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WW1 Fiction or Biography Recommendations

Historical Fiction

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Jan 28, 2007, 8:11pm Top

I'm interested in reading historical, cultural books on WW1. Whether its just before, during of shortly after the "Great War" occured. I've read a few from that time frame by authors such as Tolkien, Fitzgerald and Remarque. I'm looking for some recommendations and suggestions. Many thanks.....................

Jan 29, 2007, 8:12am Top

There's The Wars by Timothy Findley...

Jan 29, 2007, 9:35am Top

There's a similar thread on this somewhere ... that being said, one of my favorite WWI novels is John Dos Passos Three soldiers

Edited: Jan 29, 2007, 11:53am Top

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks.

Jan 29, 2007, 12:40pm Top

How about some of the WWI poets?

Jan 29, 2007, 1:02pm Top

It's been a while since I read it, but I believe Regeneration features a couple of "real" poets as significant characters ... Siegfried Sassoon and ??? (something about Sassoon's name stuck in my head).

Jan 29, 2007, 1:48pm Top

I agree with KromesTomes' recommendation of Three Soldiers. I also liked The Enormous Room, a novel by E.E. Cummings, although if you aren't fluent in French, I'd recommend you make sure you get a copy that includes translations of the many French passages. I read a Modern Library edition that didn't include translations, and it severely tested my long-faded high-school French.

Jan 29, 2007, 2:24pm Top

I just read two or three months ago Autodafe's (#5) recommendation of Birdsong and found it very good. Especially as I had just indexed two books (non-fiction) relating to WW1 and that helped me connect to the story more.

Edited: Jan 29, 2007, 2:42pm Top

KromesTomes (#7) mentions Siegfried Sassoon. During WW1 many soldiers were executed for desertion, refusal to obey orders and so on. Many were volunteers and had shown bravery. Sassoon was an officer who won the Military Cross but was wounded in the Battle of Arras and invalided home. He refused to return and was treated at Craiglockhart Military Hospital in Edinburgh by the then distinguished psychologist Dr. W.H.R. Rivers. Needless to say he did not suffer the ultimate penalty for his 'cowardice'. I'm sure that is the wrong word but the point is that because of his social status (that's why he was an officer) he had connections that more unfortunate soldiers did not. I do not want to denigrate him or his work in any way but I remember in the 1950s reading his verse at school and not being told any of this background which I think might well have affected my opinion. Which raises the question as to whether we allow our knowledge of the author to influence our judgement of the work?

Jan 29, 2007, 3:22pm Top

Hi again duchess,

You might try John Biggins works about the adventures and misaventures of Otto Prochaska.

Jan 29, 2007, 3:39pm Top

7 - Wilfred Owen is the other one you're thinking of, I believe.

Adam Thorpe comes to mind when thinking of WWI but I can't remember which of the novels would be most appropriate, or if they're all set in the aftermath.

Jan 31, 2007, 1:14pm Top

Riddle of the Sands is a classic spy story set in the run up to WWI and Into Battle by Michael Gilbert is a spy-adventure story set during the War. Closed Circle by Robert Goddard is something of a WWI political thriller. Hornet's Sting and Goshawk Squadronby Derek Robinson are stories about the air war of WWI. A Very Long Engagement by Sebastian Japrisot is about the aftermath of WWI and Other Paths to Glory by Anthony Price is spy story where WWI events must be researched due to repercussion reaching to the modern day.

Edited: Jan 31, 2007, 2:16pm Top


If you are interested in this period, especially from a North American perspective, try some of the primary sources available. These are often in the form of so-called 'trench diaries' and letters. Like Timothy Findlay's novel The Wars, The Letters of Agar Adamson and The Journal of Private Fraser describe the horror of the trenches from a Canadian perspective. The Canadian Expeditionary Force fought in Flanders from 1915 to 1918. Among its ranks were many Americans who crossed the border to enlist (the U.S. didn't enter the Great War until 1917). The primary sources above can be purchased on-line at CEF Books.

Feb 4, 2007, 10:45pm Top

I loved Bury Him Among Kings by Elleston Trevor. It follows some British brothers into the war in France. It is a bit like an All Quiet on the Western Front from the English point of view. There were some chilling moments.

