The 1st July marks the marks the 100th anniversary of the start of one of the First World War’s most terrible conflicts and one of the bloodiest military battles in history.

On the first day of The Battle of the Somme the British suffered more than 57,500 casualties and by the time it ended, in November 1916, more than one million men had been wounded or killed.

We've collected together the most insightful, harrowing and thought-provoking fiction and non-fiction books on one of the most notorious conflicts of the 20th century.
 

Non-fiction

 
Elegy

Elegy: The First Day on the Somme

Andrew Roberts

On 1 July 1916, after a five-day bombardment, 11 British and 5 French divisions launched their long-awaited 'Big Push' on German positions on high ground above the Rivers Ancre and Somme on the Western Front. Some ground was gained, but at a terrible cost. German machine-guns - manned by troops who had sat out the storm of shellfire in deep dugouts - inflicted terrible losses on the British infantry.
 
Andrew Roberts evokes the pity and the horror of the blackest day in the history of the British army in the words of casualties, survivors, and the bereaved.

Find out more



 
Somme, Lyn Macdonald

Somme

Lyn Macdonald

here was hardly a household in the land', writes Lyn Macdonald, 'there was no trade, occupation, profession or community, which was not represented in the thousands of innocent enthusiasts who made up the ranks of Kitchener's Army before the Battle of the Somme...'
 
Now over 20 years old, Macdonald’s bestselling history of the battle was pioneering in its efforts to let the men who were there give their own testimony. Their stories are vivid, harrowing, sometimes terrifying - yet shot through with humour, immense courage and an astonishing spirit of resilience.

Find out more

 
The Somme, Peter Hart

The Somme

Peter Hart

Peter Hart describes how the battle looked from the point of view of those who fought it. Using never-before-seen eyewitness testimonies, he shows us this epic conflict from all angles. We see what it was like to crawl across No Man's Land in the face of the German guns, what it was like for those who stayed behind in the trenches - the padres, the artillerymen, the doctors. We also see what the battle looked like from the air, as the RFC battled to keep control of the skies above the battlefield.
 
All this is put in the context of the background to the battle, and Haig's overall strategy for the Western Front

Find out more

 
The Somme, Richard Van Emden

The Somme

Richard Van Emden

A new history of the battle, published in time for the centenary, which makes use of the soldiers’ own photographs to illustrate both the campaign’s extraordinary comradeship and its carnage.

Find out more




 

Poetry



 
 

Fiction

 
All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front

Erich Maria Remarque

This classic novel of the First World War is written in the first person by a young German soldier.
 
Paul Bauer is just eighteen when he’s pressured by his family, friends and society to enlist and fight at the front. He enters the army with six school friends, each filled with optimistic and patriotic thoughts. Within a few months they are all old men, in mind if not completely in body. They witness such horrors, and endure such severe hardship and suffering, that they are unable to even speak about it to anyone but each other.

Find out more

Memoirs of an Infantry Officer

Memoirs of an Infantry Officer

Siegfried Sassoon

The second volume of Siegfried Sassoon’s semiautobiographical George Sherston trilogy picks up in 1916, with the young Sherston deep in the trenches of WWI. For his decorated bravery, and also his harmful recklessness, he is soon sent to the Fourth Army School for officer training, then dispatched to Morlancourt, a raid, and on through the Somme. After being wounded by a bullet through the lung, he returns home to convalesce, where his questioning of the war and the British Military establishment leads a medical board to deem him to be mentally ill and suffering from shell-shock.
 
Sassoon’s stunning portrayal of a mind coming to terms with the brutal truths he has encountered in war is amongst the greatest books ever written about World War I.

Find out more

 
The Return of the Soldier

The Return of the Soldier

Rebecca West

Whilst not directly about the Somme, Rebecca West’s story of a shell-shocked, amnesiac soldier returning from the front, published in 1918, preceded the psychoanalytical writing of the 1920s.
 
West was one of the first writers to voice to the anxieties of women in wartime and grapple with the effects of trauma on those at home as well as the returning soldiers.

Find out more

 
The Regeneration Trilogy

The Regeneration Trilogy

Pat Barker

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. . .
 
Regeneration, The 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.

Find out more

 
Birdsong

Birdsong

Sebastian Faulks

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.

Find out more

 
The Magic Mountain

The Magic Mountain

Thomas Mann

Mann famously paused his writing to reframe his novel after the onset of the First World War and the book’s preoccupation with dying young can be seen as as a direct response to the horrors of the Western Front.
 
Hans Castorp is 'a perfectly ordinary, if engaging young man' when he goes to visit his cousin in an exclusive sanatorium in the Swiss Alps.What should have been a three week trip turns into a seven year stay. Hans falls in love and becomes intoxicated with the ideas he hears at the clinic - ideas which will strain and crack apart in a world on the verge of the First World War.

Find out more





Love history? Sign up to our monthly email to be the first to hear about all the latest and best history books. 

Failed to load widget object.