History itself can be as enthralling as a soap opera, with so many twists, turns, heroes, and villains. It’s no surprise, then, that some of the best works of literature were inspired by real places and events.
Historical fiction combines the best of true events and creative writing to deliver stories that take readers on a journey through the past, while posing important questions about our present.
Best Historical Fiction Books
Below are 12 of the best historical fiction books that shine light on some of history’s greatest events while bringing us unforgettable characters.
1. Beloved by Toni Morrison
Sethe was born a slave. But 18 years after escaping to Ohio, she is still haunted by memories of the horrific things that happened to her, and by the ghost of her baby, whose tombstone is engraved with just one word: Beloved.
2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Liesel is a foster child living in Nazi Germany in 1939. She carves out a meager existence for herself by stealing the one thing she can’t resist: books.
She shares her finds with neighbors during bombing raids, and with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. In this unforgettable story, readers see the ability of books to nourish the soul.
3. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Through the fictional experiences of its protagonist, Okonkwo, Things Fall Apart explores a man’s futile resistance to the British forces that are establishing their colonial presence and devaluing his traditions.
This classic novel conveys the tragedy of the loss of a culture, while broadening our understanding of contemporary issues.
4. The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict
Based on the true story of screen siren Hedy Lamarr, this is the story of a stunning beauty who used her incredible wit and ingenuity to help her country fight the Nazis before building a new career as a film star.
The Only Woman in the Room shares the inspiring story of an icon who was secretly a scientist and whose invention revolutionized modern communication.
5. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amore Towles
Sentenced to house arrest in a luxury hotel across from the Kremlin, Count Alexander Rostov has been deemed an unrepentant aristocrat. While some of the most tumultuous years in Russian history unfold outside, Rostov is left to embark on his own quiet journey of self discovery.
6. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
In Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden takes readers into a world where appearance is everything, where a girl’s virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder, and where love is scorned as an illusion.
Follow Nitta Sayuri’s story of her life as a geisha, starting in a poor fishing village before she is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a geisha house.
7. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
In this epic novel of love and war, Margaret Mitchell takes readers to the burning fields and cities of the American South, in the final moments of an era defined by slavery and vast inequalities,
With haunting scenes and unforgettably vivid characters, Gone with the Wind is the story of one woman’s fight for survival and a great love that burns in the middle of the Civil War.
8. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Two boys are sentenced to a brutal reform school in Jim Crow–era Florida. One boy tries to hold onto the forgiving words of Martin Luther King despite the atrocities they experience, while his friend thinks this is worse than naive.
The tension between their ideals and skepticism leads to a decision whose consequences will echo for decades.
9. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
At 14, Mary Boleyn caught the eye of a young and charming Henry VIII. Mary falls in love with the prince and her role as unofficial queen, but she soon realizes that she is a pawn in her family’s ambitious plots.
Soon, she is forced to step aside for her friend, rival, and sister, Anne. Mary realizes she must take her fate into her own hands.
10. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
As Napoleon’s army invades Russia in 1812, we follow characters from very different backgrounds—including peasants, nobility, soldiers, and civilians—as each struggles with their own problems related to their era, families, and culture.
11. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Celie’s letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, from being abused and raped by her father while trying to protect her sister, to her marriage with a man who terrorizes her.
Celie later discovers that her husband has been keeping her sister’s letters from her, and her rage pushes her toward an awakening of her loving and creative self.
12. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
A blind French girl and a German boy cross paths in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of WWII.
Doerr skillfully interweaves the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner to illustrate how, even against all odds, people can try to be good to one another.
Dive Into History
Great stories of love, friendship, and overcoming hardship can make reading about history all the more fascinating.
But there are plenty of true stories that are so epic they couldn’t have been made up! Check out our list of the best books about history that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
What is your favorite historical fiction novel? Share your thoughts in the comments below!