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History Reading Suggestions
By Bob Frost
HistoryAccess.com, 2010


This is Part Three of a Seven-Part Article.
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The First World War

(See also the section of this Website entitled "Fifty Important Battles of Modern History.")

"1914-1918: The History of the First World War" by David Stevenson (2004). Scholarly yet accessible. An overlooked book (note the paucity of reader comments at Amazon.com) that's the best one-volume history of the war (though it's perhaps not the best book for someone new to the topic; Jay Winter's work, or Correlli Barnett's, might fill that bill [next two items]).

"The Experience of World War I" by Jay Winter (1989). A clearly-written, well-illustrated introduction.

"The Great War" by Correlli Barnett (2007, second edition).

"The Historical Atlas of World War I" by Anthony Livesey (1994) As butter is to toast, maps are to the reading of history.

"The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War" by Hew Strachan (1998).

"An Illustrated History of the First World War" by John Keegan (2001).

"World War One: A Short History" by Norman Stone (2007). Brief and readable. Stone, writes Sue Arnold in the Guardian, is "arguably our most controversial, brilliant, outspoken and admired living historian." Robert McCrum writes in the Observer that this book is a "magnificently concise and erratic account of the Great War that will no doubt drive the professionals into paroxysms of donnish rage." See below, "Recorded Book," for information on the audiobook version.

"The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchilll: Visions of Glory 1874-1932" by William Manchester (1983). The war from Churchill's point of view. Manchester's splendid oeuvre is listed here.

"Hitler: 1889-1936: Hubris" by Ian Kershaw (1998). The war from Hitler's point of view; the first entry in Kershaw’s essential two-volume work.

"White Heat: The New Warfare 1914-18" by John Terraine. Anything by Terraine is well worth reading. Here's background on the great scholar.

"The Origins of the First World War" by James Joll and Gordon Martel (2006, third edition). A fine scholarly book on the roots of the conflict. See also "The Guns of August" by Barbara Tuchman (1962) and "Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?" by David Fromkin (2004). See here for Tuchman on some of the deep currents that led to the war.

"A Naval History of World War I" by Paul G. Halpern (1995).

"Vimy" by Pierre Berton (1986). See here for more on Berton.

"Kaiser Wilhelm II" by Christopher Clark (2000). The focus is on the kaiser’s years in power; the book is an entry in the "Profiles in Power" series published by Longman.

"The Western Front: Ordinary Soldiers and the Defining Battles of World War I" by Richard Holmes (1999).

"Dynamic of Destruction: Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War" by Alan Kramer (2007).

"Gallipoli" by L.A. Carlyon (2001). A complete account of the campaign. See also "Gallipoli" by Alan Moorehead (1956), an outstanding work.

"Making Men Moral: Social Engineering During the Great War" by Nancy K. Bristow (1997).

"We Will Not Fight: The Untold Story of World War One's Conscientious Objectors" by Will Ellsworth-Jones (2008).

"Somme Mud: The Experiences of an Infantryman in France 1916-1919" by E.P.F. Lynch, edited by Will Davies (2008)

"A Very Unimportant Officer: Life and Death On the Somme and at Passchendaele" by Alexander Stewart edited by Cameron Stewart (2008).

"Tommy: The British Soldier on the Western Front" by Richard Holmes (2005). Lions led by donkeys? Not so fast on the donkey part, says Holmes.

"Behind the Lines: Gender and the Two World Wars" edited by Margaret Randolph Higonnet et al. (1987).

"Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World" by Margaret Macmillan (2001).

"Storm of Steel" by Ernst Junger translated by Michael Hofmann (1920), See also "Good-Bye to All That" by Robert Graves, mentioned here, a similar book written from the British perspective. Both works are altogether extraordinary.

"Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age" by Modris Eksteins (1989).

Battlefield Guides: "Before Endeavours Fade: A Guide to the Battlefields of the First World War" by Rose E.B. Coombs (1994, revised edition). "Concise Illustrated Guide to the Western Front - North" by Major and Mrs. Holt (2002; a "South" guide is also available).