Feb 5, 2007, 11:24pm Top

Many thanks to all for their feedback and suggestions on reading material from or about the Great War. Must start making a list of everything listed here and utilize on my trips to B&N or The Strand in NYC. I'm actually more interested in the Great War before, during and after from the European point of view and not the American. Right now I have at least 6 or more in my library on the topic of the Great War. I find that era fascinating, along with the Napoleonic era and the Crusades. Again, many thanks to all for the feedback. I do so greatly appreciate it.

Edited: Feb 6, 2007, 2:22pm Top

A couple of autobiographies I suggest are Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves, and Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth. An excellent book that examines the literary culture of WWI is Paul Fussel's The Great War and Modern Memory. Be warned, it is graphic in spots, but it really gets the miserable experience of WWI.

Feb 10, 2007, 8:34pm Top

When I was an undergrad history major, I read an English translation of Ernst Junger's The Storm of Steel. (German translation is In Stahlgewitten) Junger was a German officer and this book is his account of his service in the German army.

19simon_carr First Message
Feb 12, 2007, 8:21am Top

I always enjoyed the Richard Hannay books by John Buchan, these are set pre, during and post WW1

Edited: Feb 12, 2007, 8:28am Top

Sinuhe: Could you close your italics tag please?

Edited: Feb 18, 2007, 11:37pm Top

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Edited: Feb 18, 2007, 11:44pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

Feb 19, 2007, 6:45am Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

Feb 19, 2007, 7:33am Top

Henri Barbusse--Under Fire is all about the trench warfare at the front. Humprhey Cobb--wrote Paths of Glory which was later made into a movie by Stanley Kubrick. Ernst Junger might be another to check out. Also on the Eastern front there is August 1914 by the Russian Nobelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Feb 19, 2007, 2:50pm Top


Trying again to get rid of those dratted italics, having sought instructions elsewhere.

Assuming that it worked, I'd like to recommend historian Barbara Tuchman's The Proud Tower, about the pre-WWI world. I found it fascinating.

26infogal First Message
Feb 21, 2007, 4:02pm Top

About 10 to 15 years ago I read a novel set in England during contemporary times and World War I. As I recall the story involved a time travel aspect in which a young man accidentally passed through the time travel portal on a foggy evening, finding himself transferred from contemporary London to the battlegrounds of World War I.

I have the impression that the portal was a well-known London landmark but it might have been fictional. The landmark might have been called Harrow Gate (?) and that might have been the name of the novel, too, but I haven't found it under that title or variations.

I'm hoping that a LibraryThing reader might recognize the plotline or landmark so that I can reread this novel and possibly recommend it to other folks who enjoy historical fiction.

BTW, the novel might have been a British publication, it was quite thick, 400 pages or so, in hardback and I found it in a public library. Many thanks!

Edited: Feb 21, 2007, 6:11pm Top

Message 26: infogal

Whatever your book is, I'd love to read it! Have you seen the Name That Book group? You might get some help there.

Feb 28, 2007, 9:21am Top

I second the suggestion of A Very Long Engagement by Sebastien Japrisot even though it's post WWI it tells the story of what happened to a soldier of the War. I really enjoyed it, and others have recommended it as well.

Edited: Mar 6, 2007, 4:55am Top

Jeff Shaara's To the Last Man is very good. He uses the same stye that he brought to his Civil War books.

Also, for Barbara Tuchman fans, The Guns of August, which brought her to fame, and a much less well known work, The Zimmermann Telegram, that documents how an intercepted telegram accelerated the entrance of the US into the war. Tuchman was a brilliant hstorian who wrote equally as well.

Mar 6, 2007, 12:24pm Top

The Dark Ship by Anne Macleod was haunting.

"In the early hours of New Year's morning 1919, in a raging storm, the Iolaire, bringing troops back from WWI, sank on its entry to Stornaway Harbour, Isle of Lewis. Most on board perished. The island community was devastated and, in addition to its high loss of men in WWI, lost a further two hundred in its sinking. The Dark Ship opens as this Hebridean community is again preparing for war. It spans three generations and two world wars." *cover blurb

Edited: Mar 6, 2007, 1:05pm Top


I've read about The Dark Ship and thought it sounded fascinating--then for some reason never followed it up. Gotta put it on The List.

Mar 22, 2007, 8:21am Top

If you're looking for any mystery fiction....

+ British author Gillian Linscott has a terrific mystery series with Nell Bray, a WWI era suffragette, as her detective. I've only been able to find a few of her books in the States, but they are worth reading. They seem to span the years before, during, and after the war.

