20 Riveting World War I Reads

Posted by Jade on June 16, 2014
World War I reshaped nations, toppled empires, made heroes, and showed us just how brutal and bloodthirsty the modern world could be. It also inspired an outpouring of literature. From the very first week of battle, soldiers and civilians alike wrote reams of poetry. Later, the shell-shocked fields of France would echo in the Dead Marshes of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth. And from the trenches emerged one of the most admired war novels of all time, Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the war, we've gathered together 20 of Goodreads members' favorite WWI books—ten classics and ten contemporary takes.


CLASSIC

All Quiet on the Western Front (1928)
by Erich Maria Remarque

Quiet and powerful. This essential war novel tells the story of Paul Bäumer, a German soldier persuaded to enlist—along with all of his classmates—by an idealistic teacher. Life on the front is violent, bewildering, and sometimes boring, but Paul finds that he no longer understands life at home, either.



We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces.
-Erich Maria Remarque
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Ashenden: Or the British Agent (1927)
by W. Somerset Maugham

These short stories starring a gentleman spy are based on Maugham himself. The writer worked for the British Secret Intelligence Service during the war, with postings in Switzerland and Russia. Ashenden was inspiration for a far more famous British spy: James Bond.


Her Privates We (1929)
by Frederic Manning

Published anonymously, Manning's masterful novel about the ordinary lives of soldiers received high praise from his famous contemporaries. Hemingway called it, "the finest and noblest book of men at war," and T.E. Lawrence (a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia) declared it, "the book of books."


Testament of Youth (1933)
by Vera Brittain

This heartbreaking memoir is an elegy to a lost generation. Filled with patriotic fervor, Brittain left her studies at Oxford to nurse the wounded in England, Malta, and France. Being surrounded by death and losing both her brother and her fiancé opened her eyes to the futility of war.



How fortunate we were who still had hope I did not then realise; I could not know how soon the time would come when we should have no more hope, and yet be unable to die.
-Vera Brittain


Rilla of Ingleside (1921)
by L.M. Montgomery

Written soon after the end of the war, this last of the Anne of Green Gables books shows what life was like for women on the home front in Canada. Fifteen-year-old Rilla is the baby of the family, left at Ingleside as her brothers go off to fight. Montgomery's writing is full of detail about daily life during the war.


Goodbye to All That (1929)
by Robert Graves

Graves served as an officer in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, alongside fellow writer Siegfried Sassoon. This memoir is a grim yet darkly humorous sketch of his war experiences as well as his early years in London.


A Farewell to Arms (1929)
by Ernest Hemingway

The tragic love story of Lieutenant Henry, an American ambulance driver on the Italian front, and Catherine Barkley, a beautiful English nurse, is based on Hemingway's own wartime experience and showcases his trademark prose stylings.


If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.
-Ernest Hemingway


Storm of Steel (1920)
by Ernest Jünger

Unlike many of his literary contemporaries, Jünger was an adventurer who respected the craft of war. After this memoir of his time as a German soldier became a bestseller, he quietly opposed the Nazi regime and spent most of WWII in Occupied Paris, socializing with Picasso and other artists.


Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930)
by Siegfried Sassoon

This novel is really a thinly veiled memoir of Sassoon's time as an almost suicidally brave British soldier. He was awarded the Military Cross for his exploits and was much admired by his fellow soldiers. Among them was Robert Graves, who appears in this book as "David Cromlech."


Johnny Got His Gun (1939)
by Dalton Trumbo

This gut-punch of a book is told from the perspective of a young soldier who gradually comes to realize that he has lost all of his limbs as well as eyes, ears, and tongue—but not his mental capacity. Trumbo was later blacklisted from Hollywood thanks to his refusal to testify before Congress about fellow Communist Party members.


Now I lay me down to sleep my bombproof cellars good and deep but if I'm killed before I wake remember god it's for your sake amen.
-Dalton Trumbo




CONTEMPORARY

Birdsong
by Sebastian Faulks

One of the most popular books in the U.K., this novel tells the story of soldier Stephen Wraysford, whose passion for life is not quelled by the loss of a great love or the terror of his assignment—to tunnel under No Man's Land. Two generations later, his diary is found by his granddaughter, who uses it to decode her own past.


The function of music is to liberate in the soul those feelings which normally we keep locked up in the heart.
-Sebastian Faulks


Leviathan
by Scott Westerfeld

This steampunk alternate history of WWI for middle-grade and YA readers presents an extraordinary universe accompanied by gorgeous illustrations. In Westerfeld's world, there is a war between the Clankers, who want to advance their military might through machinery, and the Darwinists, who have harnessed the power of nature to create machines that are actually alive.


Maisie Dobbs
by Jacqueline Winspear

In this psychological study of the aftereffects of war masquerading as a cozy mystery, the titular Maisie Dobbs has set up her own detective agency and investigates a case that brings her back to her wartime experiences as a nurse. The first book was such a hit that Winspear continued the series, which now contains 11 volumes.


