Best war novel

In another thread in Cafe Society I noticed an OP comparing two discriptions of war by famous authors and asking which was better. I am not crazy about either so I did not voice an opinion, but it did get me to thinking and rather than attempt a hijack, I started this new thread.

Granted, I’m not sure what makes a “good” war novel. Graphic violence, no, I don’t think so. It may turn on the teeny boppers, but that’s not a good novel. Then maybe deep introspection while the protagonist faces death? Nah, too intellectual. But really, I’m not sure what it would be.

I originally thought of Leon Uris’ Battle Cry or Norman Mailer’s Naked and the Dead. Or even Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, but finally, I finally settled on Michner’s Tales of the South Pacific and felt that was the best at least in my mind (at least so far - I know one of you people will probably change my mind). Still it reminded me of what war was like for me at times and kept my attention and kept me entertained.


Out of your list, I would go for Johnny Got His Gun…its just has an realness that I dont often find.

War and Peace

More recently, Wouk has been entertaining.

This may not be the sort of thing you had in mind, but Run Silent, Run Deep by Beach is the best war novel I can think of right now. Quite possibly someone will remind me of a better one, though.

I’m really partial towards All Quiet on the Western Front.

Hmm… my favorite “pure” war story is Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels; However, as it is a fictionalization of real events, it may not be what you’re looking for.

I haven’t read most of the books mentioned here, and I’m not big on the war novels in general. Still, I’ve read a few. The best one I’ve come across, I think, is The 13th Valley, by John Del Vecchio. It’s the story of an infantry unit in Vietnam. Although I’m too young to really know (the Fall of Saigon occurred around my fourth birthday), it seemed to be realistic. And it held my interest for all 666 pages (I remember how many pages for obvious reasons). Anyway, I liked it, and if you like stories about the infantry and/or Nam, you’ll probably like it, too.

I also sometimes read various “cheaper” and more “pulpy” type war stories, the kind that never appear in hardback. But I didn’t figure that was the kind of stuff this thread was meant to be about.

Mephisto, you beat me to it! One of the best war novels ever. When I saw the title to this thread I knew I had to get this book on the list.

If you like Vietnam era books, another good choice is Word of Honor by Nelson DeMille.

I have to put my vote in for The Winds of War and the sequel, War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk.

It’s a long read, about 2k total IIRC, but it was worth it. Wish I have the time now to read it again…

Definitely, The 13th Valley is right near the top of the list.

I don’t know if it really counts as a war novel, but I have always enjoyed A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute.

People, some great suggestions.

Manda JO, I love A Town Like Alice and like most of Shute’s work for that matter. I’m glad you mentioned it. And Catdog and DrFidelius, I also enjoy Wouk, but my favorite war novel by him has to be the Caine Mutiny. I guess the smallness of it or something. I’m not sure.

Maximino and Bibliophage, I have enjoyed both of your suggestions although I did read All’s Quiet… when I was too young and didn’t appreciate it until I reread it later.

DrFidelius I will once again try War and Peace. The first time I tried it was too much like work, keeping track of all the characters. Still it was a good read as far as I got.

Advocates for The 13th Valley, I will give it a shot.

Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks. Breathtaking evocation of WWI trench warfare.

I liked Wouk’s “The Caine Mutiny”.

I always liked The Red Badge of Courage.

All Quiet On The Western Front

Some additional good Vietnam War books:

Despatches, by Michael Herr
A Rumour of War, by Philip Caputo
A Bright, Shining Lie, by Neil Sheehan

Are you on crack? :wink: I’m 1,000 pages into War and Peace, and I haven’t seen one battle scene that wasn’t battle scene that wasn’t bogged down by about 100 pages of extra information. For example, at Borodino he spends about 25 pages explaining the strategies and background of the battle. Frankly, I don’t care. When I picked up this novel I wasn’t looking for a text book. This would be a decent book if it was about 1/4 its length.

(Just kidding about the crack.)

Yesterday, when my wife was looking over my shoulder at the screen with this thread pulled up, she said, “Nobody’s mentioned the best war novel of them all.”

I told her I would do it, but I was uncomfortable about bumping the thread to the first page since I was the originator of the thread, but since it has gotten to the first page without my help let me put my wife’s suggestion in. Catch 22.

By the way, I picked up a copy of The 13th Valley today and will begin reading it this evening.

my 0.02 cents

US Civil War
The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara

Bury Him Among Kings, Elleston Trevor

The Kappillan of Malta, Nicholas Monsarrat

Chickenhawk, Robert Mason