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Books Set in the 1940s

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Whether you’re participating in our Decades Reading Challenge or found this post searching for books set in the 1940s, the booklist below provides a wide variety of reading options.

Literary Themes in Books About the 1940s

Our curated list of books about the Forties includes historical fiction books about life in America and around the world. We also included some non-fiction reads about the events and people of the day.

World War II largely consumed the news of the early and mid-1940s. There are some heart-breaking, but important, books from this period in world history. Outside of the war, historic events such as the polio epidemic and the partition of India were taking place. But don’t worry – our 1940s booklist also includes a variety of other topics, including some that have a lighter feel!

WW2 brought many technological advancements, including nuclear fusion and the starting points for both commercial air travel and space exploration. After the war, the 1940s saw the beginning of the Baby Boomer generation.

Major World Events of the 1940s

Before recommending books from each decade, we like to provide historical context with an overview of the significant events of the time. If you’d prefer, feel free to scroll straight to our 1940s booklist.

  • Aggression in World War II, which officially began in 1939, continued. Germany expanded their aggression into Denmark, Norway, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands.  Germany also began “The Blitz,” bombing London in an attempt to weaken the British Royal Air Force.
  • During 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt won an unprecedented third term as the U.S. president. The same year, President Roosevelt instituted the first military draft in the United States during peacetime.
  • In the early 1940s, the Tuskegee Institute was at the forefront of preparing young African-American pilots to fight for freedom in the skies.
  • During 1941, Soviet Russia and Japan signed a non-aggression pact, becoming allies with Germany. The Siege of Leningrad began as German troops entered the Soviet Union and lasted until 1944.
  • On December 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This act of war finally brought the United States to the front lines. Italy and Germany also declared war on the U.S.
  • The Battle of Midway between Japan and the U.S. began in 1942. Fearing they would become a security threat during wartime, the US government began the internment of Japanese-Americans.
  • The same year, the U.S. Congress created several branches of the armed forces for women to join the war effort.
  • On June 6, 1944, famously known as D-Day, more than 150,000 Allied troops successfully stormed the beaches of Normandy in France. Shortly thereafter, the Allies liberated Paris.
  • FDR began his fourth term as President of the United States. However, he unexpectedly died in April of 1945, moving VP Harry Truman to the Oval Office.
  • 1945 brought the end of WWII, as Allied and Soviet forces liberated concentration camps on their way toward Germany.
  • In August 1945, the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, ending the war in the Pacific Theatre. In the aftermath of the war, fifty nations signed the charter to create the United Nations.
  • In 1945, Vietnam declared its independence from France under Ho Chi Minh.
  • During 1947, India became independent from the United Kingdom. The same year, the country instituted the tragic policy of partition. Leaders carved out Pakistan for Muslim citizens, with Hindu citizens assigned to reside in India.
  • In 1947, Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first African-American to play Major League Baseball in the modern era. Robinson and other black athletes during the 1940s, including boxer Joe Louis and Olympian Jesse Owens. These athletes became popular heroes and paved the way for future generations.
  • In 1948, Indian independence leader and pacifist Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on his way to a prayer meeting, after achieving independence for India.
  • Following the continued growth of Jewish refugees and settlers to Israel during WWII, Israel was created as an independent Jewish state in 1948.
  • Following the Chinese Civil War, Mao Zedong’s Communist forces declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.

Highly Rated Books About the 1940s

This list includes a wide range of topics beyond WW2. However, if you enjoy reading about the war years, you’ll also want to check out our list of historical fiction about WW2 resistance workers.

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You are welcome to choose any book that you’d like to read for the Decades Challenge, but we hope that this list of books has given you a good starting point.

Members of our email list and Facebook group, Read with the Book Girls can log ratings for their monthly challenge reads. The log’s data is used for the “BGG Reader Ratings” that are added to descriptions for future years. We’d love you to contribute your rating after you’ve finished your read this month.

Join the Decades Reading Challenge

Photo of the decades reading challenge printable with text about how to join the challenge

Can you send me a printable list with the book titles but not descriptions?

This was a big request last year that we weren’t able to add to our plates in 2022. New for 2023, readers who support Book Girls Guide through our Buy Me a Coffee membership site will receive special monthly printable journal pages as a thank you bonus. The voluntary members (we call them our BFFs) help cover the cost of running the challenges so we can keep them free for everyone.

We’re so excited to be able to offer this fun perk this year!

Every book title is pre-filled on the printable book tracker for the month. The tracker also includes space for you to mark your interest level, make notes about whether you’ve requested the book from the library (or any other notes you’d like), and then fill in your rating. We’ll also include blank lines in case you have other books on your TBR (to be read) list that meet the prompt. We’d love you to sign up here!

That said, you’ll always find the most updated version of our recommendations with descriptions each month at no cost on our website. We do update the list and descriptions regularly based on reader feedback. But, we know some of you wanted to print the list to take to the library or bookstore, and we hope this helps.

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Miranda Millin

Thursday 20th of April 2023

I recently read The Echo of Old Books by Barbara Davis (just came out the beginning of this month), and while a good chunk of the story takes place in the eighties, the story is centered around a pair of lovers in 1941. It was beautifully written in my opinion, you guys should check it out!

Christine Penn

Thursday 20th of April 2023

I have read eight books on this list! They are all wonderful choices making it difficult to decide. But, I do look for books available on Kindle unlimited or my library app, Libby. Thanks for all you do!

Books Like City of Girls - Book Girls' Guide

Monday 10th of October 2022

[…] After we read this book, we could see why other readers begin to search for more books like City of Girls. We put together some great suggestions, along with explanations of how we think the book recommendations will work for fans of City of Girls. Some are very similar, including another connected to the New York City theater scene in the 1940s. Others on the list may surprise you! PS: If you’re doing our Decades Challenge and haven’t yet read this book, it’s a great pick for April / 1940s month! […]

Elisa Speranza

Friday 17th of June 2022

Such a great list! Your readers might also be interested in my debut novel The Italian Prisoner, published in April 2022 and set in New Orleans during WW2. More at: Thanks for all your hard work bringing readers together with great stories.


Friday 8th of April 2022

Another great read about the polio epidemic in Hickory, NC is Blue by Joyce Moyer Hostetter. The author has 2 other books that continue the main character’s story and are also good.