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War Novel Recommendations

I’d like to turn to our TAC readership and ask for book suggestions. Specifically, what would you recommend as some of the best historical novels dealing with war?

Some of the best that I’ve read have been:

War and Peace which although some of Tolstoy’s historical/philosophical digressions drove me nuts does certainly give a sweeping sense of Russia during the war with Napoleon.

The Cypresses Believe in God and One Million Dead — Donald recommended these to me, and although they are very long (not quite War & Peace long, but pretty astoundingly long nonetheless) I found them utterly gripping and they similarly give you a sense not just of individual characters but of the whole nation of Spain at war with itself.

Killer Angels is a much more modest book in scope, but is a compelling and clear account of a single battle more detailed than many history books.

Alan Furst’s espionage novels aren’t, perhaps, technically war novels, but they give a very strong sense of what war and rumors of war do to society.

The Sharpe novels and Aubrey/Maturin are also great historical novels dealing with the Napoleonic era.

What other novels would you recommend and why?

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DarwinCatholic

Now an Ohio Catholic!

16 Comments

  1. One of the great shames of my life was conking out halfway through War and Peace. And it’s not like you can step back from the book for a while and pick it up again. No, if I ever get the guts to try again, I’ve got to start on page 1.

    I don’t know if I’d call Slaughterhouse Five a war novel, but it left a lasting impression. It’s got strong sci-fi and philosophical vibes. It’s not for everyone.

  2. If you like the Aubrey/Maturin series, you may also enjoy the Horatio Hornblower novels by C.S. Forester. They are set in the same historical era, but you get a more up-close view into the main character’s psychology.

    Since you liked Killer Angels, you may like its prequel, Gods and Generals.

    Also, Nigel Tranter wrote a historical novel on William Wallace. Name any era in Scottish history, and there will be a Nigel Tranter novel for you.

  3. The Horse Soldiers, a superb fictional account of Grierson’s Raid during the Civil War:

    http://www.amazon.com/Horse-Soldiers-Harold-Sinclair/dp/184158066X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1373573096&sr=1-1&keywords=Harold+Sinclair

    Sort of a one hit wonder, Sinclair was an unsuccessful writer in Central Illinois. His wife supported their family while he wrote. The high literary quality of The Horse Soldiers and its realism makes me regret that Sinclair did not have a successful follow up.

    Spartacus-Howard Fast-The old commie was good at writing historical pot boilers. Spartacus was his best effort. He gets some of the facts wrong but overall it is a brilliant look at the dying Roman Republic.
    http://www.amazon.com/Spartacus-North-Castle-Books-Howard/dp/156324599X

    Lest Darkness Fall-L. Sprague DeCamp-One of the earliest alternate history novels, DeCamp has a timetraveler defeat Belisarius’ attempt to conquer Italy in the sixth century. Filled with wit and humor it also displays DeCamp’s complete mastery of the historical background.

    http://www.amazon.com/Lest-Darkness-Fall-Related-Stories/dp/161242015X

    And Quiet Flows the Don-Mikhail Sholokov-This is a superb look at the Russian Revolution told from the perspective of the Don Cossacks. Sholokov was a Stalinist toady and wrote the most dreadful hack work except for this. He has been accused of plagiarizing much of the work from Cossack writer Fyodor Kryukov who died in 1920.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fyodor_Kryukov

    The court is still out on that charge, but certainly everything else Sholokov wrote is absolute drek.

    http://www.amazon.com/And-Quiet-Flows-Mikhail-Sholokhov/dp/0679725210

  4. Gates of Fire by Stephen Pressfield. The Spartans at Thermopylae.

    Knight With Armour by Alfred Duggan. A young knight goes on the First Crusade.

    Count Bohemond by Alfred Duggan. The exploits of the finest military commander among the First Crusaders.

  5. (Don’s wife Cathy here) There have been a couple of alternate history or SF treatments of the Napoleonic Wars and the “Age of Fighting Sail;” a couple that come to mind right away are Naomi Novik’s “Temeraire” series (Napoleonic Wars, but with dragons!) and David Weber’s “Honor Harrington” series (think the Hornblower novels of C.S. Forester, with their setting and political situation transposed into the far future, with the Star Kingdom of Manticore standing in for the UK, and Honor Harrington herself as a far-future female Hornblower).