+ The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King is about Sherlock Holmes taking on an apprentice is post WWI-England. The war is never directly involved in the action, but it's always in the background. Minor characters who have returned from the war, comments on how the social community has changed. It's very well written and even if you don't seek out the rest of the series, this book could stand on its own.

+ Death at Wentwater Court is another WWI/Jazz era mystery, but to be hoenst, I found it so dull that I don't remember if the war figures in as a major point or not. I list it simply in case you like very light mysteries.

+ After the Armistice Ball is another book I didn't finish, but it seems to be dealing with the social and community changes in England after WWI.

+ River of Darkness by Rennie Airth is one that I haven't read, but is on my list. Apparently, it's about an inspector who must fight his post-War demons to track a murderer.

Mar 22, 2007, 9:38pm Top

Having read a few of the recommendations mentioned here, I now feel able to comment. I just finished Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks and it was stunning - I will need to read it twice more to really absorb it and understand the miserable environment the soldiers had to endure. I had to stop several times as he was describing going down in the tunnels. His descriptions, although not terribly graphic, still were enough to invoke feelings of claustrophobia. The book made me feel the futility of the war and how many lives were wasted there. My grandfather fought in the war and had lung damage caused by the gas. He died at the age of 62, and now I realize how young that was (as I am just 10 years short of that age myself)
A very long engagement has been mentioned a couple of times and although it was less descriptive of the war, it did evoke the same feelings about the needless loss of lives.
One book that hasn't been mentioned, was Broken Ground : a Novel by Jack Hodgins which isn't technically about World War I either, it's a Canadian novel that tells about the legacy left by the First World War when the soldiers came home. This is a distinctly Canadian novel, as it deals with a "Returning Soldiers Settlement" where veterans were yet again cheated and given less than they were promised and deserved. They do make the best they can of the situation, and you see the evolution of souls who are still tortured by their experiences in the war. All three books taught me a lot about the lives of the soldiers that fought for us. I was truly humbled and I wish I had paid more attention to my history studies in school. Now that I am old enough to appreciate those sacrifices, I see the same things happening yet again with today's wars.

Mar 30, 2007, 4:01pm Top

- re: The Beekeeper's Apprentice: I admit to being fond of this series, but in relating to World War I in particular, A Monstrous Regiment of Women would be my recommendation instead. It does feel like the second book in a series, but it does a nice job capturing the aftermath of the war.

Apr 1, 2007, 10:53pm Top

Andrew Mango's biography of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the title of which is "Ataturk," but I can't get the touchstones to give me the correct Ataturk book, though it can be found by going under the author's name. It's shocking to me how little is said of this military man who abolished the caliphate (!), attempted a secular state with a largely Muslim population smack-dab in the swathe of Muslim nations, did some serious redrawing of geographic boundaries that affects us to this day, involved in a genocide (Armenia), and had an unusual personal story--so many adopted girls and all.

Apr 22, 2007, 3:29pm Top

Anne Perry's books haven't been mentioned yet. She has written a series, starting with No Graves As Yet, then Shoulder The Sky(not correct touchstone), Angels in the Gloom, At Some Disputed Barricade and most recently We Shall Not Sleep. I haven't read the last two yet, but the first three are very compelling and I'm really looking forward to reading the last two soon.

The series follows an English family from the very beginning of the war, how they do their part, their griefs and struggles, all the while trying to solve a mystery that runs through the whole series, . I've found it wonderfully written, not quite as graphic as the Regeneration trilogy, but very good.

Apr 26, 2007, 4:43pm Top

I've read many, though sadly not all, of the Anne Perry books with Charlotte/Thomas Pitt team during the Victorian era. Really enjoyed them ... did try the "No Graves As Yet" book and couldn't quite get into it. Not sure why, as I like Anne Perry's writing style. Sigh!

Apr 27, 2007, 11:30pm Top

A good friend of mine is the same way duchess. She loves Anne Perry and has read all the Pitt and Monk series and is constantly recommending them to everyone she meets! She read No Graves As Yet and didn't like it at all so gave it to me and I was hooked. And while I enjoy the Pitt and Monk books, they don't grab me the same way as the WW1 books do. I wonder what the difference is? Interesting.

