MHM has curated a list of the best military history titles of 2020: 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. But we need your help to select the winners!
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, and once you’ve made your choice, click here to cast your vote.
Voting will close on 8 March 2021, and the winners will be announced later that month.
The King over the Water: a complete history of the Jacobites
Few today can recall much about the Jacobites – other than Bonnie Prince Charlie, perhaps, and his defeat at Culloden in 1746. In this book, Desmond Seward attempts to tell the full story, and he succeeds: The King over the Water is highly readable, with brilliantly rendered characters, and thrilling tales of deceit and espionage.
The Song of Simon de Montfort: England’s first revolutionary and the death of chivalry
Sophie Thérèse Ambler
Simon de Montfort was a colossus in English affairs during the 13th century, infamously falling foul of King Henry III (or, more precisely, Henry’s son Edward I) in 1265. This skilful biography reveals the less understood festering quarrel that simmered between king and Simon, an often-unattractive figure who was shaped by the mores of his times.
Retreat from Moscow: a new history of Germany’s winter campaign, 1941-1942
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
The Eastern Front is widely seen as where the German Army met its downfall, with ill-prepared soldiers freezing in the Soviet winter. David Stahel, unafraid to tackle these assumptions, here argues that the Wehrmacht’s winter campaign of 1941-1942 was in fact one of strategic success, not of disaster. A formidable piece of scholarship.
Aerial Warfare: the battle for the skies
Oxford University Press
Frank Ledwidge here provides a concise but complete history of manned and unmanned flight from the First World War to the Cold War, as well as of major developments – both aeronautical and political – during the interwar years. As either a refresher or primer, Aerial Warfare demonstrates the great influence that aircraft have had, and continue to have, on armed conflict.
Chastise: the Dambusters story, 1943
Of all the events from WWII to capture the imagination of the British public, few remain as compelling as the ‘Dambusters’ raid of 1943 – the destruction of Möhne and Eder dams in Germany by the RAF. Noted historian and journalist Max Hastings brings his expertise on warfare to bear with this engaging and nuanced history of Operation Chastise.
Dresden: the fire and the darkness
Viking/St Martin’s Press
The Allied bombing of Dresden on 13-15 February 1945 was almost certainly the most controversial conventional bombing attack of the Second World War. Sinclair McKay’s well researched and detailed book is the first major study of the inferno in 15 years. But it is really a book about the city’s history, with the raids forming a seminal – if deadly – part.
Hunger: how food shaped the course of the First World War
Uniform Press/WLU Press
The subject of food – and the lack of it – haunts the First World War, from the notorious Schlieffen Plan that promised ‘breakfast in Paris and dinner in St Petersburg’ to Kitchener’s warning that the war would be ‘no picnic’. Rick Blom gives us much to chew over in this brief history, interspersed with original soldiers’ recipes – some more appetising than others.
Britain’s War: a new world, 1942-1947
Allen Lane/Oxford University Press
The second volume of Daniel Todman’s history of Britain during the Second World War deftly combines military, political, and economic analysis. Opening with the disastrous Fall of Singapore in 1942 and concluding with the independence of India in 1947, Todman provides narrative history at its best, written with vigour and pace throughout.
Lawrence of Arabia on War: the campaign in the desert, 1916-18
‘Lawrence of Arabia’ is not only an endlessly controversial figure: his war record has been subject to colossal distortion and caricature (much of it of his own making). Rob Johnson’s achievement in this book is to take Colonel T E Lawrence seriously as a theoretician and practitioner of war, and to produce the most-comprehensive assessment of his contribution ever published.
Missing: the need for closure after the Great War
Richard van Emden
Pen and Sword
‘Missing in Action’ was a common fate for a First World War soldier. To this challenging topic, Richard van Emden brings his trademark eye for the emotional detail in individual stories, in this case the post-war search by a grieving mother for her son, RAF pilot Francis Mond, who disappeared in 1918. An intriguing and tragic story, told with verve and insight.
Crucible of Hell: Okinawa – the last great battle of the Second World War
From April to June 1945, a small island in the Pacific would witness a bloodbath matched only by the worst days on the Eastern Front. The Okinawa campaign claimed roughly 12,000 American lives, 90,000 Japanese, and somewhere in the region of 100,000 civilians. Here Saul David gives this closing chapter of the war the serious study it deserves.
Lancaster: the forging of a very British legend
Simon & Schuster
The history of the Lancaster bomber is also the history of Britain’s entire aerial war effort: from the recovery of PoWs back to Britain in Operation Exodus to ‘Bomber’ Harris and his notorious preference for area-bombing. John Nichol’s book is the perfect guide, narrating the story not only of the aircraft but also of those who flew her.
Once you’ve made your choice from the shortlist above, click here to cast your vote
Voting closes 8 March 2021