially during the great British offensive along the Somme. A parallel narrative concerns the efforts of his granddaughter, Elizabeth, to learn about his wartime experiences more than a half century later.Faulks, SebastianFaulks, SebastianBirdsong (Faulks)

The Blue Max

Author: Jack D. Hunter

First published: 1964

Hunter’s first novel charts the rise and fall of Bruno Stachel, a German fighter pilot during World War I. Unlike most of the original fighter pilots, who were aristocrats, Stachel comes from a working-class background and begins his wartime service as an infantryman. When the air losses create a demand for pilots, he not only seizes the opportunity to escape the carnage of the trenches but also becomes determined to compile the twenty “kills” required to win the Blue Max, an award reserved for Germany’s most highly honored air aces. Stachel’s ruthless pursuit of his goal involves him in all sorts of machinations–military, political, socioeconomic, and sexual.Hunter, Jack D.Hunter, Jack D.Blue Max, The (Hunter)

The Case of Sergeant Grischa

Author: Arold Zweig

First published: 1927, as Der Streit um den Sergeanten Grischa

Part of the six-volume series The Great War of White Men, this satiric novel follows the title character, a Russian soldier being held in a German Prisoners of war;films about prisoner-of-war (POW) camp, as he makes his escape and attempts to make his way back to his homeland. When he is eventually captured, he identifies himself as a deserter to avoid being sent back to the POW camp. Because he is illiterate, however, he has been unable to read the posted notices that deserters who have failed to report to German authorities are to be shot as spies. What follows is a trial and then a series of reversed decisions as the military bureaucracy tries to decide whether he ought to be executed.Zweig, AroldZweig, AroldCase of Sergeant Grischa, The (Zweig)

Clerambault: The Story of an Independent Spirit During the War

Author: Romain Rolland

First published: 1920, as Clérambault: Histoire d’une conscience libre pendant la guerre

Most remembered for his ten-novel cycle Jean Christophe (1904-1912), Rolland received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1915. Five years later, this novel presented a powerful indictment of all wars. The major character struggles to come to terms with his son’s death in combat during World War I. Throughout the novel, father and son are out of step. Initially, the father is skeptical about the causes and ramifications of the war, while his son is stirred deeply by a sense of the momentousness of the war. Then as the son experiences the horror of the trenches and becomes profoundly disenchanted, the father finds himself searching for ways to express his heightened patriotism. In the end, the main character embraces pacifism and is accused of being traitorous.Rolland, RomainRolland, RomainClerambault: The Story of an Independent Spirit During the War (Rolland)

Collected Poems

Author: Rupert Brooke Brooke, RupertBrooke, RupertCollected Poems (Brooke)

First published: 1915

One of the best-known British poets of World War I, Brooke was twenty-seven when he died of blood poisoning on his way to the battlefield at Gallipoli. He had experienced relatively little of the horrors of the trench warfare that would transform much of northern France into a muddy, carnage-strewn wasteland. Shortly before he died, Brooke wrote a series of patriotic sonnets that captured the intense patriotism and naïveté of prewar Britain. The most remembered of these sonnets are “Peace,” “Safety,” “The Dead,” and “The Soldier,” considered by most to be Brooke’s signature poem.

The Complete Poems of Wilfred Owen

Author: Wilfred Owen Owen, WilfredOwen, WilfredComplete Poems of Wilfred Owen, The (Owen)

First published: 1963, edited by C. Day Lewis

Owen served on the western front in 1916 and 1917, participating in the Battle of the Somme. While recuperating from shell shock, Owen met Siegfried Sassoon, who influenced Owen’s composition of a series of poems in which he sought to describe his own wartime experience and to emphasize the “pity” underlying all battlefield experience. Only a few of these poems were published before Owen returned to the front, where he perished one week before the Armistice. His best-known poems include “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” “Dulce et Decorum Est,” and the never completed “Strange Meeting.”

The Enormous Room

Author: E. E. Cummings Cummings, E. E.Cummings, E. E.Enormous Room, The (Cummings)

First published: 1922

In this autobiographical novel, Cummings re-creates his four-month Prisoners of war;films aboutimprisonment in France during World War I. A volunteer ambulance driver, Cummings was the recipient of a series of letters from another driver who in very strong terms denounced the war. Although Cummings himself was simply the recipient of these letters, he along with the writer was imprisoned on suspicion of disloyalty to the Allied cause. Following American diplomatic intervention, Cummings was released and returned to the United States just as the entry of American troops into the Allied effort on the western front was escalating.

A Farewell to Arms

Author: Ernest Hemingway Hemingway, ErnestHemingway, ErnestFarewell to Arms, A (Hemingway)

First published: 1929

Hemingway’s novel is set in northeastern Italy, in the region surrounding the Isonzo River, where a series of great battles were fought between the Italian and Austro-Hungarian forces during World War I. The main character is Frederic Henry, an American serving as a volunteer with the Italian ambulance corps. While he is recuperating from wounds, he falls in love with an English nurse, Catherine Barkley. Eventually he returns to the front lines, but the anarchic brutality that follows an Italian retreat from the Isonzo convinces him to flee to neutral Switzerland with Catherine, who is pregnant with their child. The child is stillborn, and Catherine dies in childbirth.

The Good Soldier: Švejk

Author: Jaroslav Hašek Hašek, JaroslavHašek, Jaroslav[Hasek, Jaroslav]Good Soldier: Švejk), The (Hašek)

First published: 1921-1923, as Osudy dobrého vojáka Švejka za světove války

When the Czech writer Jaroslav Hašek died of tuberculosis in 1923, he had completed only four of the projected six books about Švejk (often rendered as Schweik). The four completed books have subsequently been published for the most part as a single book. The tone of the work is clearly satiric, with Schweik repeatedly demonstrating the ridiculousness of the Austro-Hungarian military, its other institutions, and the continued viability of the empire itself. Hašek is able to sustain the satire because Schweik remains an ambiguous figure; that is, one is never sure whether he is a clever malcontent or is simply an imbecile who accidentally or coincidentally makes those around him seem ridiculous.

“In Flanders Fields”

Author: John McCrae McCrae, JohnMcCrae, John[Maccrae, John]“In Flanders Fields” (McCrae)

First published: 1915

The best-known poem about World War I, “In Flanders Fields” was written by a Canadian physician, John McCrae, who was serving as a battlefield surgeon with the British forces in Belgium. Following the very costly Ypres, Second Battle of (1915)Second Battle of Ypres, during which one of McCrae’s closest friends was killed, McCrae wrote“In Flanders Fields” as a memorial to his dead friends and, by extension, to all of the war dead. A practiced poet and a military veteran who had served during the Boer Wars (1880-1902)Boer War, McCrae captured the terrible pathos of war while avoiding the usual bromides about the glorious sacrifices made by the war dead. In the last year of the war, McCrae himself died from pneumonia.

Parade’s End

Author: Ford Madox Ford Ford, Ford MadoxFord, Ford MadoxParade’s End (Ford)

First published: 1924-1928

Ford may be most remembered for The Good Soldier (1915), which remains one of the most cited illustrations of the use of an unreliable narrator, but this tetralogy of novels about a British officer’s experiences in the trenches during World War I is arguably his masterwork. The main character is Christopher Tietjens, the scion of prominent family of Tory gentry, and the novels trace his deepening preoccupation with sustaining both his commitment to the war and his determination to conduct himself honorably. The four novels of the tetralogy include Some Do Not (Ford) Some Do Not (1924), No More Parades (Ford) No More Parades (1925), Mand Could Stand Up, A (Ford) A Man Could Stand Up (1926), and Last Post, The (Ford) The Last Post (1928).

Paths of Glory

Author: Humphrey Cobb Cobb, HumphreyCobb, HumphreyPaths of Glory (Cobb)

First published: 1935

Published in the mid-1930’s when another world war seemed to be increasingly inevitable, Paths of Glory offered a scathing indictment of military culture and command structure. Set in World War I, the story hinges on a French general’s first ordering an impossible attack against a German position and then ordering the execution of forty arbitrarily selected French soldiers as a punishment for the “cowardice” evident in the failure to achieve the attack’s objective. In Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation, Colonel Dax, the commander of the units that spearheaded the attack, provides an uncompromisingly moral perspective, but in Cobb’s novel, he is more ineffectual, mitigating only by degrees what is unambiguously morally outrageous.

