If You Like….

Last week’s post on historical mysteries got me thinking about another subset of the historical fiction world: the “big” historical novel.

I’m referring not just to doorstop quality, but epic sweep. Some of these are entirely stand alone, others are the first in a series, but all have that “big” historical feel. So, if you like “big” historical novels, you’ll probably like….

— Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, the absolute archetype of the genre;

— Kathleen Winsor’s Forever Amber;

— Karleen Koen’s Through a Glass Darkly;

— M.M. Kaye’s The Far Pavilions;

— Anya Seton’s Katherine;

— Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander;

— Sara Donati’s Into the Wilderness;

— Judith Merkle Riley’s A Vision of Light;

— John Jakes’ North and South;

— Carole Nelson Douglas’ Fair Wind, Fiery Star;

— Pamela Kaufman’s Shield of Three Lions.

This is one of those off-the-top-of-the-head lists, so I’m sure I’ve left out a ridiculous number of major historical novels. (Upon reflection, I deliberately left out Dumas and Sabatini, since they’re of the historical adventure subgenre.)

Which are your favorite “big” historical novels?


  1. Céline on November 14, 2011 at 7:36 am

    I’ll add The Pilars of The Earth to your list, which is such a great book and a fabulous story!

  2. Joanne M. on November 14, 2011 at 9:46 am

    You’ve covered my favs — I might add:

    Susan Howatch: Cashelmara, Penmarric, The Rich are Different

    R. F. Delderfield: Theirs Was the Kingdom

    Taylor Caldwell: Captains and the Kings

    Colleen McCullough: The Thorn Birds

    Valerie Fitzgerald: Zemindar

  3. Farin on November 14, 2011 at 10:23 am

    I was going to mention Ken Follett, but Celine beat me to it.

  4. Sheila on November 14, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Amzing… I have read, and loved everything on your list, and the others here, except for Douglas and Kaufman. I am still not halfway through Harrod-Eagles’ Morland Dynasty, which is terrific. Can I mention the Angelique series, these entranced me as a teenager.

  5. Linda on November 14, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Sharon Kay Penman’s Welsh Trilogy: Here Be Dragons, Falls the Shadow and The Reckoning.

  6. Joey B. on November 14, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Barbara Taylor Bradford’s Harte family saga books starting with “A Woman of Substance.”

  7. Bridget Erin on November 14, 2011 at 11:56 am

    I LOVE Gone With the Wind. But I would also advise anyone to read any of Philippa Gregory’s books, although my favorite still is The Other Boleyn Girl.

    Does anyone have any ideas of Gone With the Wind replacements?

  8. Jessica Mac on November 14, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Absolutely love Through a Glass Darkly and Forever Amber!!! I would add The Other Boleyn Girl as well to my list! Kate Emerson also has a great series about Tudor England.

  9. Jessica S. on November 14, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    I would add anything by Edward Rutherfurd, personally I have only read the two Ireland books and New York, but for a BIG historical novel, they fit the bill nicely.

    I am going to mark everyone else’s suggestions on my TBR list. Such a long list.

  10. Samra on November 14, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    I would add Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. Absolutely wonderful!

  11. Chartreuse on November 14, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Herman Wouk’s “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance” belong here, I believe.

  12. Stacy on November 14, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    I agree with you on Gone with the Wind. Amazing (and occasionally infuriating) book!

    I’m bookmarking this page because it sounds like a lot of books that I ought to read. 🙂

  13. SusanN on November 14, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Oh, I liked your list and will add a few (hopefully, ones that haven’t already been named).

    –Colleen McCullough’s Rome series.
    –Valerie Fitzgerald’s Zemindar.
    –Christian Jacq’s Ramses series.
    –Robert Graves’s I, Claudius (and Claudius the God).
    –Sharon Kay Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour. (Really, any SKP book, but this is my all-time sob-erific favorite.)
    –Wilbur Smith’s The Sunbird (and successive books).
    –Edward Rutherford’s Sarum. (Particularly Sarum, but any of his books).
    –Anything by James Michener. The Source was my favorite, but everything he wrote was a sweeping saga.
    –Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdattar.
    –RF Delderfield’s God is an Englishman (and other books).
    –Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago.
    –Morgan Llewelyn’s Irish century series (and others).
    –Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet (A Jewel in the Crown).
    –Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth.
    –John Jakes’s North & South and the Kent Family saga
    –Howard Fast’s Immigrant series.
    –Alex Haley’s Roots.

