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AK's avatar

What novels are a must read according to you, in the historical fiction genre?

Asked by AK (1597points) February 8th, 2021

For example, Jean Auel’s Earth series was a fascinating read for me, not for the storyline (which was so mills and boon like) but for the amazing knowledge the author shared with us about the ancient world and ancient people. Are there any more books like that out there?

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21 Answers

janbb's avatar

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett about the building of a cathedral in the Middle Ages. It has a sequel as well.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck about the Dust Bowl and the Oklohoman migrants.

To Kill a Mockingbrid by Harper Lee about racism in a Southern town in the 1930s.

AK's avatar

@janbb That’s an awesome list and they are popular. Do you have recommendations for some hidden gems?...the not so popular but really good authors and books?

elbanditoroso's avatar

Let’s go back to stuff written in the 19th century:

Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

Yes, they are old, but great literature.

janbb's avatar

@AK Let me think a bit and get back to you.

janbb's avatar

Ok. Here’s a bunch:

Phillipa Gregory – series on the six wives of Henry 8th

Hillary Mantel – the Wolf Hall trilogy

Anthony Doerr – All the light We Cannot See (World War 2)

Pat Barker – Regeneration trilogy (Post WW 1 and PTSD)

Kristen Hannah – The Nightingale (WW2)

Diana Gabaldon – Outlander series (time travel and 17th Century Scotland)

Geraldine Brooks – March (about Little Women’s father in the Civil War)
The Year of Wonders (about the plague in England in the 1500s)

Maggie O’Farrell – Hamnet (about Shakespeare’s family)

Kim Richardson – The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek (about Kentucky during the Depression)

And one of my favorite books of all time:

Jack Finney – Time and Again (It’s a fantasy but really gives you a great portrait of 19th century NYC)

KNOWITALL's avatar

Portrait of Dorian Grey
Wuthering Heights
Jane Eyre
The Call of The Wild
Everything CS Lewis.
Jane Austen, everything is great, but Emma and Pride & Prejudice are both best known.
Masters and Servants by Pierre Michon.
Not a classic but good read, Clan of the Cave Bear.

janbb's avatar

@KNOWITALL Most of those are classics but not really in the historical fiction genre.

zenvelo's avatar

A Tale of Two Cities- Charles Dickens.

Zaku's avatar


In fact, according to me, the term “a must read” is silly and nearly meaningless, at least without context.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@janbb 1984 is in the future but a must read. Had to include it.

Zaku's avatar

So far, less and less of 1984 has been in the future, the farther we go beyond 1948 and 1984.

canidmajor's avatar

Lisa See has written a number of excellent novels covering Chinese American topics, Asian history and others.
For example, The Island of Sea Women is a fascinating look at the Korean women who harvested resources from the sea over generations. Check out the author.

Mary Doria Russell is another author who has touched on facets of American (and some European) History. Check her out as well.

janbb's avatar

@Zaku The context is that she’s asking for recommendations in the historical fiction genre. Within that context it’s not hard to make recommendations.

Zaku's avatar

@janbb That’s true. And her follow-up makes it clear she’s actually asking about “hidden gems” rather than my bugaboo “must reads”.

But that means it’s like asking for good historical fiction, and that list is really endless. What comes to mind immediately is Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters, though they aren’t hidden jems… I’m not sure I know of hidden gems in the genre, except classic books, of which there are so many… well really various genres that are all historical. I think AK means more modern books like the one she mentioned, and that’s not a genre I really know well.

janbb's avatar

@Zaku Yes, historical fiction genre means contemporary books set in different historical periods for the main although a book like @zenvelo‘s Tale of Two Cities would qualify. it doesn’t mean generally classics set in their own time or in the future. From both her example and her referencing of the genre and the fact that she liked my first titles, I was able to expand in my second list to other works that might similarly appeal.

All in a day’s work for a librarian!

zenvelo's avatar

If one likes murder mystery novels, the Stephen Saylor novels set in first century Rome are excellent both for the tale and the accuracy to the period.

Nomore_lockout's avatar

Try Exodus, Leon Uris. Also Mila 18. Same author. I also like John Masters. The Rock, and Bhowani Junction.

Zaku's avatar

@janbb I see, thanks.

Oh, I forgot or never realized you were a librarian! Cool!

AK's avatar

@janbb Thanks for the awesome list. Yes, I was looking for relatively unknown contemporary authors whose books are about ancient times. Books written by the turn of 19th and 20th centuries are classics and well known….I didn’t know you were a librarian! and hey, I’m a guy!
@Zaku A ‘must read’ is a book that you as a reader have enjoyed. Doesn’t necessarily mean it qualifies as a must read for me…but I don’t mind giving it a shot. That’s why I asked.
@KNOWITALL Thanks for the list. Wasn’t really looking for classics but good to see a fellow reader who enjoyed Jean Auel’s Clan of the cave Bear
Thanks everyone for taking time and dropping an answer to my question!

Nomore_lockout's avatar

If you’re into Gore Vidal, I recommend “Julian” and “Creation”, probably both out of print but I’m sure you can find them in a library, or maybe order them from a book store. Also try “Kingdom of the Wicked”, Anthony Burgess.

Nomore_lockout's avatar

Also you might try “Little Big Man”, the novel on which was based the Dustin Hoffman movie of the same name. Interesting and sympathetic view of Native American culture and lifestyle, at a time when they were struggling to survive the onslaught of Euro American culture.

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