History Happy Hour Reading List

history happy hourHistory Happy Hour co-host historians Chris Anderson and Rick Beyer have put together a list of books that they and their guests have recommended or mentioned on the show. It’s a good one, so settle into your favorite easy chair and read on!

Week 1 – Introduction

Rick: This was the first week so the topics were a bit all over the board. We touched on the American Revolution and the violence of its beginning. To read a wonderful new book on that topic I would recommend: Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birthby Holger Hock.

For Pearl Harbor I’d recommend At Dawn We Slept by Gordon Prange, which is a classic account of the Japanese attack. New, but very, very good is Attack on Pearl Harbor: Strategy, Combat, Myths, Deceptions, by Alan D. Zinn. I found it very analytical and full of some amazing revelations and conclusions.

Week 2 – Stories from D-Day

Chris: Such a big topic. I’m listing some newish titles that many Americans might not be aware of or have not considered. I won’t list any of Joe Balkoski’s books here as he has a whole show but in addition to Joe’s books, you must try-Bletchley Park and D-Dayby David Kenyon. Jaw droppingly good book on the vital role that the code breakers at Bletchley played in the D-Day invasion. Best book on D-Day I’ve read in years.

Stout Hearts: The British and Canadians in Normandy in 1944. Ben Kite looks at the other half of the landing forces. Not only is his description of events on the non-American beaches exhaustive, but he does a wonderful job of explaining how a military force evolved during the course of the campaign. Highly recommended.

Last, try Stopping the Panzers: The Untold Story of D-Day,by Arc Milner. Milner provides a thought-provoking reassessment of the role played by the 3rdCanadian Division and the Canadian contribution to the Normandy landings.

Rick: I talked about Second Rangers, Second Lieutenant Ted Lapres and Pointe Du Hoc. Colonel Robert Black’s book The Battalion is a solid telling of that story, and follows the Second Rangers all the way to the Rhine.

Week 3 – Five books on a Desert Island

Chris: This was a very tough week for me. It was almost impossible to choose the 5 books I would take with me to a desert island but, after much back and forth, here are my selections:

Campaigns of Napoleon, by David Chandler. Chandler’s military biography of Napoleon is still, in my opinion, the definitive biography of history’s greatest general. Unbeatable in its analysis and scope. The maps are amazing as well. This book showed me what an analytical biography could be and how much there was to know about Napoleon. You could read it a dozen times and still get something new from it.

The First Day on the Somme, by Martin Middlebrook. Although thousands of pages have been written about July 1, 1916, none have matched Middlebrook’s account. Besides being an excellent account of the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army, Middlebrook’s book showed me how a soldier’s eye view of a battle should be written.

The Face of Battle, by John Keegan. Keegan’s history of Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme literally changed how military history was written and what ‘battle’ means for soldiers throughout the ages.

Berlin Diaryby William Shirer. I try to read this book at least once a year and every time I do it still terrifies me. Gripping account of how Germany descended into totalitarianism, murder and insanity. A chilling reminder of why World War II had to be fought and won.

With the Old Breed on Peleliu and Okinawa, by Eugene Sledge. To my mind Sledge’s account of the part he played in the brutal Pacific battles of Peleliu and Okinawa remain the finest first-person account by an ordinary soldier I have ever read.

Rick: I focused on five books that I have read over and over. Chris says I cheated by picking books that are single volumes of two and three volume sets, and he may be right! But I could be happy on a desert island with just these five

The Civil War: Fredericksburg to Meridianby Shelby Foote. Like a lot of Americans, I discovered Shelby Foote watching Ken Burns Civil War. I have read his trilogy over and over, and this book, with its depiction of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, among other battles is the best.

War and Remembranceby Herman Wouk. A follow-up to the Winds of War, this novel follows the Henry family from the day after Pearl Harbor to August 1945. I first read these as a teenager, and they were the foundation of a life long interest in WWII. And the real history in them is impeccably researched and told – especially the Battle of Midway.

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill by William Manchester. I am always fascinated by how historical figures rise to greatness. This covers Churchill from 1932 to 1940, when he is desperately trying to warn the country of the coming storm, and his countrymen are slowly waking up. Riveting.

