Best single-volume book on WWII

I Posted at Wargamer but I’d like your response too.

The debate is endless, but which book do you consider to be the best single-volume book on WWII?

Choices are:

[The Second World War: A Complete History by Martin Gilbert]

[The Second World War: A World in Flames (Osprey)]

[The Second World War: (Keegan)]

If you have another, feel free to submit.

I like the Gilbert.

But they are all good choices.


Here’s an appeal to authority: West Point uses Keegan’s “The Face of Battle” in their core Military History courses. I don’t know if any of your choices is used in the non-required courses though. Just sayin’, USMA likes Keegan, or at least they like that one book of his.

I prefer smaller scope 2nd World War books, like some of Ambrose’s stuff. Any suggestions?

I’ve been re-reading Leckie’s Book. It focuses quite a bit on people, with mini biographies of the key players, and really stays away from technical stuff.

It’s a little USMC-centric, but that’s to be expected from a former marine.

I’ve read Keegan’s, and it’s ok, just not very memorable.

It really depends what theatre you are interested in, the choice is vast.

Three great books to get you started from land sea & air that I enjoyed.

Quartered Safe Out Here: A Recollection of the War in Burma (Paperback)
by George MacDonald Fraser

Cynical and funny memoirs of a frontline soldiers war in Burma.

ONE OF OUR SUBMARINES (Pen and Sword Military Classics) (Paperback)
by Edward Young

Brilliant submarine memoir from the North Sea to the Pacific.

The Blond Knight of Germany (Paperback)
by Raymond F. Toliver, Trevor J. Constable

The best biography of the greatest fighter pilot who ever lived.

Finally for a more factually dubious but very entertaining account the ever popular

The Forgotten Soldier (Paperback)
by Guy Sajer


Good choices, Rod. Some of these I’ve read but I did not know of the Fraser book! I ordered a copy today. Thanks.

Damn it, Rod, I just ordered Blond Knight of Germany too. ;)

What do you mean by “best?” Most gripping potboiler? Best overall high level history (because you obviously will not get details at a single volume level)?

If you are just looking for a “covers the war as secondary source history,” consider A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II by Gerhard Weinberg.


Oh… single-volume? Book? Sorry, didn’t read the title…

Granted, the word “best” is highly subjective, especially when considering books, music, art, etc. I’m most interested in a solid, unbiased overview, with excellent writing. The author’s writing skills are key for me. I despise dry, cold writing of history. I don’t want a college text book. There are too many great authors in the world for us to waste our time with stagnant, boring books, no matter how many interesting facts they deliver.

I think we all prefer a history book written with the movement of a novel. That said, I’ve got Gilbert and Keegan at the top of the list so far.

And that said… the Osprey book, while drier and a bit more disjointed, sure is pretty! Love those color maps!

I’m dying to get that DVD collection! Definitely on my list.

I’ve got this, and can vouch for its awesomeness!
There is some nostalgia involved, as I fondly remember watching the original when I was a kid.

Stalingrad and The Fall of Berlin, 1945, both by Anthony Beevor.

I have them both, and thanks for the suggestion. Good books! But let’s stay on topic of single-volume books of WWII.

Sweet! You wont regret either!

Ok, let’s narrow it down.

Gilbert or Keegan?

I’d go with Keegan.