Reviews Editor Mark Barnes has a delve through his bookcase for the titles which impressed him most this year.

I am astonished to see that I have reviewed over a hundred books for WHO since January. My in-tray is bulging and more are on their way.  We have expanded the reviews team a fair bit this year and I would like to thank all the lads for their dedication to a job which is usually done on top of boring stuff such as earning a living or studying. We intend to keep up the good work and bring you a wide range of opinions in 2015.

Joris the Dutchman has directed me to produce a sort of ‘best of’ – my top books of 2014. I find myself in a bit of a quandary with the notion, because a good number of the books I have enjoyed this year were published in 2013.  You might even argue that some of the aviation classics are even older. Despite wanting to include a few books from the back end of ’13, I have been bold and stuck to those I have seen since New Year’s Day.  I am quite sure there are some I should have read and didn’t and I will be honest and say there were one or two I wish I had avoided. I can safely say it has been a good year for military history books and I hope you will stick with us in 2015.

Happy Christmas.

Books tend to fall into different categories – narratives/biographies, reference and photographic. Saying which is the very best of them is an unenviable task, so I won’t. But I am not chickening out – this is a selection of what I think are the class acts of 2014. We don’t do stars or marks out of ten systems on our site. If you would like to comment on how we might grade reviews in future, please get in touch via the usual address. Happy reading.

Snow & Steel by Peter Caddick-Adams tells the story of the Battle of the Bulge in immense detail and in fine style. It follows in the footsteps of some of the greatest writing on World War II and I loved it. There is so much to the story of the Bulge but above all the author reveals the futility of the assault and the crass ineptitude of Adolf Hitler and his cronies. Magnificent.

Embers of War by Fredrik Logevall is a vast Pullitzer Prize winning history of the demise of French imperial power in Indo-China and the long and tragic road to the Vietnam War. I would say it is a ‘must read’ for students of American history and the standards it sets are immense. This is a huge book of over seven hundred pages but you will not be phased by it.

Lawrence In Arabia by Scott Anderson is a masterpiece. It looks beyond the little adventurer and takes us through events in the Middle East through the eyes of a number of fascinating individuals – not all of them likeable by any stretch of the imagination. This is not a book obsessed with the cult of TE Lawrence. It sets out his place in the chain of events with clarity and pace and I lapped it up. An instant classic.

Francis M Carroll’s Athenia Torpedoed relives one of the opening tragedies of the Second World War in September 1939. The author tells the story with passion and clarity and this is how the best history books should be written. The disaster of the Athenia was just the first of many similar events and the sinking woke up the British and American public of the nature of things to come. Essential reading.

Ever the Patriot is a superb little biography of B-17 crewman Vincent J Riccio edited by his daughter Candace. This is what the best of self or low run publishing books should be like and although it is only sixty odd pages long it packs a real punch and you should put this one in the Christmas stocking of anyone you know who has a passion for the achievements of the mighty 8th Air Force.A pocket gem.

In much the same vein, David Gunn’s account of his father’s service as a sailor during the often disastrous British campaign against the Turks in Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq, is a fine book full of superb illustrations including the artworks of Philip Gunn DSM RN.  Later in his career he had the job of telling Churchill that the weather off Normandy had improved and Overlord was on. Sailor in the Desert is a genuinely lovely read.

To Normandy itself and a book that brought out real emotion in me when I first saw it. D-Day – The Last of the Liberatorsis a stunning collection of images and stories of a select band of British veterans of the Normandy Campaign. I had the honour to meet some of them at the book launch and they were awe-inspiring. Sadly, one of them has since passed away. The photography by Robin Savage is beautiful and my copy of this book will be staying with me for as long as I am breathing.

The battlefields of the Great War are a special place for me and in this special year when I finally made it out to Gallipoli this stunning book from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission almost overwhelmed me. It is beautiful.

Michael St MaurSheil’s faultless photography has made For the Fallenanother book I could never part with. My battlefield photography means the world to me, but I have no hope of achieving this sort of standard.

Charles K Hyde’s Images From theArsenal of Democracyis a glorious collection of archive photographs showing where America really won World War II and set herself on a course of immense prosperity the rest of the world could only dream of. The choice of cover image may be the only problem with this wonderful book and I thank the reader who noticed what I failed to spot. Hopefully the Wayne University Press will put out another edition with an image from the correct period on the jacket. Setting this aside, this is a magnificent photographic essay of American industrial power.

Philippe Bauduin’s Hitler’s Spyplane Over Normandy read like an extended magazine feature but I have to say I loved this slightly quirky book. The illustrations are excellent and if you are a fan of the Arado 234 or the early jets in general then this is essential reading for you.

The Old Front Line by Stephen Bull and The Normandy Battlefields by Leo Marriott & Simon Forty are absolutely superb guides to some of the most important battlefields of the two world wars in Europe. Both of them are books I wish I had written and illustrated.

Without doubt the most impressive book I have seen this year is the stunning Great War reference work by Trevor Henshaw. The Sky Their Battlefield II represents a life’s work and the author hasn’t just stopped. He is continuing with his passion. Whether there will be a TSTB III is a moot point, but in the meantime marvel at this truly epic gathering of Royal Flying Corps and US Air Service facts and feats. The author Peter Hart recommended it to me and I hope he won’t mind me leaving his new book off my list – it’s in the pile, Pete, honest! (Thankfully my chum Dr Wayne Osborne has reviewed it for us already).

That should have sorted out your Christmas lists!

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.