Updated: Oct 5, 2020
If you would have told me last year or even last month that I would be so completely obsessed with WWII, I would have undoubtedly laughed in your face. But still, here we are, and I’m giving all of you a non-exhaustive list of WWII (and a few exceptional WWI) books, shows and movies. All of these I have either read, watched, or come very close to reading or watching. I hope you can find something that interests you and if not, that’s also a fine thing.
*This list will be updated whenever I come across compelling war related material, so check back every once in a while.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris - an excellent read about the life of a concentration camp prisoner who was tasked with tattooing numbers onto new prisoners upon their arrival.
Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson - a story about the politics of war and what it means to be family.
The Huntress by Kate Quinn - a novel that tears down stereotypes about women in times of war, particularly in Soviet Russia.
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn - another book that pokes at stereotypes about women in times of war, although unlike The Huntress, this story is based on espionage and the way women’s stereotypes can make them all the more powerful.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr - an absolutely gripping book that outlines the lives of two people in very different positions during WWII. This book forces us to question what sight does for us, what war means for children and how we can come to live without certain parts of ourselves.
Night by Elie Weisel - a classic novel about the horrors of the Holocaust. This book is the most holocaust-central on this list, but an essential read for anyone who seeks the truths of this horrible situation.
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown - I am currently reading this one so I don’t have a complete review, but it is a non-fiction book about several Americans and their struggles surrounding the Berlin Olympics of 1936.
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway - a story of Hemingway’s time in Italy during WWI. It speaks to the subtle deterioration that war provokes on the human mind and what it means to belong. This book also made me want to drink cognac, as Hemingway often does.
Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler - this one is still sitting on my shelf collecting dust, but hopefully I’ll break it out soon. It’s about, obviously, drug usage during the Third Reich.
Beautiful Souls by Eyal Press - a study that shows what it takes to say no to popular opinions, particularly in Nazi Germany.
The Greatest Events of WWII in Color, Netflix Series - this series breaks down big events of WWII into separate episodes. It gives behind the scenes footage and explains the actual events very well. Personal favorites are The Liberation of Buchenwald (episode 9) and D-Day (episode 6).
The Devil Next Door, Netflix Series: an overview of Ivan the Terrible’s legal trials. Ivan the Terrible sent thousands of Jews into gas chambers during the Holocaust. It is a compelling show that explains the way the law is both crucial and fallible when searching for justice.
Band of Brothers, Amazon Prime: this show follows the ebbs and flows of war through the Easy Company.
Dunkirk: a film about the German forces surrounding the Allied forces at Dunkirk. This was one of the most notable events of the war as the Allies made a successful escape from a situation that could have ended the war. The movie expertly and quietly explains the nuances of war, relationships between men during war times, and the experience of PTSD.
Schindler’s List: if there is one movie that should be required for all people of the world, I would hope that it would be Schindler’s List. This film does not shy away from the grotesque and immoral actions that took place during WWII and in Nazi concentration camps.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: a heartbreaking film that shows the effect of war on children. It asks questions of what it means to be human, the impact of war on the psyche and how one may develop individual beliefs outside of one’s family.
Saving Private Ryan: this movie explains that moments of silence in war can exist during moments of intense adrenaline and fear. Saving Private Ryan shows us a version of war that is not glossed over or seen through rose colored glasses.
1917 - this WWI movie follows two British men as they follow seemingly ridiculous orders. It is a story about brotherhood, family, triumph and hardship.
Unbroken - this film is a true story about Louis Zamperini. It outlines his life and the unthinkable events that he experienced.