History Books!

Disney - Master (Explored)For some reason my summer reading always consists of at least one historical novel. I don’t know why this is the case, perhaps after a boring year of teaching I need to find vicarious excitement in life at some other time in some other place. Here are five that I cannot recommend enough.


You want a readable, fun view into the fascinating history of New York? Here it is, in fantasy novel form.

Pete Hamill’s Forever is the story of Cormac O’Connor, an Irish immigrant who comes to America in 1740 and is immortal…as long as he stays on Manhattan. This book has got damn good characters, great action, and lots and lots of death, fucking, and killing. In other words: Awesome.

The historical allure here is the unwavering view of New York over nearly three centuries. And, folks, it was not always pretty. This book will surely snap that perception one has of New York – and Manhattan specifically – of a place of perennial snobbery, brownstones, Starbucks, and bad Richard Gere movies. There are cholera epidemics, the Revolutionary War, the slave riots, the draft riots, and the great fire of 1835. There is also the history of the world in three centuries as Cormac sees it.

Read this if you are interested in New York or just want to be glued to your couch.

The Terror

Two words: Historical Horror.

Two more words: Holy Shazbot!

Dan Simmons made it into my will by combining two of my favorite genres (sure he’ll be thrilled to get my baseball card index and a Scrimshaw pocketknife).

This is a fictionalized account of the lost expedition of the HMS Terror, which disappeared in the Arctic trying to force the Northwest Passage.

First of all, there is a very convincing depiction of the routines, trials, tribulations, and life of those who lived and sailed the oceans in 1845. Then, lock them in the ice with no hope of escape and then depict that with disturbing reality.

And then, just in case you want to make things more interesting, put something in the ice stalking them and then ripping apart the crew limb from limb.

If you don’t read this book, you are a bad person.

The Egyptian

Subtitle: holy frick, thank God I didn’t live in Ancient Egypt.

This book by Finnish writer Mika Waltari is the story of Sinuhe, an Egyptian royal physician and his life during the reign of the Pharaoh Akhenaten. The backdrop to the story is the enormous social and religious upheaval as Egypt begins moving into a monotheistic society. And by upheaval, I mean, the crocodile shit hits the palm fan with such velocity that you should wear a seatbelt while reading….or at least a scarab.

The writing and the story are enough to win my praise. Then add characters who are real and living, and not hieroglyphs on a stone wall. And then add Waltari, who is in no way afraid to brutalize them. He doesn’t hold back one iota, as people get beaten to death, eaten by crocodiles, set on fire. There is brain surgery with a booze anesthetic. Yes, just give me a drink and then saw into my brain.

But the true draw of this book is its depiction of everyday life in Ancient Egypt. It’s like reading a social history of the time and it is as fascinating as it sounds.

The Killer Angels

The entirety of this book takes place during the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, and it is a remarkably well-written account from the points of view of officers and commanders on both sides: Union and Confederacy. What sets it apart from some other films and books about the Civil War is that The Killer Angles is even-handed, fair, and personable.

Think the Confederate Army was full of dingbat rednecks? Think they were all racist hicks?


Michael Shaara brings this history changing battle to life, while depicting the characters (on both sides) as real men with real fears, compassion, compulsions, and dilemmas about killing old friends on the other side. While reading this book, I drove countless people insane with my constant insistence that they read it. This book is a must read.


I know, I know, Lincoln is all the rage right now. Lincoln and his fucking vampires, Lincoln in jeans on YouTube, and of course renowned character actor Daniel Day Lewis actually called Lincoln’s spirit during a séance and forced him to relinquish his soul so that he could portray him. The last thing you want to hear is that there’s this book about Lincoln you should read.

But there is and it’s called Lincoln, and it’s a phenomenal novel by Gore Vidal.

The enormous historical allure to this book is that it looks at Lincoln from various angles. And some of them shatter the perception of the moral, compassionate Lincoln. Fascinating book and damned educational…if you like that sort of thing.

And if not, go buy the one where he kills vampires.

Over to Thee

There are hundreds and hundreds of great historical novels out there. Please recommend one!

  1. #1 by Julia on July 11, 2013 - 6:18 pm

    You should try out The Historian, a factual historical fiction that delves into Vlad the Impaler. If you enjoyed the DaVinci Code, which I did, it’s a similar story-telling style.

  2. #2 by jenna on July 11, 2013 - 7:16 pm

    Che. Sooo sooo good!

  3. #3 by Kristian on July 11, 2013 - 9:43 pm

    The Gate by Francois Bizot. Reading it now, excellent stuff.

  4. #4 by Eddie on July 22, 2013 - 1:57 am

    The Terror sounds good I think I will check it out.

    Have you read William Styrons’s The Confessions of Nat Turner? I read that in college and have read it three time since and it gets better every time.

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