Apr 30, 2007, 3:38pm Top

I think, for me anyway, is the development of characters in the Perry's Thomas & Charlotte Pitt stories, plus the era it takes place in. She does throw in historical tidbits and location interests. That seemed to be lacking in the "No Graves As Yet" book, which both my Mom and I couldn't get into. Glad to hear someone enjoyed it.

May 11, 2007, 8:53am Top

I quite liked The Man from St. Petersburg by Ken Follett. Might be a bit too thriller-ish for some on the board, though. But I think he does a very good job at capturing the mindset of Russian Anarhists of the period.

I started as an audiobook Under Western Eyes by Conrad, but never finished it. And since it was in the nowadays just about archaic cassette format my library got rid of it right after I returned it. Anyone have any thoughts on that one? I've been mulling over looking for it again.

#29 - I'd be careful about the Guns of August. Later scholarship has overturned some of her claims, like the Russian Army broadcasting radio messages "in the clear." Apparently they did no such thing. (I think I read about this in Keegan's The first World War, but honestly am no longer quite sure.)

May 11, 2007, 9:13am Top

I haven't read a lot of fiction about the Western Front (the non-fiction is depressing enough!), but I would second the recommendation of Solzhenitsyn's August 1914-The Red Wheel 1 but look for the most recent edition as it has been re-edited by the author since his original departure from the Soviet Union and the subsequent collapse of the USSR. I just picked up the next volume (in translation) in this trilogy "November 1916-The Red Wheel II" (touchstones don't seem to work on this one I notice but it is listed in my library). If these interested you, you might also look at Red Cavalry by Isaac Babel, a series of stories based upon the authors own service in the fighting between Russia and Poland in the wake of the First World War.

Robert A. Mosher

Edited: Jul 6, 2007, 3:32pm Top

I'll second ee cummings The Enormous Room. He makes many poinant statements about war, America and Americans which merits a modern re-evaluation. Great stuff!


Jul 18, 2007, 12:28pm Top

Right now I am reading Burden of Desire by Robert MacNeil. It takes place in Halifax, Nova Scotia during WWI and centers around the explosion of the munitions ship that destroyed the city. Also at the center of the story are three main characters who form a love triangle of sorts. I am almost finished and so far the book is truly captivating. Not only does it have great historical detail but the ALL the characters are so very real. It touches on many issues like patriotism, death, religion, tragedy, love, honor, etc. I just can't wait to see how it ends.

Jul 19, 2007, 9:16pm Top

Don't miss Birdsong and A Very Long Engagement has some haunting scenes in the trenches.

A few i haven't seen mentioned:
The Charles Todd WWI mystery series featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge who is literally haunted by a fellow soldier he is responsible for having killed by firing squad. He becomes his alter ego/conscience and sidekick--in a very serious way--and their memories keep returning to the Somme.

More frivolous but lots of background:
Maisie Dobbs is the first of a series of mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear. Usually the mystery ties in to something that happened during the war or on the homefront because of the war.

When I remember the 'more serious' ones that are escaping me, I'll try to find this thread again LOL

Jul 19, 2007, 9:48pm Top

I haven't seen mentioned Susan Hill's Strange Meeting. It is worth reading - the friendship of two very different men blossoming amidst the horrors of the trenches...

Aug 16, 2007, 9:08pm Top

I am currently reading Three Day Road and it is very, very good. The story is about two Canadian Cree Indians who are snipers in WW1. Only one of the men comes home and his stories of the war and those of his aunt who cares for him( her tales are of her childhood in the Canadian bush) intertwine...the war scenes are very real .....

Aug 17, 2007, 11:37am Top

One book on World War I that I found compelling was Robert Graves memoir Good-bye to All That.

Aug 17, 2007, 11:37am Top

One book on World War I that I found compelling was Robert Graves memoir Good-bye to All That.

