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Books Set in the 1940s

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The Decades Reading Challenge continues, and for the month of May, we’ll be reading books set in the 1940s.

Three book covers in a tilted row - Tobacco Wives, Guernsey Literary, & All the Light We Cannot See

You can read all about the challenge, download your free printable reading tracker, and find book lists for other decades here.

As a reminder, you can choose any book you like that is set in the decade, but to get you started, we’ve compiled a great list of books about the Forties that include historical fiction novels, books about the 1940s in America, and non-fiction reads about the events and people of the day.

The early and mid-1940s were largely consumed by World War II. There are some heart-breaking, but important, books from this period in world history, but don’t worry, we also managed to find some books set in the 1940s that have a lighter feel!

With it, WW2 brought many technological advancements, including nuclear fusion, as well as technologies that were the starting point for both commercial air travel and space exploration. The years following the war were also the beginnings of the Baby Boomer generation.

Major World Events of the 1940s

  • Aggression in World War II, which officially began in 1939, continues in 1940 when Germany invades Denmark, Norway, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands.  Germany also begins “The Blitz,” bombing London in an attempt to weaken the British Royal Air Force.
  • During 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected for an unprecedented third term as the U.S. president. The same year, President Roosevelt institutes the first military draft in the United States during peacetime.
  • Starting in the early 1940s, the Tuskegee Institute was at the forefront of helping prepare young African-American pilots to fight for freedom in the skies.
  • During 1941 Soviet Russia and Japan sign a non-aggression pact, becoming allies with Germany. The Siege of Leningrad begins as German troops enter the Soviet Union, the siege lasted until 1944.
  • On December 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, which finally brought the United States into the War. Italy and Germany also declare war on the U.S.
  • The Battle of Midway between Japan and the U.S. begins in 1942. Fearing they will become a security threat during wartime, the US government begins the internment of Japanese-Americans.
  • The same year, the U.S. Congress creates 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, Paris is liberated.
  • Other important events in 1944 include Mahatma Gandhi’s release from prison, Poland’s liberation from Nazi occupation, and FDR’s election to a fourth term as President of the United States. FDR’s fourth term was cut short by his death in April 1945.
  • 1945 brings with it the end of WWII, as Allied and Soviet forces liberate concentration camps on their way toward Germany.
  • In August 1945, the U.S. drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, ending the war in the Pacific Theatre. In the aftermath of the war, the United Nations is created when fifty nations signed the original charter.
  • In 1945, Vietnam declares its independence from France under Ho Chi Minh
  • During 1947, India and Pakistan become independent from the United Kingdom.
  • In 1947, Jackie Robinson joins 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, became popular heroes and paved the way for future generations.
  • As part of the new wave of technology brought on post-war, the transistor is invented at Bell Laboratories in December 1947. The Polaroid instant camera was also introduced in 1947.
  • Indian independence leader and pacifist Mahatma Gandhi is assassinated on his way to a prayer meeting in January 1948 after achieving independence for India.
  • Following the continued growth of Jewish refugees and settlers to Israel during WWII, Israel is created as an independent Jewish state in 1948.
  • Following the Chinese Civil War, Mao Zedong’s Communist forces declare the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.

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Books Set in the 1940s

We tried to diversify this list well beyond the WW2 period, but if you’re looking for more 1940s historical fiction that is set during the war, we also have an entire list of historical fiction about WW2 resistance workers.

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Books Set in the 1940s

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Join us for more free content, reading challenges, & discussion in the Book Girls’ Guide Facebook Group!

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.


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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.

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Friday 18th of March 2022

I love historical fiction. I've read alot of WWII stories. Yet, as always, you have managed to find MORE BOOKS that I have not read! I also noticed that ( perhaps one of you is a fan) you have a novel by Sarah Jio in each category this month. I might just go get all 3 from the library!! ( Then reread some We Cannot Say. & Hotel on the corner of Bitter & Sweet.!)

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