11 Best War Books of All Time To Read

Are you looking for the best war books of all time? Then, take a look at a few titles you need to add to your list!

Military history is a fascinating topic. You might be interested in the best books about the Cold War between the Soviet Union and America. Or are you interested in learning or reading about The Civil War, World War 1, or World War Two? Many readers also want to learn more about the conflict in Vietnam. Whatever your interests, readers can pick from dozens of books about historical figures like Napoleon, Hitler, and some of the leaders of the Soviet Union. If you are ready to expand your literary horizons and learn about some of the biggest wars of all time, add these selections to your reading list or pitch them at your next book club meet-up.

1. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War

The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, was published thousands of years ago. It dates back to the earliest days of the Chinese Empire, but it is still read widely today by critical thinkers. It is a comprehensive military treatise that discusses the basics of war.

Even though technology has progressed significantly since it was published, it is still read by both army commanders and the average person, discussing everything from basic battle preparation to military supply and how to win a battle before it is even fought. As a result, it remains one of the most important war books even in the modern era. You might also enjoy our list of. Are you looking for thriller novels? You might also be interested in our round-up of the best Jack Carr books.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The Art Of War
  • Sun Tzu (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 68 Pages - 11/01/2007 (Publication Date) - Filiquarian (Publisher)

2. The Guns of August, by Barbara W. Tuchman

Best War Books: The Guns of August, by Barbara W. Tuchman
Barbara W. Tuchma

The Guns of August is a gripping book published by Barbara Tuchman. The book focuses on the first month of World War I. She writes in detail about the most important events from the opening salvos of World War I. She dives into the establishment of trench warfare, how interlocking alliances led to a massive military conflict and the consequences of the decisions made by those in charge of the great powers. Even though WWII vastly overshadows WWI, it is still one of the deadliest conflicts in human history and continues to impact the world today.

“Human beings, like plans, prove fallible in the presence of those ingredients that are missing in maneuvers – danger, death, and live ammunition.”

Barbara W. Tuchman, The Guns of August

3. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy, is still widely revered as one of the great war novels of all time. This is a story that zooms in on the age of Napoleon. At the time, Napoleon was trying to conquer the free world. However, he had already conquered the vast majority of Western Europe and rounded up his allies to invade Russia.

Just when it looked like all might be lost for what was left of Russia, the Battle of Borodino takes place in 1812. To this day, this novel by Leo Tolstoy is one of the best accounts of the Battle of Borodino. It talks about how tens of thousands of soldiers were killed or wounded, the suffering of the civilian population, and how Russia, with the help of Mother Winter, was able to turn back the tide of the French invasion, preserving its land. Check out our guide to the best Russian authors.

“Pierre was right when he said that one must believe in the possibility of happiness in order to be happy, and I now believe in it. Let the dead bury the dead, but while I’m alive, I must live and be happy.”

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

4. For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway

Before Ernest Hemingway became a famous literary author, he served as an ambulance driver in The Great War. Based on his experiences at war, he wrote multiple books on the topic. One of his best is For Whom the Bell Tolls. This book focuses on Robert Jordan, a volunteer with a republican guerilla unit seeing action during the Spanish Civil War.

Jordan is trained to use dynamite and is tasked with blowing up a bridge during an attack on a major city. This book provides an inside look at what it is like to serve in a major conflict and its impact on individuals and paints a vivid picture of what life is like on the front line. Check our our guide to Hemingway’s best books.

“There will always be people who say it does not exist because they cannot have it. But I tell you it is true and that you have it and that you are lucky even if you die tomorrow.”

Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

5. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, is arguably his most famous book. It is a science fiction novel that is vehemently anti-war, and the goal is to paint a vivid picture of what war does to people and societies. This includes not only physical consequences but also psychological consequences as well. The book is a detailed account of Billy Pilgrim, who is captured and incarcerated by Nazi Germany toward the end of the Second World War.

Throughout the book, Vonnegut talks about Billy’s life before and after the war. The story’s central theme is that all of the characters, including Billy Pilgrim, suffer chronic, lifelong, permanent harm stemming from their military service, regardless of whether they make it out alive. It is a gripping tale, but also one that focuses on the worst aspects of war. Read our explainer of Vonnegut’s rules for writing.