Regeneration
by Pat Barker

A British neurologist treats shell-shocked soldiers, including Siegfried Sassoon, and wrestles with the complex moralities of wartime. Other literary figures make appearances, including Robert Graves and fellow poet Wilfred Owen. Barker was influenced by her grandfather's experiences in WWI and relied on first-person narratives to shape her story.


Somehow if she'd know the worst parts, she couldn't have gone on being a haven for him…Men said they didn't tell their women about France because they didn't want to worry them. but it was more than that. He needed her ignorance to hide in. Yet, at the same time, he wanted to know and be known as deeply as possible. And the two desires were irreconcilable.
-Pat Barker


Three Day Road
by Joseph Boyden

Two young Ojibwa-Cree men fight together as snipers for the Canadian Army. One returns, minus a leg and addicted to morphine. This powerful novel traces his journey home, accompanied by his aunt, a medicine woman. It is inspired by the story of Francis Pegahmagabow, a Ojibwa man who was the most effective sniper of WWI.


Fall of Giants
by Ken Follett

From the coal mines of Wales to the palaces of Russia, this sweeping novel follows the fates of five interconnected families through WWI and the Russian Revolution. Incredibly well-researched, this narrative could almost stand in for a history book.


War Horse
by Michael Morpurgo

A children's book that can bring adults to tears, War Horse is narrated by Joey, a bay-red foal who is sold into service, tearing him apart from Albert, the farmer's son who is his true friend. As Joey weathers the mud and noise of the war, he still holds onto hope for a reunion. Also an excellent movie and play.


This one isn't just any old horse. There's a nobility in his eye, a regal serenity about him. Does he not personify all that men try to be and never can be?
-Michael Morpurgo


The Harlem Hellfighters
by Max Brooks and Caanan White (illustrator)

This graphic novel chronicles the 369th infantry regiment, an all-black unit known as the Harlem Hellfighters. None of them were ever taken prisoner, and they never lost a foot of ground, but they still faced enormous discrimination at home. Brooks (World War Z) celebrates the heroism of these soldiers while exploring the irony of fighting for the freedom of a country that denies yours.


The Girl You Left Behind
by Jojo Moyes

A painting connects two women—one waiting for her husband in an occupied French village during WWI, the other a young widow in present-day London. Beautifully constructed and plotted, Moyes' story illuminates the difficult choices that we make, in war and in love.


Birds Without Wings
by Louis de Bernières

This is the tale of a small village in southwestern Anatolia, where Turkish Muslims and Greek Christians have coexisted for centuries. But the world is changing. De Bernières chonicles the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Battle of Gallipoli, the Armenian genocide, and the rise of modern Turkey in this dense epic.


Beauty is precious, you see, and the more beautiful something is, the more precious it is; and the more precious it is the more it hurts us that it will fade away; and the more we are hurt by beauty, the more we love the world.
-Louis de Bernières



Is your favorite book on the list?

Comments Showing 1-47 of 47 (47 new)

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message 1: by Michele (new)

Michele Contemporary books.

I cannot recommend highly enough Anna Hope's Wake, which starts in 1919, but covers WW1 through the interconnected stories of three women in England, and their menfolk fighting overseas.

Also Kate Mosse's The Winter Ghosts which, while not strictly a WW1 story, nevertheless begins with a character struggling to cope with the aftermath of War.

And a trilogy of books about a former soldier who's gone back to his pre-War job as a policeman, who is also trying to cope with the effects of the War: Rennie Airth's John Madden series (River of Darkness, The Blood Dimmed Tide, and The Dead of Winter).

Also, Remarque's book was a massive revelation to me. I hadn't had any idea that the ordinary German soldiers were so little different to British Tommies, until I read All Quiet on the Western Front.


message 2: by Devin (new)

Devin _The Wars_ by Timothy Findley absolutely should be added to this list. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2...


message 3: by Paweł (new)

Paweł Sobiegraj I will definitely add Journey to the End of the Night to classics, although it's story doesn't happen only during WW1.


message 4: by Melissa W (new)

Melissa W Have read two books off this list and I will say that All Quiet on the Western Front is my favourite.


message 5: by Ashlea (new)

Ashlea So happy to see "Rilla" in this list.


message 6: by Ji (new)

Ji Pines Contemporary: Strange Meeting by Susan Hill, How Many Miles To Babylon? by Jennifer Johnston. I cried near the end of both.


message 7: by Candice (new)

Candice I just finished The Cartographer of No Man's Land. Another terrific World War I story.


message 8: by Jim (last edited Jun 17, 2014 04:20AM) (new)

Jim Death of a Hero by Richard Aldington would be top of my list.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...


message 9: by Heidi (new)

