Are you looking for the best books about WW2 set around the world? Discover top World War II novels, including nonfiction, YA, and historical fiction.
Last year, I interviewed for a podcast about my favorite old books, new titles, and books that disappointed. Throughout that interview, I realized how many World War II novels a literary traveler reads each year. A LOT!
Does anyone else love WWII historical fiction like me? I fall into a trance with my teacher, Ruta Sepetys. Community-oriented WW2 novels such as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society become ingrained in my soul. These sweet and innocent people are my friends, too, right?
And why am I WWII book-obsessed? In order to grasp the true history of a country, readers and travelers must also understand the country’s role during times of war. How were everyday people affected? What values thrived? Whose hearts broke? How did humanity and love survive and persevere?
While there are endless must-read World War 2 books out there, these are some of the best books about WW2 for world travelers and history lovers.
Find WW2 literature across Europe, into Asia, and throughout the United States. Because I read and review a lot of indie authors, I hope you find a few new WW2 historical fiction, YA, and romance novels, too.
18 Of The Best Books About WW2:
- Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
- My MacArthur by Cindy Fazzi
- Indelible by Adelia Saunders
- Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
- Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
- Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse by Arthur Hittner
- The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
- A Separate Peace by John Knowles
- Woman at 1,000 Degrees by Hallgrímur Helgason and translated by Brian FitzGibbon
- The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah
- All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- Atonement by Ian McEwan
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
- The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
- The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
- Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
WW2 Books Set In Iceland & Italy
[The] Woman at 1,000 Degrees by Hallgrímur Helgason and translated by Brian FitzGibbon
CW: Rape, incest, and child death
One of my most ‘controversial’ books about World War 2, Women at 1,000 Degrees takes a unique look at Iceland’s role during the war. I both loved and wanted to scream at Herra.
Based on the first Prime Minister’s granddaughter, Helgason crafts the vile and honest protagonist, Herra. When not trolling the Internet, Herra recounts her childhood as her father joins Hitler’s army, a rare occurrence for Icelanders.
Herra is also dying from cancer in a garage where readers slowly learn about the horrors she faced as a displaced child of war. Warning: Herra’s life is violently intense.
A terrible mother, Herra is planning her cremation while frantically holding on to an old WWII hand grenade from her dad. A story you will love and hate, Woman at 1,000 is a newer (2018) WWII novel not to miss. Find a copy on Amazon.
Woman At 1000 Degrees is also a novel that I talked about on the podcast mentioned above–the interview that made me realize how many books about WW2 I read every year. You can listen to that podcast interview on Sarah’s Bookshelves here.
Also find Woman at 1,000 Degrees on TUL’s Icelandic Novels reading list.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Nominated as one of the best American novels for The Great American Read, Catch 22 is also one of the greatest classic books about WW2 that young adults usually read in high school but understand and appreciate better as adults.
I’ve read Catch 22 a few times and am probably due for a re-read.
Set in Italy during World War 2, bombardier Yossarian, is ironically a little upset that all of these people are trying to take him out of commission. He’s even more worried that his own army is going to kill him before the enemy does. Yossarian wants out but how?
Yossarian finds himself in a Catch-22: He can’t claim insanity to get out of the army because doing so most likely proves the opposite.
Darkly comedic and satiric, grab Catch-22 here on Amazon.
Best Books About WW2 Set In France
The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah
The Nightingale is one of the most beloved WW2 books for readers looking to visualize the effects of war on families.
Imagine being left alone in 1939 in France as your husband heads to war. The Nazis invade, taking over your home with you and your daughter.
This is exactly the situation that Vianne finds herself in as she risks losing it all, including her life. On the other side of the front, Vianne’s sister, Isabelle finds herself betrayed by love and entering the Resistance.
If you enjoy women’s historical fiction, The Nightingale is the perfect WWII novel for you. A Goodreads Best Historical Novel of the Year, People’s Choice Favorite Fiction Winner, and a Buzzfeed Best Book of the Year, Kristen Hannah once again captivates audiences with her storytelling abilities.
Find your copy of The Nightingale: Amazon
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Finalist, librarians rave that All The Light We Cannot See is one the best World War 2 novels.
Marie-Laure lives with her father and is blind from the young age of six. Her dad builds her a replica of their city so that she can find her way around. Both are forced to flee to an uncle’s home when the Nazis invade Paris.
Farther away in a German town, Werner is an orphan who joins Hitler’s Youth for his talents. On an assignment to undermine the Resistance, Werner crosses paths with Marie-Laure.
A story of unlikely friendship and war along with a hidden jewel, All The Light We Cannot See is a beautiful and tragic story about opposing sides and survival.
Find your copy of All The Light We Cannot See: Amazon
Find All The Light We Cannot See on this Anti-Valentine’s Day Books About Love reading list.
Best World War 2 Novels Set In England
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Before entering my freshman year of college, we had to read World War 2 novel, Atonement. For some reason, I still find this an odd selection but…it was Smith.
