It is a truism that war is—by its very nature—tragic. For soldiers, it is about killing and being killed. World War II resulted in the deaths of more than 70 million people, a number which tends to overwhelm and obscure the individual lives lost. Sometimes the tragedy of war is easier to comprehend in small doses. That is what Mark Obmascik, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former writer for the Denver Post, has accomplished in this fast-paced tale of the lives of two soldiers—a Japanese surgeon and an American infantryman—whose paths crossed on a desolate island in the northern Pacific.

All lives ultimately end in failure, but Richard Sorge’s shone brightest at twilight. Sorge simultaneously infiltrated the highest levels of Hitler’s and Tokyo’s wartime establishments penetrating both the Nazi Party and the Japanese Court. He warned Stalin of “Operation Barbarossa”—even its very date, 25 June 1941—when Hitler was to abrogate the Nazi-Soviet Pact and send three million troops sweeping across 2900 km of border.

Deborah Baker opens The Last Englishmen with the admission that she was looking for a new way to write about WW2 India when she came across the papers of John Bicknell Auden, the older brother of the well-known British poet, WH Auden. In her explorations, she found another brother of another poet—Michael Spender. The fortuitous connections lead her to yet another man, this time no brother, but a poet himself, Louis MacNeice. The result is a book that is a detailed account of who was having an affair with whom, especially one Nancy Sharp, a painter, and when, and who climbed which mountain peak and when, and discovered what. The book is three books in one: loving, mountaineering, and Baker’s original ambition to write a book about India.

The Second World War actually began on 7 July 1937 at the Marco Polo Bridge southwest of Beijing, when Imperial Japanese troops clashed with Nationalist Chinese forces. Japan had annexed Manchuria in 1931, but Chinese forces did not fight back then; instead, China’s leaders appealed in vain to the League of Nations. Six years later, after another Japanese-manufactured “incident”, China would fight back.