  6. “Northwest Passage” by Kenneth Roberts is a forgotten classic of American literature. The novel chronicles a young man from Maine who falls in with Robert Rogers during the French and Indian War and its aftermath. When you’re done with that, Roberts’ novels of the American Revolution, “Arundel” and “Rabble in Arms”, are equally well-written stories of men at war.

  7. Hmmm. I have copies of Gates of Fire and Slaughterhouse Five sitting around which I haven’t got to. Maybe I should bump them up a bit.

    I read Lest Darkness Fall when I was in high school and loved it. Indeed, I’d been wanting to re-read it one of these days. I’m glad to see that it’s back in print again. I’ll have to get hold of a copy.

    Also very glad to hear your mention of And Quiet Flows The Don, Donald. I’d found a reference to it and the concept sounded interesting, but I was wondering if a book that won the Stalin Prize would just be boring propaganda. Is there anyone who has read and can provide a review of:

    Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
    Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer

  8. Another Kenneth Roberts novel that will be of interest is Oliver Wiswell, which tells the story of the (First) War for Independence from the perspective of a British Loyalist.

  9. Echoing Nathan’s comment above, Nigel Tranter wrote an excellent trilogy on Robert the Bruce and the First Scottish War of Independence.

    One war novel that I think a lot of folks forget about is the first American novel ever written, The Spy by James Fenimore Cooper, which is based on George Washington’s spy network in the Hudson Valley during the American Revolution. I have long enjoyed this book and have read it 2 or 3 times, and am having my oldest son read it later this summer (after he finishes reading Tom Sawyer). And, of course, there’s Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, which includes The Last of the Mohicans.

    Also, while not strictly a “war novel”, William Makepeace Thackeray’s masterpiece Vanity Fair” is set in the Napoleanic Wars.

    For some reading about the Indian wars in Ohio, you might want to read anything by Allan W. Eckert, especially Than Dark and Bloody River, which is an epic that covers the entire period, and A Sorrow in Our Hearts, which is a novel/biography about the life of Tecumseh. Other Eckert books about the war on the early frontier between English, French, and Indians are The Frontiersmen, and Wilderness Empire.

  10. Great books … If not already there, I would add:

    Cain at Gettysburg by Ralph Peters. Not in same class as Killer Angels, but good none the less. Focuses a lot of Meade who Peters very much admires.

    Cross of Iron by Willi Heinrich. A WW2 version of all quiet on the western front. Back in the 1970s Sam Peckinpaw butchered the book into a movie that was pretty aweful, so if you have seen the movie don’t use it to judge the book.

  11. Connie Willis wrote 3books about WW2 WWwTo Say Nothing of the Dog, Black Out &All Clear. The premise is time travellers caught in GB during the war. Liked the stories but someone w/actual knowledge of the period would need to confirm historical accuracy.

  12. I strongly endorse Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy.

    Also, anyone who strongly dislikes Christianity (and Waugh’s kind of Catholicism in particular) will likely enjoy Bernard Cornwell’s books, though they’re pulpier and more sensationalist fare than some of the novels listed here. (Those who don’t revel in anti-Catholic bigotry should instead consider themselves forewarned.) Cornwell has written war novels related to the Arthurian legends, Alfred the Great, the Hundred Years War, and most famously, the Napoleonic era. I very much enjoyed the BBC dramatizations of the latter series, which detail the exploits of the fictional protagonist Richard Sharpe, and I do not recall any anti-Catholicism there, though it has been several years since I viewed them.

    To be fair, I have found some of his other series pretty enjoyable, too, in a selective kind of way, though the ones I’ve finished seem to sag towards the end.

  13. Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson is a superb book about the Civil War and though it is nonfiction, it was totally engrossing and I learned so much and came to appreciate that time in our history. I never though I would be so fascinated with not only battles but the politics behind the whole war.

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