Book Buzz

10 Historical World War II Non-Fic
We Thought You'd Love

From the horrors of war and the Holocaust to stories of heroism, we hope you’ll find these books honorable and inspiring that you’d add to your to-read list!

The Splendid and the Vile

by Erik Larson

Erik Larson tells the story of Winston Churchill’s leadership during the Blitz, providing a fascinating look at the personal and political aspects of one of the most important figures of the war. Drawing on diaries, letters, and other primary sources, Larson paints a vivid portrait of Churchill’s family and political relationships, as well as the day-to-day experiences of Londoners during the bombing.

Praise & Review: “One of [Erik Larson’s] best books yet . . . perfectly timed for the moment.”—Time

The BookWalker’s Verdict:  Published in 2020, this book chronicles the first year of Winston Churchill’s leadership during the Blitz.  It provides a fascinating look at the leadership and personal life of one of the most important figures of the war.

War in the Shadows

by Patrick Marnham

In The War in the Shadows, Patrick Marnham explores the stories of the individuals who worked in secret to undermine the Nazi occupation of France.  Drawing on newly declassified files and other sources, Marnham provides a compelling account of the bravery and ingenuity of the French Resistance, as well as the difficult choices and moral dilemmas faced by those who joined the fight.

Praise & Review: “Fascinating… Marnham has a vast and scholarly knowledge of this often treacherous world… [and] has painted a vivid picture of a number of idealistic and trusting men and women caught up in a game of subterfuge, rivalry and politics that remains impervious to full exposure, even now.”— Literary Review

The BookWalker’s Verdict:  Published in 2021, this book explores the stories of the brave individuals who worked in secret to undermine the Nazi occupation of France.  It sheds light on the little-known aspects of the French Resistance.

A Woman of No Importance

by Sonia Purnell

A Woman of No Importance tells the story of Virginia Hall, an American spy who operated behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. Sonia Purnell draws on extensive research and interviews with surviving members of Hall’s family and inner circle to provide a gripping account of Hall’s bravery and resourcefulness in the face of enormous danger.

Praise & Review: “A compelling biography of a masterful spy, and a reminder of what can be done with a few brave people—and a little resistance.” —NPR

The BookWalker’s Verdict:  A Woman of No Importance is a riveting account of one of World War II’s most important and overlooked female spies, Virginia Hall. Sonia Purnell does an excellent job of bringing Hall’s remarkable story to life, from her early days as a frustrated debutante to her successful career as a spy in occupied France. Purnell’s writing is engaging and well-researched, and she skillfully weaves together Hall’s personal struggles with her daring exploits in the field. The book also provides a fascinating insight into the world of espionage during World War II and the challenges faced by female spies.  Overall, “A Woman of No Importance” is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of espionage, World War II, or the inspiring stories of unsung heroes.

D-Day Girls

by Sarah Rose

A riveting account of the female spies who played a crucial role in the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944.  Sarah Rose draws on interviews with surviving spies, declassified files, and other historical sources to tell the story of these remarkable women who risked their lives to help defeat the Nazis.

Praise & Review: “Equal parts espionage-romance thriller and historical narrative, D-Day Girls traces the lives and secret activities of the 39 women who answered the call to infiltrate France. . . . While chronicling the James Bond-worthy missions and love affairs of these women, Rose vividly captures the broken landscape of war.” — The Washington Post

The BookWalker’s Verdict:  D-Day Girls by Sarah Rose is a fascinating and engaging account of the female spies who helped to prepare the way for the D-Day invasion during World War II.  The book focuses on three key women-Andrée Borrel, Odette Sansom, and Lise de Baissac-who risked their lives to gather intelligence and sabotage Nazi operations in France.  Rose’s writing is vivid and informative, and she skillfully weaves personal stories together with historical context.  She also provides a valuable perspective on the challenges faced by female spies, who often had to navigate sexist attitudes and stereotypes in addition to the dangers of their missions.  D-Day Girls is a well-researched and engaging account of an often-overlooked aspect of the war effort and a tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of these remarkable women.

Operation Pedestal

by Max Hastings

 In Operation Pedestal, Max Hastings tells the story of the convoy of Allied ships that sailed from Gibraltar to Malta in August 1942, braving heavy German and Italian attacks to deliver much-needed supplies to the island. Drawing on diaries, letters, and other historical sources, Hastings provides a gripping account of the bravery and determination of the men and women who participated in this critical operation.

