Tag Archives: Books

Top 10 Non-Fiction Books Set During World War II

Following up on our list of the Top 10 novels set during World War II, these are our favorite non-fiction works.  If you feel that we missed an important one, we invite you to walk into your local library and count how many shelves are filled by this subject.  The choices may betray our preference for pilots and air combat, which is perhaps why our first blog post covered Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.  Do not miss our other book recommendations under the Top 10 Lists tab.

10. God Is My Co-Pilot by Col. Robert L. Scott (1943)

One of the original “Flying Tigers” wrote his autobiography during the war.

9. The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw (1998)

These short biographical sketches focus on the post-war lives of servicemen and women.

8. Going Solo by Roald Dahl (1986)

An autobiography of his time as a young pilot by the author of The BFG, Matilda, and James and the Giant Peach.

7. In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors by Doug Stanton (2001)

The horrifying tale of the few survivors of a lone battleship torpedoed and sunk in the Pacific Ocean in 1945.

6. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo by Capt. Ted W. Lawson (1943)

A first-hand account of the lead-up and aftermath of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in 1942.

5. Night by Elie Wiesel (1960)

The first in a trilogy tells the story of the author’s survival in a concentration camp.

4. Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest by Stephen E. Ambrose (1992)

Better known as a TV miniseries, a book by the author of D-Day and Citizen Soldiers.

3. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947)

A 20th-century classic featuring writing that still elicits fear and dread in a reader.

2. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (2010)

This well-written biography of Louie Zamperini can be summed up in one word: unbelievable.

1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl  (1946)

This is one of the most inspiring books ever written and it starts with the author’s experience in a concentration camp.

Honorable Mentions

Soaring to Glory: A Tuskegee Airman’s Firsthand Account of World War II by Philip Handleman and Lt. Col. Harry T. Stewart Jr. (2019)

The latest in a growing library of books written about and by Tuskegee Airmen.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown (2013)

The events described in one of the best non-fiction books ever written culminated in Germany before the war began.

7. The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II by Gregory A. Freeman (2007)

A gripping story of the daring rescue of Allied airmen stranded on the Balkan Peninsula.

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Top 10 Novels Set During World War II

Since the world just commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we thought we would honor the Greatest Generation with a list of our favorite novels set during World War II, of which there are so many that some great ones did not make the cut.  In 2016, we were on hand for the ceremonies on the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawai‘i and can imagine how moving it must have been to be there in Normandy.  We will soon release our list of the Top 10 non-fiction books set during World War II, but in the meantime check out our other book recommendations.

10. The Thin Red Line by James Jones (1962)

A story of the fight to take Guadalcanal from the author of From Here to Eternity.

9. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (2009)

There are several good books about Japanese-American internment, but this is our favorite.

8. The Guns of Navarone by Alistair MacLean (1957)

An action novel about a commando team that destroys an impenetrable fortress on a Greek island.

7. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (2015)

A fascinating glimpse into the lives of two sisters in occupied France.

6. Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener (1947)

Imperialism and racism are the backdrop to all of these short stories.

5. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (2008)

A fun yet sad story told through a series of letters from an island in the English Channel.

4. The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk (1951)

Pulitzer Prize-winner based on the author’s experiences in the U.S. Navy.

3. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (2012)

A Gestapo interrogation is the center of this tale with a major plot twist.

2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)

Most World War II novels involve Death, but he is an actual character in this masterpiece.

1. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)

These unforgettable characters stuck at an air base in Italy are both hysterical and poignant.

Honorable Mentions

City of Thieves by David Benioff (2008)

Two Russian prisoners attempt to secure a dozen eggs or face execution during the siege of Leningrad.

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (1940)

This classic is set during the Spanish Civil War in the years leading up to WWII.

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Top 10 Novels Set in Alaska

In our previous list of the Top 10 Non-Fiction Books Set in Alaska, we explained that books about Alaska are so plentiful they have inspired their own genre: Alaskana.  This is our list of our favorite novels set in the state. 

10. Heartbroke Bay by Lynn D’Urso (2010)

Based on a true story, this is an interesting fictional account of a woman living at Lituya Bay before the catastrophic tsunami of 1899.

9. Alaska: A Novel by James A. Michener (1988)

Michener’s epic style meshes well with this gigantic state.

8. A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow (1992)

The first in a series of mysteries set in a fictional rendering of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park with the unforgettable heroine Kate Shugak.

7. Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner (2004)

Kantner grew up in “the bush,” which is where he set this story.

6. Sailor Song by Ken Kesey (1992)

The author of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest set this comedic novel in Southeast Alaska.

5. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (2012)

A supernatural tale of two homesteaders in Alaska who discover a young girl in their yard circa 1920.

4. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon (2007)

Read about this alternate reality after you visit Sitka to truly picture the story’s setting.

3. The Sea Runners by Ivan Doig (1982)

Based on a true story of four Scandinavian men who escaped indentured servitude in Russian Alaska in 1853.

2. Bird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun by Velma Wallis (1996)

A traditional Athabaskan story is retold exceptionally well by the author who also wrote Two Old Women.

1. The End of the Road by Tom Bodett (1989)

Bodett wrote a series of hilarious novels set in Homer in the 1980s that have stood the test of time.

Honorable Mention

To Build a Fire and Other Stories by Jack London (1908)

Many of these classic tales are set in Canada’s Yukon Territory, but they could just as well be in Alaska.

