Novels About War or the Military

These novels are set during wartime, or show the after-effects of war.

Some of the engagements include World Wars I & II, the Spanish & American Civil Wars, Vietnam, and fictitious battles.

War Novels

Cold Mountain | Charles Frazier

Inman is a wounded Confederate soldier being treated in a hospital, plotting his escape. He knows he will be sent back to the front. Deserting will create other problems, as the government hunts down those avoiding military service. Meanwhile, Ada is living on her farm, which she isn’t able to run properly. She becomes acquainted with Ruby, a self-sufficient woman who works the farm with her as an equal partner. Inman begins his journey to find Ada, while Ada learns to survive.

The English Patient | Michael Ondaatje

Late in WWII, a nurse, Hana, has stayed behind in an Italian villa with a seriously burned patient. He had crashed his plane in the desert. Caravaggio, a man who knows Hana, and whose thumbs were cut off by the Germans, comes to the villa out of concern for her. Next to arrive is a Sihk explosives expert, Kip. He’s going to defuse the bombs the Germans left behind. Hana thinks the patient is English; Caravaggio believes him to be a German spy.

A Very Long Engagement | Sebatien Japrisot

On January 1917, during World War I, five French soldiers, including a man named Manech, have been condemned to death and are being taken to the front. Over two years later, Manech’s fiancée, Matilde, is investigating the circumstances of that day. She believes Manech may still be alive. She speaks to former soldiers and scours the available documents looking for clues.

All Quiet on the Western Front | Erich Maria Remarque

Paul joins the army (WW I) along with several of his classmates. He realizes that neither school nor basic training have prepared him for war. The diary-like entries intersperse episodes of mundane life, including his leave, with the horrors of war.

Read “All Quiet on the Western Front”

In Country | Bobbie Ann Mason

Samantha, seventeen, is traveling with her uncle and grandmother to the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial. Her uncle is a veteran of the war, and her father died in Vietnam before her birth. Samantha lives with her uncle, who suffers from various ailments. She tries to understand him and the Vietnam War.

The Red Badge of Courage | Stephen Crane

Henry Fleming is a private in the American Civil War fighting for the Union. The narrative gives Henry’s perceptions before battle and his experiences in the field.

Read “The Red Badge of Courage”

Empire of the Sun | J. G. Ballard

Eleven-year-old Jim lives with his parents in Shanghai, in a wealthy European part of the city. When Pearl Harbor is attacked, many Europeans are evacuated, but Jim’s family stays. In the chaos following a Japanese attack, he gets separated from his parents. Jim is sent to a detention camp where survival is the main concern.

The Naked and the Dead | Norman Mailer

An American platoon is preparing to attack a Pacific island held by Japanese forces. Advancing through the jungle is difficult, and the soldiers deal with the politics of interacting with each other. We get background information on several of the men, as well as their feelings about war and death.

Gone with the Wind | Margaret Mitchell

Scarlet O’Hara is a young, spoiled Southern belle living at Tara, her family’s plantation. She is in love with Ashley Wilkes, who is interested in her friend Melanie. Rhett Butler is a handsome gentleman but a bit of an outcast, with some scandal around him. He takes an interest in Scarlett, and they have a hostile relationship. Eventually, the Civil War reaches Tara, disrupting Scarlett’s life and plans.

Read “Gone with the Wind”

For Whom the Bell Tolls | Ernest Hemingway

Robert Jordan is fighting in the Spanish Civil War for the Loyalist guerrillas. He is meeting with his contacts behind enemy lines, making plans to blow up a bridge. Robert meets Maria, a woman who escaped the Fascists after suffering traumatic events at their hands; her story fires Robert’s determination to fight, and he develops feelings for her.

Read “For Whom the Bell Tolls”

The Old Gringo | Carlos Fuentes

An old man rides into Mexico looking for Pancho Villa and his revolutionaries. After proving his skills as a marksman, he is accepted into the group under General Tomas Arroyo. They set out for their base; they find it razed with many dead.

A Separate Peace | John Knowles

Gene Forrester recalls his school days with his roommate Phineas. Gene is an intellectual and good athlete; Phineas is charismatic and the best athlete at school. Phineas wanted to form a secret society with the initiation being to jump from a tree into a river. During one visit to the tree, an accident occurs that Gene feels guilty over.

Read “A Separate Peace”

Mrs. Dalloway | Virginia Woolf

The present action of the story (there are flashbacks) takes place in a single day as Clarissa Dalloway prepares to host a party that evening. The narrative point of view shifts between several people who will be attending the party. Among them is Septimus, a man similar to Clarissa in many ways who returned from World War I shell shocked, and unaware of the best treatment for the condition.

Read “Mrs. Dalloway”

The Deerslayer | James Fenimore Cooper

Harry, a bold, good-looking man in his mid to late twenties, goes on an expedition to fight the Indians with his companion Deerslayer, a slightly younger man who respects the Indians. They first visit Hutter, a former pirate who has had many battles with the Indians. Eventually, they meet with a Delaware Indian chief, Chingachgook, and plot the rescue of his betrothed, Wah-ta!-Wah, who is being held by a rival tribe.

