Five Books On WW2

Written by Adam Waters

Director BFBS Academy and Creative

Women in World Wat 2


Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege 1940-1943

Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege 1940-1943

If you’re lucky enough to go diving around Malta you’ll see many, many wrecks from the conflict. This beautiful island was one of the most bombed places of the Second World War – remarkable for a place just under 17 miles long.  

This book by Holland shows how vital the arrival of Spitfires were to ‘Fortress Malta,’ the tense wait by the Maltese for supply ships to arrive (or not), and how so much hinged on the fate of this small, defiant island. An island constantly on the brink of starvation and menaced by sea, land, and air.  

It’s packed full of stories of defiance, bravery, terror, and grit. The island was awarded the George Cross to “bear witness to the heroism and devotion of its people.” This collective award of the medal is something that has only happened twice. Reading this remarkable book makes it clear why the people of Malta were so deserving.

Bloodlands book cover

Bloodlands – Timothy Snyder

Hitler and Stalin’s monstrous regimes murdered 14 million people between Berlin and Moscow. Not one of them were killed in combat.  

This book shines a light on a part of Europe trapped between Hitler and Stalin’s monstrous regimes.  

This harrowing yet essential read gives a voice to those who haven’t had one for too long. It’s people who died – and people who killed them.  

Snyder’s book is so powerful as it shows the ‘big picture’ of this forgotten suffering while never losing focus on the individuals who committed terrible crimes, and those who died as a result.  

“Market squares, now empty of both goods and customers, conveyed only the disharmonies of death. Early in the day the only sound was the soft breathing of the dying, huddled under rags that had once been clothes.” 

The Unwomanly Face of War – Svetlana Alexievich

The Unwomanly Face of War – Svetlana Alexievich 

“My specialty... My speciality is men's haircuts... 
A girl comes... I don't know how to cut her hair. She has luxuriant wavy hair. The commander enters the dugout. "Give her a man's haircut." 
"But she's a woman." 
"No, she's a soldier. She'll be a woman again after the war." 

Some 500,000 women fought for Soviet Russia. This oral history interviews hundreds of them – and lets them tell their stories.  

Snipers, Pilots, Tank Drivers, Nurses, Doctors, and more reveal their experiences of a war and a society that shunned many of them once it was over. The thought of the nation’s women fighting was too hard for many to bear. Yet their strength continued long after the fighting stopped.  

Defeat into Victory - William Slim

Defeat into Victory - William Slim 

The Imperial Japanese Army seemed unstoppable when they crossed into India at Imphal and Kohima. Against all the odds they were pushed back. 

The Burma campaign is one that’s close to a lot of us at BFBS Creative. Many of our relatives fought in the conflict. ‘Bill’ Slim’s memoir covers this – and more. His statue stands outside MOD Main Building (and cuts a unique figure with his trademark bush hat).  

This is a readable and human account of how the line was held in India, how the Japanese were fought, and ultimately attacked.  

But for all of Slim’s achievements he remains modest. And unusually for a senior military person – he is willing to say ‘I was wrong.’  

Maus – Art Spiegelman

Maus – Art Spiegelman  

“It would take many books, my life, and no one wants anyway to hear such stories.” 

This powerful graphic novel uses a simple storytelling device – Jews are depicted as mice and the Nazis as cats. Spiegelman tells his father’s story as a Holocaust survivor during the atrocity as well as the modern day relationship between the two.  

Seeing the suffering of the ‘mice’ in the novel only makes their pain seem more human. Depicting the different groups of people as animals may seem like a gimmick. But it is a vital piece of Holocaust literature – and won the Pulitzer Prize.