Top 10 Non-Fiction Books Set in Alaska

Books about Alaska are so plentiful they have inspired their own genre: Alaskana.  This is a list of our favorite non-fiction books about Alaska (leaving off the overrated Coming into the Country by John McPhee, who has written many better books).  As a couple we have visited the state many times, including for our honeymoon.  Scott attended grad school in Fairbanks where he took advantage of the entire floor of the university library dedicated to Alaskana.  Two of the very best books (One Man’s Wilderness and A Naturalist in Alaska) wound up on our list of top non-fiction set in a National Park. Our next list will cover Alaskana fiction.

10. The Blue Bear:A True Story of Friendship and Discovery in the Alaskan Wild by Lynn Schooler (2002)

A descriptive account of traveling Southeast Alaska with the renowned photographer Michio Hoshino.

9. Tracks of the Unseen: Meditations on Alaska Wildlife, Landscape, and Photography by Nick Jans (2000)

Jans is a well-known contemporary non-fiction author in the state who writes great short stories.

8. Stalking the Ice Dragon: An Alaskan Journey by Susan Zwinger (1991)

The daughter of famous naturalist Ann Zwinger offers an interesting, but slightly dated view of Alaska.

7. Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska by Rockwell Kent (1920)

Kent was a successful illustrator when he and his son moved to a remote cabin on Resurrection Bay.

6. Alaska Wilderness: Exploring the Central Brooks Range by Robert Marshall (1956)

Marshall’s name is synonymous with wilderness and his descriptions of the Arctic are wonderful.

5. Two in the Far North by Margaret Murie (1962)

The wife of naturalist Olaus Murie eloquently described growing up in Fairbanks and their time together in the Arctic.

4. Not Really an Alaskan Mountain Man by Doug Fine (2004)

A funny book about surviving an Alaskan winter written by an outsider who moved to Homer.

3. Arctic Daughter: A Wilderness Journey by Jean Aspen (1993)

There are many books about homesteading in the wilds of Alaska, but this is our favorite.

2. Looking for Alaska by Peter Jenkins (2001)

A great introduction to the variety of people and landscapes encompassed by this massive state (and not to be confused with the fiction book with the same title).

1. Alaska’s Wolf Man: The 1915-55 Wilderness Adventures of Frank Glaser by Jim Rearden (1998)

An excellent biography of one of the toughest men to ever trod the Alaskan tundra.

Honorable Mentions

Danger Stalks the Land: Alaskan Tales of Death and Survival by Larry Kaniut (1999)

Known better for his collected Bear Tales, this title covers a variety of ways to die in the Far North.

A Long Trek Home: 4,000 Miles by Boot, Raft, and Ski by Erin McKittrick (2009)

Worth reading just for the logistics required to get from Seattle to the Aleutian Islands solely by manpower.

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Top 10 Non-Fiction Books Set in Multiple National Parks

The only thing that is nearly as fun as visiting National Parks is reading about them. Here is a list of our 10 favorite non-fiction books that cover multiple units of the National Park Service (NPS) System. Our previous list was limited to those set in a single park.

10. Hey Ranger! True Tales of Humor and Misadventure from America’s National Parks
by Jim Burnett (2012)
Like the historic Oh, Ranger! books, this one covers the lighter side of interactions between NPS employees and tourists.

9. Before They’re Gone: A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks
by Michael Lanza (2012)
The writer travels to some of the most imperiled National Parks with his family to experience them before they are permanently altered by climate change.

8. Lassoing the Sun: A Year in America’s National Parks
by Mark Woods (2016)
This Florida journalist received a grant to explore National Parks across the United States of America and brings an interesting perspective on them.

7. The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest
by Timothy Egan (1990)
The author visits many National Park Service sites in this good introduction for outsiders to the landscapes and people of Washington and Oregon.

6. Travels in the Greater Yellowstone
by Jack Turner (2008)
The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem also includes Grand Teton National Park and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, and this is an interesting journey across its many corners by an always opinionated and interesting writer.

5. Desert Time: A Journey through the American Southwest
by Diana Kappel-Smith (1992)
The author’s pencil illustrations add a wonderful layer to her vivid descriptions of American deserts from Idaho to Texas, including numerous National Park Service units.

4. House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization across the American Southwest
by Craig Childs (2007)
Craig Childs has written several great non-fiction books set in the Southwest U.S. This one describes the world of the Ancestral Puebloan (formerly called Anasazi) people at multiple sites including Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Aztec Ruins National Monument, and Mesa Verde National Park.

3. The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons
by John Wesley Powell (1874)
The author, a one-armed Civil War veteran, led the first expedition down the unmapped and untamed Green and Colorado Rivers through the Grand Canyon in 1869.

2. Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey through Every National Park

by Conor Knighton (2020)

During the NPS centennial year in 2016, this TV reporter visited all 59 National Parks (now there are 63).

…and finally our #1 non-fiction book set in multiple National Parks:

1. Our National Parks
by John Muir (1901)
Famous preservationist John Muir wrote many colorful descriptions of America’s wonderlands in his books (especially his beloved Yosemite), but none covers as wide a range as Our National Parks.


Honorable Mentions
Travels with Charlie in Search of America
by John Steinbeck (1962)
Perhaps a bit dated now, but this is a cherished travelogue from a national treasure.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
by Cheryl Strayed (2012)
The Pacific Crest Trail crosses many parks in the National Park Service System and is considered an affiliated unit. This sometimes painful-to-read autobiography contains beautiful descriptions of the natural landscape.

My Wild Life: A Memoir of Adventures within America’s National Parks
by Roland H. Wauer (2014)
The first half of this autobiography of a National Park Ranger is an interesting look at research in Big Bend, Death Valley, and other National Parks before devolving into his life list of international bird species.