Regeneration Trilogy

Author: Pat Barker Barker, PatBarker, PatRegeneration Trilogy (Barker)

First published: 1991-1995

Barker’s highly regarded trilogy includes Regeneration (Barker) Regeneration (1991), Eye in the Door, The (Barker) The Eye in the Door (1993), and Ghost Road, The (Barker) The Ghost Road (1995). The first novel was a finalist for the Booker Prize, and the third novel received that prize. The trilogy about World War I is set primarily in a British army hospital, where a psychiatrist named W. H. R. Rivers attempts to treat soldiers suffering from shell shock. One of his patients is the aristocratic poet Sassoon, SiegfriedSassoon, Siegfried Siegfried Sassoon, whose commitment to the facility has kept him from being tried for treason for publicly expressing his increasingly virulent antiwar sentiments. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the working-class character Billy Prior, whose premonitions about his terrible death in the trenches manifest themselves first in indiscriminate sexual affairs and then in bisexuality.

A Soldier of the Great War

Author: Mark Helprin Helprin, MarkHelprin, MarkSoldier of the Great War, A (Helprin)

First published: 1991

The title character, now an elderly man on his way to visit his daughter, impulsively joins a much younger man on a seventy-kilometer walk to their destinations. Along the way, the title character reminisces about his life and, in particular, recounts his experiences during World War I. Having enlisted in the navy to avoid the carnage of the ground war, he was assigned to a riverboat patrolling first near the Austrian front to monitor enemy movements and then in Sicily to apprehend deserters. He himself eventually becomes a deserter, barely escapes execution, serves with the infantry, is wounded, falls in love with a nurse who is killed in an air attack on her hospital, and ends up after the war in Vienna, tracking down the pilot responsible for her death.

Three Soldiers

Author: John Dos Passos Dos Passos, JohnDos Passos, John[Dospassos, John]Three Soldiers (Dos Passos)

First published: 1921

One of the most significant American novels about World War I, Three Soldiers is, in contrast to the modernist experimentation with form and language in Manhattan Transfer (1925) and The U.S.A. Trilogy (1937), a work set squarely in the realist tradition. The three soldiers of the title are Andrews from Virginia, Chrisfield from Indiana, and Fuselli from California. The novel describes the ways in which the soldiers’ training and the authoritarian regimen of military life combine to reduce their sense of individuality and of the significance of their individual fates. Despite their very different temperaments and ambitions, all three soldiers are left irreparably brutalized by their experiences in uniform.

Under Fire

Author: Henri Barbusse Barbusse, HenriBarbusse, HenriUnder Fire (Barbusse)

First published: 1916, as Le Feu

Written while Barbusse was still serving in the trenches with the French army during World War I, Under Fire imitates the form and style of a journal, and its narrator moves anecdotally from one day’s experiences to the next. The narrator is a member of a squad of French “volunteers” who responded patriotically to the German invasion and try to maintain their sense of purpose in the midst of a conflict that has acquired a scope terribly beyond any cause. The novel is notable for its unsparingly realistic descriptions of the hardships of life in the trenches and the carnage of trench warfare.

The Wars

Author: Timothy Findley Findley, TimothyFindley, TimothyWars, The (Findley)

First published: 1977

The recipient of the Governor-General’s Award for fiction, Findley’s novel stands as one of the major Canadian works about World War I, even though it was published just short of six decades after the Armistice. Like Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose (1971), The Wars is framed as a historian’s reconstruction of past events–in this case, the mysteries surrounding the last days in the life of a young officer named Robert Ross. Stationed on the western front, Ross is increasingly traumatized by the cumulative effect of his wartime experiences. Following his gang rape by a group of soldiers, he “madly” sets free a corral of horses and shoots dead the officer who tries to stop him. He and the horses are eventually caught in a barn, and when it is set on fire, Ross suffers terrible burns, from which he ultimately dies.

Chinese Civil War

The Sand Pebbles

Author: Richard McKenna

First published: 1962

After serving in the U.S. Navy for more than twenty years, McKenna began to write fiction, producing primarily novels and short stories in the science-fiction genre. This novel is one of the few works in which he drew directly on his own military experience, and he died before the novel was adapted for a very successful film starring Steve McQueen. The title of the novel is a colloquial rendering of the name of the river gunboat on which the main character is serving, the USS San Pablo. While patrolling the Yangtze River in the late 1920’s, the gunboat becomes enmeshed in the rising tensions and increasingly open conflict between the Chinese nationalists and communists.McKenna, RichardMcKenna, Richard[Mackenna, Richard]Chinese Civil War (1926-1949);fiction aboutSand Pebbles, The (McKenna)

Spanish Civil War

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Author: Ernest Hemingway

First published: 1940

The best-known novel about the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s, For Whom the Bell Tolls is set among the partisans fighting behind the Fascist lines on behalf of the Republican cause. The main character is Robert Jordan, a munitions expert with the International Brigade, who is sent to join a group of partisans who are to provide support in his demolition of a bridge. The Republican forces are set to launch an offensive, and destroying the bridge will prevent the Fascists from rushing reinforcements to the sector against which the offensive is being launched. The novel emphasizes the psychological strain that this merciless conflict exerted on combatants and civilians alike.Hemingway, ErnestHemingway, ErnestSpanish Civil War (1936-1939);fiction aboutFor Whom the Bell Tolls (Hemingway)

Homage to Catalonia

Author: George Orwell Orwell, GeorgeOrwell, GeorgeHomage to Catalonia (Orwell)

First published: 1938

In this memoir of his experiences during the Spanish Civil War, Orwell focuses as much on the divisions on the Republican side as on the battles fought between the Republican and Fascist forces. A communist who was opposed to Stalinism, Orwell joined the POUM militia on the Republican side, but in less than a year after his arrival in Spain, the Republican leadership had outlawed POUM because the Republican cause had become increasingly dependent on Soviet aid and dominated by Soviet “political advisers.” After barely escaping a Stalinist “purge” of anti-Stalinist elements on the Republican side, Orwell became a lifelong critic of totalitarian communism.

Sino-Japanese War

Empire of the Sun

Author: J. G. Ballard

First published: 1984

The protagonist of this autobiographical novel is Jim Graham, a British boy who is living with his parents in Shanghai when the Japanese overwhelm the city. Separated from his parents, Jim is eventually picked up by the Japanese and sent to a civilian detention center. The novel chronicles the ways in which he learns to survive by his wits and sometimes manages to survive by sheer luck. Despite his awareness of the brutality of his Japanese captors, the boy inevitably admires their proud bearing and martial discipline. The novel vividly depicts the deprivation of the war’s final months and the uncertainty of its closing weeks.Ballard, J. G.Ballard, J. G.Sino-Japanese War, Second (1937-1945)[Sino JapaneseEmpire of the Sun (Ballard)

Music on the Bamboo Radio

Author: Martin Booth Booth, MartinBooth, MartinMusic on the Bamboo Radio (Booth)

First published: 1997

Like J. G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun, Booth’s novel treats the Sino-Japanese War that merged into the broader war in Asia and the Pacific between the Allies and the Japanese. Also, like Ballard, Booth has chosen to depict these events through the perspective of an English boy separated from his parents by the Japanese attack against the city in which they are living, in this case Hong Kong. Unlike Ballard’s protagonist, however, Nicholas Holford ends not in a detention camp but adopted by a Chinese family, and he becomes increasingly involved in sabotage and other clandestine activities of Chinese Communist partisans.

