50 Books on World War II Recommended by John Keegan

Discussion in 'Books and Films' started by David Layne, Dec 14, 2008.

  1. David Layne

    David Layne Active Member

    50 Books on World War II Recommended by John Keegan

    50 Books on World War II Recommended by John Keegan

    Scott Manning
    December 9, 2008

    Discuss this list in our forums.
    At the end of his book, The Second World War, John Keegan offers a list of 50 books in English that "together provide a comprehensive picture of the most important events and themes of the war, which are readable and from which the general reader can derive his own picture of the war as a guide to deeper reading"1. Keegan admits this list is not all inclusive and it reflects his interests. For example, there is no book on the invasion of Poland in 1939.

    The list is nearly 20 years old, but it is still valuable to those researching World War II. Some of these books are out-of-print, but most of them are readily available and have been republished several times which means Keegan put together a quality list.

    1. The West Point Atlas of American Wars, Vol 2 by Colonel Vincent J. Esposito is the first book listed. Amazon has both volumes listed under The West Point Atlas of American Wars. 2 Volume Set The books have detailed maps of all campaigns, not just the ones involving Americans.

    Hitler and Nazi Germany

    2. Keegan recognizes Hitler A Study In Tyranny by Alan Bullock as the "best biography of Hitler"2.

    3. Hitler's War and the War Path by David Irving is an interesting recommendation by Keegan. The book has been criticized for years as being "pro-Hitler", yet Keegan recognizes it as one of the most import books on the time period.3 In a later book, Keegan acknowledges the criticisms of the book, but he also says it "is unique in that it recounts the war exclusively from the German side"4. Irving's portrayal of Hitler is that of a man trying to do the best for his country. Keegan sees value in the book because of Irving's work "in all the major German archives," interviews with many survivors, and personal discovery of important documents. The major flaw Keegan sees in the book is "it is untouched by moral judgment"5.

    4. The German Army and the Nazi Party, 1933-1939 by Robert O'Neill

    5. Inside Hitler's Headquarters, 1939-45 by Walter Warlimont, one of Hitler's operation officers.

    6. Inside the Third Reich by Albert Speer, Hitler's armaments minister from 1942.

    7. Hitler's War Directives 1939-1945 by Hugh Trevor-Roper lists approximately 80 major war directives given by Hitler starting with the invasion plans for Poland in 1939 to the last stand of the Reich in 1945.

    8. The Last Days of Hitler by Trevor-Roper

    Beginnings and Early Battles

    9. Keegan says that although The Origins of The Second World War by A. J. P. Taylor is contentious, it "cannot be bettered as an introduction to that subject"6. In a later book, Keegan described Taylor as a "notorious controversialist"7.

    10. To Lose a Battle: France 1940 by Alistair Horne

    11. Why France Fell: The defeat of the French Army in 1940 by Guy Chapman

    12. Parades and Politics at Vichy by Robert Paxton

    13. The Breaking Wave: The Second World War in the Summer of 1940 by Telford Taylor

    14. Hitler's Strategy 1940-1941: The Balkan Clue by Martin van Creveld

    15. The Struggle for Crete by I. M. G. Stewart, a medical officer of one of the British battalions in the battle.

    16. The Desert Generals by Correlli Barnett

    The War in the East

    17. Keegan describes The Soviet High Command and the following two books by John Erickson as "overthrowing all other writers in English on the war in the east"8.

    18. The Road to Stalingrad by John Erickson

    19. The Road to Berlin by John Erickson

    20. German Rule in Russia by Alexander Dallin

    21. Comrades in Arms: British Aid to Russia 1941-1945 by Joan Beaumont

    Britain's Strategy On Its Own

    22. The Continental Commitment by Michael Howard

    23. The Mediterranean Strategy in the Second World War by Michael Howard

    Anglo-American Strategy

    24. Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1941-1942 by Maurice Matloff

    25. Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943-1944 by Maurice Matloff

