Staff Display: War

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 ( 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

Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz

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

War! What is it Good For?: Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots by Ian Morris

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

The Liberator: One World War II Soldier’s 500- Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau by Alex Kershaw

We Die Alone by David Howarth

The Shetland Bus: A WWII Epic of Escape, Survival, and Adventure by David Howarth

~ Lysbeth

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