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Annual Booklist 2017-2018 : James Holland

James Holland is co-founder, co-chair and programme director of the Chalke Valley History Festival, author of, amongst others, Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege 1940-43 (Orion 2003), Italy's Sorrow: a Year of War, 1944-1945 (Harper Press, 2008), The War in the West: A New History (Postscript, 2015-‘17)


The Fear and the Freedom by Keith Lowe. This is one of the best history books I’ve read in a while and is an utterly compelling and thought-provoking look at the legacy of the Second World War. Keith Lowe is unsparing and some of the accounts at gut-wrenching, not least the Japanese doctor who carried out vivisection experiments on Chinese prisoners. Questioning, provocative and disturbing, this is a book I think everyone should read.

East West Street by Philippe Sands. Actually, I think this book should be widely read too. It’s a stunning and complex but beautifully written story of Sands’ maternal grandparents and the plight of his wider Jewish family who were living near Lemberg – now Lviv in the Ukraine. It also follows the lives and work of two lawyers from that troubled city, one of whom later coined the phrase ‘crimes against humanity,’ and the other the term, ‘genocide.’ It is a profoundly moving book.

Snow and Steel by Peter Caddick-Adams. This is a couple of years old now, but is the finest account of the Battle of the Bulge I’ve ever read. Caddick-Adams has been walking the ground and studying the war for decades and the book is suffused with his deep knowledge.

Monty’s Men by John Buckley. This is a brilliant and fresh look at the British experience from D-Day to the end of the war against Nazi Germany. Buckley peels back the layers of assumed knowledge with wisdom, deep knowledge and realigns our understanding of the British Army in the Second World War.

Stout Hearts by Ben Kite. Ben Kite is a brigadier and intelligence officer in the British Army and while his book is probably one for the aficionados, it is an essential companion piece to anyone studying the British Army in the Second World War and throws up vast numbers of fascinating pieces of information. Exhaustively researched, with spot-on analysis, this is an exceptional piece of work.

As for a book that needs writing, there is no good, up-to-date narrative history of the 1943 Sicilian campaign, which is a great shame. It is an endlessly fascinating campaign with important naval and air operations, the largest amphibious invasion ever (in terms of men landed), includes special forces operations, battles on the plains and in the mountains, coalition warfare and numerous peaks and troughs.

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