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The Best Novels About World War 2

Updated August 15, 2021 10.9k votes 2.4k voters 155k views111 items

List RulesFiction that uses WWII as a setting or major theme

This is a list about the best novels about World War 2 - basically a genre onto itself considering how extensively it has been covered in literature and art. But what are the best historical books about World War 2? Many you have probably heard of because they have won awards or have been turned into movies. Also known as the Second World War, this global war lasted from 1939 – 1945. It involved the vast majority of the world’s nations that eventually formed two opposing alliances, the Allies and the Axis. WW2 books can be novels that focus on the war itself as the central story, or they can feature the war tangentially, as a force that impacts the lives of its main characters.

World War 2 was the most widespread war in history and was marked by the deaths of millions of civilians due to the use of nuclear weapons and the Holocaust; it was the deadliest war in the history of the world. It ended May 8, 1945, and the world was left picking up the pieces from the battlefield. WWII was responsible for the formation of the United Nations, a program that fosters international co-operation to prevent future conflicts. Many biographies were birthed from this time period in history, including some of the world’s greatest novels like The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and Thomas Keneally’s Schindler's Ark which later inspired the film Schindler’s List. Good WW2 lists continue to come out every year, with top novels like All the Light We Cannot See winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015.

While true stories emerged that would forever capture our hearts, this list features some noteworthy WW2 fictional stories that many times were based on true events that occurred. 
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    Empire of the Sun

    J. G. Ballard

    First Published1984-09-13

    SubjectsChina, J. G. Ballard, World War II, History

    Genres (Book)War novel, Historical fiction, Autobiographical novel, Fiction

    Original LanguageEnglish Language

    Empire of the Sun is a 1984 novel by J. G. Ballard which was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Like Ballard's earlier short story, "The Dead...  more
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    296
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    The Winds of War

    Herman Wouk

    First Published1971-11-15

    SubjectsClassics, Military

    Genres (Book)War novel, Children's literature, Fiction

    Original LanguageEnglish Language

    Herman Wouk
    The Winds of War is Herman Wouk's second book about World War II, the first being The Caine Mutiny. Published in 1971, it was followed up seven years later by War and Remembrance; originally...  more

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    #193 of 377 The 50+ Best War Movies Ever Made, Ranked#60 of 223 The Greatest World War II Movies of All Time

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    First Published1978

    SubjectsClassics, Military

    Genres (Book)War novel, Children's literature, Fiction

    Original LanguageEnglish Language

    War and Remembrance is a novel by Herman Wouk, published in 1978, which is the sequel to The Winds of War. It continues the story of the extended Henry family and the Jastrow family starting on 15...  more
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    280
    103

    The Nightingale

    Kristin Hannah

    First Published1843

    SubjectsMythology, Classics, Folklore, Asia, Places

    Genres (Book)Children's literature, Fiction, Fairy tale, Short story

    Original LanguageDanish Language

    "The Nightingale" is a literary fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen about an emperor who prefers the tinkling of a bejeweled mechanical bird to the song of a real nightingale. When the Emperor is...  more
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    More All the Light We Cannot See 

    #15 of 46 The Best Beach Reads for This Summer#1 of 5 The Best Anthony Doerr Books

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    159

    The Book Thief

    Markus Zusak

    First Published2006-03

    SubjectsStorytelling, Death, History, Germany

    Genres (Book)Historical fiction, Fiction, Young adult literature, Novel

    Original LanguageEnglish Language, German Language

    The Book Thief is a novel by Australian author Markus Zusak. First published in 2005, the book has won numerous awards and was listed on The New York Times Best Seller list for over 230 weeks....  more

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    #96 of 704 Books That Changed Your Life#11 of 117 The Most Heartbreaking Novels Ever Written

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    209
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    Night

    Elie Wiesel

    First Published1955

    SubjectsLiterary, Entertainment, Poland, Modern history, World War II

    Genres (Book)Children's literature, Biography, Fiction, Autobiography, Novel

    Original LanguageYiddish Language

    Night is a work by Elie Wiesel about his experience with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–45, at the height of the Holocaust toward the end of the...  more

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    #11 of 126 The Best Autobiographies Ever Written#37 of 71 Required Reading That You Actually Ended Up Loving

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    209
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    Catch-22

    Joseph Heller

    First Published1961-11-11

    SubjectsDrama, World War II

    Genres (Book)War novel, Black comedy, Satire, Historical fiction, Absurdist fiction

    Original LanguageAmerican English, English Language

    Catch-22 is a satirical novel by the American author Joseph Heller. He began writing it in 1953; the novel was first published in 1961. It is frequently cited as one of the greatest literary works of...  more

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  • 9

    First Published1952

    SubjectsWorld War II

    Genres (Book)War novel

    Original LanguageFrench Language

    The Bridge over the River Kwai is a novel by Pierre Boulle, published in French in 1952 and English translation by Xan Fielding in 1954. The story is fictional but uses the construction of the Burma...  more
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    Slaughterhouse-Five

    Kurt Vonnegut

    First Published1969

    SubjectsLiterary, American science fiction, Classics, Prisoner of war, World War II

    Genres (Book)Philosophy, Speculative fiction, War novel, Black comedy, Fiction

    Original LanguageEnglish Language

    Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is a satirical novel by Kurt Vonnegut about World War II experiences and journeys through time of a soldier named Billy...  more

