This summer marks the 100-year anniversary of the start of World War I. Whether you’re a history buff well-versed in the events of the Great War, or someone who has just begun to be curious, we’ve got a collection of books to help you navigate the complex, fearsome, and fascinating facts and stories of the devastating conflict that shook the world. From classic novels, to in-depth historical accounts, from poetry, to emotional firsthand narratives from the trenches, these books will amaze and educate readers as we remember World War I on its centennial.
A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
One of the most famous works by one of the most famous American authors, A Farewell to Arms was inspired by Hemingway’s experience volunteering for ambulance service in Italy in 1918. A narrative that takes an unflinching look at all of the moments, mundane to dangerous, that make up a soldier’s life during wartime, it offers an unforgettable firsthand glimpse of the Great War. Plus, there’s an electrifying love story to boot.
The Guns of August, by Barbara W. Tuchman
It could be argued that the greatest nonfiction books read like fiction, which is the case with Tuchman’s intensely detailed look at the tragically ruinous first 30 days of World War I. You might imagine that you couldn’t focus an entire book around the events leading up to the First World War, let alone make it an utterly riveting read—but that’s exactly what Pulitzer Prize–winning author Tuchman has done with this mesmerizing book.
A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918, by G. J. Meyer
For those looking for a comprehensive, well-organized, and thoughtful primer on one of the most complicated wars in human history, A World Undone is masterfully structured, accessible but still elegantly written, and full of lively facts and little-known stories. It may be your first foray into World War I literature, but it won’t be your last.
Good-Bye to All That: An Autobiography, by Robert Graves
Published in 1929, when he was in his early thirties, Graves’ famously candid autobiography includes a harrowing account of his experiences with trench warfare in France during the First World War. His subjects range from comic to horrific, but through it all his lyrical language and practical sensibilities keep the reader fascinated and engaged.
Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks
Faulks’ gripping novel, set before and during the First World War, tells the story of Stephen Wraysford, an Englishman who falls in love during a visit to France. His affair eventually leaves him heartbroken, and he enlists when war breaks out in 1914, eventually finding himself commanding a brigade of miners whose ghastly task is to tunnel beneath the trenches of German soldiers and plant mines. A stunning look into the brutal world of tunneling warfare during WWI, it shows a side of the battle that many have long been unaware of.
All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque
One of the most critically acclaimed war novels in existence, this viscerally realistic portrait of service in the German trenches during the First World War is seen through the eyes of a young man who quickly loses his enthusiasm for battle and struggles to hold onto his humanity. If you’ve long been meaning to read this renowned classic, what better year than the hundredth anniversary of what was referred to, even then, as the Great War?
July 1914: Countdown to War, by Sean McMeekin
A fascinating, deeply researched look into the chain of events, beginning with the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, that led to the beginning of the First World War. McMeekin takes us through the many diplomatic deceits, entanglements, and other missteps that ultimately enabled the conflict to escalate into a clash beyond the worst nightmares of Europe’s most powerful players.
The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen, by Wilfred Owen
For those who enjoy an analysis of history through the elegant perspective of a poet, we present this collection of poems by Owen, who enlisted in the Artists’ Rifle Corps at the tender age of 22. Owen’s work is widely considered to be some of the most significant British poetry about World War I. Although Owen was killed in battle at the age of 25, the survival of his haunting, prescient poetry has ensured that his legacy will endure for centuries.
Lingo of No Man’s Land: A World War I Slang Dictionary, By Lorenzo N. Smith
War buffs and word buffs alike will love this comprehensive, humorous, and enlightening slang dictionary, which was first published in 1918 to help demystify the many slang terms that were being bandied about by soldiers during the First World War. Even more astonishing is how many words requiring defining at the time that are now quite commonplace—including such well-known phrases as “armored car” and “aerial photography.”
Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker 1914–1918, by Louis Barthas
“Poilu” translates from the French to “hairy,” and it was an apt description of the unshaven French infantrymen who served in the trenches during World War I. Louis Barthas was one such man, and when he returned from four terrifying years in combat, he meticulously transcribed pages of his wartime writings into over a dozen journals to preserve his story. An intensely personal record, these chronicles provide an unforgettable view into the frontline experiences of a soldier during the Great War.
Do you plan to commemorate the centennial anniversary of World War I?