I don't know about you guys but I am really, really excited to see The Monuments Men when it comes out. I had no idea that the story was a real story or that the movie was based on a book (truth is sometimes stranger than fiction!!!). In honor of this movie, I'm excited to have Elizabeth Eckhart here to talk about some other famous WWII books.
Given America’s ongoing fascination with World War II, it’s hard to believe that new books and films are still able to entertain and educate audiences nearly 70 years after the fact. But as many historians and authors have discovered, it’s not always the major, well-known plotlines that are the most well-received — in fact, those details soon became faded in the years following the war. It’s the unheard-of heroes, and tales of those who fought the smaller battles, such as a simple foot soldier, a child left behind or one of the many Jews who feared for their lives, that will never get old. World War II provides the perfect canvas to explore all emotional aspects that make up the human condition: fear, hatred, love, happiness, bravery, despair and more. It’s no surprise then, that books like The Monuments Men, are still able to profoundly move audiences. Below, you’ll find a list of some of the top World War II books, with options for both fiction and nonfiction readers:
The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel (2009)
The Monuments Men were a group of men and women from 13 different nations who saw the possible threat of Hitler’s reign of terror beyond solely the loss of lives. Through overseas informants, the Monuments Men learned that Hitler was intent on hoarding the world’s greatest art for himself, and had already begun raiding museums with collections he desired. Behind this knowledge was the awareness that if he failed with his ultimate goal of ruling an empire, or was jeopardized in his mission to possess the art for himself, he would destroy multiple culture’s entire artistic past. The Monuments Men’s stories often include risking their lives in order to protect art’s history, which for many, held the essence of humanity. It’s no surprise then that George Clooney has decided to turn this 2009 bestseller into a film (released Feb. 7, 2014).
The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer (1965)
Despite debates on the accuracy of the book, “The Forgotten Soldier” is an interesting and compelling Eastern Front memoir, which is a welcome look at the other side’s tale. Questions of authenticity aside, the novel is still a devastating first-hand story of a German soldier in World War II. The novel describes the bitter cold of Russian winter, which the German’s were entirely unprepared for, and the merciless training procedures. Like many German tales, Sajer at first romanticizes his soon-to-be adventure, but as life as a soldier becomes increasingly difficult, his opinions begin to shift.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
A fictional story narrated by Death, who is an actual being, this novel was originally intended for a younger audience and is often (regrettably) placed in the children’s section of bookstores. Yet another that has recently been made into a film, The Book Thief follows a young German girl named Liesel, who is on her way to be fostered when her brother dies. Her foster family, the Hubermanns, are poor but loving, and manage to make ends meet even after taking in a Jewish runaway. The book is a tearjerker, and might even be too much for young children who aren’t yet ready to read about the horrors of death.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (2006)
Yet another story following a young German child, this is one is viewed as highly improbable, but still is well-renowned for its ability to depict the absolute innocence of a child. The story follows the naive friendship of two young boys, one inside a death camp and one out, as they struggle to understand what, besides a fence, separates them.
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947)
Though well-known, Anne Frank’s diary always deserves a second look. It is a wonderful insight into the human ability to create bonds and friendships in the worst of times. Anne describes being hidden in the sealed upper rooms of her father’s offices in the same tone she admits that she is often considered a chatterbox.
Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally (1982)
While Spielberg used this text to inspire the majorly successful film, it is still worth a read after you’ve viewed the film. In the story, Oskar Schindler, a fictional Nazi Party member, has a change of heart and chooses to save 1,200 Jews in Poland and Germany from the fate of the concentration camps.
Commander in Chief by Eric Larrabee (1987)
Larrabee’s book stands apart from the others due to its unique form. The novel is a tale of American participation in World War II, but it is delivered through a series of individual biographies. Somehow, Larrabee connects the tale flawlessly, moving from FDR to General George Marshall and even General Curtis LeMay, who stood over the ashes in Japan. This is one of the few books available that paints accurate and examining pictures of the wartime leadership and the consequences of each man’s decision during World War II.