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Top Ten Historical Fiction Authors

Historical Fiction

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Jan 19, 2012, 4:15pm Top

Hi all,

I am new to this group, so please forgive me if this has all been discussed before.

Not sure if this is a valid question but ... has anyone ever attempted to do a top 10 historical fiction authors list?

I know it would be tricky but it could be done by top ten most popular in this group?

I really like Bernard Cornwall and Simon Scarrow ... they would be in my top 10 but I am keen to learn about other authors.

Any suggestions?


Edited: Jan 19, 2012, 7:02pm Top

I like:
Bernard cornwell, Con Iggulden, Edward Rutherford as well as Simon Scarrow

Not forgetting David Gemmell forLord of the Silver Bow
or Alexander Kent, C.S.Forester and others of that ilk
or Winston Graham, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, Diana Gabaldon, Phillipa Gregory and others.

Try The White Company by Arthur Conan Doyle

There you are that's ten more for you, but there are hundreds and I couldn't possibly put them in any order of "top ten" preference.

Edited: Jan 19, 2012, 10:12pm Top

I'll take a stab at this. Not in any order but here's some I would have on the list:

James A.Michener (one of my favorites) has to be on the list for books his books like Hawaii, Centennial the The Source

Jeff Shaara for The Rising Tide: A Novel of World War II, Gone for Soldiers: A Novel of the Mexican War,

Bernard Cornwall (also on my favorites list) all his books are good and I like where he tells you at the end where he took liberties for the sake of the story.

Gore Vidal. Not one most people think of but his Narratives of Empire Series Burr, Lincoln: A Novel , 1876 etc. are all excellent.

Mika Waltari (a Finnish writer not much talked about these days), best known for his book that was made into a movie The Egyptian.
But this was only one in a series that traced the rise of monotheism. others being The etruction, The roman, The Wonderer.

Leon Uris, with books like Trinity, Exodus, Armageddon

Jan 19, 2012, 10:15pm Top

You can't leave off Sharon Kay Penman if you're talking HF.

Jan 19, 2012, 11:17pm Top

Agree with Bernard Cornwell, Jeff Shaara, Gore Vidal and C.S. Forester. I would add Michael Shaara, Herman Wouk and Alexander Dumas.

Jan 20, 2012, 1:40am Top

Patrick O'Brian, Mary Renault, Lindsey Davis, Gillian Bradshaw, Barbara Hambly, P.F. Chisholm who is also Patricia Finney, Pat McIntosh. That's seven; at the moment, I can't think of anyone else I want to include. I love mysteries, so have included some mystery authors here. Gillian Bradshaw is interesting in that her books are not considered mysteries, but many of them do have a strong element of mystery or suspense; and they bring the ancient world to life. (And I can't believe I'm the first to mention Patrick O'Brian. I think the jacket of one of his novels included praise from Renault!)

Honorable mentions: Colleen McCullough, Dorothy Dunnett (might be in the top ten if her work wasn't so blasted opaque).

OK but disappointing: Sharon Kay Penman.

I enjoyed C.S. Forester when I read the Hornblower books as a high school student, but after I read Patrick O'Brian's books, Forester seemed very pedestrian.

Edited: Jan 20, 2012, 7:45am Top

How could I forget. Top of the list must go Robert Graves for I, Claudius and Claudius the God. Two books that showed the way for writing fiction set in the roman period.

I've never liked Patrick O'Brian, there's too much playing musical instruments and not enough naval action. I didn't even like the film!

Jan 20, 2012, 7:14am Top

>7 BobH1: That's one of the reasons I prefer O'Brian to Forester! And one of the reasons why we'll never all agree on a top ten....

Thanks for mentioning Graves. Another really obvious figure who hasn't been mentioned yet is Sir Walter Scott, without whom we might never have had historical fiction as we know it today. And what about Rosemary Sutcliff, who gave many of us our first real experience of HF?

And what about all those "mainstream" novelists who wrote one or two great historical novels as well: do we include Dickens on the strength of A tale of two cities or Victor Hugo on the strength of Notre-Dame de Paris? Or Thackeray for Henry Esmond? or Anthony Burgess, Marguerite Yourcenar, John Fowles, William Golding, Mark Twain, ...

Edited: Jan 20, 2012, 7:20am Top

I liked also liked "Uncle Cla-Cla Claudius ". I think I'll pull him off the shelf for a vist.

I also agree with you about O'Brian, I've read alot of his books but never could get the empathy for his characters that I did with Hornblower and Richard Bolitho. It may be because I started to reading him later in life when my overall reading tastes changed.

