The best books about the First World War

A collection of some of the best books about World War One, from moving poetry collections to fascinating first-hand historical accounts.

04/11/2019
2 minutes to read

More than one hundred years have passed since the hostilities of the First World War ceased, and the guns fell silent after four long years of devastating conflict.

Literature, whether written by those who were there or by those who wish to pay tribute, has kept the Great War and those who lost their lives throughout it in our collective memory.

Here we've curated our edit of the best books on World War One, from enthralling fiction, to moving poetry collections and unfathomable first-hand historical accounts. If you're passionate about history and looking for more inspiration for your next read, discover our edit of the best historical fiction novels, here.

Non-fiction

A World on Edge

by Daniel Schönpflug

Book cover for 9781509818495

A World on Edge reveals Europe in 1918, left in ruins by World War I. With the end of hostilities, a radical new start seems not only possible, but essential. Unorthodox ideas light up the age: new politics, new societies, new art and culture, new thinking.

The struggle to determine the future has begun. Historian Daniel Schönpflug describes this watershed year as it was experienced on the ground from the vantage points of people who lived through the turmoil – open ended, unfathomable, its outcome unclear.

Forgotten Voices Of The Great War

by Max Arthur

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The history of the First World War told through the real-life stories of the people who survived it, in their own words, Forgotten Voices is an important record of the monumental events of 1914 - 1918. Compiled from the Imperial War Museum's aural archive, this is a compelling history of World War One from those that experienced it first hand.

Love Letters of the Great War

by Mandy Kirkby

Book cover for 9780230772830

Many of the letters collected here are eloquent declarations of love and longing; others contain wrenching accounts of fear, jealousy and betrayal; and a number share sweet dreams of home. But in all the correspondence – whether from British, American, French, German, Russian, Australian and Canadian troops in the height of battle, or from the heartbroken wives and sweethearts left behind – there lies a truly human portrait of love and war.

A century on from the First World War, these letters offer an intimate glimpse into the hearts of men and women separated by conflict, and show how love can transcend even the bleakest and most devastating of realities.

A History of the First World War

by B. H. Liddell Hart

Book cover for 9780330511704

A leading military strategist and historian who fought on the Western Front, Liddell Hart combines astute tactical analysis with compassion for those who lost their lives on the battlefield. He provides a vivid and fascinating picture of all the major campaigns, balancing documentary evidence with the testimony of personal witnesses to expose the mistakes that were made and why.

From the political and cultural origins of war to the twists and turns of battle, to the critical decisions that resulted in such devastating losses and to the impact on modern nations, this magnificent history covers four brutal years in one volume and is a true military classic.

Fiction

A Farewell to Arms

by Ernest Hemingway

Book cover for 9781909621411

Frederic Henry is an American Lieutenant serving in the ambulance corps of the Italian army during the First World War. While stationed in northern Italy, he falls in love with Catherine Barkley, an English nurse. Theirs is an intense, tender and passionate love affair overshadowed by the war. Ernest Hemingway spares nothing in his denunciation of the horrors of combat, yet vividly depicts the courage shown by so many.

The Winter Soldier

by Daniel Mason

Book cover for 9780330458337

Lucius is a twenty-two-year-old medical student when World War One explodes across Europe. Enraptured by romantic tales of battlefield surgery, he enlists, expecting a position at a well-organized field hospital. But when he arrives, at a commandeered church tucked away high in a remote valley of the Carpathian Mountains, he finds a freezing outpost ravaged by typhus. The other doctors have fled, and only a single, mysterious nurse named Sister Margarete remains.

Birdsong

by Sebastian Faulks

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Published to international critical and popular acclaim, this intensely romantic yet stunningly realistic novel spans three generations and the unimaginable gulf between the First World War and the present. It is the story of Stephen Wraysford, a young Englishman who arrives in Amiens in 1910. Over the course of the novel he suffers a series of traumatic experiences, from the clandestine love affair that tears apart the family with whom he lives, to the unprecedented experiences of the war itself.

The Regeneration Trilogy

by Pat Barker

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1917, Scotland. At Craiglockhart War Hospital in Scotland, army psychiatrist William Rivers treats shell-shocked soldiers before sending them back to the front. In his care are poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, and Billy Prior, who is only able to communicate by means of pencil and paper . . .

RegenerationThe Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road follow the stories of these men until the last months of the war. Widely acclaimed and admired, Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy paints with moving detail the far-reaching consequences of a conflict which decimated a generation.

Fall of Giants

by Ken Follett

Book cover for 9781509848515

Praised for its strict adherence to historical fact, Ken Follett’s epic novel follows five families experiencing life before, during and after the war.

When Russia convulses in bloody revolution and the Great War unfolds, the five families’ futures are entwined forever, love bringing them closer even as conflict takes them further apart. What seeds will be sown for further tragedy in the twentieth century and what role will each play in what is to come?


Poetry

Poems from the First World War

by Gaby Morgan

Book cover for 9781447248644

Including poems from Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, Vera Brittain, Eleanor Farjeon, Siegfried Sassoon and many more, Poems from the First World War is a moving and powerful collection of poems written by soldiers, nurses, mothers, sweethearts and family and friends who experienced WWI from different standpoints. It records the early excitement and patriotism, the bravery, friendship and loyalty of the soldiers, and the heartbreak, disillusionment and regret as the war went on to damage a generation.

Poetry of the First World War

by Marcus Clapham

Book cover for 9781509843206

The major poets are all represented in this beautiful Macmillan Collector’s Library anthology, Poetry of the First World War, alongside many others whose voices are less well known, and their verse is accompanied by contemporary motifs. Whether in the patriotic enthusiasm of Rupert Brooke, the disillusionment of Charles Hamilton Sorley, or the bitter denunciations of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, the war produced an astonishing outpouring of powerful poetry.

Some Desperate Glory

by Max Egremont

Book cover for 9781447242000

In Some Desperate Glory, historian and biographer Max Egremont gives us a transfiguring look at the life and work of the poets of World War One. Wilfred Owen with his flaring genius; the intense, compassionate Siegfried Sassoon; the composer Ivor Gurney; Robert Graves who would later spurn his war poems; the nature-loving Edward Thomas; the glamorous Fabian Socialist Rupert Brooke; and the shell-shocked Robert Nichols all fought in the war, and their poetry is a bold act of creativity in the face of unprecedented destruction.


For Children

How Can a Pigeon Be a War Hero? And Other Very Important Questions and Answers About the First World War

by Tracey Turner

Book cover for 9781447226192

Why did the First World War start? Who was fighting who? What was it like to be inside the first tank sent to war? How could a shaving brush help you escape being captured? What was the Women's Land Army? Why did it go on so long? How did it end? Find out the answers to these and lots of other exciting questions in Tracey Turner's brilliantly informative book published in association with the Imperial War Museum.

The Skylarks' War

by Hilary McKay

Book cover for 9781509894963

Clarry and her older brother Peter live for their summers in Cornwall, staying with their grandparents and running free with their charismatic cousin, Rupert. But normal life resumes each September – boarding school for Peter and Rupert, and a boring life for Clarry at home with her absent father, as the shadow of a terrible war looms ever closer.

When Rupert goes off to fight at the front, Clarry feels their skylark summers are finally slipping away from them. Can their family survive this fearful war?