Books on World War II

GreatWarsGreatLeaders_Raico_20101124_bookstoreThe dominant view of World War II is that it was the “good war.” Hitler bears exclusive responsibility for the onset of war, because he aimed to conquer Europe, if not the entire world. The United States tried to avoid entering the war but was forced into the fight by the surprise Japanese attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.

The authors on this list dissent. For them, Responsibility for the war was mixed, and Roosevelt provoked Japan’s attack.   Allied conduct of the war, furthermore, was characterized by grave ethical misconduct.

Alperovitz, Gar. The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb  Comprehensive study that shows dropping the atomic bombs was not needed to bring about Japanese surrender.

Baker, Nicholson  Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization Stresses the violations of the norms of civilized war in World War II, with full attention to the role of Winston Churchill

Barnes, Harry Elmer, ed. Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace A collection of essays by leading revisionist historians, concentrating on Franklin Roosevelt’s policies.

Beard, Charles A.  President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, 1941 Beard, one of the foremost twentieth-century American historians, argues that Roosevelt provoked the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Buchanan, Patrick J.Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War. Argues that the British guarantee to Poland in March 1939 was a mistake, because there was no feasible means of fulfilling it.

Chamberlin, William H., America’s Second Crusade A highly critical account of American policy during World War I. America failed to learn the lesson of intervention in World War I.

Crocker, George, Roosevelt’s Road to Russia Emphasizes the extent to which American involvement in the war led to a pro-Soviet policy.

Cowling, Maurice, The Impact of Hitler A detailed study of British cabinet politics in the 1930s, countering the view that Chamberlain sought peace at any price with Hitler.

Doenecke, Justus   Storm on the Horizon: The Challenge to American Intervention, 1939-1941.  A detailed study of the American anti-war movement, showing the diversity of arguments used to oppose Roosevelt’s bellicose policies.

Fussell, Paul. Wartime:  Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War Vivid portrayal of the deleterious effects of the war on human psychology and behavior. Refutes the romanticized picture of the “good war.”

Garrett, Garet.  [ed. Bruce Ramsey] Defend America First: The Antiwar Editorials of the Saturday Evening Post, 1939-1942. Garrett, a leading figure of the Old Right, argued that coming to the aid of the Allies would weaken America. We should concentrate on home defense.

Glaser, Kurt, Czecho-Slovakia, A Critical History. A good account of the minorities problem in Czechoslovakia.  Emphasizes the unrealistic policies of the Beneš government.

Greaves, Bettina, Pearl Harbor: The Seeds and Fruits of Infamy. A detailed account of Roosevelt and Pearl Harbor, based on the research of Percy Greaves.

Hoover, Herbert. Freedom Betrayed.  A very detailed account of Roosevelt’s foreign policy by his predecessor in the White House. Based on careful documentation.

Jaksch, Wenzel, Europe’s Road to Potsdam. An account of the Sudeten situation in the 1930s, critical of Czech policies under Beneš. The author was head of the Sudeten Social Democrats.

Kirschbaum, Joseph M. Slovakia: Nation at the Crossroads of Central Europe.  An informed account of Slovak policies in the 1930s. Good on the breakup of the Czech state after the Munich Conference.

Klein, Burton H. Germany’s Economic Preparations for War. Argues that Germany in the 1930s did not plan for a long war. The author is a leading Chicago School economist.

Kubek, Anthony, How the Far East Was Lost. The first chapter, based on pioneering work by Stephen H. Johnsson, shows the influence of pro-Communist officials in pushing for US provocation of Japan before Pearl Harbor.

Mahl, Thomas E. Desperate Deception : British Cover Operations in the United States. 1939-1944 An account of British propaganda and intelligence activities aimed at involving America on the side of Britain in the war.

Morgenstern, George. Pearl Harbor: The Story of the Secret War One of the first revisionist studies of Pearl Harbor and still one of the best. Highly detailed and very well written.

Neilson, Francis, The Churchill Legend. Includes a devastating analysis of Churchill’s multi-volume history of the war.