I'll also toss in my vote for Herman Wouk for his books The Winds of War and War and Rememberance. He did for WW2 what Tolstoy did for Russia and Napoleon with War and Peace

Jan 20, 2012, 7:33am Top

My vote would go to Margaret George. Big, fat, well-researched novels that read like a cross between fiction and biography and always reveal (speculate) something new about historical figures you'd imagine had already been done to death.

And I know it's really on the grounds of just one book and a handful of short sttories but Michel Faber certainly deserves inclusion just for the sublime Crimson Petal and the White.

Jan 20, 2012, 8:14am Top

Dorothy Dunnett Lymond Chronicles, Sharon Kay Penman Sunne in Splendour, Elizabeth Chadwick's more recent novesl such as the William Marshal ones, CJ Sansom Shardlake series, Ellis Peters Heaven Tree series and Brothers of Gwynned series and Margaret Irwin for her English Civil war series.

Jan 20, 2012, 3:23pm Top

I'd like to add David Liss to this list. I adore his historical fiction, especially the Benjamin Weaver series. Also, Jacqueline Winspear (for her Maisie Dobbs series, S.J. Parris, Deanna Raybourn, and Kate Ross. I love to immerse myself in the historical aspects of their novels.

Jan 23, 2012, 2:43pm Top

Has to be room for David Gemmell in there. The Troy series was outstanding.

Simon Scarrow and Ben Kane are up there too - always providing a really absorbing, action-packed read.

Jan 24, 2012, 7:57am Top

Tough one. Here is my very personal list.

Gore Vidal, Mary Renault, Sharon Kay Penman, Bernard Cornwell, Dorothy Dunnett, Robert Graves, David Liss, Michael Shaara

I am leaving out some authors that have written some HF but mostly something else (like Margarite Yourcenar, even if Memoirs of Hadrian is one of my all-time favorites). And of course, many of the other ones mentioned above, that I haven't read yet.

Edited: Jan 29, 2012, 12:44am Top

I enjoyed John Jakes' Kent Family Chronicles. Others..the Shaaras, Margaret George
and Edward Rutherfurd.

Edited: Jan 29, 2012, 3:31pm Top

1. Max Gallo
2. Robert Graves
3. Umberto Eco
4. Leo Tolstoy
5. Jean Plaidy
6. T C Boyle
7. Colleen McCullough
8. James A Michener
9. Victor Hugo
10. Edward Rutherford
11. John Jakes
12. Thomas Mann
I recognize that although many of the above authors wrote a couple of novels that can considered historical novels, most of them are considered mainstream authors who don't concentrate primarily on historical fiction.
Of authors who write nothing but historical fiction, I probably have not reached 10 in my list of favourites. But I will keep working on it. T C Boyle seems to be writing quite a few novels about 20th century historical figures from the USA. Thomas Mann in writing about Joseph and His Brothers is taking a topic that goes a couple of millenia back in history.
I exceeded the quota on this thread by rounding up to an even dozen. And some of these are low-brow authors. But oh well, maybe I'll try to revise this a bit later and narrow it down to the absolute top ten.

Jan 29, 2012, 4:11pm Top

For Tudor-era books, I really like Margaret George. For HF that looks closely at the domestic level, my favourite is Tracey Chevalier. I've only read one Sharon Kay Penman, but it was excellent and one day I'll read more from her.

Jan 30, 2012, 5:36am Top

#18 Not just Tudor-era either, Nickelini. Try MG's Mary, Called Magdalene - it's a superb book about a fascinating woman friom an era that wouldn't usually interest me. Of course, there's more speculation in this one than in most of her books about more well-documented historical characters but she handles that brilliantly. I think you'd like it.

Jan 30, 2012, 7:40pm Top

If some people like to read about other hiistories, Tahmima Anam has two books of a trilogy out about the Bangladeshi War for Independence. A very good historical fiction item to consider.

Feb 9, 2012, 12:28am Top

I would have add my favourites

1. Winston Graham
2. James Clavell
3. Leon Uris

Edited: Feb 19, 2012, 4:41pm Top

Glad to see Mary Renault and Dorothy Dunnett, but I can't believe no one has even mentioned Sigrid Undset Kristin Lavransdatter and anything by Bryher.

Also Zoe Oldenbourg and some of Cecilia Holland. Alan Furst really knows WWII. I'd not like to leave out Naomi Mitchison either even if it's really for only 2 books.

For Eagle in the Snow alone, I'd want to name Wallace Breem too.