Praise & Review: “An eye-level view of mortal danger set against a major inflection point during World War II. “—Wall Street Journal

The BookWalker’s Verdict:  Operation Pedestal by Max Hastings is a gripping account of one of World War II’s most dramatic naval battles, the Allied convoy to Malta in August 1942. Hastings brings his characteristic depth of research and attention to detail to this retelling of the battle, which saw a small group of British warships and merchant’s vessels fight off a relentless attack by German and Italian forces.  The book is filled with vivid descriptions of the action, and Hastings does an excellent job of conveying the tension and fear experienced by the sailors on both sides.  He also provides valuable insights into the strategic and logistical challenges faced by the Allies in the Mediterranean and the importance of the convoy to the war effort.  Overall, Operation Pedestal is a thrilling and informative read for anyone interested in the history of naval warfare or World War II.

Code Name Hélène

by Ariel Lawhon

Code Name Hélène is the true story of Nancy Wake, a New Zealand-born woman who became one of World War II’s most effective and celebrated spies. Ariel Lawhon draws on extensive research and interviews with surviving members of Wake’s family to provide a gripping account of Wake’s daring exploits behind enemy lines in France and her role in the Resistance.

Praise & Review: “Gripping…Lawhon throws readers into the middle of the action… Lawhon’s vivid, fast-paced narrative will keep readers turning the pages, and a detailed afterword makes plain how much of the account is factual. This entertaining tale does justice to Lawhon’s larger-than-life subject.” —Publishers Weekly

The BookWalker’s Verdict:  Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon is a captivating historical fiction novel based on the true story of Nancy Wake, a young woman from New Zealand who became a key member of the French Resistance during World War II.  The book traces Nancy’s journey from a journalist in Paris to a highly skilled spy and leader of a Resistance network code-named Hélène.  The author skillfully weaves together Nancy’s personal story with the larger historical events of the war, creating a gripping and emotionally resonant narrative.  The book is well-researched and provides fascinating insights into the challenges faced by Resistance fighters and the dangers and sacrifices involved in espionage.  Lawhon’s writing is engaging and immersive, and she does an excellent job of bringing the characters and settings to life.  Code Name Hélène is a highly recommended read for anyone interested in World War II, espionage, or stories of strong and courageous women.

The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World

by Jonathan Freedland

Jonathan Freedland, an acclaimed journalist and best-selling author presents the remarkable true story of Rudolf Vrba in his book, The Escape Artist.  Vrba, a complex hero whose story has been forgotten, was one of the first Jews to break out of Auschwitz in 1944 successfully.   His escape was not just an act of bravery but a mission to reveal the whole truth of the Holocaust and warn the remaining Jews of Europe about their fate. Vrba, alongside his fellow escapee, risked their lives to deliver the first detailed report of Auschwitz, which reached the highest levels of power, including Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and the Pope.  Despite their warning, too few heeded the call, and Vrba believed he could have saved more than the two hundred thousand Jewish lives he helped to rescue.  This is the story of a brilliant yet troubled man—a gifted “escape artist” who, even as a teenager, understood that the difference between truth and lies can be the difference between life and death.  Rudolf Vrba deserves to take his place alongside Anne Frank, Oskar Schindler, and Primo Levi as one of the handful of individuals whose stories define our understanding of the Holocaust.

Praise & Review: “A brilliant and heart-wrenching book, with universal and timely lessons about the power of information—and misinformation.  Is it possible to stop mass murder by telling the truth?”—Yuval Noah Harari, bestselling author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

The BookWalker’s Verdict: The Escape Artist by Jonathan Freedland is a gripping true story about the life of Rudolf Vrba, a Slovakian Jew who managed to escape from Auschwitz-Birkenau and became one of the first people to bring detailed information about the Holocaust to the outside world.  The book is a well-researched and highly engaging account of Vrba’s incredible journey, from his early life in Slovakia to his imprisonment in Auschwitz and subsequent escape. Freedland does an excellent job of bringing Vrba’s story to life, conveying both the horror of the Holocaust and the incredible bravery and resilience of those who fought against it. The book is also a testament to the power of individual action in the face of unimaginable evil, as Vrba’s escape and subsequent revelations helped to change the course of the war and save countless lives. The Escape Artist is a must-read, a keeper, forever!

Prisoners of the Castle: An Epic Story of Survival and Escape from Colditz, the Nazis' Fortress Prison

by Ben Macintyre

In this gripping narrative, Macintyre introduces the reader to both the famous and lesser-known characters who made Colditz their home. The indomitable Pat Reid shares the spotlight with equally remarkable individuals like Indian doctor Birendranath Mazumdar, Florimond Duke, America’s oldest paratrooper and least successful secret agent, and Christopher Clayton Hutton, the brilliant inventor employed by British intelligence to manufacturing covert escape aids for POWs.

Prisoners of the Castle is not just a story of escape but of survival and the human spirit in the face of adversity. Macintyre deftly weaves together the war’s history and the personal struggles of the prisoners as they feared for their lives at the hands of the Nazis. With his signature blend of wartime intrigue and vivid psychological portraits, Macintyre has created an epic tale that brings one of the greatest war stories to life.

