I read voraciously about battles and wars to try and understand what was happening at that particular time. The geopolitical conflicts that forced nation to draw sword on nation have always been the central core of my reading programs.
I look at this question more as a link between what was, and what might have been and so my pick for a book that I would pass on is All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque published in 1929.
This book is a classic. It was well written, it was insightful, it was ironic, but it was the wrong book at the wrong time. I can imagine myself as an editor in the 1920s and 1930s maybe I myself am a veteran of the “Great War”. Millions of my generation are dead on the barbed wire that was Flanders Fields. We are gaunt, we are hollow, and we are emotionally dead inside. It is this lack of spark that is our undoing. We live in France, or Britain, or the United States, or Russia (Soviet Union), and as one we are tired and drained. We are Paul Baumer.
Had Paul Baumer lived, he would most definitely not have been part of the National Socialist Movement. His pacifist revelations would have made him commit to a path that detested conflict and saw military confrontation as repugnant and wasteful in human suffering. He had learned his life-lessons well in the trenches of France, especially the night he spent in the cemetery with the French soldier he knifed and watched die a slow death. He might have been a Spartacist or a Communist, but that would not be a path worth living after 1933.
Kat (Stanislaus Katczinsky) is a survivor. He does not survive the book, but if he had, I see Kat as one of the leading members of the SA (Sturmabtielungen). He would not be good material for the Aryan minded SS (Schutstaffeln) under Himmler, so his demise may have occurred in the “Knight of the Long Knives” along with SA commander Ernst Roehm in June 1934.
Kantorek, the schoolmaster, would be the epitome of the National Socialist zealot. His ideas of Nationalism prompted Paul, Kropp, Muller, Kemmerich and Behm to enlist in the war in 1914 to help save Germany. These same ideas would sow the seeds of anti-Semitism after the defeat in 1918 and the subsequent Treaty of Versailles in 1919 (Der Diktat).
Books like this allowed the Kantorek’s of Germany to achieve a power-base that would cost more millions their lives than died in World War I. If the “Lost Generation” had somehow healed, instead of being thrown into economic tumult in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the world may have reacted with a much stronger resolve and with much quicker timing than actually occurred. Books like this one kept the world from waking up to the danger, and Hitler savaged that world before he was stopped at a bloody cost.
What would your novel be?