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    #24 of 176 The Greatest Science Fiction Novels of All Time#3 of 65 The Best Satirical Novels

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    164
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    First Published1975-09-08

    SubjectsEspionage, Adventure, Military, British Isles, Germany

    Genres (Book)War novel, Mystery, Thriller, Fiction

    Original LanguageEnglish Language

    The Eagle Has Landed is a book by British writer Jack Higgins, set during World War II and first published in 1975. It was made into a film of the same name in 1976 starring Michael Caine, Donald...  more
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    A novel inspired by the life of Marian Rejewski, the Polish mathematician who first solved Enigma in 1932. The novel follows Marian's life and the adventures of the Polish codebreaking team as they flee  Poland after it's invasion in 1939

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    First Published2006-01-05

    SubjectsMusic, Poland, Friendship

    Genres (Book)Tragicomedy, Children's literature, Fable, Historical novel

    Original LanguageEnglish Language

    The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a 2006 novel by Irish novelist John Boyne. Unlike the months of planning Boyne devoted to his other books, he said that he wrote the entire first draft of The Boy in...  more
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    The Caine Mutiny

    Herman Wouk

    First Published1951

    SubjectsLiterature, Classics, Military, United States of America, World War II

    Genres (Book)Novel

    Original LanguageEnglish Language

    The Caine Mutiny is a 1951 Pulitzer Prize–winning novel by Herman Wouk. The novel grew out of Wouk's personal experiences aboard a destroyer-minesweeper in the Pacific in World War II and deals with,...  more

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    #248 of 331 The Top Must-Read Books of All Time#10 of 62 The Best Pulitzer Prize Winning Novels

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    Battle Cry

    Leon Uris

    SubjectsAdventure, Military

    Genres (Book)Fiction

    Leon Uris
    Battle Cry is a novel by American writer Leon Uris, published in 1953. Many of the events in the book are based on Uris's own World War II experience with the 6th Marine Regiment. The story is...  more
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    First Published1948

    SubjectsLiterary, Philippines Campaign, Military, World War II, 112th Cavalry Regiment (United States)

    Genres (Book)Fiction

    The Naked and the Dead is a 1948 novel by Norman Mailer. It was based on his experiences with the 112th Cavalry Regiment during the Philippines Campaign in World War II. It was later adapted into a...  more

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    #72 of 100 The Best Books With Dead in the Title#2 of 23 The Best Norman Mailer Books

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    Sarah's Key

    Tatiana De Rosnay

    First PublishedSep 01 2006

    Genres (Book)Fiction

    Original LanguageFrench Language, English Language

    Sarah's Key is a book written by Tatiana De Rosnay....  more
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    98
    71

    SubjectsEspionage, Suspense, Scotland, History, Germany

    Genres (Book)Suspense, Fiction

    Eye of the Needle is a spy thriller novel written by Welsh author Ken Follett. It was originally published in 1978 by the Penguin Group under the title Storm Island. This novel was Follett's first...  more

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    #40 of 60 The Best Suspense Novels#21 of 54 The Best Mystery Novels

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    First Published1994

    SubjectsWorld War II, Germany, Dwarf

    Genres (Book)Fiction, Novel

    Original LanguageEnglish Language

    Stones from the River is the 1994 novel by Ursula Hegi, and was chosen as an Eagles selection in February 1997. It is about a woman named Trudi Montag who has dwarfism. The book chronicles her life...  more
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    Gravity's Rainbow

    Thomas Pynchon

    First Published1973-02-28

    Genres (Book)Speculative fiction, Historical novel, Postmodernism, Science Fiction

    Original LanguageEnglish Language

    Gravity's Rainbow is a 1973 novel by American writer Thomas Pynchon. A lengthy, complex novel featuring a large cast of characters, its narrative is set primarily in Europe at the end of World War II...  more
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    First Published2008-07

    SubjectsLiterary, England

    Genres (Book)Fiction

    The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a book by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows....  more
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    Atonement

    Ian McEwan

    First Published2001

    SubjectsLiterary, English Language, British Isles, History, England

    Genres (Book)Suspense, Mystery, Fiction

    Original LanguageEnglish Language

    Atonement is a British family saga novel written by author Ian McEwan and published in 2001. It is about understanding and responding to the need for atonement. Set in three time periods, 1935...  more
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    Memoirs of a Geisha

    Arthur Golden

    First Published1997-09-23

    SubjectsWomen, Japan, 20th century, History, Geisha

    Genres (Book)Historical novel

    Original LanguageEnglish Language

    Memoirs of a Geisha is a historical novel by American author Arthur Golden, published in 1997. The novel, told in first person perspective, tells the fictional story of a geisha working in Kyoto,...  more

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    #30 of 61 Novels with the Best Love Stories#22 of 29 29 Books Only Basic B*tches Love

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    Winter of the World is a book written by Ken Follett....  more

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    #98 of 99 The Best Books With World in the Title#5 of 22 The Best Ken Follett Books

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    Mila 18

    Leon Uris

    SubjectsLiterature, Classics, History

    Genres (Book)Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy

    Mila 18 is a novel by Leon Uris set in German-occupied Warsaw, Poland before and during World War II. Mila 18 debuted at #7 on The New York Times Best Seller List and peaked at #2 in August 1961....  more
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List Rules: Fiction that uses WWII as a setting or major theme