Last updated 4 January 2015: added link to Hitler's Forgotten Armies.
To most people, military history sounds like the sort of thing that is read either at Sandhurst College or by anoraks and trainspotters. It also sounds terribly dry, until you actually try reading it. Then you discover that military histories are in fact human histories, that wars are populated by all-too-human people, and that the battles themselves are just the culmination of a large number of social, political and economic, and occasionally ideological or religious, factors that mirror human society as a whole. The outcome of the battles and campaigns described in these book often shapes the lives of generations to come. Most people realise how different the world would have been if Hitler had won his war, but who knows why the Japanese attacked the Americans and not the Soviets as they had originally planned? Or how the civilisation of Europe and the Middle East would have been different if Persia and not Greece had triumphed in the time of Alexander the Great? Having crushed the Romans at Cannae, why did Hannibal and the Carthaginians go on to ultimate extinction? And what were the Wars of the Roses about?
Listed here are a selection of military history books that are in my opinion both accessible to the lay reader and also of interest to the specialist. Apart from describing the subject matter I have also tried to list the book's suitability as an introduction and its ease of style, so that anyone unfamiliar with this sort of history can hopefully have a painless introduction.
Nomonhan, John Colvin's account of the 1939 clash between Japan and the USSR and its monumental consequences.
Poland Betrayed: the Nazi-Soviet Invasions of 1939, David G Williamson's account of and background to the Polish campaign.
White Death: Russia's War with Finland 1939-40, Robert Edwards' account of the Winter War and the European politics surrounding it.
Nichivó, the experiences of Giorgio Geddes as an Italian liaison officer on the Eastern Front, 1942-3.
The First and the Last, Adolf Galland's account of his Luftwaffe career from the Spanish Civil War to the last days of the war as a jet fighter pilot.
Panzer Leader, General Heinz Guderian's account of his own career and the victories and defeats of the German panzer force.
A Legend and a Myth - Erwin Rommel in history and literature. In this short essay I have tried to give an account of the differing histories of the German commander, his own writings and the speculative "alternative history" that features him as a major protagonist.
Hitler's Italian Allies: Royal Armed Forces, Fascist Regime, and the War of 1940-1943. A scholarly but readable and interesting exposition of reasons for the failure of Italian arms in the Second World War by a professor of international history.
Tank Rider: Into the Reich with the Red Army. A fascinating and highly readable personal account by a Russian mechanised infantry officer of his participation in the Eastern Front battles of 1943-45.
Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts. A flowing but interesting and fair account of the Italian armoured divisions in North Africa and their successes and failures.
Until the Final Hour, Traudl Junge, edited by Melissa Müller. A personal and interesting account by one of Hitler's secretaries about life with Hitler and the immediate aftermath. This book was one of the foundations for the 2004 film Downfall.
Battle for Budapest: 100 days in World War Two. Detailed and interesting account of a bloody struggle little known in the West.
The Burma Road, an account of the fighting in Burma and the construction of the supply road to China, with an interesting emphasis on Stilwell and the Chinese.
The End of the Third Reich. Subtitled Defeat, Denazification and Nuremburg, January 1944 to November 1946, this book deals not only with the military history but also the postwar attempts to purge Nazism from German society.
Business in Great Waters, John Terraine's history of the U-boat wars, 1914-1945.
The Germans in Normandy, an account of the 1944 Normandy campaign from the German side, from the senior command level to the ordinary soldier.
Hitler's Forgotten Armies, Bob Carruther's history of the Axis operations in Norway, Finland and Lapland, 1940-44.
IN BRIEF: Brief reviews of other books
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