Heidi So glad "Rilla" made the list. I also really enjoyed the "Parade's End" books (which aren't on the list).


message 10: by Sarah (new)

Sarah So glad to see Three Day Road on the list, but would also add Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally. It is an account of two Australian nurses who serve both in the Dardanelles and in France. Also don't forget The First of July by Elizabeth Speller!


message 11: by Colette (new)

Colette Guerin "All Quiet on the Western Front" has to be one of the best WWI novels of all time. I highly recommend, though non-fiction, "Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour, Armistice Day, 1918 WWI and its Violent Climax." Written by Joeseph E. Persico. Eye opening.


message 12: by Maxine (new)

Maxine "The Care and Management of Lies" by Jacqueline Winspear is a must read/must add to this list as soon as it is officially published.


message 13: by Steve (new)

Steve Fussel's "The Great War and Modern Memory". Amazing that it is now 40 years old. Great Cultural History.


message 14: by Moncan66 (new)

Moncan66 Maisie Dobbs series is really good. I like the description of the aftermaths of war. I would like to recommend a book by Peter Englund (the guy who annonces the Nobel Prize for literature) "The Beauty and the sorrow" which is a non fiction book entirely based on real diaries from people who participated in WW1.


message 15: by Steve (last edited Jun 17, 2014 08:03AM) (new)

Steve Anderson No Man's Land by Reginald Hill is a great but little known novel about deserters from all sides living underground among the front lines during WWI: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...


message 16: by Ann A. (new)

Ann A. Quiet on the Western Front deserves top slot. While on a walking tour in London years ago, the guide mentioned "Bird Song", which she assumed most people had read. Not "all". Read it when I came home; a great book on WW I. Recommend Sebastian Faulks highly! Winspear's books (those that include the aftermath of WW I) include fascinating details of the war. They add a great deal of human interest, which brings history alive. Happy to have the list - will certainly start reading those I've missed, and there are many.


message 17: by Katie (new)

Katie Reichard I feel like "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" should be on this list. Beautiful, heartbreaking novel.


message 18: by rivka, librarian moderator (new)

rivka Ashlea wrote: "So happy to see "Rilla" in this list."

Agreed. It is a lovely book, and a good look at what war looks (or at least looked) like on the home front.


message 19: by Carol (new)

Carol I have only read one of these......Maisie Dobbs (and all but one in the series). Have seen the movie War House (very good), and have The Girl You left Behind on my to read list right now.....


message 20: by Kimberly (new)

Kimberly Steve wrote: "Fussel's "The Great War and Modern Memory". Amazing that it is now 40 years old. Great Cultural History."

I certainly agree! I took a graduate course on World War I Lit. and thoroughly enjoyed "The Great War and Modern Memory"


message 21: by Kimberly (new)

Kimberly I think it's certainly worth adding the poets of World War 1 as well. Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est" is such a riveting portrayal of the times.


message 22: by Michele (new)

Michele Kimberly wrote: "I think it's certainly worth adding the poets of World War 1 as well. Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est" is such a riveting portrayal of the times."

Personally I prefer Siegfried Sassoon, Edward Thomas Edmund Blunden, and FW Harvey to Wilfred Owen. Also, women war poets - yes, they existed.


message 23: by Steve (new)

Steve This is a nice collection, can't remember if there are any women poets included: http://www.amazon.com/Penguin-First-W...


message 24: by Diane (new)

Diane Armstrong Of those on your list, I have read 3: Goodbye To All That, Regeneration and Birds Without Wings, and of these, I continue to recommend Birds Without Wings as one of my favorites. The history was largely new to me and the writing is elegant.


message 25: by Ann A. (new)

Ann A. I forgot another author that could be added to the list of WW I stories. Anne Perry usually writes mysteries set in the Victorian era, but she wrote a trilogy set in the time of WW I….good mystery, but even more impressive was the WW I history.


Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* Another great list - plenty of books to check out.


message 27: by Dee (new)

Dee surprised to not see The Guns of August on there since it won a Pulitzer and was about the outbreak of WWI


message 28: by Dee (new)

Dee surprised to not see The Guns of August on there since it won a Pulitzer and was about the outbreak of WWI


message 29: by Colette (new)

Colette Guerin Dee wrote: "surprised to not see The Guns of August on there since it won a Pulitzer and was about the outbreak of WWI"

They say "reads" but I think they are listing novels or fiction. I agree, Guns of August should be on the list but it's non-fiction.


message 30: by Mike (new)

Mike Freeman Michele wrote: "Kimberly wrote: "I think it's certainly worth adding the poets of World War 1 as well. Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est" is such a riveting portrayal of the times."

Personally I prefer Siegfri..."