Red Sorghum

Author: Yan Mo Mo, YanMo, YanRed Sorghum (Yan Mo)

First published: 1992

Set in rural China during the period of the Japanese invasion and occupation, Red Sorghum was originally published as a series of four short novels. The sorghum crop is at the center of the novel, literally as well as symbolically, for the survival of the Chinese village depends on it, but the fields in which it is planted are the scene of both a Japanese massacre and a nearly suicidal but successful retributive attack by the peasants and partisans. Yan’s narrative style is modernist in its experimentation with chronology and point of view, but his style owes much to Magical Realism. The color red is omnipresent, from the sorghum itself to the flamboyantly vivid descriptions of the mutilating effects of violence.

World War II


Author: Leon Uris

First published: 1964

In this, his fifth, novel, Uris provides a contemporary history of the city that a quarter century earlier had become the monument-dominated capital of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. The grandiose plans of Hitler and his architects had just begun to be realized, however, when the city became a favorite target of the Allied air war against Germany. Then, although largely reduced to ruins, it became the setting for the war’s climactic and bloodiest battle. Following that apocalyptic framing of Hitler’s suicide, it then was rebuilt, but as an occupied and militarily divided city that became a symbolic as well as actual focal point of Cold War tensions. Uris, LeonUris, LeonWorld War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];fictionArmageddon (Uris)

Battle Cry

Author: Leon Uris Uris, LeonUris, LeonBattle Cry (Uris)

First published: 1953

Based on Uris’s own combat experience as a Marine, this novel focuses on a communications company of the Sixth Marine Regiment, following its members from boot camp through some of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific campaigns in World War II–Guadalcanal, Tarawa, and Saipan. The novel is narrated by the company’s battle-hardened sergeant, and it follows the pattern of many GI novels in emphasizing the ethnic diversity among the men in the company, which includes a farm boy from Indiana, a Native American, and a Chicano.

Beasts of No Nation

Author: Uzodinma Iweala Iweala, UzodinmaIweala, UzodinmaBeasts of No Nation (Iweala)

First published: 2005

Relatively young boys have sometimes been enlisted into armies desperate for manpower (such as the German Home Guard in the closing months of World War II), but the forced recruitment of very young boys, even preadolescents, as a deliberate strategy for creating an easily indoctrinated fighting force is a relatively recent phenomenon seen primarily among insurgents in a number of African and several Asian nations. Iweala’s novel is set in a West African nation. It is narrated by a boy soldier who loses his childhood and almost loses all sense of himself amid the commonplace horrors of a war as ill-defined as his terror-sustained allegiance to his commander.

A Bell for Adano

Author: John Hersey Hersey, JohnHersey, JohnBell for Adano, A (Hersey)

First published: 1944

That Hersey’s novel, published in wartime, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1945, as World War II was drawing to a close, suggests the sort of appeal that it initially had. The novel is set in Italy after the Americans and British have driven the German forces back to the Italian mainland. The main character, an Italian American officer, becomes committed to replacing the bell in a village church that had been confiscated by the Fascists to be melted down and recycled into munitions. Although still admired for its craftsmanship, the novel has been increasingly regarded as the sort of approbative tale that is, in effect, a type of relatively benign Propaganda;film aspropaganda.

Black Rain

Author: Masuji Ibuse Ibuse, MasujiIbuse, MasujiBlack Rain (Ibuse)

First published: 1966, as Kuroi ame

In Japan, Ibuse remains an important literary figure of his generation, though he has not achieved the stature, through translation into English and other Western languages, of some of his contemporaries. Drawing on the diaries of survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Ibuse created a masterpiece of documentary realism in Black Rain. The central characters are an elderly man and his niece, whose determined attempts to reconstruct their lives from the absolute devastation of the bombing are shadowed by the specter of the long-term effects of the “black rain,” or radioactive fallout from the atomic blast.


Author: Len Deighton Deighton, LenDeighton, LenBomber (Deighton)

First published: 1970

Although Deighton may be best known for his series of Cold War espionage novels featuring Bernard Samson, he is also the author of several novels and nonfiction books about World War II. Indeed, according to several critics, Bomber may be his most accomplished novel. It focuses on a single Royal Air Force bombing raid against the German industrial plants in the Ruhr Valley. The chapters follow the progress of the raid from hour to hour, and the suspense is heightened by the crews’ increasing awareness that the raid is not going as planned.

The Bridge over the River Kwai

Author: Pierre Boulle Boulle, PierreBoulle, PierreBridge over the River Kwai, The (Boulle)

First published: 1952, as Pont de la rivière Kwai

Although Boulle’s novel won the Prix Sainte Beuve and was adapted for an acclaimed film, it has continued to generate controversy. The novel deals with the hurried construction of a railroad between Bangkok, Thailand, and Rangoon, Burma, to support the Japanese conquest of Burma during World War II. The massive project was completed with almost no heavy machinery. Instead, the Japanese relied on native conscripts and Allied Prisoners of war;films aboutprisoners of war to complete the work with rudimentary tools. The controversy surrounds Boulle’s suggestion that Allied officers in effect collaborated with the Japanese in an ill-conceived effort to protect their men.

The Brotherhood of War

Author: W. E. B. Griffin Griffin, W. E. B.Griffin, W. E. B.Brotherhood of War, The (Griffin)

First published: 1983-2001

Griffin is the pseudonym of William Edmund Butterworth III, who has written more than a half dozen popular series of novels, most of which focus on the military. This series of nine novels follows a group of American Army officers who initially served as lieutenants during World War II and remained in the military through the immediate post-Vietnam era. The series is notable because its primary emphasis is not on the combat experiences of these officers, though that certainly is described, but, instead, on the tactics and strategies required to work changes through the military and political bureaucracies.

The Caine Mutiny

Author: Herman Wouk Wouk, HermanWouk, HermanCaine Mutiny, The (Wouk)

First published: 1951

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has also been commercially successful and critically acclaimed in its adaptations to stage and screen. The Caine is an outdated destroyer refitted to serve as a minesweeper. The story centers on a mutiny that occurs while the ship is under the command of Captain Queeg, a petty tyrant, who uses the service manual to intimidate and humiliate his subordinates. Much worse, he seemingly exhibits cowardice under fire and, at the time of the mutiny, during severe weather. The genius of Wouk’s story is that he shows that the mutineers have their own character flaws and self-serving motives.

Castle Keep

Author: William Eastlake Eastlake, WilliamEastlake, WilliamCastle Keep (Eastlake)

First published: 1965

Just before the Battle of the Bulge, a loosely organized group of American soldiers are taken out of the front lines and billeted at a Belgian estate for much-needed rest and recuperation. Initially the owners of the estate welcome the soldiers as protectors, but when the German offensive in the Ardennes begins and the American commanding officer decides to turn the estate into a fortified position, the owners recognize that he is putting at great risk not just the lives of his soldiers and their own lives but also the estate and all of the irreplaceable artwork and family heirlooms that their mansion contains. The novel also explores the tension in each soldier between conditioned discipline and unit cohesion, and self-assertion and self-preservation.


Author: Joseph Heller Heller, JosephHeller, JosephCatch-22 (Heller)

First published: 1961

This Antiwar literatureantiwar novel was published just before the escalation of the Vietnam War and is associated with the antiwar movement. However, it is actually a novel about World War II. Specifically, it satirically treats the experiences of American bomber crews in the Mediterranean theater. The title, which has passed into the general lexicon, refers to the circular logic of bureaucratic policies. Specifically, if an airman contends that he is too crazy to fly any more missions, he has, in effect, proved his sanity because no sane person would want to continue flying missions, given the losses that the bomber force is suffering. The main character, a bombardier named Yossarian, struggles against the insanity of his wartime experience until he finally decides that his only viable option is to “disappear.”


Author: Neal Stephenson Stephenson, NealStephenson, NealCryptonomicon (Stephenson)

First published: 1999

This massive novel (918 pages in hardcover) presents two parallel stories. The first follows the efforts of the British cryptographers based at Bletchley Park who eventually cracked the complex codes produced by the Nazi Enigma machine. That extremely complex device was used to communicate with the U-boat fleet that was devastating the British merchant fleet, the United Kingdom’s main source of military supplies and foodstuffs. The second story is set in the near future and concerns an effort to use computer-driven cryptography to create an impenetrable data center in a nation called Kinakuta, which resembles the East Indian Kingdom of Brunei.

