MHM has curated a list of the best military history titles of 2021: the nominees for this year’s Military History Matters Book Awards. Our selection includes some of the best-researched, most-insightful, and most-readable titles reviewed and featured in the magazine over the last year.
Gold, silver, and bronze prizes are up for grabs in the race for MHM Book of the Year, which will be awarded to the titles our readers feel have made the greatest all-round contribution to the study of military history.
Read the reviews of all 12 titles below.
Voting has now closed. Click here to see the winners.
This year’s awards are sponsored by Thomas Del Mar Ltd, one of the world’s leading auctioneers of antique arms, armour, and militaria, which has held specialist sales within this field since 2005.
In addition to organising auctions, the company assists with collection management, advises a number of European ancestral families, international museums and collectors, and publishes selectively within the field. Since 2017, the company has been working as part of Olympia Auctions, London’s specialist valuers and auctioneers. To find out more about their work, click here.
The International Brigades: fascism, freedom, and the Spanish Civil War
Around 35,000 foreign fighters served in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. Not all were heroic. Some were simply escaping the dole queues and slums at home. Some turned out to be rapists and sadists. But in this beautifully written, immensely moving, and deeply disturbing book, Giles Tremlett describes the Brigades ‘warts and all’.
Philip & Alexander: kings and conquerors
Head of Zeus / Basic Books (US)
The story of Alexander the Great is a familiar tale but one that remains frustratingly incomplete. The dashing prince conquered vast swathes of the world before his mysterious death at the age of just 32. In this book, Adrian Goldsworthy takes a fresh approach to the well-worn tale, dealing with the gaps in our knowledge with candour and resisting the urge to fill them with speculation.
The Reckoning: the defeat of Army Group South, 1944
The Eastern Front remains the forgotten child of Western histories of the Second World War. Yet, as Prit Buttar argues in The Reckoning, the conflict here was existential. Two nations, with diametrically opposed ideologies, each fought not just for victory, but for the complete extinction of the other. His well-argued thesis is that 1944 was the pivotal year in hostilities between the Red Army and the Wehrmacht.
Jet Man: the making and breaking of Frank Whittle, the genius behind the jet revolution
Head of Zeus
In this deeply researched book, Duncan Campbell-Smith examines the life of pilot and engineer Frank Whittle, whose brilliant ideas were ignored by the established aero-engine manufacturers and dyed-in-wool mandarins of the 1930s. Had they listened to him sooner, the Battle of Britain would have been less intense and much more easily won.
Blood and Iron: the rise and fall of the German Empire 1871-1918
The History Press / Simon & Schuster (US)
In this excellent book, Katja Hoyer charts the history of Germany from its founding by Bismarck in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War to the disastrous leadership of Kaiser Wilhelm II. As Hoyer shows, while Bismarck was militarily cautious, fearing a Germany surrounded by hostile neighbours, Wilhelm was clumsy, leading his country almost accidentally into the First World War out of a desire to be a true dictator.
At Close Range: life and death in an artillery regiment, 1939-45
The direct experience of the gunners has long been a neglected aspect of World War II history. We have had plenty on life in a tank unit, or a fighter squadron, but there is a sense in which the role of the artillery has been seen as more mundane, perhaps less glamorous. Peter Hart insightfully addresses this imbalance.
The Western Front: a history of the First World War
Viking/Penguin / Liverlight (US)
This is the first of a planned three-part history of the First World War organised by theatre. Although it is difficult to say anything new about the conflict, Nick Lloyd sifts out the myths and misconceptions to leave us with a fast narrative driven by an intelligent understanding of what actually happened and why. His lucidity and panache make the book a page-turner.
River Kings: a new history of the Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Road
The English village of Repton seems like an unlikely starting point for a global voyage. But it is here that Cat Jarman begins her new history of the Vikings. The story unfolds like an adventure novel, with Jarman displaying an ability to explain the complex tech that a bioarchaeologist such as herself would use on a daily basis.
The Viking Great Army and the Making of England
Dawn M Hadley and Julian D Richards
Thames & Hudson
In this superbly well-written synthesis, academics Dawn Hadley and Julian Richards present an archaeological investigation that substantially increases our knowledge of a military campaign, revealing the movements and campsites of the army, and much about its size, organisation, and general character.
Allen Lane / Basic Books (US)
In Stalin’s War, Sean McMeekin covers the German invasion of Russia in June 1941 and the subsequent campaigns with skill, while his analysis of the Soviet leader’s out-negotiating of Roosevelt and Churchill is also excellent. But he is even more convincing when arguing his main point: that Stalin’s war really began as far back as the late 1920s.
The Making of Oliver Cromwell
Yale University Press
Oliver Cromwell was the pivotal figure of the English Revolution. He emerged from obscurity to become Parliament’s greatest commander, and, eventually, the military strongman who attempted to impose a permanent political settlement on the country. Quite apart from Ronald Hutton’s biographical insights, his analysis of Cromwell’s military campaigns is outstanding.
The Pathfinders: the elite RAF force that turned the tide of WWII
‘The Pathfinders are the aces of Bomber Command,’ a British newspaper wrote in 1944. This well-written book tells the remarkable story of an extraordinary team of aviators and their support personnel who – to quote the book’s subtitle – turned the tide of the RAF’s bombing campaign over occupied Europe.
Voting has now closed