My favourite history books 2013: Saul David

In a special supplement in our October issue, leading historians pick their favourite history book of the year so far, their all-time favourite and the title that they're most looking forward to in the coming months

Saul David.

My favourite history title of the year thus far is The Guns at Last Light (Little, Brown), the third of Rick Atkinson’s sweeping trilogy of the US Army’s contribution to Allied victory in north Africa, Italy and (now with this final volume) north-west Europe. No one writes vivid and deeply researched narrative history like the former journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning Atkinson.

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Favourite history book of all time

My favourite history title of all time is Gitta Sereny’s Into That Darkness (1974), a superbly nuanced study of how Franz Stangl, an ‘ordinary’ Austrian policeman, became the commandant of Treblinka, the largest death camp of the Third Reich. Based on more than 70 hours of interviews with Stangl, it concludes that most people can become evil, but are rarely born that way. I wept as I read Sereny’s masterpiece and blame it for my fascination with how people behave during conflicts.

Most anticipated history title

My most anticipated history of the year is Max Hasting’s 1914: Catastrophe (William Collins), a magisterial survey of the first year of the Great War in which he pulls no punches about who was responsible (the Germans and Austrians). Hastings excels at ground-up history – giving the reader a sense of what it must have been like – and if 1914 is anything like as good as his last book on the Second World War, All Hell Let Loose, it will be well worth its £30 cover price.

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Saul David’s 100 Days to Victory: How the Great War was Fought and Won is published in September by Hodder and Staughton