Oct 25, 2007, 9:39pm Top

A good WW1 book is Over the Top by Arthur Guy Empry. Empry was an American Who enlisted in the Canadian army to fight in WW1 before the U.S. entered the war. He wrote this memoir of his time in the trenches.
Altough not a novel in the true sence it almost reads like one.Empry went on to a movie and book career after the war
If you are more interest in the air war then In The Company Of Eagles by Ernest K. Gann it has been rated one of the finest books of this kind.
Ernest was an aviator, author, filmmaker, sailor, fisherman and conservationist. Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, many of his life experences were the bases for many of his furture books, which later became movies eg "island in the Sky", "The High and the Mighty"
The Blue Max by Jack D. Hunter
is very good also

Oct 25, 2007, 10:44pm Top

If you enjoy mysteries, then I second the above recommendations for:
-Rennie Airth's River of Darkness, one of the best mysteries I have read. There is also a sequel called The Blood-dimmed Tide.
- the Charles Todd series, which begins with A Test of Wills, and features Scotland Yard inspector and former WWI Captain Ian Rutledge, who spent 4 horrible years in the trenches. At the end of the war he is hospitalized for shell shock; his fiancee dumps him to marry someone else; and he tries to put his life back together, haunted by his terrible guilt that he lived while so many others died in the war. The first several books are set in 1919, and begin shortly after Rutledge leaves the hospital. The series starts slow and becomes more compelling.
- the Maisie Dobbs books by Jacqueline Winspear, about a former WWI nurse who becomes a consulting psychological detective. Also very good, with interesting characters.

Edited: Oct 26, 2007, 1:06pm Top

I would strongly recommend any of the four-book Otto Prohaska series by John Biggins, particularly A Sailor of Austria which deals with U-boat warfare in the Adriatic and The Two-Headed Eagle which deals with the air war on the Isonzo front. The other two books are just as good, though less concerned with events taking place during WWI. The Emperor's Coloured Coat is about the events leading up to WWI, including the Serbian conspiracy to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Tomorrow the World is sort of a prequel, concerning itself with an around-the-world cruise in 1901-1903 during which Otto Prohaska becomes an experienced sailor.

Mar 10, 2010, 3:59pm Top

At risk of making me sound immature, try Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo. Honestly, it's a very good book, if a slow starter.

Edited: Apr 10, 2010, 2:29am Top

The Somme by Lyn MacDonald.

Edited: Nov 1, 2013, 3:15pm Top

Kingdoms Fall - The Laxenburg Message by Edward Parr - here: http://www.librarything.com/work/14416216/book/103355156
A fun, enjoyable spy fiction set in WW1

Edited: May 10, 2013, 4:52pm Top

(I just posted this on another thread and copied it to this one.)

Passport to Hell and Nor the Years Condemn by Robin Hyde are two novels based on first-person accounts of Gallipoli and the trench warfare in France, from the viewpoint of a New Zealander with the ANZAC forces, who ended up in prison on his return to New Zealand.

I'd also recommend Pat Barker's trilogy: Regeneration, The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road. Goshawk Squadron, War Story, and Hornet's Sting by Derek Robinson are novels on the Royal Flying Corps.

Soon after the fact, John Buchan wrote History of the Great War in four volumes. Don't think it's in print: I got it in a rare book shop.

Given an interest in the literary traces of the war, I'd strongly recommend The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell. Chapters 20-22 in The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund DeWaal are recollections of his family's experience in Vienna before, during, and after the Great War: marvelous book.

I've got a collection of books on the ANZACs and the NZ Maori Battalion, and also on NZ nurses and VADs in the Great War: a specialised interest. I think most of the books are listed in my LT library.

May 10, 2013, 5:02pm Top

Arnold Zweig's Education before Verdun. Ian Hay's The first hundred thousand, which is about soldiers training for WWI and then shows their first experience of battle. Fritz Unruh's The way of sacrifice, which is about German soldiers and has a glancing similarity to All quiet on the Western front

May 10, 2013, 5:10pm Top

For fiction, I'd also recommend Sebastien Japrisot's Un long dimanche de fiançailles, translated into English as A Very Long Engagement. It is set around the life of a "white widow" -- a woman whose fiance died in the war, but who learns later on that there is some question about how and even if he died. It's a good portrayal of wartime and post war France. I think it was made into a movie, but I haven't seen that, just read the book, which made me a fan of the author and sent me scurrying to read everything else he wrote.

Mar 30, 2014, 7:05pm Top

N Quentin Woolf's The Death of the Poet - It’s the story of two men, one of whom is an officer on The Somme who commits an act that will haunt him for the rest of his life. The other lives eighty years later, is experiencing a different sort of trauma. They find their stories winding together in unexpected ways.

Apr 8, 2014, 6:03am Top

At present I am reading Edith Wharton's reports chronicling her experience of the front lines in France during the first World War. Fighting France: From Dunkerque to Belfort is full of great observations of both the people and the country she loved so much and is heading towards a five star read.

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