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.
For additional historical context, check out the timeline of major world events included at the end of the post.
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.
You are welcome to choose any book that you’d like to read for the challenge, but we hope that this list of books has given you a good starting point.
Sign Up for the Decades Challenge
Sign up for our email list below to receive a free printable tracker for the Decades Challenge. Our weekly email newsletter helps you stay on track with friendly reminders while still allowing you the flexibility to read at your own pace. Additionally, challenge participants have an opportunity to discuss the books on this list and to provide ratings and reviews via our book logs.
Book Recommendations for Other Decades
In addition to our recommendations organized by decade below, you can browse all of our historical fiction book lists here.
- Books Set in the 1880s and 1890s
- Books that Span Multiple Decades
- Books Set in the 2000s
- Books Set in the 2010s
- Books Set in the 1990s
- Books Set in the 1980s
- Books Set in the 1970s
- Books Set in the 1960s
- Books Set in the 1950s
- Books Set in the 1940s
- Books Set in the 1930s
- Books Set in the 1920s
- Books Set in the 1900s and 1910s
Major World Events of the 1940s
We compiled this list of major events of the 1940s to provide some historical context for your reading. We hope you enjoy learning a bit more about this period in history.
- 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.