May 20, 2012, 4:41pm Top

I don't know that I would come up with 10 yet. But some I'd my favorites right now are Walter Scott although his works are getting hard to find. Raphael Sabatini, same thing many Of his books are hard to find. Also Alexander Dumas. I will throw One out there because he did do some research for his books and would intersperse them with real events and real People and that would be Louis Lamour

May 21, 2012, 11:59am Top

I've been reading some books by H. Rider Haggard lately, and I now think he qualifies as an excellent historical fiction writer, although not all of his books were set before his time.

May 31, 2012, 8:44am Top

My favorite historical fiction author is Maurice Druon who wrote the Accursed Kings series. Finding all the books in the series was kind of hard but they were the best historical fiction I have ever read.

Jun 8, 2012, 5:12pm Top

It's more than 10 authors. Sorry.

For historical fiction set in US:
*Alex Haley (Roots)
*Gore Vidal (Burr, Lincoln)
*Michael Shaara (Killer Angels)
*Thomas Berger (Little Big Man)
*Herman Wouk (Winds of War)
*Bebe Moore Campbell (Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine)

For historical fiction set in other parts of the world
*Conn Iggulden (Genghis: Birth of an Empire) – Mongolia
*Anchee Min (Wild Ginger) – China
*Shan Sa (Girl Who Played Go) – China
*Tariq Ali (Book of Saladin) – Middle East
*Amin Maalouf (Samarkand, Leo Africanus) – Middle East
*Marjane Satrapi (graphic novel Persepolis) – Iran (note: some would not qualify this as historical fiction)
*Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart) – Nigeria
*Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun) – Nigeria
*Gary Jennings (Aztec) – Pre-Colombian America
*Mario Vargas Llosa (Feast of the Goat) – Latin America
*Robert Graves (I, Claudius) – Roman Empire
*Ken Follett (Pillars of the Earth, World Without End, Fall of Giants) – Europe
*Art Spiegelman (graphic novel Maus) – Europe
*Gore Vidal again (Creation)

Edited: Oct 22, 2012, 3:25pm Top

My own list in no particular order: Mary Renault, Sharon Kay Penman, Robert Graves, Bernard Cornwell, Gore Vidal, Alexandre Dumas le pere, Victor Hugo, Umberto Eco, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott (more for his influence though than his novels)

Edited: Dec 25, 2012, 9:46am Top

Late to this thread, but I will add three more: Hilary Mantel, Rose Tremain, and Jude Morgan.

A personal note: technically, I don't consider it "historical fiction" if it was "contemporary fiction" when it was written.

Dec 31, 2012, 1:05am Top

I'm also late to the thread, but I'd like to add Edward Rutherford, Geraldine Brooks, and Mary Doria Russell.

Dec 31, 2012, 9:00am Top

Ooohhh so many of my favorites are listed here.

Dec 31, 2012, 1:14pm Top

This is someone who has not been translated into English - and I suspect there are more untranslated authors out there - Gisbert Haefs has written very good Carthage, Greece and Roman novels (Alexander, Hannibal, Marc Aurel...).

And I think D.K. Broster deserves a mention, too.

Edited: Jul 29, 2013, 8:52pm Top

Hello, I'm a new member perusing older posts and must add my two cents.....post #6, orsolina....
Dorothy Dunnett opaque surely you jest;))). (Some of the fun is finally finding the reference she's making.) IMO she is the best writer of historical fiction ever. The Lymond Chronicle is and always will be my favorite books. House Niccolo is even better and my all time favorite is King Hereafter. Okay it depends on which one I'm reading now. There I've gotten that out of my system; Dunnetteers can be quite tiresome;))

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is a name I'd like to throw out. Her main character is a vampire but he has nothing to do with L K Hamilton or A Rice. The advantage of the vampire is longevity and the perspective that goes with that. Most often there is very little 'action' but lots of immersion in whichever time period especially the more recently written ones.

I second Vidal his Burr is great. My sister likes his ancient history, I haven't read them yet.

Ondaatje is one to add not just 'The English Patient' but 'Coming through Slaughter' is fabulous.

Jul 29, 2013, 10:46pm Top

No one has mentioned Kenneth Roberts. Arundel is a really good novel set in pre-Revolutionary New England. Anya Seton's books can sometimes be a little silly, but Katherine is really well-done. I agree with everyone who's mentioned I, Claudius. Ditto Michael Shaara. I haven't read his son's books, but The killer angels is wonderful.

