Al Murray's 5 Greatest War Books

With a new book 'Watching War Films With My Dad' on the shelves, the comedian goes from Waterloo to Burma with his favourite ever war books...
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With a new book 'Watching War Films With My Dad' on the shelves, the comedian goes from Waterloo to Burma with his favourite ever war books...

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The Battle by Alessandro Barbero

This is a fantastic account of the Battle of Waterloo that somehow, though the outcome of course is never in doubt, reads like a historical thriller.  Wellington called the battle "a close run thing" and Barbero captures the profound uncertainty and anxiety of the day, the crises in the British (and various) lines as the French tried to force a victory before Blucher's Prussians arrived.  Fresh and lucid, it doesn't read like a history book.

Arnhem 1944 by Martin Middlebrook

The Battle of Arnhem - lodged in our consciousness by the book and the film A Bridge Too Far - is a tragic tale of defeat and heroism, of British pluck and bungling. Middlebrook's style, comprising a clear account with excellent maps alongside personal testimony, makes sense of the complex battle and brings home what the men who fought at Arnhem went through, from the exhilaration and optimism of the first day to the chaos and ignominy of defeat and evacuation.  The best book on the battle, in my opinion.

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

The classic cut and paste novel, a fuming, barbed satire of the American military, Catch 22 is incredibly funny, moving, and re-readable. Heller had served as aircrew in the Mediterranean, and the eponymous catch - that to get out of flying a bomber you had to be crazy, but only a sane man would ask - encapsulates the craziness of war. It's absurd and surreal, but no more absurd or surreal than war itself.

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The Sharp End by John Ellis

This is an absolute must read for anyone who wants to try to find out "what it's like" in combat. Ellis digs through accounts as well as the US Army's surveys of what its men thought of fighting, and presents a compelling impression of the drudgery and terror of soldiering. The antidote to heroics.

Forgotten Voices of the Burma Campaign

The Forgotten Voices series is brilliant, first person accounts from the Imperial War Museums archives that don't have arrows on maps and deployments, but instead relate people's experience of war.  The Burma campaign, which itself gets forgotten or side-lined, follows the pattern of early British disaster, as the Japanese outfought us at every turn, to eventual triumph, via the epic expeditions of the Chindits that proved the jungle was "neutral" and the terrifying battles at Kohima and the Admin Box.  A must read for the personal perspective.

Watching War Films With My Dad is published by Century, £16.99