On War, Part 2


After last Friday’s post about the Pritzker Military Library’s symposium, On War, I got a challenging e-mail from a reader, asking me for the titles of definitive histories for World War I, World War II and Vietnam.*

My first response was “danged if I know.” My second response was doubt that there is a definitive history for either world war because of their sheer scope. I finally decided that if I couldn’t give him definitive histories, I could at least give him important ones.

Members of my favorite on-line military history group made several useful suggestions:

• Phillip Davidson’s Vietnam at War
• John Keegan’s The First World War
• Barbara Tuchman’s wonderful The Guns of August***
• Gerhard Weinberg’s A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II

From my reading in the last two years, I’d add Antony Beevor’s The Second World War and Peter Englund’s The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War.

I ask you, dear readers: What books would you add to the list? Are there any here that you disagree with violently?

*Another reader who regularly asks me hard questions took a totally different angle and suggested I read James Juhnke’s The Missing Peace: The Search for Nonviolent Alternatives in United States History.**
**I have the smartest, toughest readers anywhere!
***I want to be Barbara Tuchman when I grow up.


  1. Bob Mrotek on November 27, 2013 at 5:28 am

    The Good War: An Oral History of World War II [by Studs Terkel]
    Excellent book based upon first hand interviews with actual participants. The title is a bit facetious.

  2. Paul Herbert on December 13, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    Fighting the Great War: A Global History, by Michael S. Neiberg
    The First World War – A Complete History, by Martin Gilbert
    A War to be Won – Fighting the Second World War, by Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett
    Commander in Chief, by Eric Larrabee
    Vietnam – Yet to be written, in my opinion. Many, many good books, but they tend to fall into two camps: critiques of strategy/policy/political-military affairs; or experience at the troop level. Especially missing is an operational history of how the war was actually waged and good work on the NVA and VC. Best overview to date: George Herring, America’s Longest War – The United States and Vietnam

    • pamela on December 13, 2013 at 4:37 pm

      Thanks for the good suggestions, and the realistic assessment of books on Vietnam. My guess is we’re still one generation too close to get an authoritative account.

  3. Scottie Kersta-Wilson on January 12, 2014 at 11:57 pm

    Love this post and book list – thanks! I have several Barbara Tuchman, just need to tuck into them 😉

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