Published by HarperCollins and The History Press (Spanish translation by Planeta published in Autumn 2022), ORDER HERE

“Joseph Pearson has found an exceptional approach to narrate a time that has become increasingly difficult to write about. By looking at objects that shaped World War II, My Grandfather’s Knife uses an original, unideological angle to approach historical truth. Literary non-fiction at its best.”

–Norman Ohler, author of Blitzed


“Extraordinary … History at its most sensitive and evocative. Pearson’s astonishing detective work has uncovered stories so poignant and original that they cannot fail to leave an indelible mark. A remarkable book that takes us to the very core of human experience.”

–Julia Boyd, author of Travellers in the Third Reich


‘I hugely enjoyed My Grandfather’s Knife, which is both sophisticated and accessible, an engrossing and moving story of global entanglements which still resonate today. Pearson strips back each layer of the past with the forensic skill of the detective. He also writes extremely well’.

–Brendan Simms, author of Europe


“Joseph Pearson has discovered a unique and exciting way of telling history. It’s as if you have been transported back to another moment in time, attached to an object, at times a relatively simple object, found in one’s own family belongings. But the tantalizing stories these objects reveal place the reader right inside a critical period of history as the world risks destroying itself in a war that took seventy-five million lives.”

— Peter Mansbridge, former chief correspondent, CBC News

“Fascinating. Exclamation mark. This is usually an exaggerated claim. But in the case of Joseph Pearson’s My Grandfather’s Knife, it’s accurate. With the discipline of a material historian, the empathy of a novelist, and the inquiring mind of a detective, Pearson investigates five objects. Each has a connection to the Second World War. Each has a story. As is true of the best guides, Pearson transforms his fascination into ours.”
— David Macfarlane, author of The Danger Tree: Memory, War, and the Search for a Family’s Past



Even the most ordinary of objects can tell a spectacular story. A knife, a diary, a recipe book, a stringed instrument and a cotton pouch. Each belonged to an individual who was in their twenties during the Second World War: a fresh-faced prairie boy, a melancholic youth, a capable cook, a musician wounded at the front and a survivor.

Over a cup of tea, try asking your friends what object they’d choose to represent their lives. The enthusiasm of their responses will give you an indication of how well objects anchor sprawling personal histories. Joseph Pearson, a Canadian historian and author, talked to elderly family members, friends, colleagues and acquaintances––people drawn from everyday life––asking them the same question: Is there an object that tells your wartime story? In many cases, he asked the question in reverse: Could he discover the wartime story of a deceased person through an object they once owned?

Through rigorous research and in engaging proseJoseph Pearson illuminates the often-dark history of the 20th century by bringing to life the stories of everyday objects in the hands of everyday people.