9 books the US Army's top officer recommends to help understand World War II

Normandy ddayUS Army PhotoCompany E, was one of the first divisions to land on the beach during the Normandy invasion, June 6, 1944.

September 1 marked the 78th anniversary of the start of World War II, when the Nazi Wehrmacht stormed into Poland.

France and Britain declared war on Germany two days later, and the conflagration would soon stretch to every corner of the world.

The scope and complexity of the war itself mirror the longstanding and deep-seated tensions — both in Europe and Asia — from which the war arose.

The US Army has distributed reading recommendations so that soldiers and civilians can explore “the decisive role played by landpower in conflicts across the centuries,” and a number of the books dive into World War II and its origins.

Below are some of books selected by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley, along with some of his explanations for their inclusion.

Penguin Random House

'The First World War,' by Hew Strachan

'Strachan's work is a broad study of the First World War aimed at the general reader. He examines the political, economic, and social factors that set the conditions for war before delving into general analysis of how the war was conducted at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. ... The author closes with a look at why the peace that was settled in 1919 could not last and what this meant for Europe long term.'

Henry Holt/Amazon

'An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942 -- 1943'

'The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943 -- 1944'

'The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944 -- 1945,' by Rick Atkinson

'The Liberation Trilogy draws the reader into the U.S. Army's monumental struggle to defeat Nazi Germany, with the Army transforming into a coherent and capable force over three years and three bloody campaigns.'

University Press of Kansas/Amazon

'Blitzkrieg to Desert Storm: The Evolution of Operational Warfare,' by Robert M. Citino

'Beginning with Germany's blitzkrieg invasion of France in 1940, numerous military commanders have sought to emulate this rapid victory through maneuvers of armoured vehicles and motorised troops. Citino describes multiple cases ... to appreciate modern operational warfare and assesses the respective roles of firepower, training, doctrine, and command and control mechanisms. He shows that technical superiority is no guarantee of victory and that understanding past campaigns is essential to anyone who wishes to grasp, and survive, modern warfare.'

W.W. Norton & Company/Amazon

'The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942 -- 1945,' by Ian W. Toll

'These were the years in which the Japanese offensive in the Pacific was driven back with increasing speed and destruction. The reader is confronted with just how massive this theatre was but is still able to connect to the individuals who fought in it due to the author's heavy reliance on firsthand accounts and other primary source material.'

University Press of Kansas/Amazon

'Death of the Wehrmacht: The German Campaigns of 1942,' by Robert M. Citino

'The year 1942 was a key turning point of World War II, as a bloodied but still lethal Wehrmacht was unable to replicate its brilliant victories and huge territorial gains against increasingly capable opponents. ... Citino shows that the German Army's addiction to the 'war of movement' and Adolf Hitler's flawed management of the war slowly sapped military effectiveness as the initiative shifted to the Allies.'

Cornell University Press/Amazon

'Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers: Innovation in the U.S. Army, 1917 -- 1945,' by David E. Johnson

'In 1941, the U.S. Army entered World War II unprepared for Germany's combined use of armour and airpower. Limited funding and public apathy during the 1930s were a factor, but Johnson persuasively argues that the principal failures were internal to the military.'


'Inferno: The World at War, 1939 -- 1945,' by Max Hastings

'World War II involved tens of millions of soldiers and cost sixty million lives, and Hastings ... provides a richly detailed single-volume history of the entire war. Through his stories of everyday people, ranging from soldiers, sailors, and airmen to housewives, civilians under attack, and even Japanese suicide pilots, he offers an intimate portrait of the most epic and destructive war in human history.'

W.W. Norton & Company/Amazon

'Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941 -- 1942,' by Ian W. Toll

'The years 1941 -- 1942 were crucial in the war to defeat Japan in the Pacific theatre. The decisions and, in the case of Japan, strategic missteps made during this time would have consequences once the United States and its Allies could mobilize on a scale never before seen. Toll draws on primary source material to put the reader on board the ships and in the offices and conference rooms where the foundations for victory were laid.'

University Press of Kansas/Amazon

'The Wehrmacht Retreats: Fighting a Lost War, 1943,' by Robert M. Citino

'Citino draws on German language sources to offer a fresh and vivid analysis of key campaigns as Germany shifted to a desperate defensive campaign against increasingly skilled military opponents. From the Allied landings in North Africa and the German counterattack at Kasserine Pass to the titanic battle of Kursk, he reveals how a German military establishment struggled to react when the tables were turned.'

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