    26. Command Decisions by Kent Roberts Greenfield

    Code Cracking and Intelligence

    27. British Intelligence in the Second World War by F. H. Hinsley

    28. The Hut Six Story by Gordon Welchman

    29. Ultra Goes to War by Ronald Lewin

    30. The American Magic by Ronald Lewin

    31. Very Special Intelligence: The Story of the Admiralty's Operational Intelligence Centre 1939-1945 by Patrick Beesly

    32. Ultra in the West by R. Bennett

    The War in the Pacific

    33. A History of Modern Japan by Richard Storry

    34. Empires in the Balance: Japanese and Allied Pacific Strategies to April 1942 by H. P. Willmott

    35. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan by Ronald Spector

    36. Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions, May 1942-August 1942 by Samuel Elliot Morison

    37. Allies of a Kind: The United States, Britain and the War Against Japan, 1941-1945 by Christopher Thorne

    Wartime Economies and Efforts to Disrupt

    38. War, Economy and Society, 1939-1945 by Alan Milward

    39. The Design and Development of Weapons by M. M. Postan

    40. Keegan values Bomber Command by Max Hasting "for its study of the effects of the campgain both on the Germans and crews who took part"9.

    41. Donitz: The Last Fuhrer by Peter Padfield

    The North-West Europe Campgain

    42. Keegan credits The Struggle for Europe by Chester Wilmot for effectively inventing "the modern method of writing contemporary military history, which combines political, economic and strategic analysis with eye-witness accounts of combat"10. While Keegan admits that some of Wilmot's judgements are no longer valid, he believes the book remains "the supreme acheivement of Second World War historiography"11.

    Resistence and Life Under Nazi Rule

    43. The Shadow War: European Resistance, 1939-1945

    44. The Embattled Mountain by F. W. Deakin

    45. Life with the Enemy: Collaboration and Resistance in Hitler's Europe, 1939-1945 by Werner Rings

    46. The Final Solution by Gerald Reitlinger

    Personal Memoirs

    47. Keegan is "haunted" by With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E. B. Sledge which he labels one of the "most arresting documents in war literature"12. Sledge writes of his experience growing up, going to war, and attempting to remain civilized while everyone around him became savages.

    48. Wartime by Milovan Djilas

    49. Berlin Diaries, 1940-1945 by Marie Vassiltchikov

    50. The Past is Myself by Christabel Bielenberg


    1. John Keegan, The Second World War (New York: Viking, 1990), 596 [back]
    2. Keegan 1990, 596 [back]
    3. Keegan 1990, 596 [back]
    4. John Keegan, The Battle for History: Re-Fighting World War II (New York: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 50. [back]
    5. Keegan 1996, 52 [back]
    6. Keegan 1990, 596 [back]
    7. Keegan 1996, 9 [back]
    8. Keegan 1990, 597 [back]
    9. Keegan 1990, 598 [back]
    10. Keegan 1990, 598 [back]
    11. Keegan 1990, 598 [back]
    12. Keegan 1990, 598 [back]


    Keegan, John. The Battle For History: Re-Fighting World War II. New York: Vintage Books, 1996.

    Keegan, John. The Second World War. New York: Viking, 1990.

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  2. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

    I think I've read about 3 or 4 of those.

    He seems to have missed almost all of the recent books by the likes of Allen (Burma), Kershaw/Rees (Nazism and the Final Solution), Max Arthur (the soldier's own experiences), Max Hastings (strategy, tactics, politics) aprt from one very early book, etc etc etc

    Also fails to highlight the fact that later critiques have shown that Irving was very selective in his use of said German Archives.
  3. Antipodean Andy

    Antipodean Andy New Member

    I think I've only HEARD about three of those!
  4. Adrian Roberts

    Adrian Roberts Active Member

    John Keegan's opinion is worth respecting but I'm afraid I haven't read any of those books!

    I guess I got a basic knowledge of the war from books aimed at schoolchildren. Since then, most of my reading, and such expertise as I have, has been in the details of certain aspects, e.g. aerial warfare and the technological history of that, and personal historys e.g. of VC awards. Keegan's list is mainly about the causes, strategies, and government deliberations of the war, as you would expect from a professor of history.
  5. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

    I hope he considers adding Masters and Commanders: How Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall and Alanbrooke Won the War in the West in any future list. I am currently reading it and it is very good. It may seem rather modern as it considers the personalities of the main players as being just as important in the way that the war was fought as grand strategy and/or political leanings etc

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