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Memoirs of war and conflict: A reading list

August 7, 2015

Tags: war, conflict

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung. "Twenty-five years after the rise of the Khmer Rouge, this powerful account is a triumph."~PW

With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E. B. Sledge. "He ... turns the extremes of the war in the Pacific—the terror, the camaraderie, the banal and the extraordinary—into terms we mortals can grasp.”—Tom Hanks

Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War: An Oral History by Wallace Terry. Twenty black men tell the story of how members of their race were sent off in disproportionate numbers and faced a special test of patriotism. A Notable Book of the Year (NY Times)

Dispatches by Michael Herr. Some consider it the best book about the war in Vietnam, capturing "the almost hallucinatory madness of the war" (PW).

An Ordinary Man: An Autobiography by
Paul Rusesabagina, the many who inspired the movie Hotel Rwanda. "As Rwanda was thrown into chaos during the 1994 genocide, Rusesabagina, a hotel manager, turned the luxurious Hotel Milles Collines into a refuge for more than 1,200 Tutsi and moderate Hutu refugees, while fending off their would-be killers with a combination of diplomacy and deception. In An Ordinary Man, he tells the story of his childhood, retraces his accidental path to heroism, revisits the 100 days in which he was the only thing standing between his 'guests' and a hideous death, and recounts his subsequent life as a refugee and activist."

Survival in the Killing Fields by Haing Ngor (surviving the Pol Pot regime -- the Cambodian holocaust)

When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge by Chanrithy Him

Madness Visible: A Memoir of War by Janine di Giovanni (a correspondent for The Times of London writes about the wars in the Balkans that led to the breakup of Yugoslavia)

My Father, My Son by Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Jr., and his son Lieut. Elmo Zumwalt III with John Pekkanen. PW: Admiral Zumwalt ordered the Agent Orange defoliation during the Vietnam war, in part to protect sailors such as his son, Elmo III, who was involved in the riverine aspect of fighting. Years later, the son developed two kinds of terminal cancer, and his own son, Russell, was discovered to have a severe learning disability.

Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa by Peter Godwin. "This white boy discovers the heart of darkness in the rural paradise where he was raised. Both ironic and intensely committed, Godwin's memoir captures the privileged settlers' experience over the last 30 years, when the country that was Southern Rhodesia changed from white to majority rule and became Zimbabwe....Civil war erupts; he's conscripted into the army, and he finds himself part of a brutal oppression."~Booklist

The Face of War by Martha Gellhorn. The celebrated war correspondent's accounts of wars covered from the Spanish civil war in 1937 through the wars in Central America in the mid-1980s. "A brilliant anti-war book that is as fresh as if written for this morning."-Herbert Mitgang, NY Times

Bravo Two Zero: The Harrowing True Story of a Special Forces Patrol Behind the Lines in Iraq by Andy McNab (three eight-man patrol teams dropped into the enemy desert with the goal of destroying Saddam Hussein’s prized Scud missiles)

Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War by William Manchester. "The most moving memoir of combat on WW II that I have ever read. A testimony to the fortitude of man...a gripping, haunting, book." ~ William L. Shirer

A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo (who explains " “the things men do in war and the things war does to men”)

What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes. "Marlantes presents a riveting, powerfully written account of how, after being taught to kill, he learned to deal with the aftermath.”-PW.
"I have read many, many books on war and this is the first time that I've ever read exactly what the combat veteran thinks and feels—nothing I have ever read before has hit home in my heart like this book.”—Gunnery Sergeant Terence D’Alesandro, 3rd Batallion, 5th Marines, U.S. Marine Corps

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. The story of Louie Zamperini--a juvenile delinquent from Torrance, California (my home town) who became an Olympic runner in 1936 and then an an Army Air Corps bombardier, surviving a plane crash in the Pacific and then the horrors of the Japanese POW camp. Reads like a memoir, and was made into a wonderful movie.

Parachute Infantry: An American Paratrooper's Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich by David Kenyon Webster. "A permanent private with the soul of a short- timer, he had many complaints about the chain of command, in particular its propensity for thoroughly briefing the troops before any action and leaving them in the dark once the shooting started. He also understood that the ties that bind men in battle have more to do with brotherhood and its obligations than either God or country."-Kirkus

As Far as My Feet Will Carry Me: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Escape from a Siberian Labor Camp and His 3-Year Trek to Freedom by Josef M. Bauer. In 1944, German paratrooper Clemens Forell was captured by the Soviets and sentenced to twenty-five years of labor in a Siberian lead mine. This is partly a story of the horrors faced by POWs in the Soviet Union. Driven to desperation by the brutality of the prison camp, he staged a daring escape.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (a new edition, restoring 30% of manuscript deleted in earliest editions). Written in an Amsterdam warehouse, where for two years she hid from the Nazis with her family and friends, the diary survives because of "its riveting blend of the grubby particulars of life during wartime (scant, bad food; shabby, outgrown clothes that can't be replaced; constant fear of discovery) and candid discussion of emotions familiar to every adolescent (everyone criticizes me, no one sees my real nature, when will I be loved?)."--PW

A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy by Thomas Buergenthal. "A 10-year-old inmate in August 1944 at Birkenau, Buergenthal was one of the death camp's youngest prisoners. He miraculously survived, thanks, among others, to a friendly kapo who made him an errand boy. Buergenthal's authentic, moving tale reveals that his lifelong commitment to human rights sprang from the ashes of Auschwitz."~PW

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom with Elizabeth and John Sherrill. After being arrested in 1944 for helping Jews and underground workers escape the Nazi regime, Corrie spent the last year of World War II in various prison camps.

German Boy: A Child in War by Wolfgang W. E. Samuel Life as a child refugee (confused and frightened) in postwar Germany, constantly searching for food and a haven.

Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS by Elizabeth P. McIntosh. 4000 women served in the Office of Strategic Services, America's WW II intelligence agency. Here are the stories of about 100 of them -- clandestine spies, saboteurs, cryptographers, cartographers, analysts, and experts in propaganda, recruiting, and communications, drivers and secretaries. Someone should reprint McIntosh's Undercover Girl.

Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte. Sent to Russia by the newspaper Corriere della Sera to cover Hitler's glorious victory over the Bolsheviks, Malaparte instead witnessed the drawn-out Nazi defeat on the Eastern Front. This book is part memoir, part novel. "a sad, astonishing, horrifying and lyrical book...essential for any human understanding of World War II."~Margaret Atwood

Quartered Safe Out Here: A Harrowing Tale of World War II by George MacDonald Fraser. This "account of his experiences as a soldier in the Burma Campaign, is as vivid, compassionate, and courageous a picture of small-scale fighting as any the Second World War produced."~National Review

Not a memoir, but given the hero, worth listing here: • No Better Friend: One Man, One Dog, and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival in WWII by Robert Weintraub. See also Judy: A Dog in a Million: From Runaway Puppy to the World's Most Heroic Dog by Damien Lewis (about Judy, the only animal POW held during WW II)

Have I left out a memoir of war or conflict that you highly recommend? Give me the title and author's name and tell me what you like about the book.