Recorded Book: "World War One: A Short History" by Norman Stone read by Sean Barrett (2008). This fine audiobook is apparently not available at Amazon.com but can be gotten at Amazon.co.uk.

DVDs: "The First World War" produced by Jonathan Lewis and Channel Four (2003). "Gallipoli" directed by Tolga Ornek (2005). "Upstairs, Downstairs," Season Four.

Websites:firstworldwar.com. britishbattles.com. 1914-1918.net.

The Second World War

(See also the section of this Website entitled "Fifty Important Battles of Modern History." And see "The Third Reich" [next section].)

"The Times Atlas of the Second World War" edited by John Keegan (1995).

"A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II" by Gerhard L. Weinberg (1994).

"The World War II Bookshelf: Fifty Must-Read Books" by James F. Dunnigan (2005).

"World War II: The Definitive Visual History" by DK Publishing (2009).

"Chronology of World War Two" by Edward Davidson and Dale Manning (2001).

"The Story of World War II" by Donald L. Miller and Henry Steele Commager (2002). This work stands out in terms of readability.

"Liberation: The Bitter Road to Freedom: Europe 1944-1945" by William I. Hitchcock (2008).

"The Rape of Nanking" by Iris Chang (1997). See also "The Pacific War: 1931-1945" by Saburo Ienaga (1968) which includes exposure of the Nanking horror; Ienaga, a Japanese, battled bravely for years against official cleansing of school textbooks.

"The Historical Encyclopedia of World War II" edited by Marcel Baudot (1997).

"A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War" by Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett (2000).

"The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour" by James D. Hornfischer (2004). Very few books get 100-plus reviews at Amazon (150-plus, in this case) and maintain a five-star rating.

"The Biographical Dictionary of World War II" by Mark Boatner (1994, revised edition).

"The Oxford Companion to World War II" (1995).

"The World Within War: America’s Combat Experience in World War II" by Gerald F. Linderman (1997).

"Thunder in the East: The Nazi-Soviet War 1941-1945" by Evan Mawdsley (2007). The best introduction to the Eastern Front.

"Japan at War: An Oral History" by Haruko Taya Cook and Theodore F. Cook (1995). One of the great works of oral history.

"Pursuit: The Chase and Sinking of the Bismarck" by Ludovic Kennedy (1974).

"The Liberation Trilogy" by Rick Atkinson (2002 and 2007, two volumes published of a proposed three).

"Blood on the Shores: Soviet SEALS in World War II" by Viktor Leonov (1994).

"The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s" by Piers Brendon (2000).

"Yalta: The Price of Peace" by S.M. Plokhy (2010).

"Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan" by Ronald H. Spector (1985). Solid and workmanlike; nothing spectacular, but gets the job done in terms of text. A large question must be posed about this book, a question that can be asked about many history volumes. How could any publisher (Macmillan) worthy of the name have allowed this endeavor to come into existence without maps? No maps about the most geographically confusing, map-intensive major war of world history. This book should not be read (essentially cannot be read) without access to a decent war atlas such as John Keegan's (see above).

Historical Novel: "The Cruel Sea" by Nicholas Monsarrat (1951). About the Battle of the Atlantic. See here for more on this key encounter.

Recorded Books: "The Second World War" by Winston Churchill read by Christian Rodska (approximately 30 hours unabridged, audible.com). "World War II" by Joseph Stromberg read by George C. Scott (2007, blackstoneaudio.com, audible.com, etc.).

DVDs: "The World at War" produced by Jeremy Isaacs (1974; possibly the finest TV documentary ever made. "The War" directed by Ken Burns (2007). "The Battle of San Pietro" directed by John Huston (1945). "Nanking" directed by Bill Guttentag (2007). "Black Rain" directed by Shohei Imamura (1989). "Kanal" directed by Andrzej Wajda (1957, fiction). "Downfall" directed by Olivier Hirschbiegel (2004, fiction). "The Thin Red Line" (1998, fiction; the best war movie released in 1998, and maybe the best war movie ever made.) "Saving Private Ryan" directed by Stephen Spielberg (1998, fiction; the film was influenced by three books by Stephen E. Ambrose: "Band of Brothers" [1993], "D-Day" [1994], and "Citizen Soldiers" [1997]. In 1998 Ambrose published a one-volume synthesis of these works titled "The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II").