“And Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

6. Night, by Elie Wiesel

Best War Books: Night, by Elie Wiesel
John Mathew Smith 

Night is a powerful novel that Elie Wiesel published. The book focuses on his time in Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War. Auschwitz is arguably the most infamous concentration camp of the Holocaust, and Wiesel spent two years in Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944 and 1945, as the Allies were slowly winning the war against Germany in Europe. While Allied soldiers eventually liberated the camps, millions of people perished in Nazi concentration camps. This is a powerful example of a story that must be told, lest we forget. This is one of the best ways for someone to understand better what life was like in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. 

“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”

Elie Wiesel, Night

7. The Iliad, by Homer

If you want to read a classic, consider checking out The Iliad, which is widely considered one of the best epic tales of all time, let alone one of the best war books of all time. Even though the book was written thousands of years ago, it still paints a vivid picture of the adrenaline, stress, and action of combat for readers everywhere. While there have been many legends about the Fall of Troy, The Iliad zooms in on the pure anger of Achilles, what it meant to him, and the horrors of war. Homer is still widely revered as one of the greatest authors of all time, and The Iliad is one of his finest works.

“Like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men. Now the wind scatters the old leaves across the earth, the living timber bursts with the new buds and spring comes round again. And so with men: as one generation comes to life, another dies away.”

Homer, The Iliad

8. The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, by Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain

Ulysses S. Grant fought in the Mexican-American war, led the union to victory over the Confederacy in the Civil War, and served two terms as president of the United States after Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. But then Ulysses S. Grant faced bankruptcy. He was worried about leaving his family in ruins, so he wrote his memoirs with the help of Mark Twain. This practice was far less common in the 19th century.

Even though the presidential majority of memoirs are filled with hyperbole and half-truths, that’s not the case with these memoirs. They have even been revered by some of America’s enemies, including Isoroku Yamamoto, who would go on to treasure Grant’s memoirs even as he attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. This book probably set the bar for future presidential biographies from the likes of Bush and Obama.

“There are many men who would have done better than I did under the circumstances in which I found myself. If I had never held command, if I had fallen, there were 10,000 behind who would have followed the contest to the end and never surrendered the Union.”

Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain, The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

9. The Face of Battle, by John Keegan

The Face of Battle by John Keegan is a great choice perfect for readers who want a detailed analysis of numerous battles, where they can learn more about how war has been waged throughout the centuries.

First, he zooms in on the Medieval Era, looking at the Battle of Agincourt. Then, he moves forward to the Battle of Waterloo, where Napoleon was famously defeated. He examines one of the biggest battles of the First World War, the battle of the Somme. This was the bloodiest battle in the history of the United Kingdom. In short, this war book is an excellent read for learning about how war changes, why it’s won and lost. 

“Rundstedt, revered throughout the German regular officer corps as its last archetypal Prussian, refused to deal with detail or to look at small-scale maps, as if the fighting itself were distasteful to him, but spent his days reading detective stories and thrice resigned his command.”

John Keegan, The Face of Battle

10. The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara

The Battle of Gettysburg is one of the most significant battle in US military history. This was the closest the Confederacy ever got to winning the war, and The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara, tells the story of the Battle of Gettysburg through some of its most important players. Some chapters are told from the first-person perspectives of Joshua Chamberlain, John Buford, Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, and George Pickett. This sprawling epic examines the crucial days in July of 1863 and explains to the reader how the individual choices made by these important military commanders would determine the course of not only the battle but also the war.

“There’s nothing so much like a god on earth as a General on a battlefield.”

Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels

11. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is a collection of interconnected short stories that explore the experiences of American soldiers in the Vietnam War. O’Brien fought in and was traumatised by this war. In his writings, he examines themes of war, death, love, and the weight of memories and emotions that soldiers carry with them,  physically and mentally.

Famously and somewhat controversially, O’Brien mixed facts from his experiences fighting with fiction. It’s a powerful, if haunting read about the effects of war on soldiers and those around them. He also wrote the popular war book If I Die in a Combat Zone. Looking for more thriller novels to add to your reading list? Check out our round-up of the best PD James books!

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