Books about war are always popular, for a variety of reasons, but I am not interested in making a political statement. I just wanted to highlight some of the great literature that arises from war.
I don’t have any great pearls of wisdom about war, as I don’t have any personal experience with it, so I’ll quote from a blog (http://www.artofmanliness.com/2013/12/02/books-about-war/) that is far more eloquent than I am:
“War is unquestionably mankind at his worst. Yet, paradoxically, it is in war that men — individual men — often show the very best of themselves. War is often the result of greed, stupidity, or depravity. But in it, men are often brave, loyal, and selfless… The study of war is the study of life, because war is life in the rawest sense. It is death, fear, power, love, adrenaline, sacrifice, glory, and the will to survive.”
I chose mostly fiction for this display, rather than straight-up historical non-fiction. I wanted to explore the idea of war and how it affects the individual, whether that person is a soldier or a combatant, a civilian caught in the midst of conflict and combat, or a society that finds itself engulfed by war. I purposely chose not to include any Holocaust literature, as I find it difficult to think objectively about war when the Holocaust is involved.
Signage is always a really fun part of putting a display together. I put up pictures of children’s alphabet blocks to spell out the letters W-A-R, along with pictures of those ubiquitous green army men. I really liked the uneasy feeling conveyed by this juxtaposition.
Some highly recommended reading:
We Die Alone: A World War II Epic of Escape and Endurance, by David Howarth – first published in 1955, this is the true story of Jan Baalsrud, a Norwegian who snuck back into an occupied Norway to recruit for the Resistance. This is a truly gripping account of incredible bad luck, amazing perseverance in the face of terrible odds, and the selflessness of people who helped him escape from the Germans. I read this a long time ago, but have never forgotten it. It is reminiscent of Shackleton’s ordeal in Antarctica, except Shackleton wasn’t in danger of being killed by other people.
The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw – published in 1948, this was recommended to me by a customer a couple of years ago, and I wish I remembered her name so that I could thank her! It is the story of 3 soldiers – a young German Nazi, a young American Jew, and an older, cynical American. It is the story that underlies all other stories: Good and Evil. (You know, like when Matthew McGonaughey says at the end of the first season of True Detective, “There’s just one story: light versus dark”). It is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. How could a book about war be beautiful? There are 6 or so pages that make this book that elevate this novel to something remarkable. This is when the young Jewish soldier finds himself in an English church, listening to the vicar deliver a war sermon to some soldiers that acknowledges the reality that the killing that they must do will be terrible, that it will not be glorious, and that there is no righteousness in the act of killing.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
HHhH: A Novel by Laurent Binet
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
Baghdad Central by Elliott Colla
Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: A Novel by Ben Fountain
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Little Bighorn by John Hough Jr
Neverhome: A Novel by Laird Hunt
Daughters of Mars: A Novel by Thomas Keneally
American Sniper by Chris Kyle
Furies: War in Europe, 1450 – 1700 by Lauro Martines
Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice by John A. Nagl
Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
The final Storm by Jeff Shaara
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
First of July: A Novel by Elizabeth Speller
Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War by Helen Thorpe
The Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War 1; Barbara W. Tuchman’s Great War Series by Barbara W. Tuchman
Slaughter-House Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Snow Hunter by Paul Yoon
We Die Alone by David Howarth
The Shetland Bus: A WWII Epic of Escape, Survival, and Adventure by David Howarth