Second World War Books for Adults

The Second World War is one of the most important wars in history and its impact is still felt across the world up to this day. Our Second World War books cover every part of the conflict, from the countries and locations involved to stories of the individuals who fought on the front lines or on home ground. Plus, we have Holocaust books that give insight into the most horrific part of this brutal war. So, take a look through our WW2 books to see what you can learn about this fascinating part of British and world history.

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1. The Freedom Trials: Escaping Hitler

Monty Halls

Monty Halls' incredible book is a companion to the Channel 4 series and tells the stories of those who fled Nazi Germany and the difficult routes they took. Monty focuses on the British, Commonwealth and American soldiers that travelled across Europe and the members of the resistance who, despite the dangers that faced them, kept the routes open. Informed by interviews from survivors, extensive research and his own experiences walking the trials, Monty's book is a compelling glimpse into a terrifying part of history.

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2. Defending the Rock

Nicholas Rankin

An often overlooked topic in the history of the Second World War is how Gibraltar managed to hold off attacks and keep the 25 miles of tunnels hidden under the ground a secret. Despite being in a vulnerable position, Gibraltar's location was utilised in 1942 by US General Eisenhower when he organised an invasion of North Africa. Discover the vital role Gibraltar played in helping the Allies to victory in the Second World War.

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3. The Holocaust

Laurence Rees

Laurence Rees has been interviewing survivors and perpetrators of the Holocaust for 25 years with the aim of finding out what happened during one of the darkest moments in history and why. This book combines these eye witness accounts with research and detailed information on the history of the Holocaust and how it impacted the whole of Europe. This book truly is a powerful glance into the shocking truths of the Holocaust.

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4. Imperial War Museum's History Collection - 3 Books

Each of the books in this collection from the Imperial War Museum focuses on a different part of the First and Second World Wars. A Prayer for Gallipoli tells the story of the chaplain, Kenneth Best, who worked in pastoral care with the soldiers on the frontline of World War One. In The Secret History of the Blitz, the attention is on those who were not in the centre of the fighting but were facing the forces of the war on their home turfs. D-Day to Victory uses the diaries of a British tank commander to show what the end of the war was like for those that were at the centre of it. If you have a big interest in military history, this collection gives you plenty of reading material to keep you busy.

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5. The Secret War

Sir Max Hastings

In this unusual look into the history of the Second World War, Max Hastings explores the espionage and secret intelligence work that went on behind the scenes to in order for the Allies to secure their victory. Focusing on the people who worked tirelessly on all sides of the war, this book is a fascinating account of espionage across the world, from Britain to Germany to the Soviet Union and more. This book is an excellent glimpse into the spies, codes and guerrillas that worked in secret during the biggest war the world has seen.

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6. Britain's War

Daniel Todman

This book focuses on the lead-up to and beginnings of World War Two in Britain, starting in 1937 with the coronation of George VI and ending in December 1941. Daniel Todman tells the story of the effect the declaration of war had on the people of Britain and how every individual had their lives completely changed forever. This book provides an interesting snapshot into a country on the brink of war and how a whole nation stands to attention when that war begins.

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7. Mapping the Second World War

Peter Chasseaud

Published in association with the Imperial War Museums, this fascinating map book by Peter Chasseaud is the perfect visual guide to the landscapes of war. The book has 150 maps from all over the world documenting where and how the war was fought, including the locations of key battles. Plus, these maps are taken from a range of sources, including newspapers, propaganda and more to give a full insight into the way the war was presented and how it was really fought.

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For more riveting war reads, take a look at our full selection of Second World War books.

