Any of Antony Beevor’s books are must-reads for the World War II canon, and The Battle of Arnhem (Viking, $35) is no exception. From page one, Beevor transports the reader, and no matter the scene—squabbling generals, Allies racing across Europe in tanks, “exultant Belgians” cheering for the liberators—you feel like a part of it. As the narrative progresses and Operation Market Garden looms closer, Beevor draws you in further—which is especially wrenching, as it gets clearer and clearer (knowledge of history aside) that this operation will not lead the war to a speedy conclusion. From the generals on high to the lowest-ranking paratroopers, from the German invaders to the Dutch civilians, Beevor presents all the dimensions and complications of Operation Market Garden. If you want an in-depth, thoughtful, and engaging account of this chapter of World War II history, Beevor’s book is exactly what you need.
The ground was laid for an epic battle when, in late 1950, the U.S. First Marine Division moved deep into the snowy mountains of North Korea, assured (wrongly) by American commanders that Chinese forces would not cross the Manchurian border and enter the fight. Ending up surrounded, heavily outnumbered, and caught in grueling conditions, the Marines against all odds fought their way out of the frozen wilds in which they were initially trapped. Although this legendary story has been told before, Hampton Sides chronicles it with fresh research, vivid detail, and broad perspective in On Desperate Ground: The Marines at The Reservoir, the Korean War’s Greatest Battle (Doubleday, $30). Sides provides not only a gripping, frontline view of the fighting, highlighting the courage and resourcefulness of the Marines; he also assesses the misjudgments and intelligence failures of American leaders in Tokyo and Washington.
After more than a decade-and-a-half of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the number of Americans who have served in one or both conflicts has exceeded 2.7 million. Nearly 7,000 of them have died, and tens of thousands more were wounded. In The Fighters: Americans in Combat in Afghanistan and Iraq (Simon & Schuster, $28), C.J. Chivers tells the story of these ongoing, ill-fated, grossly mismanaged, and terribly costly wars not from the vantage of generals, admirals and civilian policymakers, but from the perspectives of those who have done the bulk of the fighting—the grunts, as they call themselves, in the lower and middle ranks. Chivers focuses on six individuals whose military tours occurred at different times and in different places. As a former Marine himself who has spent nearly twenty years reporting for the New York Times, Chivers is particularly well-qualified to present this intense, compelling, and unsettling account of Americans at war.