Newman, Simon  March 1939: The British Guarantee to Poland  British policy under Chamberlain was not based on weakness but on a long term strategy of confronting Hitler.

Raico, Ralph, Great Wars and Great Leaders. Written by a great classical liberal historian, the book includes a mordant account of Winston Churchill.

Russett, Bruce, No Clear and Present Danger. Argues that the prospect of an Axis dominated Europe failed to pose a sufficient threat to the United States to justify American intervention

Sanborn, Frederic, Design for War. Contains material on the US efforts to provoke a Japanese attack not readily available elsewhere. The author was a distinguished international lawyer.

 Sargent, Porter, Getting US Into War. Stresses the role of British propaganda in pushing America toward war.

Schroeder, Paul, Axis Alliance and Japanese-American Realtions 1941.  Contends that America foreign policy toward Japan was unduly rigid.

Schultze-Rhonhof, Gerd. 1939–The War That Had Many Fathers. Detailed account of German foreign policy in the 1930’s, arguing that responsibility for the war does not rest exclusively on Hitler. The author is a retired German general.

Sledge, E.B. With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa A searing personal memoir of the horrors of war.

Stinnett, Robert B. Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt deliberately sought war with Japan and denied information to the Army and Navy commanders at Pearl Harbor.

Suvorov, Viktor  The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II.   Contends that Stalin was preparing to launch an invasion of Germany, but Hitler beat him to the punch.

Tansill, Charles C. Back Door to War.  A comprehensive survey by one of the leading  twentieth-century American diplomatic historians. Shows how Roosevelt succeeded in involving the US in war in Europe by provoking war with  Japan.  Contains valuable material on the European diplomatic situation in the 1930s.

Taylor, A.J. P. The Origins of the Second World War.  Argues that World War II came about through accident and miscalculation rather than by design.

Topitsch, Ernst, Stalin’s War. Topitisch, a philosopher sympathetic to the Vienna Circle logical positivists, contends that Stalin sought  a European war and that Hitler’s invasion of Russia in 1941 preempted a Soviet attack.

Trachtenberg, Marc The Craft of International History: A Guide to Method. The book contains a careful analysis supporting the “back door to war“ theory, i.e., that Roosevelt sought war with Japan in order to secure American entry into the war in Europe.

Veale, F. J. P. Advance to Barbarism. Discusses the Allied responsibility for mass saturation bombing.


  1. Thank you for the list. I am familiar with only a few of the various theories advanced. I do believe it is fertile ground to investigate the roles of both Great Brittan and the Soviet Union. Great Brittan and Germany had ongoing rivalries regarding trade, which was probably more of a factor in WWI. The Soviet elites, especially Stalin, also had a strong desire to advance international communism. They fomented revolution here and more so in Europe. When that failed, Stalin decided to goad Germany into WWII. (Goading Germany into has never been difficult.) After re-arming Germany, Stalin found the perfect dupe in Adolf Hitler. (See x-KGB, Victor Suvorov’s interesting research on this subject in “the Chief Culprit” and “Icebreaker.”)

    Stalin’s planned invasion of Europe after the western powers had neutralized one another, was preempted successfully by Hitler, who finally saw Stalin’s designs. His Russian invasion was suicidal to Germany but saved western Europe. Japan was too weak to stop Stalin’s similar plan for China near the end of the war. His attack there bore fruit in a communist victory in China. (Barbara Tuckman’s book on General Stillwell in China has very good background on the US involvement there.)

  2. I’m not an expert, and I don’t necessarily think that it’s always a reliable source, but I think some of the negative reviews on Amazon of some of these books, like the first one by Alperovitz, make some valid points. I haven’t looked all of the books up on Amazon, but I probably won’t read those with a lot of thoughtful, well-argued one- or two-star reveiws.

  3. This is a thoughtful and comprehensive list, thanks.

    However, it seems to me that revisionists do not do a very good job of answering their critics in a straightforward manner (even if they are the ones with their facts straight).

    This short essay, found at at RealClearHistory, does a good job of moving the conversation forward in regards to World War 2 and the revisionists: Again it’s short, but also sweet and to the point.

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