I heartily second Vyazma’s recommendation of Guy Sajer’s “The Forgotten Soldier”. It really is the “All Quiet on the Western Front” of World War II. It’s full of unforgettable moments: the charge of the Russian infantry, the Russian tanks grinding German soldiers into the soil—it’s really horrific.
I seldom read fiction. But I can recommend some lighter nonfiction books that you might enjoy.
Systems of Survival, by Jane Jacobs. Subtitled “A dialogue on the moral foundations of commerce and politics”. You think there’s nothing new under the sun in discussions of morality? This book has a stunningly original thesis that is profound, unexpected, and patently correct.
Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond. A fantastic book describing how and why Europeans conquered the world. It was biology!
If you want to get a real grip on history, I suggest that you read the series “The Story of Civilization” by Will (and later Ariel) Durant. It’s eleven volumes long and was so popular that you can get individual volumes on eBay for $5. Start with “The Life of Greece”. The series has plenty of flaws—I think they spend entirely too much space talking about the development of philosophy. But Will Durant is a master of the English language, and his writing is so graceful that just reading him will make you a better writer.
The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker. OK, this isn’t what I’d call ‘light reading’, but it’s still fun reading.
The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Sounds boring, right? This is the perfect bathroom book. Every topic is broken down to a two-page spread. It’s got lots of pictures. The spreads are modular, so you can bounce around, if you wish. And you can pick up the book, read a spread, and put the book down. The problem is, spreads are light potato chips—you can’t eat just one.
The Structures of Everyday Life by Fernand Braudel. This is REALLY, REALLY not light—but it’s good! Braudel did vast amounts of research and explains in vast detail exactly what people ate, drank, wore, furnished their homes with, read, and played with. It’s not so much on the behavior as on the material wealth. What was the physical foundation of the development of the modern economy? It really is fascinating reading about how much beef 500 years ago came to Northern Europe in big cattle drives from Hungary, or about the price of glass window panes, how expensive wheat bread was compared with barley or oats. Well, *I* thought it was fascinating…