One of the most interesting things about World War 1 is that many historians can’t seem to agree on why it was fought in the first place. What’s more is that if we don’t understand why the world went to war in 1914, it’s hard to tell how it ended and what the consequences are.
Even with more than a hundred years of reflection and conversation, there isn’t a clear-cut reason that World War 1 ever existed. Therefore, even with the extreme loss of life and significant horrors of life in the trenches, World War 1 is often considered a futile war.
Best Books on World War 1
Even with this perceived futility, some authors and historians have taken on the challenge of writing books about World War 1 in order to help readers draw their own conclusions about the conflict.
Countless history books, nonfiction masterpieces, and a few fiction works have been completed over the last century to help put the pieces together. Here, we’re talking about some of the best books on World War 1.
Best Books About World War 1
As with anything as historically significant as World War 1, it’s impossible to fit everything into one book. If you’re interested in learning more about the Great War, it’s only possible if you’re willing to read multiple volumes.
But, it doesn’t all have to be boring, mundane, encyclopedic-style books. Some authors, journalists, and historians have been able to beautifully construct a piece of work that’s not only educational but gripping and interesting as well.
To help you at the bookstore, we’ve split up our list into three parts: history books, non-fiction books, and a case for how even fiction books about World War 1 can be beneficial.
Best World War 1 History Books
Starting with history books, those that made the list aren’t what you’d typically find in a school curriculum. Instead, they’re broad explanations of World War 1 in a way that’s, hopefully, more objective, captivating, and won’t have writing prompts at the end of every chapter.
#3 The First World War by Michael Howard
If you’re interested in World War 1, The First World War has been deemed the best place to start. It’s a remarkably concise, readable introduction to the broad scope of the events of World War 1.
Howard fought in World War 2 and earned a medal of his own so he knows a thing or two about warfare from his own first-hand experience. Overall, The First World War brings readers an objective, balanced, and introductory view of World War 1.
#2 The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell
Since its publication in 1970, The Great War and Modern Memory has been critically acclaimed. It won the National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and was named one of the 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of the 20th century by Modern Library.
It’s an unapologetic account of World War 1 that feels as fresh as the day it was written offering new perspectives and challenges to the way we think about this period in human history.
#1 The World Crisis, 1911-1918 by Winston Churchill
In true Churchill fashion, you can expect a marvelous account written with exceptional finesse. The World Crisis is incredible because of Churchill’s widespread experience with World War 1, first as First Lord of the Admiralty, then as an infantry commander in France, further as a member of the British Parliament, and finally as the Minister of Munitions.
Best World War 1 Books: Nonfiction
While history books can offer a wide view of World War 1, the following nonfiction books about the Great War are a bit more focused and narrow in scope. From actual tactics used by national armies to the cultural implications of a global conflict, these nonfiction books about World War 1 are some of the best.
#3 Learning to Fight: Military Innovation and Change in the British Army by Aimee Fox
If you’re here, you’re probably involved somehow in the military. At the very least, you’re intrigued by the institution of the U.S. Armed Forces. If so, you’ll love this book about British Army tactics used during World War 1.
It’s always a good idea to explore the way other people do things and exploring the ways the British fight differently than we do here in the U.S. is an incredibly interesting comparison. While Fox has faced some criticism for her positions in the book, it’s still a wonderfully intriguing peek into learning, human behavior, and the realities of war.
#2 The Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins
Although fellow historians agree that this depiction of World War 1 is flawed in many ways in terms of objectivity, it’s meant to be more of a cultural history which is obviously going to be somewhat skewed one way or another.
Still, it’s recommended by experts for its exploration of the cultural implications of World War 1.
#1 The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman
Topping our list of non-fiction books about World War 1 is the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Guns of August. Also chosen by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best non-fiction books of the 20th century, it’s a detailed account of the first month of the war.
It’s surprisingly comprehensive and spectacularly written, expressing the main characters involved in the war with precision and tact. While there are some narrative aspects of this book, it’s considered non-fiction in the sense of its historical accuracy but with dramatic flair. After all, the first month of World War 1 was truly dramatic.
Best Books on World War 1: Nonfiction vs. Fiction
Some might argue that if you really want to learn about World War 1, you won’t get anywhere reading a work of fiction. But in reality, reading fiction is one of the best ways to understand the human emotion involved in a war and it helps readers truly connect with the people who were there.
Sure, fictional characters and imagined conversations can easily be written off as a waste of time, but on the contrary, especially when a novel is adequately researched, historical fiction takes readers deeper into the nuances of what real people likely went through at the time.
#3 Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer
Once an Eagle is a favorite among military service members and is on the official Army Chief of Staff’s reading list as well as part of West Point’s and the Marine Corps’ required reading. This novel about a soldier and his adversary travels through multiple wars, timelines, and locations.
As fascinating as it is devastatingly real, Once an Eagle is one of the staples of military literature.
#2 A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Regarded as the best American novel to emerge out of World War 1, the prolific Hemingway tells the story of love and war in A Farewell to Arms. It was written when he was 30 years old about an American soldier in Italy who falls in love with an English woman.
If there’s a way to tell the story of World War 1 through fiction, Hemingway nails it on the head.
#1 All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
The number one spot goes to All Quiet on the Western Front which has been called the greatest war novel ever written. The book recounts a German soldier’s experience of World War 1. Remarque himself served in the German Army and was wounded five times while in battle.
His first-hand experience surely aided in writing his prolific novel about life in the trenches and is a must-read for anyone interested in World War 1.
World War 1: Best Books
Whether you prefer straightforward biographies or action-packed novels, there’s something for every taste when looking for a World War 1 book. Of course, there are many more that didn’t make the list but if you need a place to start, give these pages a read.