Recently I have re-read and enjoyed Max Hastings' "The Korean War" and "A Bridge too Far" by Cornelius Ryan. Both factual accounts taken from eye witness testimonies of the conflicts, both with rare insight and interesting detail. Both are well written and even though "old" are recommended and well worth the read if you like that sort of book. Both have parallels for modern times. Hastings indicates a failure in the American Military known since world war two and still perpetuated in which the teeth arms are denuded of quality low rank officers. The working class men who take the brunt of the fighting may be heroic but lacking good junior officers are less effective than we might otherwise expect. Ryan exposes the overconfidence of all the allied commanders in 1944. He could not have known it for Ultra was still a secret when the story was written in 1974 but the allies knew about the 9th and 10th SS relocation to Arnhem and chose to discount it. Put simply, they convinced themselves to believe that the defeat of the German army at Falaise was a total defeat of German Arms in the West and all that was needed was mopping up. The lesson? Never underestimate your enemy or overestimate your own prowess. A factor that resounds to this day in every walk of life.
A long list of recommended reads follows:
In the factual war category are:
First Light by Geoffrey Wellum. An absorbing auto biography of the youngest RAF fighter pilot to be engaged in the Battle of Britain in 1940 and a testament to courage and fortitude in a time of extreme peril. I cannot recommend this book more.
The End of the Beginning by Tim Clayton and Phil Craig. On the same lines as Ryan and Hastings, factual accounts from participants to create the story of Victory in North Africa. The title is taken from Winston Churchill's statement at the time. "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end but it may be the end of the beginning."
Band of Brigands by Christy Campbell tells the remarkable and harrowing story of how the first men in tanks went to war. Non other than Len Deighton said "A military history of the first rank. A completely satisfying investigation that is both chilling and startling."
Berlin, the Downfall by Antony Beevor. Does this need any explanation?
Mailed Fist by John Foley, a first hand account of the 6th Armoured Division through Normandy to the defeat of Germany.
Man Flies by Nancy Winters, the story of Alberto Santos Dumont. Who? Exactly, and yet a hundred years ago he was a pioneer of flight. In 1901 Santos Dumont won the Deutche prize as the first person to make a viable airship and in 1907 for over a year was thought to be the first person to fly a heavier than air machine. Oh, and as an aside that wristwatch you wear? Louis Cartier invented it just for him.
The Last Journey of William Huskisson by Simon Garfield. Huskisson was an MP for Manchester and integral to the building of the first public railway, the Liverpool to Manchester Railway, and ironically its first casualty.
Shogun by James Clavell. This is a classic, read it and re read it.
Round the Bend by Nevil Shute. Another classic, maybe a little less well known than his "slide rule"
Battle Flag by Bernard Cornwell
Redcoat by Bernard Cornwell
The unsurpassed Trojan Trilogy by David Gemmell
Lord of the Silver Bow
Sheild of Thunder
Fall of Kings
Science and Fantasy Fiction
Legend by David Gemmell
Hawkwoods Voyage by Paul Kearney
The Long Arm of Gill Hamilton by Larry Niven
Nightfall (and other stories) by Isaac Asimov
Oh, and there's this other guy who writes SF among his other projects.