Jul 30, 2013, 12:42am Top

Well, ValLloyd, I've been rereading the Lymond Chronicles this summer (slowly, because I've been teaching a history class in addition to my full-time job); I think I should get hold of the companion volumes. So I enjoy them enough to reread them, and I will add that I think Philippa is one of the best heroines I've ever run across, and that Dunnett's villains are among the vilest of the breed. I also love the sweep of the stories. But I can't put Dunnett in the same class as O'Brian and Renault.

I've read some of Yarbro's Saint-Germain novels, but I've decided to give up on them. Having a vampire protagonist for a series of historical novels was a great idea. But--and this is a big problem for me--the author seems to be absolutely obsessed with torture, both physical and psychological, and especially with torture of female victims. Yes, I've read plenty of historical novels, some set in places where torture was accepted (and there is even a certain amount of--shall I say--vigorous interrogation going on in the history I've been teaching), but Yarbro features it in every one of these books that I've read, so much so that I feel kind of contaminated after having finished the story.

And Bejace, I like Kenneth Roberts too. Especially The Lively Lady, with a guest appearance by real-life privateer skipper Thomas Boyle!

Jul 31, 2013, 9:04pm Top

My vote goes to Bernard Cornwell especially with his Sharpe series on the Napoleonic wars , the Grail series and the Starbuck series on the American Civil war. He has written other books that are stand-alones though there are some on the Saxon invasion of Britain that I did not like as much. I love his attention to detain on the battles and his skillful weaving of his main character into the tick of these battles. I have also learned how to load/fire a musket in 20 secs and how to train to be a longbow man :)

Sep 19, 2013, 12:25pm Top

Here's a survey that lists the top historical fiction writers, most of whom you guys have already ferrited out. http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/features/the-top-10-historical...

Jul 20, 2014, 1:25am Top

Another favourite is CS Forester...especially his Hornblower series...

Aug 21, 2014, 4:53pm Top


Aug 21, 2014, 7:14pm Top

Dorothy Dunnett is my all time favorite, but like Mary Renault, Bernard Cornwall (especially Agincourt), Liss, Michael Faber, Sarah Waters (Fingersmith, Affinity, The Little Stranger), Alexander Dumas, Eco (The Name of the Rose particularly), Penman, very much. I also really enjoy the historical fantasy writing of Guy Gavriel Kay--some of it comes very close to history and it is exceptionally beautiful and poetic writing.

Aug 27, 2014, 7:08am Top

Here is my Top 20 in no particular order:

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
London by Edward Rutherfurd
Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
The Sunne in Splendor by Sharon Penman
Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Alienist by Caleb Carr
Angel of Darkness by Caleb Carr
Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell
Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet by Edith Pargeter
World without End by Ken Follett
Shogun by James Clavell
Here Be Dragons by Sharon Penman
Tai-Pan by James Clavell
Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Penman
Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield
Trinity by Leon Uris

Aug 27, 2014, 7:20am Top

>41 jcprowe: You may want to reread the question. ;)

Jun 5, 2016, 10:19am Top

ah yes ... Clavell!!! ... such humor too! He died too young. Uris. Wouk. Mitchner's SOURCE his best.

From this nice thread i have decided to pursue Cornwell, Dunnett , & Ali.

I mention Faulkner too!

Jun 5, 2016, 8:25pm Top

I have recently discovered Lindsey Davis. Marcus Didius Falco is the Ancient Roman equivalent of a private detective, and his adventures are fast-paced, well-researched and highly entertaining. She's a lighter read than Dunnett or O'Brian, but that's part of her appeal. Begin with The Silver Pigs.

Edited: Feb 12, 2017, 9:54pm Top

My selections might be a bit different: in no particular order:
I like best the ancient world so most of my selections come from there:
1. Eagle in the snow by Wallace Breem.
2. Helena Schrader's books on ancient Sparta: her Leonidas trilogy and several others
3. Douglas Jackson's Gaius Valerius Verrens series
4. Gordon Doherty's Strategos and Legionary series
5. Sidebottom's Throne of the Caesars series
6. Ruth Downey's Gaius Petreius Ruso mystery series
7. David Wishart's Marcus Corvinus mystery series
8. Course of honour by Lindsey Davis, and the first few of the Falco mystery series
9. Graham Clews' Eboracum trilogy
10. Alys Clare's Abbess Helewise mystery series
11. Ian James Ross's Aurelius Castus series.

also: not to be missed if you can find it: The fox by MNJ Butler. On ancient Sparta in its decline.

Edited: Jul 16, 2016, 1:21pm Top

So far, though relatively new to this category, I like:
Margaret George
James Clavell (loved Shogun)
Alexander James Thom

Group: Historical Fiction

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