What is the best Historical Novel (based on a true story)?

Usually when i ask what someones favourite book is they say “Lord of the Rings!” or something like that.
Well i like lord of the rings, but i enjoy reading books that are based on true events and/or people.

You guys know of any good books based on historic figures?


This is more for Cafe Society, but before it’s moved, I’ll nominate “The Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara. It’s about the battle of Gettysburg, and few have done better.

John Barth’s “The Sot-Weed Factor” is based on actual people, but probably doesn’t follow the history all that closely. :wink: Still, it’s one of the best American novels ever written.

burr, by gore vidal.

The Journeyer by Gary Jennings (or someone Jennings, but I’m sure of the last name); based on the adventures of Marco Polo; very entertaining. Nice and long, too. Second favorite would be Lion of Ireland by Ron Llewellyn (again, playing the first name from memory, certain about the last name); based on the life of Brian Boru.


I think it depends on your age and time frame,

In Cold Blood.

Damn, that’s the first thing I thought of when I saw the thread title! Count me as a strong second for the nomination.

Roots by Alex Haley

T. C. Boyle’s * Water Music * is a great take on the adventures of Mungo Park in West Africa in the late 1700s and early 18s.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s * First Circle* offers a tragic/brilliant view into Stalinist Russia based on the author’s experiences. * A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich * is shorter and more potent.

I have heard great things about Jenning’s * Aztec *.

GQ is for questions with factual answers. I’ll move this thread over to our arts forum, Cafe Society.

His first name is indeed Gary, and I emphatically agree with this recommendation. There’s also Aztec, also by Gary Jennings. The main character is fictional, but the places, events, and time (the Aztec Empire immediately before and during the Spanish conquest) are supposedly presented accurately.

And now, on preview, I notice that strikerhooey has already mentioned Aztec as well.

I’ve also read JOURNEYER and AZTEC as well as couple of other Jennings novels (SPANGLE, RAPTOR) and I’m a little torn about him. He seems very well researched and can be entertaining, but is anyone else bothered by the graphic pedophilia which is present in almost all his work? There is a ton of it in JOURNEYER and it’s presented in a casual, non-judgemental way. It seems as if Jennings is getting off on it. Am I too sensitive? What do you think? (Maybe this is a topic for another thread, sorry.)

“Alias Grace” by Margaret Atwood - just finished it today, and I think I might start it again, it was great.


The Jack Aubrey/Steven Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian; Aubrey is based closely on Lord Cochrane, one of Britain’s most brilliant fighting captains of the Napoleonic era.

I concur with Diogenes. Count Belisarius was good too.

Diogenes the Cynic asked:

Yes, yes, and yes.

I read Aztec, and recommend it to those that can stomach the graphic violence and sex. However, I’d had enough by the time I tried to read the first sequel, Aztec Autumn, and tossed that book aside as soon as the first gratuitous graphic sex scene showed up around ch. 2 or 3. That’s why although Journeyer sound like something I’d otherwise like, I’m going to avoid it.

That said, as good as Aztec otherwise is, the “best” (IMHO) is definitely I, Claudius, with Claudius the God running a distant second.

Folks, there are a lot of historic novels out there. Surely you can come up with a few more. How about Julian by Gore Vidal? Or The Bronze God of Rhodes by L. Sprague de Camp (about the building of the Colossus of Rhodes)? Or Colleen McCullouggh’s magnificent “Makers of Rome” series, beginning with The First Man in Rome – meticulously researched and beautifully written.

Hubby is much more a reader of historical novels than I am, and he LOVES the Colleen McCullough “Makers Of Rome” series!! Haven’t read them myself, but he’s pretty discerning, so I’d say that’s a pretty strong recommendation.

I really liked the Lion of Ireland. Although it is based on a true story, it is fiction.

“The Short-Timers” by Gustav Hasford is a remarkable novel. The movie version, “Full Metal Jacket,” is vastly inferior.

“Shogun” by Clavell isn’t really a historical novel I think the way the OP meant, but it was clearly a novel steeped in the theme of history, and it was fabulous.

Leon Uris has written several fine historical novels.