Friday, June 24, 2016

War Novels

Recently, my late night reading has included Rabble in Arms by Kenneth Roberts. It's one of those grand historical novels - a type that was popular in the forties - and its focus is on the American forces that fought alongside Benedict Arnold to thwart the British on what may be called the Canadian front during the American Revolution..

It may be the greatest novel about those days but, let's face it, the competition is sparse. While you could fill large sections of libraries with novels set during the American Civil War, the Revolutionary War gets far less attention. This resembles how World War II novels far outnumber the ranks of the World War I cadre. Novels about Vietnam are much easier to find than ones about the Korean War. The War of 1812 has probably lured more novelists than has the Spanish-American War.

The popularity of Civil War novels is understandable. Brother versus brother. Blue versus Gray. Freeing slaves. Lincoln. Lee, Grant. Sherman. Given the dramatic appeal, the surprise may be that there aren't more Civil War novels.

World War II has a similar stark appeal. The Nazis were stereotypical villains and then some. One glance at an SS uniform and you conclude, "We've got to get rid of those guys." Put a Nazi in a novel and not a lot of heavy lifting is required to convince readers that the character is dangerous and evil. Remember Marathon Man? You can still fight Nazis long after 1945.

So here are some questions:

What is the best novel about the American Revolution?

What is the best novel about the American Civil War?

What is the best novel about World War I?

What is the best novel about World War II?

What is the best novel about the Korean War?

What is the best novel about the Vietnam War?

I realize there are several wars and conflicts left out of the above so feel free to fill in any blanks. [The Valley by John Renehan is in my reading stack.]

The nominees should not be limited to American writers. [We can guess which novel will take first place for World War I.]

Your replies are eagerly awaited.


Harvey Morrell said...

Can I cheat and nominate series for a couple of these? If so,
Revolutionary War = Kent Family Chronicles by John Jakes
Civil War = Joseph Altsheler's Civil War Series (8 volumes written between 1914 and 1916)

would be among my nominees.

Michael Wade said...


I knew that Jakes had written about the Civil War but didn't know about his Revolutionary War novels. The Altsheler series is also new to me.

Many thanks!


Steve said...

Sadly, I just read on Joel Engel's Twitter feed that Michael Herr passed away today. I would nominate his autobiographical novel "Dispatches" for the Vietnam War. Several vignettes from that novel found their way into Herr's the screenplay for "Apocalypse Now."

I'd nominate Shelby Foote's "Shiloh" for the Civil War.

Michael Wade said...


I deeply appreciate your recommendation of both of those and will readily confess that I've read neither one. That will be quickly remedied.



Anonymous said...

On the lighter side Catch 22 by Joseph Heller and M*A*S*H by-pen name Richard Hooker.

Michael Wade said...

Good choices!

Military novels with a lighter touch would be an interesting category in itself.