5. Rick Atkinson, The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945. Volume Three of The Liberation Trilogy (Henry Holt).

The Allied invasion of Europe that represents the closing chapter of the war against Nazi Germany is one of the great military accounts of all time, and the closing months of the war in Europe represent one of the most dramatic periods of history in any recent century. Historian Rick Atkinson tells this story just about as thoroughly as it should be told, and no one with an interest in World War II should be without this volume. On the other hand, no one who really cares about World War II is likely to lack the first two volumes of Atkinson’s work, The Liberation TrilogyThe Guns at Last Light brings the war to a climactic, but exhausted, close. Readers will find Atkinson on rather sure ground in terms of the military and historical consensus, but he does not hold back from making his own judgments. He fuses biography and chronology in this work, offering memorable insights and historical insights along the way. This summer marks the 69th anniversary of D-Day. Read this book in preparation for the 70th anniversary next year.

Excerpt:

Churchill gave a brief valedictory, grasping his coat lapels in both hands. ‘Let us not expect all to go according to plan. Flexibility of mind will be one of the decisive factors,’ he said. ‘Risks must be taken.’ He bade them all Godspeed. “I am hardening on this enterprise. I repeat, I am now hardening toward this enterprise.’ Never would they be more unified, never more resolved. They came to their feet, shoulders squared, tramping down the hall to the limousines waiting on Hammersmith Road to carry them to command posts all across England. Ahead lay the most prodigious undertaking in the history of warfare.”

6. Terry Mort, The Wrath of Cochise: The Bascom Affair and the Origins of the Apache Wars (Pegasus Books).

The quarter century of warfare between the Chiricahuas and the United States is one of the saddest and most unnecessary chapters of American history. The war would be deadly on all sides, with many noncombatants among the victims, including women and children on all sides. In The Wrath of Cochise, Terry Mort reminds readers that, until the incompetence of a U.S. Army officer, Lt. George Bascom. entered the picture, the main conflict had been between the Chiricahuas and the Mexicans. All that changed when Bascom accused Cochise, a famous Apache warrior, of kidnapping a 12-year-old boy. Mort helps the reader to understand the clash of civilizations that occurred in the Southwest and the deadly effect of each side misunderstanding the other. Furthermore, he offers the honest moral assessment that there were no innocent parties in this bloody conflict. Cochise emerges as a deadly warrior who, regrettably, showed himself to be just as ruthless and murderous as expected at times, and, at other times, utterly unpredictable. With Cochise’s death, an entire Native American civilization came to an end.

Excerpt:

“In the case of the Chiricahuas, the sharp distinction between themselves and everyone else seems to have strengthened both sets of coexistent instincts and values — the savage warrior when out on a raid or on the warpath, the cooperative member of an affectionate extended family when at home. The Chiricuhuas were living a double life, but their adversaries saw only one side. For most of them, that was more than enough. But humans are more than capable of holding multiple, conflicting sets of emotions and values, walling one set off from the other…. Clearly, this ability to maintain two radically different sets of values simultaneously has been the source of more than a little human misery — and misunderstanding.”