My Top 5… World War Two novels

This was an impossible list to write. My childhood was filled with World War Two novels and films, plus lots of cowboy and westerns too, thanks to my father. So this list combines childhood favourites with literature discovered in later years.

‘Sophie’s Choice’ by William Styron World War TwoWho can forget the book, or that scene in the 1982 film. Sophie’s Choice: the phrase now commonly known to mean ‘an impossible choice’. Buy now

‘Where Eagles Dare’ by Alistair MacLean World War TwoThe 1968 film: Clint Eastwood, Richard Burton, need I say more? I gobbled Alistair MacLean’s books as a child; cheap paperbacks bought by my father and read by us all. Old-fashioned now, but still great page-turners. Buy now

‘Schindler’s Ark’ by Thomas Keneally World War TwoI bought this one in July 1983 after it won the 1982 Booker Prize. In 1993 it was made into the film Schindler’s List starring Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler, Ben Kingsley as Itzhak Stern and a young Ralph Fiennes as the terrifying Amon Goeth. Buy now

‘Fortunes of War 1-3’ [The Balkan Trilogy] by Olivia Manning World War TwoGuy and Harriet Pringle [aka a very young Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thomspon, then married in real life, in the 1987 BBC television production]. I read the trilogy with hunger, back-to-back. They are still on my bookshelf, in fact all of these top five books are still on my bookshelf as are the others listed below. Buy now

‘Empire of the Sun’ by JG Ballard World War TwoAnother book turned into a great film. Features the Batman actor as a child, Christian Bale. This was the edition I bought, and my introduction to Ballard. After this, I bought many more of his books. Buy now

I have many more favourites:-
Fatherland and Enigma by Robert Harris
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
The Eagle has Landed by Jack Higgins
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières
Restless by William Boyd
Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky
A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

Others on my to-read pile?
Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum
Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada
Night by Elie Wiesel

Do you agree with my other ‘Top 5’ choices?:-
My Top 5… music to write to
My top 5… novels about paintings
My Top 5… the Booker winners I re-read, and why

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
My Top 5 #WW2 novels via @SandraDanby

10 thoughts on “My Top 5… World War Two novels

  1. crimeworm

    We went to see that at the Screen Machine – a mobile cinema that tours the Highlands! It was great, partly I suppose because of the novelty of the venue. Even Mr C loved it – he usually hates “things where people dress up in olden day clothes” he used to call them, moaningly, before I told him “costume dramas” was shorter! We have a cinema again now though – I think we might go and see Ted 2(!) this week. Not exactly a cultural milestone, but it’ll be good to get out and get a laugh!

    I love these blue plaques – is it a purely London thing, or do other cities have them, or similar? I lived in Glasgow for 16 years and didn’t notice anything!


  2. crimeworm

    I’m intrigued by Fortunes Of War – I missed that totally. The books sound great – is there lots of spying and skullduggery? I love that! I have fond memories of Dad’s old Alistair MacLean novels – Breakheart Pass was one. Empire Of The Sun is an incredible book and film. And I’ve huge respect for Robert Harris and his intelligent thrillers – not long read An Officer And A Spy; fantastic. (See what I mean about skullduggery?!) And I must finally read my The End Of The Affair, I’ve neglected to get to it. Great post, wonderful thought-provoking list!


    1. sandradan1 Post author

      Try ‘The Good American’, a great film too with Michael Caine and a v young Brendan Fraser. ‘Fortunes of War’ is a great TV series, more a chronicle of a relationship during war time than spies, but as the couple move around the Balkans to North Africa you get a more unusual picture of the war. SD


      1. crimeworm

        There’s a film called The Good American, but I think going by the cast members you mean The Quiet American?? Always wanted to see it, mainly because a guy I used to know in Glasgow – he played in a mate’s pop band, despite being classically trained in London – did the music. He also does the music for Bad Luhrmann’s films. Him and his wife Laura are lovely. His name’s Craig Armstrong. Awesome life – he’s a multimillionaire, he gets to the Oscars and knows everyone who’s anyone – but doesn’t get hassle in the street. Plus the best bit – he’s doing what he loves. As they say, do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

        You’ve reminded me of another film I love – it’s based on a John le Carré novel, Geoffrey Rush is in it as a dodgy tailor – got it! The Tailor Of Panama! Very funny, Geoffrey Rush is great. Pierce Brosnan may pop up, as someone whose discovered his secret, and knows he is a tailor to every mover and shaker, and so a potential spy. But things get totally out of control when Rush starts lying to make himself sound important. Actually I’m beginning to wonder if it is a le Carré as it’s so funny….! Greene’s Our Man In Havana apparently doesn’t have a dissimilar premise – must read it; have you? Sorry my comment’s so long!


        1. sandradan1 Post author

          Yes you’re right, I did mean ‘The Quiet American’. ‘The Tailor of Panama’ is Le Carre, and I do know the film but haven’t read the book. Would watch Geoffrey Rush in anything 🙂 SD


            1. sandradan1 Post author

              He’s excellent as Lionel Logue in ‘The King’s Speech’ too. There’s a blue plaque on the wall of the building in Harley Street, London, where he practised (Logue, not Rush!) SD



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