Armageddon by Sir Max Hastings. Covering the last 9 months of the war in Europe from every point of view: American, British, Canadian, German, Russian, Jewish, POW, civilian etc. Eye-opening

Hellhound on his Trailby Hampton Sides. A beautifully researched and written book about the events leading up to the assassination of Martin Luther King, and the search for his killer. A murder mystery in which you start out knowing who is murdered and who did it – but that matters not a whit.

Week 4 – Ghost Army

Chris: Well, there really are only a couple here. The first, obviously, is Rick’s book (co-authored with Elizabeth Sayles), The Ghost Army of World War II, which, along with the Rick’s documentary, is the definitive account of this incredible unit. Also of interest is Jonathan Gawne’s Ghosts of the ETO: American Tactical Deception Units in the ETO.

Rick: Who am I to disagree with Chris? I will say that Jon’s book is an excellent operation by operation look at the unit, an Jon was kind enough to offer his expertise in the documentary as well. If you want to read the official history of the unit, the most all-encompassing primary source document, you can find it here:

Ghost Army Legacy Project>>

Week 5 – Joe Balkoski, “The Top Living D-Day Historian”

Balkoski’s books on Omaha and Utah beaches are unsurpassed as are the five-volume history of the 29thInfantry Division. There is no finer historian of America’s role in Normandy and any D-Day library of note should contain his books.

  • Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944
  • Utah Beach: The Amphibious Landings and Airborne Operations on D-Day
  • Beyond the Beachhead: The 29thInfantry Division in Normandy
  • Beachhead Brittany: The 29thInfantry Division at Brest, August-September 1944
  • From Brittany to the Reich: The 29thInfantry Division in Germany September-November 1944
  • Our Tortured Souls: The 29thInfantry Division in the Rhineland, November-December 1944
  • The Last Roll Call: The 29thInfantry Division Victorious 1945

Week Six – Revolution Revelations

We mentioned a few books in this discussion. Private Yankee Doodle: Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier by Joseph Plum Martin is a soldier’s first person account of his time fighting for American independence. From the other side of the firing line we have John Grave Simcoe’s A Journal of the Operations of the Queen’s Rangers, the story of the loyalist British Army unit he commanded. And finally, Paul Revere’s Ride, David Hackett Fischer’s detailed account of first day of the Revolution and the events leading up to it.

Week 7 – Faces of Margraten

Sebastiaan Vonk is a young historian who has made a name for himself as the founder of the Faces of Margraten memorial project. His first book is War is Hell, but Damned Exciting: U.S. Remembrance of World War II in the post veteran era.

Week 8 – Winston Churchill

Andrew Roberts has written the biography of Winston Churchill, Churchill Walking With Destiny, that is certain to become the definitive biography of the man the BBC named as history’s greatest Briton. He has written a great number of highly regarded works of history and biography that are worth reading. Among his other works are, The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War, Masters and Commanders: How Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall and Allanbrooke won the war in the west and, most recently, Leadership in War: Lessons from those who made history.

Week 9 – Custer and the Plains War 

John Langellier is a renowned historian of the Plains Wars and the U.S. Army in the West. Among his many works are: Myles Keogh, a definitive biography of the quintessential American cavalryman and The U.S. Army in the West, which is the most complete history of the material culture of the American soldier of the Indian Wars written. In addition to Langellier’s works, you may also enjoy:

Forty Miles a Day on Beans and Hay: Enlisted Soldier Fighting the Indian Wars, by Don Rickey. A very good social history of the U.S. soldier during the Indian Wars.

The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull and the Battle of the Little Big Horn, by Nathanial Philbrick is a solid popular history of the battle and its leading personalities by a prolific author.

The Strategy of Defeat at the Little Big Horn: A Military and Timing Analysis of the Battle, by Frederic C. Wagner III, is a much more academic and analytical history of the battle than Philbrick’s. Warning, this is not beach reading.

Week 10 – The Role of the Combat Historian

Erik Flint on the methods and procedures of the combat historian and his experiences as a historian during the war in Afghanistan. To learn more about the unique military role of the combat historian and two of the earliest practitioners of the craft see: Pogue’s War: Diaries of a World War II Combat Historian, by Forrest C. Pogue who, after the war, wrote Supreme Command for the Army’s official history of World War II as well as the magisterial multi-volume biography of George C. Marshall.

A critical analysis of another equally famous wartime historian is: SLAM: The Influence of SLA Marshall on the U.S. Army, by F.D.G. Williams.


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