Praise & Review: “Riveting . . . This is another engrossing tale of WWII intrigue from a master of the genre.”—Publishers Weekly

The BookWalker’s Verdict:  Prisoners of the Castle by Ben Macintyre is an enthralling and meticulously researched account of the incredible stories of survival and escape from Colditz Castle, the notorious Nazi prison during World War II.  Macintyre delves deep into the lives of the prisoners, highlighting the ingenious ways they found to outwit their captors and the incredible bravery and determination that allowed them to keep hope alive in the face of unimaginable adversity.
Drawing on previously unpublished diaries and letters, Macintyre vividly brings the characters to life, giving readers a true sense of the grit, courage, and resilience required to endure years of confinement in a brutal prison.  He also provides a fascinating glimpse into the daily life of the prison and the intricate web of relationships between the prisoners and their guards.
Throughout the book, Macintyre deftly weaves together multiple narratives, moving seamlessly between the experiences of individual prisoners and the broader context of the war.  The result is a gripping and emotional read that is a testament to the human spirit and a tribute to the power of friendship and camaraderie in the darkest times.
Prisoners of the Castle is a masterfully written and profoundly moving account of one of the most remarkable stories of survival and escape.  A keeper!

Unsinkable: Five Men and the Indomitable Run of the USS Plunkett

by James Sullivan

Unsinkable tells the story of the USS Plunkett, a destroyer that fought in some of World War II’s most dramatic and crucial naval battles, including the Battle of Midway and the invasions of North Africa, Sicily, and Normandy.  James Sullivan draws on interviews with surviving crew members and other historical sources to provide a thrilling account of the ship’s adventures and the men who served on her.

Praise & Review: Unsinkable, a fine narrative in its own right, is also a reflection on the nature of storytelling itself, as well as a valuable and entertaining contribution to the record… Mr. Sullivan takes pains to illuminate and honor a lost world”—Wall Street Journal

The BookWalker’s Verdict: Unsinkable by James Sullivan is a thrilling and inspiring account of the brave men who served on the USS Plunkett during World War II.  The book follows the ship’s journey from North Africa to Italy and beyond, including its harrowing experience at Anzio, where it faced a relentless aerial assault. Despite the odds, the Plunkett emerged victorious and went on to participate in every Allied invasion in the European theater, earning a reputation as the “fightin’-est ship” in the Navy.

Sullivan tells the story through the eyes of five remarkable individuals, each with their motivations and struggles.  From the indomitable skipper who led the crew through the toughest of battles to the young water tender fighting to hold onto his hometown love, the characters are brought to life with vivid detail and heart.  Through their stories, Sullivan weaves a powerful reflection capturing the essence of courage, sacrifice, and steadfastness that defined the generation who fought in World War II.
Drawing on a wealth of primary sources, including Navy logs, war diaries, letters, journals, and interviews with the men who served on the Plunkett and their families, Unsinkable is a timeless tribute to the resilience and determination of the human spirit!

I Want You to Know We're Still Here: A Post-Holocaust Memoir

by Esther Safran Foer

In this moving memoir, Esther Safran Foer explores her family’s roots and experiences during and after the Holocaust. With a focus on her search for her father’s history and identity, Foer delves into the trauma of the past and the resilience of the human spirit. “I Want You to Know We’re Still Here” is a powerful testament to the importance of remembering the past and finding hope for the future.

The Blurb: “Part personal quest, part testament and all thoughtfully, compassionately written”—The Washington Post

The BookWalker’s Verdict: Esther Safran Foer’s memoir is a poignant and heartfelt exploration of her family’s history, their ties to the Jewish community, and the impact of the Holocaust on their lives. Foer pieces together her family’s past through a series of interviews, archival research, and her memories of growing up in Washington, D.C.  With a vivid and evocative writing style, she transports the reader to the shtetls of Eastern Europe, where her family lived before the war, and the concentration camps where many of her relatives perished.
But “I Want You to Know We’re Still Here” is not just a story of loss and trauma.  It is also a celebration of resilience, hope, and the power of family connections to endure even the most trying circumstances.  Through her travels to Ukraine and Israel, Foer reconnects with long-lost relatives, uncovers hidden family secrets, and learns the true meaning of the Jewish concept of l’dor v’dor from generation to generation.
What makes this memoir particularly powerful is the author’s honesty and vulnerability.  Foer grapples with the complexity of her identity as a Jewish American, the challenges of reconciling the past with the present, and the difficult task of passing on her family’s history to future generations.  Ultimately, though, she emerges from this journey with a renewed sense of purpose and a deep appreciation for the sacrifices and resilience of those who came before her.
“I Want You to Know We’re Still Here” is a moving and deeply personal memoir that offers a fresh perspective on the legacy of the Holocaust and the importance of keeping the stories of those who lived through it alive.

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