In 1935, Briony witnesses her sister Cecilia and childhood friend Robbie engage in a harmless incident that her young mind reimagines. Both Robbie and Cecilia have romantic feelings for each other but all Briony can see is ill intent.
Prejudices and jealously cause Robbie’s wrongful imprisonment for rape. He finishes his sentence by enlisting in the war. While Briony eventually decides she must atone for her lies, Robbie and Cecilia have become victims of war.
A classic World War II novel, Atonement is now also a movie.
Find your copy of Atonement here: Amazon
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
One of the best books about WW2 for shy romance lovers and my personal favorite, I enjoyed both listening to the audiobook and watching The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.
With WWII ending, in 1946, Juliet is looking for new inspiration for her next book. Birthed out of an alibi for breaking curfew during the war, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is still alive, capturing Juliet’s interest.
Juliet heads to Guernsey to meet with its quirky members and becomes one with their family, helping raise an orphaned child of war and falling in love.
A sweet story about community and history full of amiable characters, you cannot help but love the literary feel and camaraderie.
Find your copy of this WW2 fiction book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on Amazon.
Books About WW2 Set In Germany
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I love reading YA books. If you are looking for some of the best books about WW2 for young adults, I highly recommend starting with The Book Thief.
Set in Nazi Germany in 1939 and narrated by Death (yes, you heard me right), Liesel is a foster child who loves reading.
Raised by new foster parents, Liesel learns to read as the town holds a book burning to celebrate Hitler’s birthday. A child after my own heart, she steals a book–a habit she retains throughout her youth.
During the war, her family hides their Jewish friend, Max, in the basement, who Liesel befriends.
Throughout the course of WWII, Liesel witnesses death after death and begins writing her own story. She forms friendships and finds the true meaning of freedom and love. Some compare The Book Thief to a fictional read-alike for Anne Frank’s Diary. Read More→
Grab your copy of The Book Thief on Amazon.
Find even more titles like The Book Thief on this Books That Make You Think reading list.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
A short and fast WW2 historical fiction book for teens, don’t let the length of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas fool you.
Also made into a major motion picture, meet 9-year-old Bruno who befriends a young boy in ‘striped pajamas’ on the other side of a fence. Unfortunately for Bruno, who does not understand the consequences of war, this friendship has deadly consequences.
Living in and then outside of Berlin during WWII, Bruno has no idea that he lives next door to a Jewish concentration camp. His dad is promoted to Commandant in Hitler’s army, and the story speaks to the innocence of children. The end is touching and shocking, yet evitable.
Find your copy of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: Amazon
Must Read World War 2 Novels Based In The Netherlands
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
It goes without saying that The Diary of a Young Girl is one of the most well-known World War 2 nonfiction books. In American public schools, most of us have read Anne Frank’s diary.
As Anne is on the brink of her 13th Birthday, the Nazis invade Holland. She and her Jewish family hide in the attic of a shop but are ultimately discovered. Throughout her time in concealment, Anne records her thoughts and dreams that she will never see through to fruition.
We visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam a few years ago where you can still see photos of movie stars pinned to the walls. The somber feeling of Anne’s hiding spot as you ascend the staircase behind the bookshelf brings to life the terrors caused by the Nazis in everyday lives.
Find your copy of one of the most famous books about WW2, The Diary of a Young Girl: Amazon
Find even more Holocaust Books For High School and Middle School Students here.
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
One of the books about WW2 in my TBR pile is Girl in the Blue Coat. Having won numerous awards, like Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery, Girl in the Blue Coat takes place in 1943 in the Netherlands.
Hanneke collects and sells goods on the black market. She is drawn into WW2 as a client asks her to find a Jewish teenager on the run. A dangerous mission, she becomes part of the Resistance and learns more about the atrocities of war.
If you are looking for World War II novels for young adults with a strong female lead, Girl in the Blue Coat is about courage, love, and loss.
Find your copy of Girl in the Blue Coat: Amazon
Best World War 2 Novels Set In The Baltics
Indelible by Adelia Saunders
Indelible is a WW2 fiction book that takes readers across multiple landscapes and timeframes. Although mostly set in modern-day Paris, we learn about Magdalena’s past in post-Soviet Lithuania.
Magdalena has a special ability and curse: She can see people’s truths tattooed across their faces. Many tattoos also foreshadow their tragic futures.
Although Indelible is a contemporary WW2 novel about moving forward, readers subtly learn about the effects of WWII on Magdalena’s family, friends, and one scary roommate.
The storyline alternates perspectives from Magdalena to a student studying abroad in Paris named Neil, and Neil’s father–Richard–who is searching for the truth about his estranged, deceased mother.
Check out TUL’s full review of Indelible by Adelia Saunders→
Find a copy of Indelible, a lesser-known book about WWII and modern-day Lithuania, on Amazon.
Also read more about Indelible on this Baltic Books reading list.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
TW for rape and violence.
Salt to the Sea is one of the best books about World War 2 for teens that adults will also get caught up in.
While most of us know about the sinking of the Lusitania and Titanic, few have heard about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, even though it is the largest maritime disaster in history.