Websites: world-war-2.info. For the Pacific war, see here for a useful summary of statistics on the economic forces at work and here for a bibliography.

The Third Reich


A photograph.


"The Destruction of the European Jews" by Raul Hilberg (1961; 2003, revised edition). A seminal work. The period 1960-61 vaulted the Holocaust into public and scholarly consciousness, with this book, with William L. Shirer's work (see next item), and with the capture and trial of Adolf Eichmann.

"The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" by William L. Shirer (1960). A huge bestseller in its heyday. See also "The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" by Steve Wick (2011) and this article in Smithsonian. The first Reich was Charlemagne's; the second was created by Bismarck.

"The Third Reich" by Richard J. Evans (2003 to 2009, three volumes).

"The Holocaust in History" by Michael R. Marrus (2000, second edition).

"Hitler" by Ian Kershaw (1999 and 2000, two volumes; available in an abridged single volume). See also Kershaw's "Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution" (2008).

"The Routledge Companion to Nazi Germany" by Roderick Stackelberg (2007). Part of the series "Routledge Companions to History."

"The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945" by Saul Friedlander (2007). A powerful recent survey.

"Hitler's Last Days" by Hugh Trevor-Roper (1987, sixth edition). An influential work by a great historian. Very readable. See also "An Honourable Englishman: The Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper" by Adam Sisman (2011).

"Beyond Justice: The Auschwitz Trial" by Rebecca Wittmann (2005).

"Masters of Death" by Richard Rhodes (2002).

"Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland" by Jan T. Gross (2001).

"Treblinka" by Jean-Francois Steiner (1966).

"Himmler’s Crusade: The True Story of the 1938 Nazi Expedition to Tibet" by Christopher Hale (2003).

"Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil" by Hannah Arendt (1963). A most provocative book; in the words of historian Tony Judt, "attacking head-on a painful topic; dissenting from official wisdom; provoking argument not just among her critics but also and especially among her friends; and above all, disturbing the easy peace of received wisdom." See also Arendt's "The Origins of Totalitarianism" (1951).

Essay: A speculative essay by historian Robert Katz titled "Pius XII Protests the Holocaust: Could the Wartime Pope Have Prevented the Final Solution?" is included in the counterfactual history book "What If? 2: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been" edited by Robert Cowley (2001). The genre of counterfactual history is examined here.

DVDs: "Shoah" (1985) directed by Claude Lanzmann. "Anne Frank Remembered" directed by Jon Blair (1995). "Triumph of the Will" directed by Leni Riefenstahl (1935) in conjunction with the film "The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl" directed by Ray Muller (1993) and the book "Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl" by Steven Bach (2007). "Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport" directed by Mark Jonathan Harris (2000). "The Road to Treblinka" (1998, an unusually concise, well-produced examination of Nazi bureaucracy, one hour in length, part five of the six-part BBC series "The Nazis: A Warning From History"). "Image Before My Eyes: A History of Jewish Life in Poland Before the Holocaust" directed by Joshua Waletzky (1981). "The Specialist" directed by Eyal Sivan (1999). "Naked Among Wolves" directed by Frank Beyer (1963, fiction). "The Unknown Solider" directed by Michael Verhoeven (2007). "Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State" produced by the BBC (2005, six parts, also known as "Auschwitz: The Nazis and 'The Final Solution'").

Websites: jewishvirtuallibrary.org. ushmm.org, the Website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (see the Frequently Asked Questions section of the site for research assistance).

The Korean War

"The Korean War" by Max Hastings (1987).

"China's Road to the Korean War" by Chen Jian (1996).

"American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964" by William Manchester (1978).

"The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War" by David Halberstam (2007).

"The War for Korea" by Allan Millett (2005 and 2010, two volumes of a projected three-volume set).

