World War II Reading | Wyatt’s World

It is the 70th anniversary year of the Normandy landings, and interest in World War II is particularly high. Here are five nonfiction titles, ranging from a warmhearted story about a dog  awarded the animal version of the Victoria Cross to the heroics of two scientists who tricked the Nazis.

  • The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl: How Two NeptuneBrave Scientists Battled Typhus and Sabotaged the Nazis by Arthur Allen (Norton).
    A riveting account of how two scientists risked their lives to save Jews and thwart the Reich. Rudolf Weigl smuggled typhus vaccines into the ghettos and used his lab as a way to shield as many Jews as possible. Ludwik Fleck, in the Buchenwald concentration camp, inoculated fellow inmates while giving fake vaccines to the Germans.
  • Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II by Vicki Croke (Random).
    Billy Williams led a team of elephant workers during World War II, operating in Burma and fighting the Japanese. This gripping story of his elephants (something akin to a K-9 unit) and their actions hits all the high notes for adventure, the animal-human bond, and heroics.
  • Double Agent: The First Hero of World War II and How the FBI Outwitted and Destroyed a Nazi Spy Ring by Peter Duffy (Scribner).
    Espionage, J. Edgar Hoover, and the Nazis combine in this high-stakes chronicle of how a naturalized American citizen from Germany, William Sebold, turned double agent and helped the FBI break open a Nazi spy ring stealing secrets for the Luftwaffe.
  • The Dog Who Could Fly: The Incredible True Story of a WWII Airman and the Four-legged Hero Who Flew at His Side by Damien Lewis (Atria).
    Airman Robert Bozdech found an abandoned German shepherd puppy in France and smuggled the dog, Antis, to Britain, where both flew bomber missions. Eventually, Antis was grounded but stood watch over the runway during every mission until Bozdech returned. A bighearted story for dog lovers.
  • Neptune: The Allied Invasion of Europe and the D-Day Landings by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford Univ.).
    For devoted World War II history readers comes this well-crafted account of the yearlong planning of D-Day. Much had to be devised, assembled, and practiced for the operation to work, and Symonds describes the full details of the preoperation development and strategy.
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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at


  1. Lewis Parsons says:

    Not a bad list, but very American-centric. There are some very important works about the Soviet war effort.

    “Stalin’s Wars” is a good start