WSJ Readers Pick Their Favorite Historical Fiction

Subscribers to the WSJ’s weekly Books newsletter recently shared their favorite spy novels and mystery series. The genre we were most often asked to tackle next was historical fiction, a category both capacious and hard to define. Is it simply a novel that takes place in the past? The list below is restricted to books written by an author about a period earlier than her or his own—a definition broad enough to include everything from Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” to Allison Pataki’s recent “The Accidental Empress.” . . .

The touchstone for historical fiction written by a contemporary writer may be Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” trilogy, which chronicles the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to Henry VIII. . . .

Favorites of the 19th century:

  • Alan Brennert’s “Moloka’i”
  • Caleb Carr’s “The Alienist”
  • Willa Cather’s “Death Comes for the Archbishop”
  • Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage”
  • Therese Anne Fowler’s “A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts”
  • John Fox Jr.’s “The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come”
  • George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series
  • Charles Frazier’s “Cold Mountain”
  • Robert Harris’s “An Officer and a Spy”
  • Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables”
  • M.M. Kaye’s “The Far Pavillions”
  • Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove”
  • Thomas Mallon’s “Henry and Clara”
  • James Michener’s “Centennial”
  • Graham Moore’s “The Last Days of Night”
  • Allison Pataki’s “The Accidental Empress”
  • Michael Shaara’s “The Killer Angels”

Favorites of the 20th century:

  • William Boyd’s “Any Human Heart”
  • Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s “The War That Saved My Life”
  • Anthony Doerr’s “All the Light We Cannot See”
  • Ken Follett’s “Fall of Giants”
  • C.S. Forester’s “The General”
  • Steven Galloway’s “The Cellist of Sarajevo”
  • Kristin Hannah’s “The Nightingale”
  • Nancy Horan’s “Loving Frank”
  • Min Jin Lee’s “Pachinko”
  • Viet Thanh Nguyen’s “The Sympathizer”
  • Amor Towles’s “A Gentleman in Moscow”
  • Leon Uris’s “Armageddon”
  • Leon Uris’s “Exodus”
  • Herman Wouk’s “War and Remembrance”
  • Herman Wouk’s “The Winds of War”

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