“The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner”

Author: Randall Jarrell Jarrell, RandallJarrell, Randall“Death of the Ball Turret Gunner, The” (Jarrell)[Death of the Ball Turret Gunner]

First published: 1945

Given the great scope and length of many of the most acclaimed American novels about World War II, it is ironic that this, one of the best-known American poems about the war, is only five lines long. The ball-turret gunner operated a machine gun that swiveled 360 degrees within a plexiglass hemisphere attached to the bottom of the B-27 bombers that were the mainstay of the American forces in the costly air war against Germany. The gunner was an easy target, and the ball turret was often very difficult to escape when a bomber was badly damaged.

The End of My Life

Author: Vance Bourjaily Bourjaily, VanceBourjaily, VanceEnd of My Life, The (Bourjaily)

First published: 1947

Bourjaily’s first novel caused reviewers to make complimentary comparisons to Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms (1929), and for several decades it was regarded as one of the best American novels about World War II. The novel’s standing has, however, declined in proportion to the decline in Bourjaily’s broader reputation as a novelist. An autobiographical novel, The End of My Life presents the experiences of Skinner Galt, an ambulance driver in North Africa, who eventually recognizes that whatever meaning war may have on a political level, it is always an exercise in horrible absurdity for the individual soldiers.


Author: Colin MacDougall MacDougall, ColinMacDougall, ColinExecution (MacDougall)

First published: 1958

One of the most acclaimed Canadian novels about World War II, Execution was MacDougall’s only novel. It follows a Canadian infantry unit through the course of the Italian campaign, and, dramatically and thematically, it revolves around two executions. The first is the execution of two Italian deserters that the Canadians have adopted into their unit as cooks and genuinely like. The second is the execution of one of their own, a goodhearted but mentally limited soldier who has become involved with a group of soldiers engaged in the black market who murder an American.

Fires on the Plain

Author: Shōhei Ōoka Ōoka, ShōheiŌoka, Shōhei[Ooka, Shohei]Fires on the Plain (Shōhei Ōoka)

First published: 1951, as Nobi

Set in the Philippines following the American invasion to retake the islands from the Japanese, this novel vividly details the experiences of a single Japanese soldier, Private Tamura. Ostracized by the soldiers in his unit, Tamura decides to desert and finds himself caught between the ambiguous battle lines, between soldiers on two sides who equally despise him and among a civilian population conditioned to hate him. His only recourse is to flee ever more deeply into the jungle, where survival is a more primal exercise and spectral experience than it is even on the battlefield.

From Here to Eternity

Author: James Jones Jones, JamesJones, JamesFrom Here to Eternity (Jones)

First published: 1951

Jones’s first novel remains his best known. The first in a somewhat loosely connected trilogy, From Here to Eternity focuses on a group of American soldiers stationed in Hawaii in the months leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The main characters are Sergeant Milt Warden, who becomes involved in an affair with the wife of his commanding officer, and Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt, who resists all sorts of pressure to fight on the company’s elite boxing team. Though it focuses of these and other individual soldiers, the novel is ultimately concerned with the prewar army as a self-defined institution.

The Gallery

Author: John Horne Burns Burns, John HorneBurns, John HorneGallery, The (Burns)

First published: 1947

Set in Naples after the American occupation of the city, the novel treats the relationships among American soldiers and between those soldiers and the civilian population in and around the Galleria Umberto Primo, an arcade of shops and bars at the center of the city. The novel’s opening and closing sections are called the “Entrance” and “Exit,” and the intervening chapters shift between nine chapters called “Portraits” and eight transitional sections called “Promenades.” Each “Portrait” focuses on the tensions that define an individual character, and each “Promenade” recounts, in the first person, a soldier’s experiences from the North African theater to Sicily to the invasion of Italy.

Guard of Honor

Author: James Gould Cozzens Cozzens, James GouldCozzens, James GouldGuard of Honor (Cozzens)

First published: 1948

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Cozzens has long been regarded as one of the more significant American novels about World War II. Drawn broadly from Cozzens’s own experience as an information officer for General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, the commander of the U.S. Air Forces during the war, the novel remains one of the few to focus on the stateside military during the war. It centers on three days’ events on a Florida air base, emphasizing the ways in which the military bureaucracy and the personalities of individual officers intersect to define each other.

Gunner Asch Tetralogy

Author: Hans Hellmut Kirst Kirst, Hans HellmutKirst, Hans HellmutGunner Asch Tetralogy (Kirst)

First published: 1954-1955, 1964

A committed Nazi who gradually became increasingly disaffected by the regime’s excesses and its corruption of German institutions, Kirst is now best known for his suspense novels, such as Night of the Generals (1963), but all of his novels have satiric elements, and the satire is very close to the surface in the Gunner Asch novels, for which he first received international acclaim. The first three novels were published as a trilogy called Zero Eight Fifteen (1955-1957). They include The Revolt of Gunner Asch (1955), Forward, Gunner Asch! (1956), and The Return of Gunner Asch (1957). These novels concern the increasingly absurd experiences of the title character, an enlisted man serving on the eastern front. A fourth volume, What Became of Gunner Asch (1964), follows the protagonist into the postwar years.


Author: John Hersey Hersey, JohnHersey, JohnHiroshima (Hersey)

First published: 1946

Now considered a forerunner of such movements or genres as the New Journalism, the nonfiction novel, and creative nonfiction, this slender volume sparely but movingly documents the aftermath of the dropping of the first Atomic bomb;World War II[World War 02]atomic bomb on the Hiroshima, JapanJapanese city of Hiroshima. Originally written as a four-part article for The New Yorker, Hersey’s book was not the first account of the atomic bombing, but it was the first account to focus on the recollections of Japanese survivors. Ironically, this aspect of the narrative, which has ensured its continuing appeal, was originally a point of concern for critics who thought that Hersey was characterizing the “enemy” too sympathetically.

The Hope <i>and</i> The Glory

Author: Herman Wouk Wouk, HermanWouk, HermanHope and The Glory, The (Wouk)

First published: 1993 and 1994 respectively

This Israel;fiction aboutpair of novels has not achieved anywhere near the commercial success or even the critical recognition of Wouk’s earlier pair of novels about World War II, Winds of War (Wouk) Winds of War (1971) and War and Remembrance (Wouk) War and Remembrance (1988). Nonetheless, these novels are marked by a thorough, albeit pro-Israeli, understanding of the historical events and figures that shaped the first four decades of the existence of the modern state of Israel. The Hope covers the events from the 1948 War of Independence up to the Six-Day War of 1967, while The Glory covers events from the Yom Kippur War (1973) through the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. The complicated love lives of the two main fictional characters provide contrived melodrama that is the novels’ main weakness.

Johnny Got His Gun

Author: Dalton Trumbo Trumbo, DaltonTrumbo, DaltonJohnny Got His Gun (Trumbo)

First published: 1939

This Antiwar literatureantiwar novel was published in 1939 as World War II became inevitable, but the novel actually concerns an American soldier, Joe Bonham, terribly–almost inconceivably–injured by a shell blast in the trenches of World War I. Bonham has lost all of his limbs and, because of massive injuries to his face, all of his senses except for the ability to feel someone touching him. Nonetheless, his mind remains intact, and the novel presents his thoughts as he comes to terms with the horror that he is completely isolated in what remains of his own body. The novel was withdrawn from publication after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and because Trumbo was blacklisted during the 1950’s it was not released again until the Vietnam era.

The Jukebox Queen of Malta

Author: Nicholas Rinaldi Rinaldi, NicholasRinaldi, NicholasJukebox Queen of Malta, The (Rinaldi)

First published: 1999

The tiny, British-controlled island of MaltaMalta became strategically important during World War II because it lay across the supply routes from Fascist Italy to Libya, where the German Afrika Korps had reversed early British victories and was threatening Egypt and the Suez Canal. The island was subjected to one of the longest sieges of the war, with German bombers reducing many of the mostly stone buildings to rubble. The main character is an American radio operator who begins a passionate relationship with the title character, a woman who travels around the island repairing jukeboxes.

