The 15 Best War Stories Ever Told

Despite the heartbreak and gruesomeness that often accompanies war, there’s no doubt that the subject is fascinating to read about.

Michael Inman, Curator of Rare Books at The New York Public Library, and curator of the current exhibition Over Here: WWI and the Fight for the American Mind, picked out the best nonfiction books about war.

These books are a selection of scholarly histories, journalism, first-hand accounts, and works on the tactics and theory of warfare from the crusades to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

'The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land' by Thomas Asbridge

The battle for the holy land launched in 1095, and pinned Catholics and Muslims against each other for the next almost 200 years. Asbridge puts the conflict in context, from Pope Urban II's call upon 'Latin Europe' to take a stand against the Muslims to the Muslim reclamation of the holy land.

Asbridge lays out a clear timeline of events, and offers a compelling retelling of the crusades that reads nothing like a history textbook.

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'This Kind of War' by T. R. Fehrenbach

Taking place in part along the 38th parallel where American and North Korean troops faced off, 'This Kind of War' is a profound portrayal of the Korean War which includes maps and photographs to illustrate a human perspective on war.

First published in 1963, 'This Kind of War' has become a classic in military history books.

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'Thank You for Your Service' by David Finkel

A MacArthur fellow and Washington Post journalist, Finkel takes an in-depth look at some of the psychological issues, including PTSD, that plagued many of his fellow battalion members after returning from service in the Iraq war.

A sequel, if you will, to his book 'The Good Soldiers,' 'Thank You for Your Service,' presents snapshots of Finkel's battalion mates post-war, and how their service has affected their lives and loved ones.

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'The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War' by Fred Kaplan

Kaplan writes the thrilling true story of how former CIA Director David Petraeus led a small group of soldier-scholars to revolutionise one of the oldest American institutions -- the military -- in the middle of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kaplan gives us access to emails, confidential files and documents to piece together the retired Army general's influence in the way the U.S. military looks today.

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'Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph' by T.E. Lawrence

Written by the real-life Lawrence of Arabia, 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom' is part history book about the Arab Revolt, and part memoir, as Lawrence details his own role in helping the Arabs defeat the Turks.

While dense and complex, it's a worthwhile read for the enlightened perspective of this incredible, historical figure.

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'The Story of World War II' by Donald L. Miller

Miller pulls from previously unpublished eyewitness testimonials that highlight the doubt, fear, drive, and triumph behind the politics and fighting in his overview of World War II.

Expanded from the works of historian Henry Steele Commager, Miller succeeds in presenting the facts of World War II, accentuated by vivid description of the war and its aftermath that move the reader.

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'The Things They Carried' by Tim O'Brien

Part memoir, part novel, and part group narrative collection, 'The Things They Carried' offers different perspectives on the Vietnam War.

From fleeing the country to escape the draft to leaving families behind to wrestling behind the decision to kill, O'Brien gives readers a glimpse into how people all over the world were impacted by this war.

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'With the Old Breed' by E.B. Sledge

The No. 1 bestseller in Japanese history on Amazon, 'With the Old Breed' is an engaging work about World War II, particularly the battles at Peleliu and Okinawa, Japan, two of the most brutal fights in the war.

Sledge began writing and collecting notes for 'With the Old Breed' while he was still stationed in the Pacific with plans to document his experiences and 'to be the spokesman for my comrades.'

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'History of the Peloponnesian War' by Thucydides

When he failed to prevent the city of Amphipolis from surrendering to the Spartan army, Athenian general Thucydides was forced into exile, where he wrote his detailed account of the 27-year war between Athens and Sparta.

Despite Thucydides' bias as an Athenian, reviewers and critics regard the work as remarkably accurate and historically fascinating for its retelling of the event that brought down the Athenian empire.

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'The Guns of August' by Barbara W. Tuchman

Tuchman's Pulitzer Prize-winning book covers two months in 1914 -- the month before World War I began, and the first month of the war. Now more than 100 years since the war began, the events leading up to it still hit close to home.

Suspenseful and concise, Tuchman's beautifully narrated prose brings a near-romantic spin on the Great War.

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'The Art of War' by Sun Tzu

Historically famous Chinese military general and philosopher Sun Tzu shares his wisdom and expertise in what became one of the world's founding manuals on military strategy.

A timeless book of leadership and triumph, 'The Art of War' is full of teachings and applicable lessons, and takes an intelligent, tactical approach to coming out on top.

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'On War' by Carl von Clauswitz

Like Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War,' von Clausewitz philosophically breaks down the causes, effects, and strategies used in successfully executing a war. His Western point of view is a slightly different, yet still interesting, perspective on military strategy.

Read the two books side-by-side for some interesting discussion topics.

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'Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce' by Stanley Weintraub

On Christmas Eve 1914, all fighting on the front lines came to a halt and soldiers on both sides sang carols, shared food, and even drank together.

Weintraub's 'Silent Night' reveals that, even amidst conflict, even enemies can put aside differences and hard feelings and show a little humanity.

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'Night' by Elie Wiesel

'Night' looks at World War II from another perspective -- that of the concentration camp prisoner. Wiesel's unfiltered account of his year-long incarceration is grotesque and brutally honest, but despite the atrocities he faced in the camps, Wiesel's narrative is neither angry nor resentful.

Instead, 'Night' is a philosophical look at the callousness men are capable of, and a reminder not to forget the past.

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'The Civil War: Told by Those Who Lived It (Library of America boxed set, 4 vols.)' by various authors

'The Civil War: Told by Those Who Lived It' is a collection of accounts from soldiers, generals, journalists, slaves, slaveholders, and other first-hand observers between 1861 and 1865.

The memories of these individuals take the reader back to the time and place of the Civil War. Retold by both Northerners and Southerners, the four volumes are a fascinating glimpse into the facts as they're swayed by perspective.

Buy the book here »

Now see which books people wanted to read in 2014.

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