Action, adventure, adversities and… brotherhood. While wartime is often met with anxieties about conflict, authors from various decades have often found inspiration from the conflict surrounding them, lending their skills to some of the best media ever written. Whether it’s a focus on soldiers’ day-to-day life during war, a lengthy book honoring those who have served, or even a romance novel set during World War II, these nine awesome war novels rank among the best ever written.
First published in November of 1961, Catch-22 is often regarded as one of the most significant war novels ever written. Set during WWII, the novel follows Captain John Yossarian and his experiences trying to complete his assigned missions. With an air of satire, author Joseph Heller utilizes an out-of-order storyline to develop a plot line that is both interesting and slightly absurdity. Praised for its metaphors and handling of complex issues, Catch-22 is a must read for anyone who enjoys mind-bending novels that demand your attention.
All Quiet on the Western Front
If you want to read an author who has previously served, All Quiet on the Western Front may be the perfect novel for you. Written by WWI vet Erich Maria Remarque in 1928, this book outlines the immense pressure put on soldiers during wartime. With an emphasis on the difficulties of assimilation back into civilian society after combat, Remarque carefully articulates the pain of serving on the front lines. Touching and enlightening, this novel is one for the ages.
The Red Badge of Courage
As one of the oldest war novels, The Red Badge of Courage has proven to withstand the test of time. Written by Stephen Crane and released in 1895, this book rightfully earned its spot on the list due to its realistic details and intense symbolism. With the bulk of the story being set during the Civil War, Crane offers a unique perspective on the flaws of man, as well as the courage it takes to be a soldier.
With the Old Breed
No comprehensive list of the best war novels of all time is complete without a memoir. With the Old Breed by Marine and college professor Eugene Sledge details the battles he faced in Okinawa during WWII. Sledge offers up a raw look into what life was like on the frontlines, withholding no details while he addresses the emotional impact war had on him and his brothers-in-arms. Intensity, authenticity, and sentiment place this novel securely on any list of the greatest war books ever written.
A Farewell to Arms
A steamy love affair set during WWI is the basis of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, a favorite among fans of literature and military books alike. Originally published in 1929, Hemingway tells the story from a first-person perspective of Frederic Henry, an American lieutenant serving in the Italian Army. Packed with twists and turns, Farewell to Arms has been praised for its realistic view on love, war, and life and serves as a fantastic read for anyone who enjoys drama and romance set during periods of combat.
A Rumor of War
In 1977, Philip Caputo released A Rumor of War, a novel claimed to be loosely based off of his years of service in the Marine Corps. Broken into four distinct sections, Caputo's book utilizes each section to detail his life prior, during, and after the Vietnam War. With intense first-hand accounts of life deployed overseas, A Rumor of War proves to be one of the best wartime books ever written thanks to its realism and insider view into this historical period.
The Things They Carried
Similar to the previous novel on this list, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is also set during the Vietnam War. With the protagonist of the novel sharing a name with its author, O’Brien purposefully crafts a blurred perspective of what happened in his own life versus that of his fictional character’s. Crammed a slew of compelling characters and storylines, the book tackles various themes set in this oft misunderstood era.
One of the newer novels on our list, Generation Kill was originally released as a series of articles in Rolling Stone in 2003. Later assembled as a novel, author Evan Wright's book details his experience in the USMC during the invasion of Iraq. Gaining recognition for its brutal honesty, intense imagery, and emotional material, Generation Kill is perfect for those looking to better understand modern-day combat from a first-hand account.
The final novel on this list serves as James Salter’s debut novel which rose to critical acclaim on release. Drawing on personal experiences as a fighter pilot, Salter crafted The Hunters with first-hand knowledge along with insightful wit and no shortage of emotion. Focusing on brotherhood and what it takes to be a warrior, his work easily earns a spot on any "best military books" list and captures readers' attention with its incredible use of imagery, metaphors, and compelling storyline.
The above stories, many of which are informed by genuine combat experiences, provide us with some of the greatest storylines ever conceived, military or otherwise. Don't forget to check out our other "greatest" lists and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below!