The Liberation Trilogy by Rick Atkinson (Henry Holt, $120). Atkinson brings the Western Front of World War II alive in his enduring trilogy, which begins with the Allied invasion of North Africa in An Army at Dawn and ends with the capitulation of Germany in The Guns at Last Light. His combination of detail (German soldiers waving live chickens in surrender) and sweep (executive bumbling on the part of Montgomery and Patton) is unparalleled.
The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek (Penguin, $18). A supremely ironic and painfully comic novel of the First World War. Through Svejk, a cheerful, seemingly dim-witted Czech infantryman, Hasek shows us the absurdity of cruelty in all its dismal glory.
The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway (Scribner, $15). Hemingway — who's so often been seen as the author of toughness and bravery — explores the aftermath of war and the tender recesses of the mortal heart in these short stories, set in Michigan both before and after World War I.
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (Vintage, $19). A novel of emotion masquerading as a novel of ideas. At a remote, exclusive tuberculosis sanatorium in the Swiss Alps, we see the diseased body of European culture on full display and wonder along with Hans Castorp at what to do with our feelings amid the insanity of war.
Atonement by Ian McEwan (Anchor, $16). It would be hard to find a more perfect 60 pages in all of Western literature than the opening suite of this astonishing novel. Shifting perspectives, the conjoined balm and betrayal of the fictions we tell ourselves and others — all this and more are explored here by one of our very best writers.
A Boy's Own Story by Edmund White (Penguin, $15). A modern classic. In his coming-of-age novel set in the 1950s in Ohio and Michigan, White explores how the illicit nature of gay love in that time and place can corrupt the very nature and quality of that love and deform the heart that produces it. Comic and devastating.
— David Treuer is the author of the memoir Rez Life. Prudence, Treuer's fourth novel, spins out a decades-long tale that begins with the accidental 1942 shooting of an Ojibwe girl from a Minnesota reservation.