There are thousands of war novels and obviously I haven’t read them all but this is a selection of books that stand the test of time.
I have stuck for the most part to novels that are about the experience of war or in which war plays a major part. This lets out a lot of good books which use the war as a backdrop – Len Deighton’s SS-GB, Ken Follett’s The Eye of the Needle and Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain for example.
There is nothing really obscure here so if you plan to use this list for gift-buying you will want to check whether your intended recipient already has a copy.
Fields of Fire – James H Webb
The Vietnam war spawned a number of fine novels, but for my money this the best of the lot. The action is specific to the time and place but the depiction of small groups of men in combat is timeless.
The Killer Angels
The classic novel of the American Civil War. This is not really about interior drama and character development: instead it covers the Battle of Gettysburg and, while telling the story with verve and pace, provides a potential narrative for why and how things went so badly for the South. Real Civil War anoraks have quibbled about the pivotal role it gives to Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine, and apologists for Robert E. Lee don’t much like it, but for the rest of us this is historical fiction at its best.