Amanda Nelson here, Book Riot’s Managing Editor, filling in for Katie while she’s on vacation (don’t worry, she’ll be back next week). This week, I want to talk about World War II–I recently saw Darkest Hour starring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill (who is a problematic fave of mine), and it reactivated my eternal itch for all things WWII. I’m especially interested in the generally untold stories or sides of the war. Though, don’t get me wrong, I do love watching one of the millions of black and white History Channel documentaries about the European theater. Here are a few more:
A disgraced royal guard turned bounty hunter uncovers a global conspiracy in a post-apocalyptic world filled with magic, mages, monster, fantastic weapons, and an awesome mana enhanced car.
My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past by Jennifer Teegee and Nikola Sellmair, translated by Carolin Sommer, narrated by Robin Miles
Jennifer is a German-Nigerian woman who was raised by her adoptive parents. In her late 30s, she discovers that her maternal grandfather was Amon Goeth, the commandant of the Plaszów concentration camp (the one portrayed in Schindler’s List). Goeth was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews, and was hanged for war crimes in the 1940s. In her memoir, Jennifer reckons with this new knowledge of her family background, and travels to Israel and Poland in search of answers.
Code Talker by Chester Nez and Judith Schiess Avila, narrated by David Colacci
More than 400 Navajos served in the Marines in World War II as “code talkers,” an assignment so top secret that it wasn’t declassified until the late 1960s. Using the Navajo language as code–a language the author was not allowed to speak in his government-run boarding school that tried to strip him of his culture–the Allies were able to get an essential strategic advantage over the Japanese in the Pacific theater (an advantage that led to success in the Battle of Iwo Jima, among others). Nez’s memoir of growing up on a Navajo Reservation, serving in the military, and returning home to face more racism and oppression, is a must-read. Or must-listen.
Winston’s War by Max Hastings, narrated by Robin Sachs
A laser-focused portrait of Winston Churchill during the war years, revealing a British War Lord who was both bumbling and brilliant. Hastings can be a bit fawning for my taste, glossing over (and sometimes outright making excuses for) Churchill’s racism, lack of strategic military skills, and incompetence when managing the British Army. Churchill’s real skill was in the way he managed relationships with Roosevelt and Stalin, and how he pulled up the British people’s morale through what looked like an inevitable defeat. He loved being at war, and is a fascinating figure.
Stalingrad: the Fateful Siege by Antony Beevor
Stalingrad was inarguably the turning point in the European theater of the war. Hitler’s infamous (and idiotic, ego-driven) assault on Stalin’s namesake city was a complete disaster that resulted in the death of more than a million people, the imprisonment of over 90,000 German soldiers in Soviet POW camps, and the beginning of the end for Germany. Beevor’s engrossing modern classic follows the experiences of soldiers on both sides as the city descended into winter, and of the Russian civilians trapped in the city’s ruins, desperate to survive.
I’d love to hear your recommendations for more audiobooks about the Pacific theater–send them to me on Twitter @ImAmandaNelson!