"The Origins of the Korean War" by Peter Lowe (1986).

"Korea: The Untold Story of the War" by Joseph C. Goulden (1982).

DVD: "Korea: The Unknown War" directed by Phillip Whitehead (1988).

The Vietnam War

(See also the section of this Website entitled "Fifty Important Battles of Modern History.")

DSC06572extraphoto
Grace Charron, a resident of Vermont,
at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in
Washington D.C. (Photo by Bob Frost)


"America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975" by George C. Herring (2001, fourth edition). Widely used in colleges. Includes a thorough bibliographic essay.

"In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam" by Robert S. McNamara (1995). An honest and important book by a good man; the work and the author were viciously attacked when the book came out.

"Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History" edited by Stanley I. Kutler (1997).

"Historical Atlas of the Vietnam War" by Harry G. Summers Jr. (1995). A few minor errors (gleefully tabulated by pedants at Amazon.com) but solid overall.

"Light at the End of the Tunnel: A Vietnam War Anthology" edited by Andrew J. Rotter (1999, revised edition).

"A Bright Shining Lie" by Neil Sheehan (1988).

"Vietnam: A Complete Chronicle of the War" by Michael Maclear (2003).

"Vietnam: A History" by Stanley Karnow (1983).

"Vietnam: A Visual Encyclopedia" by Philip C. Gutzman (2003).

"Dispatches" by Michael Herr (1977). A first-rate work of reportage. Herr had a hand in the screenplays for "Apocalypse Now" and "Full Metal Jacket."

"Reporting Vietnam: American Journalism 1959-1975" published by the Library of America (1998, two volumes).

"Thud Ridge: F-105 Thunderchief Missions Over Vietnam" by Col. Jack Broughton (1969). See also Tom Wolfe's superlative piece "The Truest Sport: Jousting with Sam and Charlie" included in his anthology "The Purple Decades: A Reader" (1982).

"The Snake That Became a Tiger: Hey 19" by Dan A. Barker (2009). The war produced many striking memoirs including this one. Barker found a way to heal; he is founder of the Home Gardening Project Foundation. See here for more memoirs; see also the next item on this list.

"Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers" by Daniel Ellsberg. Includes a powerful section devoted to Ellberg's Vietnam trip in the mid-'60s. See here for a HistoryAccess.com review of the book.

Novel: "Sand in the Wind" by Robert Roth (1985).

DVDs: A comprehensive, annotated list of Vietnam films (fiction and nonfiction) is available at wellesley.edu/Polisci/wj/Vietnam/vietfilms.html. A few specific titles: "Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War" produced by Michael Maclear (1980). "Vietnam War with Walter Cronkite" (1985). "Apocalypse Now" directed by Francis Ford Coppola (1979, fiction; described by war correspondent Peter Arnett as "the most spectacularly accurate movie on the war"). "Sir! No Sir!" directed by David Zeiger (2005).

A segment of the PBS show "Bill Moyers Journal" (#1331, first broadcast on PBS in 11/09) offers a concise summary of President Lyndon Johnson's route to war in 1964-65 including taped White House conversations. This hour-long program may be the best brief TV examination of the move by the U.S. toward deep involvement in Vietnam. The DVD can be purchased from WNET at 1-800-336-1917.

Website: pbs.org/battlefieldvietnam/.

The Cold War

(See here for a list of this Website's articles on the Cold War. See here for reading suggestions on the Korean War, here for suggestions on the Vietnam War, and here for suggestions on Russian history.)

"Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974" by James T. Patterson (1996). Includes a basic, balanced introduction to the first 30 years of the Cold War. Part of the series Oxford History of the United States.

"The Cold War: A Post-Cold War History" by Ralph B. Levering (2005, second edition). A good primer. See also "The Cold War: A Very Short Introduction" by Robert J. McMahon (2003).

"The Cambridge History of the Cold War" by Melvyn P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad (2010, three volumes).

