Top Ten War Novels

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So, you've read Catch-22, Slaughterhouse 5 and Birdsong. You're looking for more war novels to move you with tales of bravery, to make you cry at the futility, and to help you look deep inside yourself. Work your way through our top ten war novels, and realise that whilst war may not be the answer, books about war so frequently are. Why not tell us about your favourite books about war?


Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo

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A young soldier is horrifically injured during World War 1 and wakes up to a living nightmare. Johnny Got His Gun is possibly the most stomach-churning book about war ever written. It really is not for the fainthearted. Yet in truth, it is a book that everyone should read before they even think about supporting a war, any war. It hurts to read it, but if you have the courage then you will be richly rewarded. Full review...

Empire of the Sun by J G Ballard

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It's not really possible to sum up Empire of the Sun in just a few words if not to simply say, "Don't miss it." It's a book about war. It's about more than just the fighting. In fact, there isn't any fighting. It's beautifully written. It's mesmerising. It provides a revealing background to Ballard's later novels. It's a great definition of that made-up word, "dystopia". Oh, just don't miss it. Ok? Full review...

Brodeck's Report by Philippe Claudel

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A slightly convoluted but brilliantly absorbing story of the horrors of World War II and the years afterward in a secluded French village. A great story, finely told. Full review...

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

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Beautifully written with not a word wasted, Great Expectations meets tropical island in this look at the love of reading, the terrors of war, post-colonialism and personal integrity. Highly, highly recommended. Full review...

Regeneration by Pat Barker

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This book is undoubtedly superb. It is not a war novel full of macho fighting and guns, it is a sensitive insight into the psychological effect the war had on previously strong young men. It is multi-layed, complicated and yet so readable. It is un-putdown-able, and if at the end your left with a feeling of wanting more, then fear not, Regeneration is a trilogy. Full review...

Day by A L Kennedy

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This book truly pitches you into the nasty, arse-end of war. Rendered unavoidable, harsh and intrusive by a partly second person narrative, it's striking and affecting with an embittered, lost, angry central character. But it's not easy to read. Full review...

Birdy by William Wharton

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Birdy is not a plot-driven book. If you enjoy lots of action, then it's not for you, but you'll be missing out. It's a beautiful book about the meaning of insanity and about the terrible costs of war. It's also deeply touching. Bookbag recommend you at least borrow it. Full review...

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Ambitious, evocative and heartbreaking, Half of a Yellow Sun is a courageous novel, full of integrity. More than a historical record, it also has resonance for current world issues. It's only let down very slightly by a rather self-conscious structure. Full review...

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean

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In modern day America, the elderly postwar immigrant Marina is losing her grip on reality. As her mind tries to keep control of what might be real, she slips back into her memories of 1941 and the siege of Leningrad, when her duty was to protect the treasures of the Hermitage, through cold and starvation and personal deprivations beyond imagination. A strangely beautiful and lyric take on what war and famine can do to an individual soul. Full review...

Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips

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Literary manna for American Studies readers with a rare new novel from accomplished Jayne Anne Phillips. This time she contrasts West Virginia with the Korean War in the '50s, but her earlier interest in the physical self, economic hardship, consciousness and power interweave a strong war message. Full review...

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