10 of the Best War Novels

  • November 11, 2014

In honor of Veterans Day, here are 10 of the most compelling war novels ever written.


  1. If Not Now, When? by Primo Levi. Based on a real band of partisans, this story of Jewish fighters struggling behind enemy lines is a both uplifting and bleak reminder that World War II's victims were also protagonists.
     
  2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. No, we're not showing off how well-read we are. This doorstopper of a book is also a tremendous page-turner and chronicle of Napoleon's invasion of Russia.
     
  3. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. Robert Jordan's love affair and idealism are the makings of great drama in this beautiful, wrenching story of the Spanish Civil War.
     
  4. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. Don’t let its brevity fool you: This novel masterfully captures the carnage of World War I in ways horrifying and humanizing.
     
  5. The Iliad by Homer. If we're going for "all time" here, it's hard to avoid the fact that the Greeks did it best — both the waging of war and the telling of tales. Homer's stories are still in our blood today: the Trojan horse, the heroic fall of Hector, the caprice of the gods.
     
  6. Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes. A harrowing tale of the Vietnam War capturing the soldiers’ courage, the hardships they faced, and the fatally unclear objectives of the whole mess.
     
  7. Mila 18 by Leon Uris. The only thing more amazing than this white-knuckle account of the WWII Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is the fact that many of the events depicted actually happened.
     
  8. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Scarlett and Rhett may be the central characters in this perennial favorite, but it’s the Civil War that drives the novel’s action.
     
  9. Life and Fate by Vassily Grossman. The 20th century’s answer to War and Peace. A powerful and panoramic view of the total war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, from the cellars of Stalingrad, to the physics laboratories studying the atom, to the concentration camps.
     
  10. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. It's rare for a book to take an honest look at the battles soldiers face when returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan and trying to resume their ordinary lives. This one does just that, brilliantly.

What’s your favorite war novel? Tell us about it in the comments section below!

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