The Best Historical Fiction Books of All Time

If you are like me, then you love books based on real history but with a fictional twist. Real life doesn’t always make for a good book which is why the historical fiction genre exists. We decided to list the best historical fiction books of all time!

This list a bit hard to make because there are so many modern historical books that should be on the list. But unfortunately, we as a society are still trying to figure out which books from this era are classics and whatnot. That is going to leave some books off the list but for the most part, we still were able to make a good list.

The Best Historical Fiction Books of All Time
The Best Historical Fiction Books of All Time

The Best Historical Fiction Books of All Time

  • Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
  • The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
  • The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  • Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
  • The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  • The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
  • Aztec by Gary Jennings
  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  • The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
  • The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

To Each Their Own

Unlike other genres, historical fiction is harder to rate because many of the books cover history from various countries. Books like A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman, and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe take place in three different counties.

Nonetheless, this list some of my all time favorite books such as The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, and Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Hannah is a brilliant author and she has become one of my favorite authors. Her latest book The Four Winds easily could have made the list.

Pachinko and A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles are modern books that tell rich and poignant stories. They are the reason I love reading new books and appreciating all the hard work authors put in their books.  While these books have nothing in common, they showcase the brilliance of the historical fiction genre.

Lastly, the classics that made the list should also be discussed. Books such as Memoirs of a Geisha, Gone with the Wind, A Tale of Two Cities, and The Poisonwood Bible are amazing reads that have shaped our ideas of certain years and places. I can’t be the only one that has the sentence “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, play in my head every time I think of Charles Dickens!

Conclusion

These are our picks for the best historical fiction books of all time list. Many of these books have opened our minds to foreign countries and their history as well as certain periods in our own history. Unfortunately, time travel doesn’t exist and historical fiction books make learning that much for fun! Until next time, happy reading!

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43 thoughts on “The Best Historical Fiction Books of All Time

  1. Alice says:

    I miss the Seeker Series (and other works) by S.G. MacLean. Look her up, she’s fantastic.

    Reply
    1. Kathy D Bacsik says:

      The Last Summer of The World by Emily Mitchell is a wonderful book fictionalizing the life of Edward Steichen from his days as a photographer for the French Airforce in World War I through his involvement in the secon war
      A Perfect Silence by Jeff Hutton the epic coming of age of one farm boy who against his father’s wishes joined the Union Army and came back a man.

      Reply
    2. Susan says:

      The Dr. Josephine Plantae Paradoxes new series by a historian about a first woman doctor, a homeopath, who moonlights as a sleuth to solve crimes with deadly flowers.

      Reply
    3. Jamie Banks says:

      I would definitely add The Source by James Michener to this list.

      Reply
      1. Jutta says:

        Any book
        By John Jakes is a treasure trove of information

    4. Anonymous says:

      Into the Wilderness and Series by Sara Donation

      Reply
  2. saltandnovels says:

    I can recommend to add “Das Boot” (The Boat) by Lothar-Günther Buchheim to your list. Probably one of the best WWII historical novels about the underwater warfare…

    Reply
  3. mike mccormick says:

    Aztec really turned me on to HF. It felt a bit like a meso-american Forrest Gump tale that really highlighted the genius, beauty, and brutality of the culture in an entertaining way.

    Reply
  4. Edwin Ortiz says:

    Any list like this that has bnooks books by
    author Gary Jennings is not complete ..

    Reply
    1. Anonymous says:

      James Michener and David McCullough are not on this list , so that makes it not complete to me at all.

      Reply
      1. Diana Baskin Erickson says:

        Yes. EAST OF EDEN a must on the list

      2. Anonymous says:

        David McCullough did not write fiction

    1. Edwin Ortiz says:

      Absolutely and the Journeyer love them both

      Reply
  5. Anonymous says:

    The Savannah Series by Eugenia Price is quite a journey of American history in the South taken from journals and letters from real people.

    Reply
  6. Bob Fletcher says:

    Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, Bringing Up The Bodies, and The Mirror and The Lamp.

    Reply
  7. Carol Bisig says:

    I am sorry, but who comes up with this list? The top 100 is ludicrous, much less the Top 10. I agree with GWTW. War & Peace, but The Gentleman In Moscow, while interesting, is boring. There are so many books that could be placed on this list, Rosamund Pilcher’s Homecoming is a definitive Historical perspective on WWII, she lived through it, her husband was the inspiration for the young soldier from the Scottish Highlands who fights in some of the worst battles of WWII. The authenticity of this book is incredibly valuable.

    Reply
  8. Earl T. Martin says:

    This list is a farce if you do include the Aubry/Maturin series by Patrick O’Brien perhaps the greatest books based on the His Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars!