King Rat

Author: James Clavell Clavell, JamesClavell, JamesKing Rat (Clavell)

First published: 1962

Clavell’s first novel is drawn from his own experiences as a Prisoners of war;films aboutprisoner of war held for three years by the Japanese at the notorious Changi Prison in Singapore. The title character is an American corporal, generally referred to as “the King,” who has transformed his detention into a business opportunity and has created a thriving business in black-market goods. The ranking British officer in the camp rightly views this black market as an exploitation of other prisoners’ miseries, and he becomes determined to prove that the King is guilty of collusion with the enemy. The pivotal character is the narrator, a young British officer named Peter Marlowe, who cannot help but admire the King’s ingenuity and audacity but ultimately recognizes their moral cost.

Mister Roberts

Author: Thomas Heggen Heggen, ThomasHeggen, ThomasMister Roberts (Heggen)

First published: 1946

Like Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny (1951), Heggen’s novel has been adapted very successfully for stage and for film. Also like The Caine Mutiny, it focuses on the tensions between the captain and the crew, not on a big warship such as a carrier, battleship, or cruiser, but on a support ship. Unlike the destroyer converted to a minesweeper in The Caine Mutiny, however, the ship in Mister Roberts is a cargo ship operating far from the widely scattered battlefronts of the Pacific theater. The story presents a battle of wits between the well-meaning title character, respected by the crew but yearning for a combat assignment, and the ship’s captain, protecting his ship’s “clean” record by perversely exerting his authority.

The Naked and the Dead

Author: Norman Mailer Mailer, NormanMailer, NormanNaked and the Dead, The (Mailer)

First published: 1948

Mailer’s first novel remains the most highly regarded American novel about World War II. Set on a Japanese-held island on which American forces have landed, the novel features a broad range of characters, but the three focal characters are the aristocratic and fascist-leaning General Cummings; his well-born but more egalitarian aide, Lieutenant Hearn; and the battle-hardened but hardly heroic Sergeant Croft. The novel provides ample illustrations of the brutality of combat in the Pacific, as well as manifold evidence of the disjunction between the abstraction of painstakingly developed campaign strategies and the fluid realities of the battlefield. It vividly explores the connections and disjunctions between the characters’ civilian lives and their military experiences.

The Painted Bird

Author: Jerzy Kosinski Kosinski, JerzyKosinski, JerzyPainted Bird, The (Kosinski)

First published: 1965

In his first and most enduring novel, Kosinski chronicles the experiences of a Jewish-looking young boy who is sent by his parents from a Polish city into the ostensible safety of the countryside. The peasants with whom the boy seeks refuge are typically as anti-Semitic as the Nazis, and his survival is something of a miracle resulting from completely accidental turns in circumstance, the intercession of a few beneficent individuals, and the boy’s own increasing store of survival skills. In the end, he is adopted into a Russian military unit and finds a father figure in an accomplished sniper. The novel’s closing provides a hopeful note about the boy’s capacity to transcend at least some of the trauma of his formative experiences.


Author: Alistair MacLean MacLean, AlistairMacLean, AlistairPartisans (MacLean)

First published: 1982

Not Partisansas well known as The Guns of Navarone (1957), Partisans also treats the Yugoslavian theater during World War II, but it provides a more nuanced sense of the very complicated range of contending forces in that conflict. Although all Yugoslavian partisan groups are ostensibly resisting the German and Italian occupation of their country, their military strategies and actions are directed as much against each other as against the occupiers. The three main partisan groups are the Communists; the Serbian Chetniks, who support the reinstatement of the Yugoslav monarchy; and the Croatian Ustashe, who have a fascist ideology. MacLean’s protagonist is clearly a Nazi hater, but beyond that his allegiances and aims are very ambiguous.

The Polish Officer

Author: Alan Furst Furst, AlanFurst, AlanPolish Officer, The (Furst)

First published: 1995

The third novel in Furst’s Night Soldiers series, The Polish Officer is set primarily in Poland after the German and Soviet conquest and partition of that nation. The main character, Captain Alexander de Milja, is an expert mapmaker who becomes a pivotal figure in the Polish underground and its attempts to support the Polish government in exile. He takes the lead in concealing Poland’s gold reserves from the Nazis and Soviets and in smuggling those reserves through Romania to Great Britain. While emphasizing de Milja’s courage and ingenuity, Furst also conveys the physical and psychological strain caused by his clandestine activities and his recurring impulse simply to save himself regardless of the cost.

Run Silent, Run Deep

Author: Edward L. Beach, Jr. Beach, Edward L., Jr.Beach, Edward L., Jr.Run Silent, Run Deep (Beach)

First published: 1955

Drawing on his own extensive service as a Submarines;films aboutsubmariner during World War II, Beach wrote this novel in the middle of a lengthy and distinguished military career. It presents a vivid depiction of the experiences of American submariners in the Pacific theater (World War II)Pacific theater during World War II. The central characters are Commander P. J. Richardson and his executive officer, Jim Bledsoe. Richardson is obsessed with sinking the Japanese destroyer that destroyed the submarine he had previously commanded as well as several others, and the crew begins to question his decisions. Bledsoe shifts from second-guessing Richardson to pursuing his objectives after Richardson is accidentally disabled after suffering a fractured skull.


Author: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr.Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr.Slaughterhouse-Five (Vonnegut)

First published: 1969

With this novel and Cat’s Cradle (1963), Vonnegut made the dramatic transition from a little-known writer of speculative fiction to one of the leading literary voices of the counterculture period. In Slaughterhouse-Five, he startled readers by synthesizing aspects of historical and speculative fiction. The novel includes a lengthy and harrowing account of the American bombing of Dresden, seen through the perspective of American Prisoners of war;films about prisoners of war, who were afterward employed in the collection and disposal of the corpses of some of the tens of thousands caught in the firestorm. Like Catch-22 (1961), this novel about World War II became a major Antiwar literature antiwar work of the Vietnam era.

The Soldier

Author: Richard Powell Powell, RichardPowell, RichardSoldier, The (Powell)

First published: 1960

Set in the Pacific in the months following the American entry into World War II, this novel focuses on the effects of the war on the career of Lieutenant Colonel William A. Farralon. His assignment to a remote Pacific post serves as an unmistakable indication that his career is on a downturn. However, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and most of the other American and European bases in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, Farralon takes advantage of a series of opportunities to distinguish himself. By the end of the war, he has risen to the rank of general, and his earlier fall from favor has been permanently eclipsed by his wartime service.

The Thin Red Line

Author: James Jones Jones, JamesJones, JamesThin Red Line, The (Jones)

First published: 1962

In this loose sequel to From Here to Eternity (1951), Jones re-presents the major characters from that novel under similar names. This novel provides a fictional account of the Guadacanal campaign–in particular, the Battle for Hill 53. Jones emphasizes that the sense of unit cohesion provided the individual infantryman’s only psychological defense against the isolating terror of hand-to-hand combat in the hellishly tropical environment. In his later nonfiction study of the war and the art that it inspired, Jones contrasts the battle for Guadacanal, the outcome of which depended very much on the efforts of very small groups of Marines, with the corporatization of the war effort at Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, the outcomes of which were never in doubt–however much their ultimate cost in blood and matériel may have been miscalculated.

The Tin Drum

Author: Günter Grass Grass, GünterGrass, Günter[Grass, Gunter]Tin Drum, The (Grass)

First published: 1959, as Die Blechtrommel

The Tin Drum is the first novel in Grass’s acclaimed Danziger Trilogie (1980; Danzig Trilogy, 1987), which also includes Cat and Mouse (Grass) Katz und Maus (1961; Cat and Mouse, 1963) and Dog Years (Grass) Hundejahre (1963; Dog Years, 1965). Although the late revelation of Grass’s service with the Waffen-SS has somewhat compromised his standing as a critic of the Nazi regime, The Tin Drum remains the most inventive and trenchant critique of that regime yet written. A work of Magical Realism predating the definitive Latin American experiments with that style, The Tin Drum is the autobiography of its main character, Oskar Matzerath, who decides not to enter the adult world and remains physically a child even as he ages. His most prized possession is a tin drum, which he protects at all costs and through which he communicates with an increasingly deranged world.

