The Best Historical Fiction of All Time

I have 613 books on my Goodreads “Read” list, and at least a third of them fall into the historical fiction classification. So I guess you say this is my jam. Historical fiction is a literary genre in which the story takes place in the past. Historical novels capture the details of the time period as accurately as possible for authenticity, including social norms, manners, customs, and traditions. Many novels in this genre tell fictional stories that involve actual historical figures or historical events.

To help you land on some reads you may not have considered, I’ve put together a list of the best historical novels of all time. Such things are subjective, of course, but each of these books was on several lists and my own opinions played a role. I’ve only read 16 of them, a couple more than once, so I still have some work to do. Incidentally, an author makes only one appearance on the list no matter how many excellent books he or she has written, and some obvious choices aren’t here because they are on another genre’s list. It’s in alphabetical order (“a” and “the” don’t count) because it was just too hard to decide which title should be first. Because I know you’re going to ask me, I put an asterisk (*) behind my faves.

Without further ado… I present the best historical fiction of all time:

Ahab’s Wife, (or The Star-Gazer), Sena Jeter Naslund

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr *

Atonement, Ian McEwan

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak *

City of Women, David R. Gillham

Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier *

The Color Purple, Alice Walker

The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje

The Girl with a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier *

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell *

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows *

The Help, Kathryn Stockett *

Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi

I, Claudius, Robert Graves

Life After Life, Kate Atkinson

Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden *

The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco

The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah *

One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez

The Orenda, Joseph Boyden

The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory *

Outlander, Diana Gabaldon *

The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett *

Pope Joan, Donna Woolfolk Cross

The Red Tent, Anita Diamont *

Roots, Alex Haley

Sarah’s Key, Tatiana De Rosnay *

The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

Shogun, James Clavell

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See *

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

The Tea Rose, Jennifer Donnelly

The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough

The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas

War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

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