Read “The Deerslayer”

A Bell for Adano | John Hersey

It is July 1943 in Adano, Italy after the Allied invasion; the Americans take charge in the former fascist headquarters. Mussolini’s men have taken the seven-hundred-year-old town bell and melted it down. The people want the bell replaced, and they are short of food. The Americans are implementing various rules to maintain order and bring democracy to the people.

Alas, Babylon | Pat Frank

Randy Bragg receives a message from his brother, Mark, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force – a nuclear attack is imminent. Mark is sending his wife and children to Florida to stay with Randy. Randy starts making preparations for the disaster, and he tells a few people about it. Randy’s household is awakened in the middle of the night by bomb blasts.

The Human Comedy | William Saroyan

Homer Macauley, fourteen, delivers telegraph messages to help support his mother and younger brother Ulysses. His father is dead, and his older brother is serving in World War II. Homer has to deliver death messages, which begins to wear on him, making him question the world.

The Cruel Sea | Nicholas Monsarrat

With the outbreak of World War II, George Ericson is called out of retirement to command the corvette Compass Rose of the British navy. The ship and the inexperienced crew are prepared for sea. They are assigned to convoy duty, accompanying supply ships across the Atlantic. Each of the seven parts of the narrative relate important events during one year from 1939-1945. They face danger from the Germans as well as the sea.

The Moon is Down | John Steinbeck

An unnamed town is invaded and conquered. A resident, George, was a collaborator in the attack. The commander, Colonel Lanser explains to the mayor that they want coal from the local mine. One of the miners kills Captain Bentick. He is put on trial, and the people talk about organizing a resistance.

Read “The Moon is Down”

Year of Impossible Goodbyes | Sook Nyul Choi

Pyongyang, Korea is under Japanese control during WW II. Sookan, the nine-year-old narrator, works in the sock factory in their home. They have a daily quota to meet; missing it reduces their already meagre food rations. The Korean people are being indoctrinated in Japanese culture. Sookan is eventually sent to a Japanese school.

March | Geraldine Brooks

John March is a company chaplain for the Union army. He has observed a crew collecting dead bodies, and has spent time with the wounded. He recognizes the field hospital as the home of Clement, a man he spent time with many years earlier. They shared a love of reading, and discussed slavery. He sees many injustices, remembers how he met his wife, and looks for opportunities to teach.

The Killer Angels | Michael Shaara

The narrative covers four days during the American Civil War when the Battle of Gettysburg was fought. We are given the perspectives of several people such as Robert E. Lee and Joshua Chamberlain. We are privy to their motivations and beliefs regarding the larger issues involved like slavery, rights, and theories of warfare.

April Morning | Howard Fast

It is 1775 in Massachusetts where Adam Cooper, fifteen, feels he is still treated as a child. One night, word spreads that British soldiers are marching thru their town to destroy military supplies. Adam’s father, Moses, gives a rousing speech to the gathered crowd, encouraging them to fight. Adam is among those who sign up for the battle, although they are badly outnumbered.

Going after Cacciato | Tim O’brien

Paul Berlin is fighting in the Vietnam War. He is very frightened. A soldier, Cacciato, has deserted and a squad pursues him. During a night at an observation post, Paul imagines that Cacciato’s flight has been successful, and also thinks about some real wartime experiences he hasn’t been able to deal with.

Read “Going after Cacciato”

Fallen Angels | Walter Dean Myers

Richie Perry, an African-American who has just finished basic training, arrives in South Vietnam. The war seems like it’s ending, so he doesn’t expect to have to fight. Early on, he gets sent out on patrol, provides support for a friendly platoon, does guard duty, and goes to a local village to win their favor. As the war drags on, Richie experiences the trauma and brutality of being a soldier.

Slaughterhouse Five | Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Billy Pilgrim is a chaplain’s assistant in World War II who doesn’t like fighting. He is captured by the Germans in his first battle. It is at this point that he becomes “unstuck” in time. He is transported to various points in his life, including the war, an alien abduction, and a plane crash, among many others.

Read “Slaughterhouse Five”

Catch-22 | Joseph Heller

The narrative follows the missions of a World War II squadron of the U.S. Air Force, with a focus on Captain John Yossarian. The officers are sent on highly dangerous, sometimes suicidal, missions. They try to get thru the war safely, which they can only do by completing the required number of missions or by being deemed mentally unfit to continue. The mission quota keeps getting increased, and the standard for insanity is impossible to qualify for.

Read “Catch-22”

A Farewell to Arms | Ernest Hemingway

Frederick Henry is an American volunteering in the Italian army during World War I. He drives an ambulance at the front. He meets a British nurse’s aid, Catherine. Her fiance was killed earlier. Frederick is wounded during an engagement and spends time at the field hospital. He is moved to a Milan hospital along with Catherine. Their relationship deepens as he recovers.

Read “A Farewell to Arms”


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