The Guardian’s Ten Best Historical Novels of All Time 

If you are anything like me, then you can’t get enough of historical novels. Some of my all-time favorite novels fall under this category. That is why we will be looking at The Guardian’s ten best historical novels of all time and see which books made their list! 

books arranged on wooden bookshelf
The Guardian’s Ten Best Historical Novels of All Time 

The Guardian is a respected news organization that has been surpassed over the decades. But even then, it is still a trusted news source and they also curate book lists here and there. This list is from 2012 and lists the ten historical novels that The Guardian believes rank above all else. You can see the full list below. 

The Guardian’s Ten Best Historical Novels of All Time 

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy 
  2. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel 
  3. Romola by George Eliot 
  4. The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa 
  5. Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín 
  6. Pure by Andrew Miller 
  7. The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald 
  8. I, Claudius by Robert Graves 
  9. Property by Valerie Martin 
  10. The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker 

Lesser-Known Books 

As expected from the Guardian, their list is interesting. Besides War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, none of these books are familiar to me. And that is fine. Lists such as these are refined for specific audiences.  

While these may be unfamiliar to me, I imagine the saying that “this is your favorite author’s favorite author” may apply here. They are famous and critically acclaimed works of fiction after all.  


What did you think of The Guardian’s ten best historical novels of all-time list? What books should they have included on their list? Let us know in the comments below! 

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51 thoughts on “The Guardian’s Ten Best Historical Novels of All Time 

  1. Daphne Kelgard says:

    Dorothy Dunnett’s 2 series, one set in 1409s Europe (mostly) and the Lymond Chronicles set in the known world of the 1500s are amazing works, both tour de force as well as really great stories each book in either series.

    1. John Peter Lannom says:

      What about Mika Waltari’s “The Egyptian” or “The Etruscan”?

      1. Anonymous says:

        What about Birds Without Wings re history of Asia Minor up thru the early 1900s AM disaster

    2. Andrea McMillan says:

      I would include Zoe Oldenbourg’s historical fiction novels set in the middle The World is Not Enough.

      1. Anonymous says:

        Beneath the Scarlett Sky is great!

    3. Mairi Macdonald says:

      I was about to mention DD – for me the superlative historical novelist

      1. Anonymous says:

        How could Kenneth Roberts’ novels about the French and Indian War and the American Revolution be overlooked?Particularly his masterpiece “Nothwest Passage”?

    4. Cindy Moorhead says:

      Dunnett’s Lymond series and Niccolo series are the best historical fiction books ever written. Never boring. Emotionally engrossing. Historically fascinating. I first discovered her work when I was in college, and I still read them— 50 years later.

      1. Deirdre McCormack says:

        Cindy, like you I am a 50+ year Dunnett reader. Currently doing a second read of the Niccolo series via the online Outlander Book Club-Dorothy Dunnett Forum. We are reading TLWL now. Are you a member of the DD Society?

      1. Anonymous says:

        Yeah, really , that is seriously good classic, not this Wolfe Hall rubbish. World is laughing at you guys when they read this kind of Anglo-Saxon “best of” list. What’s next, Gone With the Wind?!

  2. Laura Gildart Sauter says:

    Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series and Niccolo series.

  3. PIVS says:

    “The Leopard” is a pleasant surprise to such a prestigious list. Its evocative depictions of the people, places, culture, and point in time of Sicily provide a glimpse of what the ancestors of many Italian-Americans experienced just before the great wave of immigration.

  4. Kevin Turtill says:

    The Town House by Norah Lofts. The best book you’ve never heard of. Ignore the cover!
    Described by Alison Wier as “book of a lifetime: An outstanding historical novel”

  5. Janie Weaver says:

    I think it’s a bit arch. Why Romola instead of Middlemarch, by Eliot? Why Brooklyn instead of The Master, by Toibin?

    1. Sreve says:

      “The Guardian has been surpassed”?! Come off it – by which newspaper?

  6. Amanda M says:

    OK… what about the great C J Samson’s Shardlake series? Phillipa Gregory is often overlooked on these lists through snobbery but has made Tudor history far more palatable and accessible than the highly stylised Wolf Hall. Similarly, Georgette Heyer for the Regency period. Am certainly going to look up a few of the others on the list I’ve not heard of. Thanks to reader’s suggestions too. I Claudius is a brilliant inclusion. Prefer Anna Karenina to War and Peace, a slog…and did enjoy Middlemarch but have not read Romola.

  7. Alice Rees says:

    Golden Hill by Francis Spufford. A very special, unforgettablel novel

  8. Lesley Claff says:

    You can’t be serious about Brooklyn. A fluffy chicklit mixed with The Sopranos. Where is Bring Up The Bodies?

  9. Christine Smith says:

    No Dorothy Dunnett?! Her ‘Lymond’ and ‘House Of Niccolo’ Chronicles both contain novels which should have been included. Also ‘King Hereafter’ her novel about the ‘real’ Macbeth.

  10. peter h dohan says:

    Any book by Marguerite Yourcenar or Mary Renault. I write this as an unwoke cis-everything liberal of a certain age – 76.

  11. Lawrence David Jordan says:

    We could now use AI to cross reference all the parameters we need to use to see sociological, psychological, historical, and the big question of “why we think to how we think?”.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Where are The Flashman books by George Macdonald Fraser?

    1. Kevin Turtill says:

      Some of the best and most entertaining historical books ever!

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  14. Linda Foley says:

    What about Barbara Tuchman’s Call to Arms? Churchill, David McCullough and Doris Kearny Goodwin should be on there too.

  15. Michael Campbell says:

    “The Luminaries”. By Eleanor Catton. The gold rush in New Zealand in 1899.

  16. Altti Helläkoski says:

    I like to add Gary Jennings ”Aztec” in a list of best historical romans.

  17. Madrugada Mistral says:

    “The Year of the French” by Thomas Flanagan

  18. troublemac says:

    I cant believe you overlooked Dorothy Dunnett’s two series, The Lymond Chronicles and House of Niccolo, and King Hereafter. It should be noted that Hillady Mantel was a big fan of Dunnett, but Dunnett is much, much better. Georgette Heyer’s An Infamous Army should be considered as it is considered one of the best accounts of Waterloo and not just another Regency romance.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Who writes these lists. Dear oh dear. Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman must be the greatest novel written about Stalingrad, ironically, Grossman was Ukranian.
      Is Germinal, Zola’s epic disection of French working class conditions in 19th C. France not historical? One of greatest novels ever written!
      Troubles, J.G. Farrell is another I could go on but…..

  19. Anonymous says:

    Agree on Grossman’s Life and Fate. Perhaps the greatest postwar historical novel.
    No Colleen McCullough??

    I’m just glad the vomitous “All the Light We Cannot See” … can’t be seen here 😉

  20. Anonymous says:

    The Leopard & Pure are both so well written, and describe fascinating times and places. Barker’s trilogy is an interesting take on WWI, though personally I’m lukewarm of her style. Brooklyn is top-notch but given its subject, perhaps a little surprising to see its inclusion here.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Albatross Journals by TG Haraldsson is a great read

  22. Mina says:

    The American Tragedy and Jennie Gerhardt by Theodore Dreiser


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