Sepetys is infamous for shedding light on untold stories. More than 9,000 refugees drowned on the Wilhelm Gustloff. Fleeing from the Soviets moving in on fallen German territory, civilians had no choice. Many left behind homes and family.
Through four teens’ stories, Sepetys shares the brutal effects of WWII on youth in the Baltics and along the Baltic Sea. As a thrilling WW2 historical book, I would not miss Salt to the Sea. See TUL’s full book review of Salt to the Sea→
Find a copy of Salt to the Sea on Amazon. If you are looking for thoughtful Salt to the Sea discussion questions, we’ve made a list for you here.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Once again, Sepetys proves that she writes the best World War II novels for teens.
Now a motion picture–Ashes in the Snow–follow along with 15-year-old Lina as she is crammed into a crowded train headed for a Siberian work camp with her mother and brother. Taken from their Lithuanian home, Lina is separated from her father and tries to contact him via coveted drawings.
Lina is a small crossover character in Salt to the Sea. Once again, Sepetys braves an overshadowed story of youth caught in the crossfires of war.
Between Shades of Gray is a heart-wrenching but realistic WW2 historical fiction novel that eats at your soul. This famous WW2 book is also an award-winning title as a Carnegie Medal nominee, a William C. Morris Award finalist, a Golden Kite Award winner, and an NYT bestseller.
Find your copy of Between Shades of Gray here: Amazon
Must Read World War 2 Books Set in the United States
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
The basis for two movies, Unbroken is one of the most famous nonfiction books about WW2.
Louis Zamperini, a once athlete in the Berlin Olympics, becomes an airman–having no idea the fate that awaits him.
In May of 1943, his plane crashes over the Pacific Ocean, leaving him lost at sea and floating on a precarious raft. Watch Zamperini preserves through endless hardship after hardship.
Find your copy of Unbroken on Amazon.
Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse by Arthur Hittner
If you loved The Art Forger, you will equally enjoy indie author Arthur Hittner’s lesser-known WW2 historical fiction novel, Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse.
Based loosely on artist Harold J. Rabinovitz (1915-1944) as well as prominent baseball players and painters, fall into the NYC social scene in the 1930s and ’40s. Artist, Solider… is one of my favorite historical fiction WWII romance novels of 2018.
Fair warning that while this title takes place during WWII and the Great Depression, readers find more of a love story in the world of art. Tragically, though, our protagonist and pacifist Henry Kapler cannot escape going to war.
Watch as Kaplar falls in love with two women. Read TUL’s full review of Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse→
Find a copy of this World War 2 romance novel on Amazon.
The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult is always hit or miss author for me.
The Storyteller shares multiple characters’ perspectives about the past and present. Although not typically known for World War II books, Picoult paints a memorable picture of the effects of war.
Sage is a small-town baker with a scar on her face. Her blemish acts as a constant reminder of losing her mom in a car crash.
A loner and unable to forgive herself, she meets an older man, Josef, at her grief group. Josef confesses that he has committed terrible atrocities and wants to die with Sage’s help.
With characters connected to Sage’s grandmother, Minka, who is a Holocaust survivor, readers personally enter different perspectives from WWII.
True to Picoult, there are twists and turns along the way where everything is predictable but nothing is as it seems. One of the best World War 2 novels about love, loss, and forgiveness, Picoult captures the effects of war on every side.
Find your copy of The Storyteller: Amazon
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
A Separate Peace is probably one of the most famous classic books about WW2 that most of us read in school.
Set against the backdrop of WWII, Gene and Finny navigate coming of age in a New England prep school in New Hampshire. Although somewhat playful rivals, an accident and dare changes Finny’s life.
The novel paints a picture of war and the effects on youth in a different light than Sepetys. As the young boys begin to enlist, they witness more than they can understand, which takes a toll on their minds.
A National Book Award finalist, A Separate Peace is an old school World War II novel about innocence, guilt, and growing up.
The Chosen by Chaim Potok (New York City) is a similar book set in Brooklyn about two rival boys growing up and becoming friends.
Find your copy of A Separate Peace: Amazon
Books About WW2 Set In The Philippines
My MacArthur by Cindy Fazzi
If you are looking for books about WW2 that are extra unique and indie, try My MacArthur.
Everyone has heard of the infamous war general, Douglas MacArthur. The story that few know, though, is his relationship with younger Filipina lover, Isabel Rosario Cooper.
A World War 2 historical romance based loosely in fact, My MacArthur begins at the brink of WWII. This is not your typical MacArthur story.
Set in the Philippines and moving to the United States, indie author Cindy Fazzi introduces readers to Isabel’s life full of socio-economic and racial turmoil along with her testy and cruel lover. MacArthur is addicted to Isabel, but he cannot give her the life she desires when his reputation is at stake.
Which of these books about WW2 have you read or are you adding to your list? What are the best World War 2 novels of all time, to you?
There are endless World War 2 books that you can read. These are just a few that taught me even more through different perspectives–young and old–from around the world.
What WW2 novels would you add to this list? Are there any WWII books that you did not like? Please let us know in the comments.
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