Wednesday, June 8, 2011

5 Best Books, This Week: Five Best Books That Take Place During A War

Another fun meme - at least for me. I've got to stop falling for these things. But I can't seem to help myself. I mean, fun is fun. Right? This is a new one on me. BEST FIVE BOOKS is hosted by Cassandra over at Indie Reader Houston. Check the link to see what books other bloggers have chosen to post about.

I tend not to read many books about war, per se, but I thought I'd take a crack at this week's theme anyway. If I wrack my brain enough I ought to be able to come up with something.

1) World War II - CRYPTONOMICON by Neal Stephenson.
Stephenson is the acknowledged King of Cyberpunk and this inventive epic of a novel set just before, during and after WWII proves it. Brilliant doesn't quite begin to cover a storyline with as many different facets as a cut diamond. By turns, implausible, grim, funny and startling, this book is also damn good story telling. I loved it.

2) Various wars - CROFTON'S FIRE by Keith Coplin.
A book - far as I know, the author's only book - which begins in 1876 at Custer's Last Stand and then takes the hapless hero, Lieutenant Crofton from an uprising in Cuba to the ghastly Zulu Wars in East Africa. A book about the growth of a man's conscience.You've probably never heard of it - there wasn't much done to publicize it when it was first published in 2004. I read it then and tried my best so spread the word about its brilliance - never for one moment does it read like a first time effort. It's like nothing else you've ever read. You know how when you first read a book and you're taken aback and can't quite settle yourself down because you want to run in the street and shout the news? Yeah, BIG praise. But that's how I feel about CROFTON'S FIRE.

3) The Napoleonic Wars - HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON by Naomi Novik
Fantasy, yes, but set in real time within a real war. The only difference is that the English have flying dragons at their disposal as does Napoleon and his French forces. Naomi Novik has an exceptional talent for invention and also for imaginative visual description of warfare. This is the debut novel in a continuing series which changed my mind about reading books in which dragons play any part. As I like to say: there's always a first time for everything.

4) World War II: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH by William L. Shirer - Non-fiction
Another massive undertaking. Everything you'd ever want to know about the Nazis, the German war machine and the demise of the thousand year Reich. Lately I've been meaning to read Shirer's BERLIN DIARIES and one of these days I will. Maybe after I read Erik Larsson's new book set around the same time. I read RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH in my early twenties and while a lot of the detail is gone from my memory, I still remember the basics. If you can set aside a great chunk of time, this brilliant book is worth the effort.

5) World War II: IS PARIS BURNING? by Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre - Non-fiction
My favorite book about the effects of war on a specific place, in this instance - Paris. Near the end of the war when the Germans were on the eve of retreat, Hitler gave the order to destroy one of the most beautiful cities in the entire world: Paris. Blow it up. Burn it to the ground. Luckily for history, humanity and common sense, this order was, more or less, ignored. Read what happened and why. If you care at all about history, about our artistic heritage, about the idea that even in the midst of madness, there are men who will listen to their own brand of reason: DON'T, absolutely, DON'T miss this book.


  1. Wow! It's rare that I get to a list where I haven't even heard of at least one of the books - but these are all new to me. I'm learning to appreciate non-fiction, so it will probably be a while before I get to your non-fiction picks, but the fiction looks really good. I'm looking forward to it!

    Thanks for joining!

  2. This is quite a list. So interesting.

    My parents had "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," and read it and discussed it.

    I don't usually read nonfiction, as I read lots of news every day, and I read fiction for pure escapism, entertainment, humor, to take "virtual" vacations -- and, by happenstance I learn something.

    I stay away from books about wars, especially WWII. Even WWI was such a horror for Europe. The loss on top of everything else of two young French brilliant artists comes to mind.

    I wonder why the Nazis wanted to burn Paris, when the Vichy government was in cahoots with them, and carried out their program, deporting many Jews, repressing the Resistance, etc.

    However, these sound intriguing.
    I may venture a glimpse, then scurry back to Michael Connelly's "The Fifth Witness," a good legal thriller about the foreclosure scheme.

    Glad you're reading them and taking notice and spreading the good word about these books.

  3. How can someone never have heard of THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH? It was practically required in high schools and college history courses when I was a student years ago. I'm definitely from a different era.

    I'm not a fan of war boosk and I tend to like those that point out the pointlessness and absurdity of war or talk about the camaraderie that develops in close knit troops facing traumatic events. I avoid those that meticulously recount historical events or are flag waving patriotic memoirs.

    So here's what I would offer:

    A MIDNIGHT CLEAR by Wiliam Wharton A novel about the amazing true incident when one Christmas during the WWI battles Germans and Allied forces stopped killing each other and came together to see each other as humans first. Remarkable.

    CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller
    The ultimate comment on the absurdity of war

    NIGHT by Elie Wiesel (memoir)
    A book everyone should read. Concentration camp madness and his miraculaous escape.

    The only fiction worth reading about Viet Nam.

    JARHEAD - Anthony Swofford (memoir)
    Another comment on the pointlessness of war. This time the wasted efforts of some young Marines in the first Gulf War who saw very little of the enemy and hardly engaged in any battle.

  4. Cassandra: I should thank you for hosting this meme, it's a goody. I love making lists of anything and everything, especially when it comes to books or movies. Maybe this meme could be applied to films as well. I'm thinking about it if no one else is already doing it. If only I were handy with this 'Mr. Linky' thing. But the instructions gave me an instant headache. :)

    Hopefully though, we won't all be posting the same books or films over and over. Where's the fun in that? I think it's always better when there are a few 'unkowns' or 'lesser-knowns' among the listed. :)

  5. Kathy: I'm not a big 'war' reader either. But I don't go out of my way to avoid it. I've always been interested in WWII - it's always been the war that fascinated me, if anyone can be said to be fascinated by war itself.

    IS PARIS BURNING? is on my list of top ten favorite non-fiction books of all time, so in my view, it's always worth taking a look at.

  6. Catch 22 is a great book. Loved it when I read it during my 20s, and laughed at the satire.

    I do avoid reading about war. It's just destruction of everything living and what humans have built. WWII I grew up hearing about; my mother's family was from occupied Poland (came in early 1900s), their cities were wiped out of Jewish people.

    It's just the worst form of devastation.

    I wish that I could read some of the many good series about WWII, but can't.

    Hats off to those who can.

  7. John: I never read RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH for school, merely for myself. I think this sort of non-fiction book, if it becomes a duty, could become almost overwhelming.

    I've heard of A MIDNIGHT CLEAR, it's been on my radar. I tend to avoid books about WWI. But I might be coaxed into reading this one. I guess we all have our own reading priorities.

    I read CATCH 22 many, MANY years ago. I believe it was required in school at some point but damn if I can ever remember anything about it except for the general reasons for the expression, 'catch 22.'

    Cassandra listed NIGHT by Elie Wiesel as one of her books. Though I've seen and heard Mr. Wiesel on Charlie Rose and other forums, I've never read his memoir. It's going on my TBR list.

    She also listed THE THINGS THEY CARRIED. But I don't, as a rule, read books about Vietnam.

    She also listed: THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE by Stephen Crane and ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT by Erich Maria Remarque. I vaguely remember reading the Crane book in high school but remember little about it. Remarque's book I'm embarrassed to say I've never read. Primary reason: I didn't want my heart broken. I've always suspected it was THAT kind of book.

    My preference, when it comes to ANY war reading (infrequent as it may be), is to read non-fiction. As I mentioned, Shirer's BERLIN DIARIES is on my radar and so is Erik Larsson's new book IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS. I also have SHANGHAI DIARY, a memoir by Ursula Bacon sitting here waiting for my attention.

  8. Hi Yvette, glad you joined the fun.

    Have heard of the last two on your list but not the first three. My father found Is Paris Burning? very engrossing. I remember him narrating the story when we were young. Guess, it's time I borrowed his copy.

    Jenny's list had vampires and zombies, yours has dragons! I'm constantly amazed by the ingenuity of the writers. :)

  9. Neer: I have a feeling I'm going to like this meme a lot!

    I wonder what next week will bring. :)

  10. I did read S.J. Rozan's The Shanghai Moon. Part of it is a fictionalized version of how the Japanese treated Jewish people living in China during WWII. Badly, but not genocide as the Germans carried out.

    I can understand reading about WWII. My parents had and read Shirer's book, and others, too.

    I look forward to reading any write-ups; reading blogs is educational.

  11. Kathy: I read SHANGHAI MOON last year and LOVED it. It's the book that brought me back to reading S.J. Rozan's series. SHANGHAI MOON was my list of Best o 2010 and I consider one of my all time favorites. A truly terrific book.

    I never knew about this facet of the war. It's probably because of this book that I'll be reading SHANGHAI DIARY.

  12. I didn't know about Japan in China re: Jewish people until I read Rozan's book.

    I knew a bit about what Japan did in 1937 in China, the "rape of Nanking," killing over 100,000 people.

    I learned some from Mo Hayden's novel called "Tokyo," which was brutal, and then I went to the Internet to do research. I also have a photo history of China which includes some atrocities committed by Japan in China.


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