A Town Like Alice

Author: Nevil Shute Shute, NevilShute, NevilTown Like Alice, A (Shute)

First published: 1950

The protagonist of this novel is Jean Paget, an Australian woman who is in Malaya at the time of the Japanese invasion and is detained for the duration of the war with a group of European women and children. During the course of their detainment, they are helped by an Australian Prisoners of war;films aboutprisoner of war who steals food and other supplies that keep them alive and then accepts the punishment for those actions without implicating them. That punishment is so severe that Jean mistakenly assumes that he has not survived the war. The rest of the novel describes the convoluted process by which they are eventually reunited and the terms on which they decide to build a life for themselves in a rural Queensland community.

V-Letter and Other Poems

Author: Karl Shapiro Shapiro, KarlShapiro, KarlV-Letter and Other Poems (Shapiro)

First published: 1944

Although Shapiro had a long and distinguished career, his literary reputation has faded to the point that it would come as a surprise to most students of modern American poetry that at the end of World War II he was widely regarded as one of the most accomplished and promising poets of his generation. Awarded a Pulitzer Prize, this collection was written while Shapiro was serving with the U.S. Army in the New Guinea campaign. Imitating the style and form of the letters that military personnel sent to their loved ones back home, the poems convey both the immediacy and the terrible strangeness of the war’s horrors. Likewise, they suggest the soldiers’ growing sense of disconnection from home and their increasingly desperate need to maintain some sense of connection to life beyond the war.

The War Lover

Author: John Hersey Hersey, JohnHersey, JohnWar Lover, The (Hersey)

First published: 1959

Hersey’s novel chronicles twenty-three bombing raids by a B-27 bomber[B 27 bomber]B-27 crew over German targets during World War II. It focuses on one bomber pilot who is either admired or reviled by his fellow pilots, their crews, and his superior officers. Although he repeatedly exhibits great skill and daring, his need continually to push the limits becomes increasingly regarded as recklessness and dangerous self-indulgence, especially since others seem to pay for the chances he takes while he survives unscathed. Critics of the novel have praised Hersey’s attention to technical and sociological detail, but they have also suggested that the density of detail is detrimental to the literary value of the novel.

War of the Rats

Author: David L. Robbins Robbins, David L.Robbins, David L.War of the Rats (Robbins)

First published: 1999

One of the few noteworthy American novels about the eastern front of World War II, War of the Rats depicts the titanic battle for Stalingrad, Siege of (1942-1943) Stalingrad in all of its terrible scope and ghastly particulars. The city had quickly been reduced to rubble, and soldiers on both sides were fed into prolonged battles for individual city blocks and even individual buildings. Despite the firepower of the masses of mechanized weapons employed in the battle, the fighting was largely hand-to-hand and medieval in its ferocity. The novel provides a microcosm of the battle through the contest of skill and wits played out between the most celebrated German and Soviet snipers.


Author: Gore Vidal Vidal, GoreVidal, GoreWilliwaw (Vidal)

First published: 1946

This novel is notable because it is the debut effort of a long, prolific, and distinguished literary career, because it was regarded as the first “literary” novel about World War II to be published, and because it is the only significant novel to treat the AleutiansAleutian theater of the war. Vidal wrote the novel while serving with the Navy on a supply ship. The title refers to a strong wind that blows down from the snow-covered coastal mountain peaks and collides with the warm air rising up from the sea, creating violent storms and currents. Given that the war in the Aleutians claimed far fewer lives than the weather, among all branches of the military, it is important that Vidal’s novel is meteorologically as well as psychologically accurate.

The Winds of War

Author: Herman Wouk Wouk, HermanWouk, HermanWinds of War, The (Wouk)

First published: 1971

This immensely popular novel and its sequel, War and Remembrance (1988), are each nearly a thousand pages long, reflecting Wouk’s ambition to capture the whole scope of World War II as powerfully as he had captured it in microcosm in The Caine Mutiny (1951) two decades earlier. The novel is unified by being presented through the eyes of the widely scattered members of a single family, that of Victor “Pug” Henry, a naval officer who becomes a sort of personal emissary of and troubleshooter for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This strategy no doubt increased the popularity of the novels, but for critics, it stretched credibility and made many aspects of the novel seem contrived, despite Wouk’s obvious efforts to ensure historical accuracy.

The Young Lions

Author: Irwin Shaw Shaw, IrwinShaw, IrwinYoung Lions, The (Shaw)

First published: 1948

Of all of the acclaimed American novels about World War II, Shaw’s The Young Lions has perhaps suffered the most precipitous decline in critical appreciation. Shaw was a real pro as a novelist, and his manipulation of the conventions of the realistic novel make some of his late novels a delight to read. This novel is perhaps a little too obviously “well made” in its presentation of the intersecting stories of three soldiers: a self-indulgent but charming product of privilege named Michael Whiteacre, a working-class Jew named Noah Ackerman, and a German officer named Christian Diestl.

Cold War

The Manchurian Candidate

Author: Richard Condon

First published: 1959

Condon has been described as one of the most paranoid novelists ever. Certainly this landmark novel of the Cold War captured the profound distrust on both sides of the conflict. The novel begins with the capture of a platoon of American soldiers by the Chinese during the Korean War. The soldiers are brainwashed into believing that Sergeant Raymond Shaw, an unlikely hero, has saved them from being massacred. Shaw receives the Medal of Honor, but after they all return to the United States, his captain, Bennett Marco, gradually uncovers the truth that Shaw has been programmed to perform a political assassination.Condon, RichardCondon, RichardCold War (1945-1991);fiction aboutManchurian Candidate, The (Condon)

Once an Eagle

Author: Anton Myrer Myrer, AntonMyrer, AntonOnce an Eagle (Myrer)

First published: 1968

Although not highly regarded by literary critics, Meyer’s best-known novel is one of only two works of fiction on the recommended reading list for the U.S. Army’s Officer Professional Development program. The novel follows the careers of two officers over three decades, from World War I to the beginnings of the Cold War in the years immediately following World War II. The two officers are very different in temperament and mores. Sam Damon is an upright person in both his personal and his professional relationships; in contrast, Courtney Massengale is a much more Machiavellian character who has very little sense of personal loyalty. The novel provides an intimately knowledgeable account of how the military bureaucracy operates.

The Red Wheel

Author: Alexsander Solzhenitsyn Solzhenitsyn, AlexsanderSolzhenitsyn, AlexsanderRed Wheel, The (Solzhenitsyn)

First published: 1983-1991, as Krasnoe koleso: includes Avgust chetyrnadtsatogo, 1971, expanded 1983 (August 1914, 1972, expanded 1989); Oktiabr’ shestnadtsatogo, 1984 (November 1916, 1999); Mart semnadtsatogo, 1986-1988 (partial translation as March 1917, 2006); Aprel’ semnadtsatogo, 1991 (partial translation as April 1917, 2006)

Solzhenitsyn will be most remembered for his two works about the Stalinist penal camps, Odin den’ Ivana Denisovicha (1962; One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, 1963) and Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956: Opyt khudozhestvennogo issledovaniya (1973-1975; The Gulag Archipelago, 1974-1978). However, The Red Wheel, his cycle of novels covering the years from the Russian entry into World War I to the collapse of the Russian monarchy in 1917, is a massive work of literary as well as historical merit. The Red Wheel includes August 1914 (Solzhenitsyn) August 1914, November 1916 (Solzhenitsyn) November 1916, March 917 (Solzhenitsyn) March 1917, and April 1917 (Solzhenitsyn) April 1917, with the middle novels consisting of two volumes each. Solzhenitsyn had originally planned to carry the series through 1922, or the Bolsheviks’ consolidation of power at the end of the civil war and Lenin’s personal decline due to a series of strokes.