    Reply
    1. David Cartier says:

      Agreed. Patrick O’Brian is about as necessary as the Bible, in any list of historical fiction.

      Reply
  9. Barbara Gagnon McLeod says:

    No mention of Sharon Kay Penman, Pearl S. Buck, Thomas B. Costsain, Anya Seton? Colleen McCollough? Not an inspiring list.

    Reply
  10. Marc A Grote says:

    Not a single John Jakes book on this list? The North & South trilogy is one of the best out there & Homeland is, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant historical fiction books ever written! I also agree with the other commenters regarding James Michener’s exclusion from the list. Leaving him off of the list is criminal at best. At least Ken Follet & Diana Gabeldon made the list.

    Reply
  11. Karl says:

    The very ambitious Creation by Gore Vidal deserves a mention. From Wikipedia:

    “The story follows the adventures of a fictional “Cyrus Spitama”, an Achaemenid Persian diplomat of the 6th-5th century BCE… Over the course of his life, he meets many influential philosophical figures of his time, including Zoroaster, Socrates, Anaxagoras, the Buddha, Mahavira, Lao Tsu, and Confucius…”

    Reply
  12. Trish says:

    I love this list – I half expected to see a more monotone representation of authors but was delighted at the rich diversity. For those criticizing the list, make your own. A ten list of anything is subjective at best and therefore can only be improved by adding an addendum of honorable mentions for those of us who can devour sub-500 page books in one sitting.

    Due to work and current personal preferences, I am constantly nose deep in nonfiction technical books for the last few decades and look forward to losing myself in Ahaqir’s list. Some in the list I’ve read a long time ago in highschool (“Things Fall Apart”, “Beloved”, “War and Peace”) I see it as his highly recommended list and a starting point from a friend who’s been out of the HF circuit for quite some time. Appreciate this article so much and I’d love to see a definitive list with no limit so no book would ever needlessly be knocked off the top!

    Reply
    1. Ahaqir says:

      I appreciate your comments! I stopped paying attention to the criticism and is partly why I stopped reading them for the most part.

      I will admit, when I first started making these lists, it was mostly what I read but I soon realized that that was a horrible way to go about it as there are many amazing books that I haven’t read and may never get to read. I do some research and then go about making the list and yes, it’s going to be biased but I try to limit it as much as possible.

      There’s countless lists out there and none of them are perfect. I like to hope my lists do help people find books to read as that is my ultimate goal at the end of the day!

      Reply
  13. Anonymous says:

    That you failed to include Jean M. Auel or James A. Michener is quite beyond me unbelievable truly

    Reply
  14. Dee says:

    John Jake’s series beginning with the Bastard. I passed all my high school history classes reading it and never opened a textbook!

    Reply
  15. Richard Morrow says:

    I want to thank you for generating your list of great historical fiction for us to reflect on, and to select future books to read we might have overlooked.
    Having said that, with full gratitude for your article, I was still sad that there were no G.A. Henty books listed.
    I learned so much about the culture of Carthage and about Hannibal crossing the Alps by reading “The Young Carthaginian” – and have been entertained AND educated by many of his books, such as:
    • Beric the Briton: Story of the Roman Invasion
    • The Cat of Bubastes, A Tale of Ancient Egypt
    • For the Temple: A Tale of the Fall of Jerusalem;
    • Wulf The Saxon: A Story of the Norman Conquest
    • By Right of Conquest: With Cortez in Mexico
    …and the above mentioned “Young Carthaginian, A Story of the Time of Hannibal”.
    It’s because of G.A. Henry’s work that I became aware of the genre of Historical Fiction, and the many books that are included in your list. I realize that some of his writing is controversial because he strove to “keep it real” to the views of the times and cultures he wrote about; but it was that realism that helped me to better comprehend the characters and the choices they made in their lives (while not necessarily agreeing with their thought processes). Many of the works created today have been sanitized to the point that the reader can be left puzzled by what happened or why in the historical context of the stories. Hopefully you will consider including some of his works for future lists you create. They are extremely well written, and exhibit some of the best features of the historical fiction genre. Thanks again for your article.
    Sincerely,
    — Rich Morrow ♪

    Reply
  16. Elizabeth Brusa says:

    Do you know the historical fiction books Under the Tricolor and The Split Tree by Mary Medawar? They are absolutely fantastic page-turners!

    Reply
  17. Edwin M O'Halloran says:

    If you have not read “The Walking Drum” by Louis La’Mour I recommend it, not a western, european/Mediterranean set historical fiction

    Reply
  18. Pat White says:

    I enjoyed Red Winter Journey by Paul Rushworth-Brown

    Reply

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