Many a passion and many a career start with a good book. With that in mind, we asked a leading historian to look back at the World War II histories that were most meaningful to him as a boy.
D-Day: The Sixth of June, 1944
David Howarth (1959)
“I was caught up in the D-Day epic very early, and Howarth was the first to do it. Cornelius Ryan, Stephen Ambrose, and many others followed. Several matched Howarth, but he marked the start of a long fascination. I eventually wrote Normandy Crucible about this campaign, and designed board games whose themes are the American and the British beaches on D-Day.”
Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941–45
Alan Clark (1962)
“The scope and crucial importance of the Russian Front were a revelation when I read Alan Clark’s book, soon followed by Heinz Guderian’s memoirs. Another passion began. I’ve since written articles and designed several board games on aspects of the campaign in Russia.”
Japanese Destroyer Captain
Tameichi Hara, edited by Fred Saito and Roger Pineau (1961)
“This memoir of the Pacific War from a Japanese point of view propelled me to search for more insights into the other side of the fight. Descriptions in histories written by Westerners were so superficial that the Japanese side cried out for attention. This, plus my interest in intelligence, later inspired my work on Combined Fleet Decoded and my newest book, Islands of Destiny.”
James E. Bassett (1962)
“Though not as moving as Norman Mailer’s or Herman Wouk’s novels, Bassett’s work conveyed a real sense of the razor’s edge on which the early months of the Pacific War balanced. I have tried to capture that sense in Islands of Destiny.”
The Man Who Never Was
Ewen Montagu (1964)
“This fascinating story of a scheme in which British agents used a corpse and fabricated documents to deceive the Germans in advance of the Allied invasion of Sicily sparked my interest in intelligence matters of all kinds. I gradually broadened that to encompass modern espionage as well as wartime covert activities. I’m now designing a board game pitting the Western European Resistance against the Nazi Occupation.”
The Foxes of the Desert
Paul Carell (1960)
“I was reading about the Battle of El Alamein during a late-night airplane flight at the peak of the Cuban Missile Crisis, wondering if we’d be around to see the aftermath—much as Rommel must have felt during Monty’s great assault. Foxes includes the axiom “Victory has a hundred fathers while defeat is an orphan” that John F. Kennedy used to describe historical outcomes. The Western Desert Campaign became another of my abiding interests.”
John Prados has written more than 20 works on military and diplomatic history, intelligence operations, and analysis of international relations, and has invented more than 30 published board games, including the best-selling Third Reich. His latest book is Islands of Destiny: The Solomons Campaign and the Eclipse of the Rising Sun (NAL Caliber; see review on page 77). That book and its predecessor, Normandy Crucible, arose from his desire to show how much can be learned by revisiting campaign histories of World War II in order to put the shadow war of intelligence in its proper place. Combined Fleet Decoded and two other Prados books have been nominated by their publishers for the Pulitzer Prize.
Originally published in the December 2012 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.