The dramatic events and scope of World War 2 make it one of the most popular settings for historical fiction. The range of books varies widely, from real-life stories written up as novels, to entirely fictional accounts which use one or more of the many horrific events of World War II as backdrop.
Sometimes recommended by historians as vivid accounts of the era—able to describe emotions and conversations in a way nonfiction can't—a number of novels set in World War 2 also have considerable literary merit, with at least three winning the Booker Prize, the UK's most prestigious prize for a novel.
Below are our recommendations of the best historical fiction set in World War 2, also including novels written by participants in the war. While not technically historical fiction (which, according to the accepted definition, should be written at least half a century after the events described) they are works of fiction about history and, as in the case of Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate, give unmissable insights into terrible episodes—by someone who was there.
For all its horrors, World War II was a time when things happened to people and that, perhaps, is what makes it such an enduring source of fascination. Graham Hurley, author of the Spoils of War series, recommends five of the best World War II thrillers, including one that reads like nonfiction.