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    The most terrible emergency in Britain's history, the Second World War required an unprecedented national effort. An exhausted country had to fight an unexpectedly long war and found itself much diminished amongst the victors. Yet the outcome of the war was nonetheless a triumph, not least for a political system that proved well adapted to the demands of a total conflict and for a population who had to make many sacrifices but who were spared most of the horrors experienced in the rest of Europe. Britain's War is a narrative of these epic events, an analysis of the myriad factors that shaped military success and failure, and an explanation of what the war tells us about the history of modern Britain. As compelling on the major military events as he is on the experience of ordinary people living through exceptional times, Todman suffuses his extraordinary book with a vivid sense of a struggle which left nobody unchanged - and explores why, despite terror, separation and deprivation, Britons were overwhelmingly willing to pay the price of victory. This volume begins with the coronation of George VI and ends with the disasters in the Far East in December 1941. A second volume will tell the story from 1942 to Indian independence in 1947.
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    Examining the espionage and intelligence stories of World War II, on a global basis, bringing together the British, American, German, Russian and Japanese histories. Spies, codes and guerrillas played critical roles in the Second World War, exploited by every nation in the struggle to gain secret knowledge of its foes, and to sow havoc behind the fronts. In 'The Secret War', Max Hastings presents a worldwide cast of characters and some extraordinary sagas of intelligence and Resistance, to create a new perspective on the greatest conflict in history. Here are not only Alan Turing and the codebreaking geniuses of Bletchley Park, but also their German counterparts, who achieved their own triumphs against the Allies. Hastings plots the fabulous espionage networks created by the Soviet Union in Germany and Japan, Britain and America, and explores the puzzle of why Stalin so often spurned his agents, who reported from the heart of the Axis war machine. The role of SOE and American's OSS as sponsors of guerrilla war are examined, and the book tells the almost unknown story of Ronald Seth, an SOE agent who was 'turned' by the Germans, walked the streets of Paris in a Luftwaffe uniform, and baffled MI5, MI6 and the Abwehr as to his true loyalty. Also described is the brilliantly ruthless Russian deception operation which helped to secure the Red Army's victory at Stalingrad, a ruse that cost 70,000 lives. 'The Secret War' links tales of high courage ashore, at sea and in the air to the work of the brilliant 'boffins' at home, battling the enemy's technology. Most of the strivings, adventures and sacrifices of spies, Resistance, Special Forces and even of the codebreakers were wasted, Hastings says, but a fraction was so priceless that no nation grudged lives and treasure spent in the pursuit of jewels of knowledge. The book tells stories of high policy and human drama, mingled in the fashion that has made international bestsellers of Max Hastings' previous histories, this time illuminating the fantastic machinations of secret war.
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    This landmark work answers two of the most fundamental questions in history - how, and why, did the Holocaust happen? Laurence Rees has spent twenty-five years meeting survivors and perpetrators of the Holocaust. Now, in his magnum opus, he combines their enthralling eyewitness testimony, a large amount of which has never been published before, with the latest academic research to create the first accessible and authoritative account of the Holocaust in more than three decades. This is a new history of the Holocaust in three ways. First, and most importantly, Rees has created a gripping narrative that that contains a large amount of testimony that has never been published before. Second, he places this powerful interview material in the context of an examination of the decision making process of the Nazi state, and in the process reveals the series of escalations that cumulatively created the horror. Third, Rees covers all those across Europe who participated in the deaths, and he argues that whilst hatred of the Jews was always at the epicentre of Nazi thinking, what happened cannot be fully understood without considering the murder of the Jews alongside plans to kill millions of non-Jews, including homosexuals, 'Gypsies' and the disabled. Through a chronological, intensely readable narrative, featuring enthralling eyewitness testimony and the latest academic research, this is a compelling new account of the worst crime in history.
  • MSWW
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    This informative book contains 150 maps that demonstrate how - and where - the Second World War was fought around the world.

    Published in association with the Imperial War Museums, it features everything from small-scale maps of country boundaries to large-scale maps of the key battles.

    Alongside the maps are photographs and expert commentary on the conflict that lasted from 1939-1945. There are also trench maps, maps from newspapers and key propaganda.
  • Imperial War Museum's History Collection - 3 Books - Collection - 9781471162497
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    Published in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum, this three-book collection brings together a fascinating and authoritative social history of the Second World War.

    A Prayer for Gallipoli covers the Great War from the point of view of a chaplain. Kenneth Best had no military training, so to fulfil his pastoral role, he had to get close to the front line and work with troops as they were under fire. As his empathy for the troops grew larger, he became more and more disgusted with their leaders. These diaries provide an insight into the horrific realities of trench warfare.

    The Secret History of the Blitz by Joshua Levine looks at the people that are not normally mentioned during accounts of the War - those spivs, outcasts and unsung heroes who were in the shadows; and D-Day to Victory features the diaries of a British tank commander as the war finally came to an end.

    All written using archive and primary sources, these are candid and compelling reads about the triumphs and tragedies of war.
  • FTEH
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    A companion to the brilliant Channel 4 series of the same name, The Freedom Trails: Escaping Hitler tells the incredible story of some of the brave individuals who managed to escape Nazi Germany.

    Over 5,000 British, Commonwealth and American servicemen made the journey over the Pyrenees, the Slovenian mountains and the Italian alps and many died en route. However, the brave men and women of the resistance still managed to defy the odds and keep the routes open.

    Among those you'll read about are Blondie Haslar, the leader of the Cockleshell Heroes, US airman Chuck Yaeger (whose story was retold in The Right Stuff) and Andree de Jongh, a young woman who risked her life to smuggle men through occupied France and survived being sent to two concentration camps.

    Based on in-depth research and interviews with survivors as well as his own experiences walking the trails, broadcaster and former Royal Marine Monty Halls book is dramatic and gripping from first page to last.
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    Nicholas Rankin, the bestselling author of Churchill's Wizards, examines how Gibraltar - a lone outpost of the British Empire, riddled with tunnels, spies and secrets - managed to hold off attacks by land, sea and air to help the Allies win the Second World War.

    Two months before his death, Adolf Hitler realised where it had gone wrong - he failed to seize Gibraltar in 1940. A pillar of British sea power since 1704, the Rock of Gibraltar looked formidable but was also very vulnerable.

    Gibraltar was menaced on all sides by Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Vichy France and Francoist Spain and had to let thousands of people cross its frontier to work every day - many of whom were eager to blow up its 25 miles of secret tunnels.

    Eventually in 1942, Gibraltar became US General Eisenhower's HQ for the invasion of North Africa and it was this campaign that led to the Allies' victory. This revelatory book features the likes of Haile Selassie, Anthony Burgess and General Sikorsi and sets Gibraltar in the wider context of the struggle against fascism. It also covers its role in the Spanish Civil War and its people's rise to independence.