Smiley’s People

Author: John le Carré Le Carré, JohnLe Carré, John[Lecarre, John]Smiley’s People (le Carré)

First published: 1980

This is the third novel in le Carré’s Karla Trilogy, which also includesTinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (le Carré) Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974) and Honourable Schoolboy, The (le Carré) The Honourable Schoolboy (1977). All three focus on British intelligence agent George Smiley and provide a perspective on Cold War (1945-1991;espionage Cold War Espionage espionage dramatically different from the glamorous, high-adventure doings in Ian Fleming’s James Bond series. If le Carré is the master of the Cold War novel of intrigue, then this portrait of a career spy who is not permitted to settle quietly into retirement is his masterwork. Although Smiley maneuvers in a world in which violence is a very real and ugly hazard, the emphasis is on his experienced understanding of the subtle surface indications that some clandestine scheme is being orchestrated.

Arab-Israeli Conflicts


Author: Leon Uris

First published: 1958

A Israel;creation ofnovel with epic sweep, Exodus depicts the violence that preceded and followed the declaration of a Jewish state in Palestine. It begins with the efforts of Jewish underground groups to smuggle refugees and weapons into Palestine in anticipation of independence, and their violence against the British forces that had been garrisoned in Palestine to prevent the Jews and Arabs from prematurely intensifying their inevitable conflict. Criticized for its consistent characterization of the Jews as courageous and its general demonization of the Arabs, the novel presents its Jewish protagonist, Ari Ben Canaan, as a very human but undeniably representative figure.Exodus (Uris) Uris, LeonArab-Israeli wars;fiction about

Korean War

The Bridges at Toko-Ri

Author: James Michener

First published: 1953

The Bridges at Toko-Ri focuses on the experiences of carrier pilot Harry Brubaker. Having survived much air combat during World War II, Brubaker had just begun to settle comfortably back into civilian life when he was recalled to service in the Korean War. By the time that the mission to destroy the heavily defended bridges at Toko-Ri is announced, Brubaker is suffering from combat fatigue and has become haunted by the foreboding that he will not survive many more missions. Although he manages to destroy the last of the bridges, his plane goes down and he is killed by the Chinese infantry who have shot down the helicopter sent to rescue him.Michener, JamesMichener, JamesKorean War (1950-1953);fiction aboutBridges at Toko-Ri, The (Michener)

The Hunters

Author: James Salter Salter, JamesSalter, JamesHunters, The (Salter)

First published: 1957

Like James Michener’s The Bridges at Toko-Ri, Salter’s first novel focuses on the air war over Korea, but Salter is much more interested than Michener in the way a fighter wing functions–in how the fighter pilots compete for recognition and their alliances and conflicts shape how they are led and how long they manage to survive. Despite the complex tactics on which each wing is trained and despite each pilot’s dependence in combat on the wingman with whom he is paired, flying fighters is ultimately a solitary test of the pilot’s skill, courage, endurance, and temperament. Salter’s protagonist, Cleve Connell, eventually downs a notorious MiG pilot known as “Casey Jones” but cannot provide confirmation of the “kill” and so attributes it to his own downed wingman.


Author: Richard Hooker Hooker, RichardHooker, RichardM*A*S*H (Hooker)

First published: 1968

Published at the height of the Vietnam War, adapted for an experimental film directed by Robert Altman, and providing the basis for one of the longest-running and most acclaimed television series of all time, this novel was based on Hornberger’s experiences as a battlefield surgeon during the Korean War and was actually more an irreverent take on military life than a pointedly Antiwar literatureantiwar work. Following on the success of the film and television series, however, Hornberger–using the pseudonym Richard Hooker–wrote two sequels in 1972 and 1977, and collaborated with William E. Butterworth on a series of twelve novels, published between 1974 and 1977, that followed the mobile army surgical hospital (MASH) surgeons to the far corners of the world.

War Trash

Author: Ha Jin Jin, HaJin, HaWar Trash (Ha Jin)

First published: 2004

Ha Jin’s highly regarded novel treats the Korean War from the Chinese perspective. The novel is framed as the memoir of its protagonist, Yu Yuan. Drafted into the Chinese army after the Communist takeover of China, he finds himself among the hundreds of thousands of troops sent across the Yalu River to drive back the United Nations forces that had routed the North Koreans. In addition to relating Yu’s experiences on the march and in battle during a bitterly cold winter, the novel treats his eventual capture by U.N. forces and his extended detention as a Prisoners of war;films aboutprisoner of war.

Colonial Wars

The Dogs of War

Author: Frederick Forsyth Forsyth, FrederickForsyth, FrederickColonial warfare;fiction aboutDogs of War, The (Forsyth)

First published: 1974

The discovery of significant plutonium deposits in a small African nation governed by a dictatorial regime leads a British industrialist to underwrite a mercenary force to remove the existing government and to replace it with one more disposed to sell the mineral rights under favorable terms. The novel details the ways in which the mercenary force is recruited, given some cohesion as a unit, equipped and supplied, and clandestinely transported to the target nation. The novel is purportedly based on Forsyth’s own failed attempt to use a mercenary force to seize the small nation of Equatorial Guinea and to offer it as a haven for the Nigerian insurgents defeated in the Biafran War.

The Four Feathers

Author: A. E. W. Mason Mason, A. E. W.Mason, A. E. W.Four Feathers, The (Mason)

First published: 1902

Following the MahdiMahdi’s conquest of Khartoum and the death of “Chinese Gordon,” the British forces massed in Egypt under Lord Kitchener to defeat the Mahdi’s forces, who were driven equally by religious fervor and anticolonial resentments. The protagonist of this novel resigns from his unit as it is about to be shipped overseas and is justifiably reviled for his cowardice. Seeking to redeem himself, he travels on his own to the Sudan, where, in order to pass himself off as a native, he disfigures himself, infiltrates the Mahdi’s forces, and provides critical assistance to his former comrades in arms.


Author: V. S. Naipaul Naipaul, V. S.Naipaul, V. S.Guerrillas (Naipaul)

First published: 1975

One of Naipaul’s most unsparing, harrowing novels, Guerrillas concerns an uprising against the continuing colonial influence on a Caribbean island. The three main characters are Roche, a South African exile with progressive political views; his disaffected lover, an Englishwoman named Jane, who mistakes her own world-weariness for depth of understanding and reliable judgment; and Jimmy, a political radical who disdains Roche and Jane but is willing to use them, and anyone and anything available to him, to promote his cause and his own movement toward the centers of power. The novel explores the ease with which the comfortable certainties of daily life can be undermined.

Cuban Revolution

The Death of Che Guevara

Author: Jay Cantor Cantor, JayCantor, JayCuban Revolution (1956-1959);fiction about

First published: 1983

In this very ambitious first novel, Cantor has sought to re-create fictionally the life of the Cuban revolutionary, Guevara, CheGuevara, CheChe Guevara, who has become an increasingly iconic figure since his pointless death while attempting to breathe life into a listless Bolivian insurgency in 1967. Cantor constructs the story around a broad range of historical documents, from personal diaries and correspondence to news accounts and government reports. Almost all of these documents, however, are Cantor’s fictional creations, and taken together, they add layers of complexity and possibility to the portrait that the novel provides of this personally and culturally enigmatic figure.Death of Che Guevara, The (Cantor)

Vietnam War


Author: Michael Herr Herr, MichaelHerr, MichaelVietnam War (1961-1975);fiction about

First published: 1977

This book, a seminal work of the New Journalism, was published a decade after Herr traveled to South Vietnam to report on the Vietnam War for Esquire. The essays that he produced for that magazine as well as for Rolling Stone, New American Review, New York, and Crawdaddy were revised extensively and synthesized into the continuing narrative of the book. Nonetheless, that narrative consists largely of vignettes that convey, often with ironic or horrific immediacy, the “grunt’s” view of the war. The power of the narrative derives from Herr’s identification with the average soldier and his recognition that however close he comes to the fighting, he is more a witness than a combatant.Dispatches (Herr)

Going After Cacciato

Author: Tim O’Brien O’Brien, TimO’Brien, Tim[Obrien, Tim]Going After Cacciato (O’Brien)

First published: 1978, revised 1989

The most acclaimed American novel about the Vietnam War, Going After Cacciato combines the documentary realism of O’Brien’s other books about the war with an extended episode of Magical Realism. The novel is divided into three types of chapters. The narrative is organized around ten “Observation Post” sections, set in November, 1968. In these sections, the main character, Paul Berlin, reflects on the ironies, paradoxes, improbabilities, and hard realities of the war. These sections also provide a narrative frame for the other two types of sections: his memories of his unit’s harrowing experiences in combat between June and October and an extended fantasy about his unit’s pursuit across two continents of the AWOL soldier Cacciato.