"George F. Kennan: An American Life" by John Lewis Gaddis (2011). See here for a review. See also the Gaddis work "The Cold War: A New History" (2005). See also two books by John Lukacs: the brief and excellent "Kennan: A Study of Character" (2007) and "George F. Kennan and the Origins of Containment, 1944-1946: The Kennan-Lukacs Correspondence" (1997).

"Cold War Chronology: Soviet-American Relations 1945-1991" edited by Kenneth L. Hill (1993). An annotated chronology.

"The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy" by David E. Hoffman (2009). Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

"The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and Its Proliferation" by Thomas C. Reed and Danny B. Stillman (2009). The history of nuclear proliferation and its possible future. See also "The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons" by Scott D. Sagan (1993) and "The Partnership: Five Cold Warriors and Their Quest to Ban the Bomb" by Philip Taubman (2012). The scholar Gary J. Bass writes in a review of the latter work, "On the day after a nuclear bomb annihilates Washington, New Delhi, Islamabad, Seoul, Tel Aviv or Moscow, vaporizing and burning to death hundreds of thousands of people, our present complacency about nuclear proliferation will look like daylight madness."

"Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State" by Garry Wills (2010). See here for comments given by Wills in February, 2010, based on this work.

"The Manhattan Project: The Birth of the Atomic Bomb in the Words of Its Creators, Eyewitnesses, and Historians" edited by Cynthia C. Kelly (2007). Generated through the aegis of Kelly's Atomic Heritage Foundation. A large fraction of the work is available via Google Books.

"The First Physics of War: The Secret History of the Atom Bomb, 1939-1949" by Jim Baggott (2010). A good introduction to the creation and early development of the weapon. See also "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" by Richard Rhodes (1986).

"Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race" by Richard Rhodes (2008).

"Totalitarianism: The Inner History of the Cold War" by Abbott Gleason (1995).

"Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA" by Tim Weiner (2007).

"Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement" by Lawrence S. Wittner (2009). See also "The Fate of the Earth" and "The Abolition" by Jonathan Schell (1982 and 1984 respectively; published as one volume in 2000).

"Man Without a Face: The Autobiography of Communism’s Greatest Spymaster" by Markus Wolf with Anne McElvoy (1997).

"My Five Cambridge Friends" by Yuri Modin (1984).

"Their Trade is Treachery: The Full, Unexpurgated Truth About the Russian Penetration of the Free World's Secret Defences" by Chapman Pincher (1981).

"Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall" by Anna Funder (2002). East Germany 1949 to 1989, or, forty years of icy hell.

"Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed" by Ben R. Rich and Leo Janos (1994).

"White King and Red Queen: How the Cold War Was Fought on the Chessboard" by Daniel Johnson (2008). See also the documentary film "Bobby Fischer Against the World" (2011).

"The Wizards of Armageddon" by Fred Kaplan ( 1983). See also "Star Warriors: A Penetrating Look Into the Lives of the Young Scientists Behind Our Space Age Weaponry" by William J. Broad (1985).

"Deep Black: The Startling Truth Behind America's Top Secret Spy Satellites" by William E. Burrows (1988).

"Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance" by Donald MacKenzie (1993).

"Autopsy on an Empire: The American Ambassador's Account of the Collapse of the Soviet Union" by Jack F. Matlock, Jr. (1995).

"Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era" by Elaine Tyler May (1988). Compelling cultural history.

"The Devil We Knew: Americans and the Cold War" by H.W. Brands (1993).

"The New Left and the Origins of the Cold War" by Robert James Maddox (1973).

VHS Tape: "Cold War" produced by CNN Perspectives (1998; oddly, this excellent work is not available on DVD).

DVDs: "Radio Bikini" directed by Robert Stone (1987). "Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie" directed by Peter Kuran (1995).

Magazine Issue: The February, 1998, issue of The Nation is an important source of information on nuclear arms.

Websites: ColdWar.org (the Cold War Museum) offers many articles and a timeline. A good list of online resources can be found here. See here for a chart detailing U.S. spending on the war.

The War in Iraq

"The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq" by George Packer (2007).

"War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism" by Douglas J. Feith (2008).

"The Forever War" by Dexter Filkins (2008).


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