My friend, Mary Tod, from A Writer of History tagged me to list my five personal favorite historical fiction books. As is often the case, some non-fiction books are often just as suspenseful as a great novel and I have listed those as well.
Kim by Rudyard Kipling. I read this book in 2012 as research for my forthcoming historical novel about the Great Game and
Tibet. What I didn't expect was that Kim would change my life forever. It affected me on such an emotional level, I was reduced to tears after only a few paragraphs. Kim challenged everything I thought I knew about parenting and about life in general. Kim won Kipling the Nobel Prize in Literature and contains some of the most unforgettable characters ever written, most of them based on real-life people.
The Sea Wolf by Jack London. Having fallen under
London's spell, I checked out The Sea Wolf from the local library and was immediately gripped by Wolf Larsen, the tyrannical captain of the eponymous
ship. Just before reaching the climax, my kids lost the book, forcing me to pay a huge fine to the library. Of course I could just buy the book from Amazon to find out what happens in the end, but I'm too terrified to return to that ship of horrors.
Longitude by Dava Sobel. A non-fiction book that reads like fiction, Longitude tells the incredible story of John Harrison, an 18th century clock maker who entered into a contest to create the first clock (chronometer) capable of withstanding the rigors of sea voyage so that mariners could determine their correct longitude at sea. When the organizers of the contest balked at awarding
Harrison the prize, he took his fight to
court. A spellbinding tale that became a mini-series starring Jeremy Irons.
Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History by Penny Le Couteur. Organic chemistry intertwined with history to dramatic effect. This fascinating tome will answer questions like: What do Mexican yams have to do with ovulation? And: What does olive oil have to do with philosophy, logic, and the beginning of rational inquiry? Read this book and you will never look at nutmeg the same way again.
QBVII by Leon Uris. I was a bored high school student on summer break in 1980 when my father dusted off this book and gave it to me, an act that would set off a chain of events that would change my life forever. Left with no choice, I opened up this courtroom drama and couldn't put it down. After all these years, I believe even more firmly that it's books like QBVII that have set the standard for great historical fiction, and it's up to our generation to push it even higher.