Meditations in Green

Author: Stephen Wright Wright, StephenWright, StephenMeditations in Green (Wright)

First published: 1983

In this, Psychological effects of warhis first novel, Wright presents the recollections of a veteran of the Vietnam War who is attempting, through meditation exercises in which he focuses on plants, to recover some sense of emotional and moral equilibrium. His recollections of the war include characterizations of officers too self-centered to inspire confidence in their leadership and of soldiers too young to cope with the alternating boredom and terror of war without using mind-altering drugs or retreating into varying degrees of psychotic detachment. The focal event involves an effort to locate and recover the remains of an intelligence patrol crew presumed lost when their helicopter went down. The bodies are found gruesomely mutilated and displayed.

No Man’s Land

Author: Duong Thu Huong Huong, Duong ThuHuong, Duong ThuNo Man’s Land (Thu Duong Huong)

First published: 2005

Perhaps the most internationally known Vietnamese dissident writer, Duong Thu Huong supported the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong cause during the Vietnam War. Following the reunification of the country, however, she became a critic of the abuses of power and the corruption that she felt had become endemic within the communist regime. Though not pointedly political, her once popular novels were banned, and she was imprisoned several times. In No Man’s Land, a missing-in-action North Vietnamese soldier returns home fourteen years after the end of the war. Although he has been physically and psychologically damaged by his wartime experiences, which are presented in flashback, his wife is pressured into leaving her current husband and their son, both of whom she loves dearly, and to endure the privations and humiliations of life with him.

Paco’s Story

Author: Larry Heinemann Heinemann, LarryHeinemann, LarryPaco’s Story (Heinemann)

First published: 1986

When this, Heinemann’s second novel, won the National Book Award, it was generally regarded as a very surprising choice. Like Heinemann’s first novel, which had been published nine years earlier, Paco’s Story concerns the experience of a Vietnam veteran. The title character is seeking a respite in which he can recuperate physically and psychologically from his wartime experiences. Although he finds a job washing dishes in a small-town restaurant operated by a sympathetic veteran of World War II, he cannot escape the stigma of having served in an unpopular war or the memories of the atrocities that he and his fellow soldiers committed in Vietnam. Much of the novel is narrated by the ghosts of the men in Paco’s unit who died in Vietnam.

The Quiet American

Author: Graham Greene Greene, GrahamGreene, GrahamQuiet American, The (Greene)

First published: 1955

A truism about the Vietnam War has been that American involvement dated from the defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu. In actuality, the United States supplied almost all of the military matériel used by the French against the Viet Minh, and American concern with checking Soviet influence, more than any American interest in preserving pre-World War II European empires, drove U.S. involvement in Vietnam from its clandestine beginnings. Narrated by Thomas Fowler, a world-weary British journalist, Greene’s novel explores the enigmatic character of Alden Pyle. Nominally an American aid worker, Pyle is clearly working for the Central Intelligence Agency to ensure that a South Vietnamese alternative to the Viet Minh will be available if the French do not prevail in the largely guerrilla war against them. Pyle is murdered, but not before he gets Fowler’s beautiful Vietnamese mistress.

The Sorrow of War

Author: Bao Ninh Ninh, BaoNinh, BaoSorrow of War, The (Bao Ninh)

First published: 1993

Framed as a novel within a novel, The Sorrow of War presents a “fictional” account of the wartime experiences of Kien, a North Vietnamese veteran of the Vietnam War. The survival of any long-serving veteran of that prolonged conflict would be something of a miracle, but in several instances, Kien has been the only survivor of firefights, shellings, and bombings that have killed every other member of his unit. His extraordinary luck is, however, juxtaposed to the loss of his lover, whom he has known since their idyllic childhood, and the unreliability of others whom he has trusted.

Tree of Smoke

Author: Denis Johnson Johnson, DenisJohnson, DenisTree of Smoke (Johnson)

First published: 2007

A recipient of the National Book Award, Johnson’s novel seems a high mark in a steadily distinguished, if idiosyncratic, literary career. Certainly, Tree of Smoke stands out in a body of work consisting of very spare novels on eccentric subjects. It is a long and lushly descriptive fictional treatment of the Vietnam War. The main character is Skip Sands, an agent with the Central Intelligence Agency who serves in Vietnam from 1965 to 1970, or from the dramatic escalation of American involvement to the post-Tet Offensive recognition that deescalation, if not defeat, was inevitable.

First Gulf War

We Pierce

Author: Andrew Huebner Huebner, AndrewHuebner, AndrewGulf War (1990-1991);fiction about

First published: 2003

The most significant literary work written about the Gulf War of the early 1990’s, We Pierce is a fictionalized memoir or autobiographical novel drawn from Huebner’s own family history. The narrative focuses on two brothers, Sam and Smith Huebner. Sam is politically progressive, a teacher and writer whose emotional demons are exhibited in his deepening alcohol and drug abuse. Forgiving to a fault in terms of family issues, Sam paradoxically is very dogmatic in his political views, including his opposition to the Gulf War. In contrast, Smith serves with distinction as part of a tank crew during the conflict. Although he refuses to address the issues in their parents’ marriage and their upbringing, he has a contented marriage and does everything that he can to ensure that his own children’s home life is stable.We Pierce (Huebner)

African Civil Wars

Johnny Mad Dog

Author: Emmanuel Boundzéki Dongala Dongala, Emmanuel BoundzékiDongala, Emmanuel BoundzékiAfrica;fiction aboutJohnny Mad Dog (Dongala)

First published: 2005

Dongala explores the world of the “boy soldiers” who have become commonplace among the combatants in Africa’s civil wars because they are one of the largest segments of most African populations, because they are more easily indoctrinated than adult “recruits,” and because they can be more easily conditioned to witnessing and committing atrocities. The novel is drawn from Dongala’s experiences during the Republic of the Congo’s civil war in the late 1990’s. The title character has became a despicable, sociopathic character, and Dongala emphasizes how little he and his kind feel any connection to their country, its people, or its future.

The Rebels’ Hour

Author: Lieve Joris Joris, LieveJoris, LieveRebels’ Hour, The (Joris)

First published: 2008

Published Civil wars;AfricaCongo, Democratic Republic of thevariously as a nonfiction novel and as a work of creative nonfiction, Dutch journalist Joris’s book resulted from extensive reporting on and a complex understanding of the conflicts of central Africa and, in particular, the Democratic Republic of the Congo–previously referred to as Zaire, the Belgian Congo, and the Congo Free State. The focal character is a Tutsi named Assani. Originally from Rwanda genocideRwanda, his family fled from the Hutu genocide into the eastern Congo, where the ethnic conflicts in Rwanda and Burundi became intertwined with an equally vicious cycle of civil war. Assani was recruited by Lawrence Kabila, whose largely Tutu force overthrew the infamously corrupt and pro-Hutu Mobuta regime, shortly before Kabila himself was assassinated.

Afghan Wars

The Kite Runner

Author: Khaled Hosseini Hosseini, KhaledHosseini, KhaledAfghanistan;fiction about

First published: 2003

The story of the unlikely friendship of two boys in Afghanistan–one rich and one poor–is set against the backdrop of Afghanistan from the end of the monarchy through the wars of the present.Kite Runner, The (Hosseini)

Literature and Warfare