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Reach for the Sky
Paul Brickhill (1954)
“Still the best account of a truly remarkable man, Douglas Bader, who lost his legs and fought successfully to fly again, returning to the cockpit in time to lead others in combat during the Battle of Britain. It helps that it is written by my favorite narrative historian, Paul Brickhill, himself an RAF pilot and also the master storyteller behind The Dam Busters and The Great Escape. Brilliant and inspiring—popular history at its very finest.”

Anthony Beevor (1998)
“The epic and mesmerizing story of the pivotal battle. This is by far the best book by Beevor: beautifully structured, superbly researched, and always involving; the narrative glides along with the brio and elegance of a modern day Tolstoy. It will remain the definitive account for decades to come.”

The Longest Day
Cornelius Ryan (1959)
“A hugely accessible, brilliantly reported, and concise account of the most important 24 hours in history: D-Day. Ryan earned his stripes as a reporter and his mastery of his profession shows in every scene. A powerful antidote to the dry histories and jingoistic accounts that have marked recent anniversaries.”

The Last Days of Hitler
Hugh Trevor-Roper (1947)
“The ultimate insider’s account of the madness and mayhem in Hitler’s bunker as the war drew to a close. Not long after, Trevor-Roper interrogated many of the men and women who were there to witness the demise of the führer. A brilliant analysis of the Nazi court’s Wagnerian fall.”

Beyond War
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1962)
“It changed my view of history and humanity, and it taught me how powerful true-to-life fiction can be when I first read it as a naïve teenager at the height of the Cold War. I read it again recently and was bowled over yet again. The greatest novel to come out of the gulag, the Soviet Union, and, in my opinion, the last century.”

Alex Kershaw is the author of the acclaimed World War II histories The Few, The Longest Winter, The Bedford Boys, and Escape from the Deep. His latest book, The Envoy, about Raoul Wallenberg’s rescue of thousands of Jews, was published in 2010 by Da Capo Press.