Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What it was like

Some WWII book recommendations. Lately, I've been most interested in first hand accounts, or novels written by those who actually experienced the war. Soon everyone who did will be gone.

Related posts: Bitter Defeat, Les Bienveillantes: The Kindly Ones.

Unfortunately some of the books listed below are hard to find, unless you have access to a good library.

Curzio Malaparte: The novels Kaputt and The Skin are worth reading, but The Volga Rises in Europe, which is a collection of dispatches from the Eastern Front, is priceless. His dispatches were censored, but have been collected with the author's additional comments.

Ernst Junger: The Details of Time (interview), Chatwin profile in NY Review of Books. I had high hopes for his journals, particularly his recollections of occupied Paris and trips to the east, but they are a bit disappointing.

Tapping Hitler's Generals: Transcripts of Secret Conversations, 1942-1945. Farm Hall for captured German generals. Who knew what, when? More here. Those tricky Englanders!

Life and Death in the Third Reich: a historian confronts the hard questions. Diaries and letters reveal the attitudes of average Germans. Excellent interview (podcast). Was Goldhagen right?

Ka-Tzetnik: The House of Dolls. Only if you have a strong stomach. It's pulp, but Feiner can write.

The Sound of His Horn: Science fiction, but deeply disturbing. Read online. More here.


Nameless said...

I suggest that you try to find some sources with Soviet perspective of the war. They are hard to find. (Especially considering the amount of such literature available in Russian.) For example, Marshal Zhukov's memoirs exist in English, but they've been in print once, in 1970, and you won't find them except perhaps in a big city library. Unfortunately, many westerners end up with a remarkably distorted "Enemy at the gates"-like picture of the Eastern Front.

Unknown said...

Apparently, even when it comes to leadership, IQ scores over 120 matter. Here are the IQ scores of leading Nazis:

Unknown said...

I wonder how close the Japanese were to getting the bomb?

Here is some important information on the (much denied) Rape of Nanking:

20,000-80,000 Chinese women were raped by the Japanese, and hundreds of thousands of Chinese were murdered.

Unknown said...


I would also recommend this for your readers:

It is an interview with Giles MacDonogh.

"Giles sets the record straight by chronicling what can only be seen as an Allied campaign of vengeance. They pillaged and raised much of Germany and they raped, massacred, starved, and deported millions of Germans."

Atrocities happened. And they happen today as well, be it in Africa or the Middle East (less so in Europe, Asia, or America, today). Thinking about it makes me sad.

Steve Hsu said...

Re: Soviet perspective, I've read Vasily Grossman's collected dispatches. Those are good but he was subject to more political control than Malaparte, who was in a special situation as an Italian traveling with the German army.

I listen to the New Books in History podcast -- it's often excellent.

Unknown said...

Another recommendation:
Zeljko Cipris' translation of Ishikawa Tatsuzo's "Soldiers Alive"

xyz said...

for first hand account? "A Woman in Berlin" by Anonymous. It covers the days when the Soviets entered Berlin froma a (berlinese journalist woman)'s perspective. Short, direct, but intense read. Snippet:

"No question about it: I have to find a single wolf to keep away the pack," she writes. "An officer, as high-ranking as possible, a commandant, a general, whatever I can manage. After all, what are my brains for ..."

Steve Hsu said...

Re: A Woman in Berlin, see the Bitter Defeat post I link to above.

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