HD (Hilda Doolittle) wrote about the war, and very well. Not from the front, but what war does to others. Great stuff.


message 31: by Lucille (new)

Lucille I've read five of these, two recently. But I would certainly add Fear: A Novel of World War One by Gabriel Chevallier. It is an amazing tour of war by a young idealistic French soldier. The author calls it a novel but it is his personal story. It's available from New York Review Books.


message 32: by Ivana (last edited Jul 29, 2014 07:05AM) (new)

Ivana I would recommend Vreme smrti. It takes place in Serbia, where the war started.


message 33: by Erma (new)

Erma I agree that "All Quiet on the Western Front" is the greatest book about the Great War, and a must read. I will add a few novels I think worth reading on WW1: "The Good Soldier Svejk" by Jaroslav Hasek is a look at the war from the Czeck side, but very different from "All Quiet." Svejk is either an idiot or the only smart man around, a draftee into the Austrian army who excels in the art of bumbling his way out of going to the front. I also would add "August 1914: A Novel" by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, now back in print for the centennial of the war. "Parade's End" by Ford Madox Ford is worth reading (though the BBC has done well in providing filmed versions); and "Soldier's Pay" is William Faulkner's first novel, and deals with a soldier returning home to Georgia. Finally, "Across the Black Waters" by Mulkraj Arand gives us a perspective on WWI from a very different vantage point, the soldiers from India who served in His Majesty's army on the Western Front.


message 34: by Jeff (new)

Jeff Surfus I found "A Very Long Engagement" to be a devastating and incredible book about the impact of WWI and about the depths to which people could sink. This book has stayed with me to this day. I am currently reading "The Daughters of Mars" which is also a very good read about what the nurses and doctors had to deal with as a result of the abominations of WWI.


message 35: by Diane (new)

Diane The Great Influenza by John M. Barry is a history that runs tangental to the history of WW1 and then slams right into it on a collision course. With the focus of this book on the development of the medical profession and this deadly flu in the twentieth century, WW1 becomes an unwitting accomplice in the pandemic. Did the flu help end the war?


message 36: by Colette (new)

Colette Guerin Diane wrote: "The Great Influenza by John M. Barry is a history that runs tangental to the history of WW1 and then slams right into it on a collision course. With the focus of this book on the development of th..."

The flu pandemic killed my grandmother's first husband before he even shipped out. I a sad way I would not exist had she had a lasting first marriage. It changed the course of many lives, I don't know that it helped end the war. The diseases in the trenches were horrendous too, yet they stayed and refilled positions. Probably a read to put on my list and contemplate.


message 37: by Ron (new)

Ron Air Warfare was in its infancy during WWI. "Goshawk Squadron" by Derek Robinson is a very interesting well researched fictional account of what it was like for the the first to take the fight to the skies.


message 38: by Cathy (new)

Cathy Sarah wrote: "So glad to see Three Day Road on the list, but would also add Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally. It is an account of two Australian nurses who serve both in the Dardanelles and in France. Also d..."

Loved Daughters of Mars.


message 39: by Cathy (new)

Cathy Jeff wrote: "I found "A Very Long Engagement" to be a devastating and incredible book about the impact of WWI and about the depths to which people could sink. This book has stayed with me to this day. I am cu..."

Ditto both of these.


message 40: by Angie (new)

Angie (Bussen) Siedell Don't forget Willa Cather's Pulitzer winner, One of Ours. Great WWI read. :)


message 41: by Colette (new)

Colette Guerin Angie wrote: "Don't forget Willa Cather's Pulitzer winner, One of Ours. Great WWI read. :)"

Great book.


message 42: by Chhamrat (new)

Chhamrat Him Any recommended WW1 books written by a Japanese author?


message 43: by Gaby (new)

Gaby For those of you interested in WWI from an LGBT perspective, I would recommend "The Boy I Love" by Marion Husband. It's a beautiful, devastating book.


message 44: by Colette (new)

Colette Guerin Gabriel/Gabriela wrote: "For those of you interested in WWI from an LGBT perspective, I would recommend "The Boy I Love" by Marion Husband. It's a beautiful, devastating book."

Try The Absolutist.


message 45: by Gaby (new)

Gaby Colette wrote: "Gabriel/Gabriela wrote: "For those of you interested in WWI from an LGBT perspective, I would recommend "The Boy I Love" by Marion Husband. It's a beautiful, devastating book."

Try The Absolutist."


Thanks! I will.


message 46: by Antonia (new)

Antonia Candice wrote: "I just finished The Cartographer of No Man's Land. Another terrific World War I story."

Oh, YES! A wonderful book. I've heard Duffy speak about it, about the years of research that went into making the details both historically accurate while also credible for contemporary readers.


message 47: by Robert (new)

Robert Huddleston Run don’t walk to obtain a copy of HORSES DON’T FLY a memoir of World War I by Frederick Libby. (2000) Libby was an American cowboy who joined the British Royal Air Service and was awarded a Victoria Cross by King George V.


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