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The war - by the books

By Times Staff
Published August 28, 2005

Thousands of books have been written about World War II -- a website devoted exclusively to the subject lists 5,203 books in stock -- and hundreds are scheduled to be published this fall to mark the 60th anniversary of the war's end. Where to start? Here are 15 recommendations by Times Book Editor Margo Hammond:

1. GHOST SOLDIERS: THE EPIC ACCOUNT OF WORLD WAR II'S GREATEST RESCUE MISSION by Hampton Sides

When Hampton Sides' nail-biting account of the daring rescue of more than 500 survivors of the 1942 Bataan Death March from Cabanatuan prison camp in Japanese-occupied Philippines came out in paperback in 2001, few had heard of this little-known harrowing exploit. It was a tale tailored-made for a Hollywood movie -- which it now has become. Based on Sides' account and The Great Raid on Cabanatuan by William B. Breuer, "The Great Raid," starring Benjamin Bratt and Joseph Fiennes, opened this month.

2. HIROSHIMA by John Hersey

In 1946, John Hersey told the story of six survivors of the world's first atomic bomb. Forty years later, he returned to the devasted city of Hiroshima and added a final chapter, written in the same objective prose, updating the lives of those six victims.

3. CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller

This classic anti-war novel -- which coined the phrase that now stands for any no win situation -- is set at the end of World War II in an American bomber squad in Italy. As Nelson Algren wrote when it was first published in 1961: "Below its hilarity, so wild that it hurts, Catch-22 is the strongest repudiation of our civilization, in fiction, to come out of World War II...this novel is not merely the best American novel to come out of World War II; it is the best American novel that has come out of anywhere in years. Other World War II-inspired novels of note include Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, Bernhard Schlink's The Reader, David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedar and Ian McEwan's Atonement.

4. ONE SOLDIER'S STORY: A MEMOIR by Bob Dole

Bob Dole tells his own remarkable story of courage during World War II. As a 21-year-old platoon leader in the 10th Mountain Division, he was gravely wounded by a German shell blast in the Italian Alps two weeks before the end of the war. He lost his kidney and the use of his right arm, but, with faith and family support, he managed to survive and become a Republican senator from Kansas.

5. DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL by Anne Frank

Forget the truncated version of this diary you read in school. A new edition of the dairy by the famous Dutch Jewish teenager who hid with her family from the Nazis for two years in Amsterdam contains almost 30 percent more material than the original 1947 version. It provides a more complete -- and less sentimentalized -- version of the feisty teenager who died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945, three months before her 16th birthday

6. BAND OF BROTHERS: E COMPANY, 506TH REGIMENT, 101ST AIRBORNE FROM NORMANDY TO HITLER'S EAGLE NEST by Stephen E. Ambrose

Anything on World War II by the highly readable Stephen E. Ambrose is worth a look, but his Band of Brothers, which follows the men of Easy Company from D-Day to the capture of Hitler's "Eagle's Nest" in Berchtesgarden is the masterpiece that inspired Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg to produce the ten-hour HBO mini-series of the same name.

7. SURVIVAL IN AUSCHWITZ by Primo Levi

The inspiration for the play Primo, which just finished a limited run on Broadway, Primo Levi's account of his arrest, at age 25, in 1943 by Italian fascists and deportation is told with chilling simplicity. Levi was a chemist by training, a fact that saved his life during the 10 months he spent in the death camp. He went on to become a world-renowned writer, only to die in an apparent suicide, commonly attributed to the depression caused by his months in Auschwitz.

8. THE GREATEST GENERATION by Tom Brokaw

Former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw's monniker describing those who came of age during the Depression and World War II sparked a renewed interest in that period. The Greatest Generation, published in 2001, was followed by The Greatest Generation Speaks: Letters and Reflections, a compilation of the letters sent to Brokaw in response to the book, and Album of Memories: Personal Histories from the Greatest Generation, more reminiscence by World War II veterans and reflections from those who were left behind.

9. RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH: A HISTORY OF NAZI GERMANY by William L. Shirer

Foreign correspondent and historian William Shirer's account of Hitler's empire, published in 1960, is still considered a classic.

10. FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS by James Bradley

James Bradley follows the lives of the six men who ended up in the 1945 photograph of Marines raising up the American flag on Iwo Jima, arguably the most famous image of World War II. Bradley's father, John, was one of the six. But as he comments: "The heroes of Iwo Jima are the guys who didn't come back."

11. NO ORDINARY TIME: FRANKLIN AND ELEANOR ROOSEVELT: THE HOME FRONT IN WORLD WAR II by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin tells the little-heralded story of World War II on the homefront as seen from inside the White House where a small group of people -- including Eleanor Roosevelt -- profoundly influenced the choices President Roosevelt made during the war.

12. BURIED BY THE TIMES: THE HOLOCAUST AND AMERICA'S MOST IMPORTANT NEWSPAPER by Laurel Leff

This recently published look at how the New York Times downplayed the news of the Nazi's "Final Solution" is a cautionary tale about what can happen when newspapers abdicate their watchdog role.

13. AMERICA AT WAR IN COLOR: UNIQUE IMAGES OF THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE IN WORLD WAR II by Stewart Binns and Adrian Wood

We tend to imagine World War II in black and white since color photography was still in its infancy when the United States entered the war in 1941. That makes these rare and stunning color photographs from the period all the more fascinating.

14. KILROY WAS HERE: THE BEST AMERICAN HUMOR FROM WORLD WAR II

Television journalist Charles Osgood presents a compendium of GI humor, from Bill Mauldon's cartoons to the Dictionary of Military Slang.

15. HIROHITO AND THE MAKING OF MODERN JAPAN by Herbert P. Bix

In this compelling Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, historian Herbert Bix pokes holes in the notion that the Japanese emperor was a helpless figurehead, revealing him to be a contolling figure in Japan's brutal Pacific war.

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