World War 2 books? Rommel is something I'm interested in
October 17, 2010 2:05 AM   Subscribe

WW2 books? Especially looking for anything that features a good amount of material on Rommel, though that is not required. Hoping to do a two-person book club sort of thing.

There are just so many books on World War II, I am not sure where to begin. I'd like to read books with my boyfriend and discuss them with him, and he doesn't read much but does like to read about the war, and is particularly interested in Rommel.

I have read The War, the companion book to the Ken Burns series, and liked it very much.

Thanks in advance for your suggestions!
posted by marble to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
How about Rommel in his own words?
posted by archagon at 2:09 AM on October 17, 2010

This is almost the kind of thing that you could wander into any used book store and walk out with two armloads of books. If there's a subject in history which has more written about it than World War II, I don't know what it is.
posted by valkyryn at 4:15 AM on October 17, 2010

It has nothing to do with Rommel, but Alan Clark's Barbarossa is the classic history of the war between the Germans and the Russians.
posted by Ahab at 5:10 AM on October 17, 2010

A.J. Liebling's World War II Writings. Eye witness accounts from a very good writer. A huge part of the first two books in this collection deals with the North African campaign of the Americans -- which isn't about Rommel per se, but more about how it was to be there.
posted by ijsbrand at 5:48 AM on October 17, 2010

An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa won a Pulitzer and got good reviews. It doesn't really focus on Rommel as much, though.
posted by Durin's Bane at 7:25 AM on October 17, 2010

Stalingrad by Antony Beevor.
posted by djgh at 7:50 AM on October 17, 2010

Panzer Battles by Major General F.W. von Mellenthin.

From an Amazon review:

"His perspective is taken from the front lines on the Russian front where he participated in many battles in 1943 and 1944 in the southern sector where the Battle of Stalingrad occurred. He describes Generals Manstein, Hoth and Balck strategy and tactic approaches and the battles around the Chir River and the attempt to rescue the 6 th army in the Cauldron. He also fought with Rommel in the Desert War against the British in 1941 and 1942."
posted by MikeMc at 11:09 AM on October 17, 2010

No Rommel, but I can personally recommend a few:

Cornelius Ryan's "trilogy" (The Longest Day, The Last Battle and A Bridge Too Far) are well-regarded.

Walter Lord's books are usually vivid descriptions. Day of Infamy is about Pearl Harbor, and Incredible Victory about Midway.
posted by pmurray63 at 11:26 AM on October 17, 2010

I second Panzer Battles. von Mellenthin is a solid writer, and more importantly, he was actually there (he was Rommel's intelligence officer). Only the first part of the book has to do with Rommel and the desert campaign, but it'll give you an excellent overview of how and why Rommel dominated the British in North Africa, and how and why that dominance was eventually lost. Plus: awesome hand-drawn tank battle maps!
posted by vorfeed at 12:18 PM on October 17, 2010

This is almost the kind of thing that you could wander into any used book store and walk out with two armloads of books. If there's a subject in history which has more written about it than World War II, I don't know what it is.

Much of it crap. What sort of aspects of the war would be interesting to you?

Meantime, Martin Blumenson wrote Kasserine Pass, which pitted Rommel against Patton.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:52 PM on October 17, 2010

My fiancé, the Rommel fanatic, recommends the following
Rommel and his Art of War
seconding The Rommel Papers
and Attacks (by Rommel himself, mostly about WWI).
posted by specialagentwebb at 3:59 PM on October 17, 2010

There is a ton of first person writing on the subject, including tomes by the major players. It is useful to quickly categorize (or determine) a book as propaganda, lay history, collected tales, myth, bad history or good history. My preference is for fist person accounts bolstered by lots of sources. This year, I've read about 25,000 pages of WW2 history, and could do the same next year with little effort. There is a ton of stuff out there.

I enjoyed all of Winston Churchill's 6 volumes, and have his Blood, Sweat and Tears in reserve. I'm reading two Churchill biographies, of which there are no shortage. Every week or two, I remember to be thankful he was alive when he was. My opinion is that he pretty much saved the planet, and while he might have done better here or there, he got his finger in the leaky dike when it was needed. This is about 8000 pages of material, some pretty dry and some pretty self-serving, but of the Big Three (Churchill, Stalin, FDR), only Churchill wrote and he was an experienced historian before the war started.

There are a number of books on the Normany Landings, and the lay histories and first person-rich stories of Stephen Ambrose are readable, though if you read them all (I have), you'll note some repeat stories.

Personally, I found the journalist William Shirer's "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" very good. "Berlin Diary" and "End of Berlin Diary" were also pretty good, the latter less so than the first. His perceptions in the diaries came from first hand experience, and they paint the descent into insanity of Germany under Hitler.

A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II, Weinberg is a good 1200 page read, well footnoted and with a good global perspective. It explores the relationship of the two theaters of the war, and does a decent job of exploring the gaping holes in Japanese strategy, which frankly, sucked. The Pacific theater is pretty fascinating, but Europe and North Africa seem more interesting to me, personally. YMMV.

I think there must be a dozen decent titles on Stalingrad, which I find endlessly fascinating. It marked the high water for Hitler, and his defeat thereafter was not only highly certain, the foreshadowing of the end game shows.

The Battle of Britain is a fascinating, too, and while I have read a number of volumes, none stick out in my mind as definitive.

You can pick specific battles, commanders, themes and explore them for a few years, non stop. It was a 5 year conflict (formally), with 45 million deaths and many more casualties. It reshaped the planet, morally as well as politically. It is still affecting us with unexploded ordnance, leaky sunken oil tankers (hundreds of Exxon Valdese disasters, still waiting to happen). It (IMO) is the most significant event of human civilization in terms of its impact, its insanity, terror, destruction, and waste to date. It illustrates the best and worst of human endeavor.

If you have something specific you are interested in, I may have more titles, but this is almost TL;DR at this point.

Last word... I find reading about this subject puts my tiny problems of life in perspective. Look at the next pile of 20 year boys you run across and see if you can imagine them in a B-17 as a pilot, or as an infantryman or sailor. By the time many of them were your age (early 20's?), they were coming back from the war, ancient adults.

Not a day goes by that I don't ponder them in respect and wonder.
posted by FauxScot at 4:37 PM on October 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Not much on Rommel, but Norman Davies's recent No Simple Victory is a good, sharp, clear-headed book about the war in Europe (not elsewhere). Readable and also combative.

There are a couple of other books by Beevor in addition to the already mentioned Stalingrad: one on the battle for Berlin, and most recently one on D-Day and the Normandy campaigns.

And zillions of other titles on the single most written-about event (if that's quite the word) in human history.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 8:37 PM on October 17, 2010

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