    As you know, I could go on and on, but I’ll stop now!

  14. Jill Q. on November 14, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    I love The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd.
    It’s not really a big doorstop historical novel, but it crams a lot of life and story into a smallish package and it has one of the most beautiful, bittersweet endings I’ve ever read.

  15. Elizabeth (aka Miss Eliza) on November 14, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    If you like a little magic thrown in with the historical, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell!

  16. AmandaLB on November 14, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Anything by Sharon Kay Penman!!

  17. Jessica C on November 15, 2011 at 1:20 am

    What about the novels of James A Michener? They are VERY big in scope, usually covering the history of a particular place/area over hundreds (sometimes thousands) of years. I loved his books when I was in high school. I’d suggest starting off with Chesapeake.

    Pillars of the Earth and its sequel World Without End are both excellent (and the miniseries of the first is also pretty good). Not such a fan of Phillipa Gregory – I thought The Other Boleyn Girl was slow and poorly written.

    For more suggestions, check out this website – http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/stevereads/2010/10/big-fat-historical-novels-ten-tomes-to-tempt/

  18. April on November 15, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas) is my favorite big historical novel.

    Les Miserables (Victor Hugo) is second. Maybe it’s because I’m a French major…

    The Scarlet Pimpernell (not a big novel) is my favorite book ever, got me interested in French, and in the Pink series.

  19. AmyN on November 15, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    Michener, Penman, Kaye, Follett (PotE, WWOE), and have read Anya Seton’s Katherine. Some great ideas here!

  20. SusanN on November 16, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    OK, I couldn’t resist. I was thinking about some of the books from my youth (and more recently) and just had to add a few extras. So many of those “old-timey” books were made into great movies. (And so many of them had religious themes/overtones.)

    From the era of “big” books:

    –Taylor Caldwell. Just about any of her books. It wasn’t the most famous, but The Arm and the Darkness was my fave.
    –Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy.
    –Lew Wallace’s Ben Hur.
    –Morris West’s The Shoes of the Fisherman and The Navigator.
    –Thomas B. Costain—again, just about anything, but the Plantagenet series was my favorite. (His daughter, Molly, also wrote historical novels/romances that were lighter, less epic.)
    –Samuel Shellabarger’s Captain from Castile and Prince of Foxes.
    –Leon Uris’s Exodus and Battlecry (or any of his other works).
    –James Clavell’s Shogun (and others).
    –Anton Myrer’s Once an Eagle.
    –Mary Renault. They’re all classics, but my hands-down favorite was/is The Persian Boy.

    The classics:

    –Murasaki’s The Tale of the Genji. (Also really liked The Tale of Murasaki by Liza Dalby—a little more accessible than the original work/author it was based on.)
    –Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and TH White’s The Sword in the Stone.
    –Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
    –Dickens—‘nuf said.
    –Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.
    –Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence.
    –Anthony Trollope’s Palliser series.
    –Winston Graham’s Poldark series.

    The historicals:

    –Margaret George’s The Memoirs of Cleopatra.
    –Pauline Gedge’s Child of the Morning and The Twelfth Transforming. (Yep, I love those epic Egyptian historicals.)
    –Judith Tarr’s Pillar of Fire and Lord of the Two Lands. (But my favorite is her time travel/alternate history written w/ Harry Turtledove, Household Gods.)

    I guess the nautical epics/series (Forester, O’Brian, Lambdin, Kent, etc.) are too much in the swashbuckler/adventure category to be included here. Same with all the various Bernard Cornwell books. Likewise, there are many fantasy/sci fi novels (Tolkien!) that could also be included if the scope were enlarged. So, even with all of these, it’s still a “short list”! 🙂

  21. Jenny on November 23, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    Looking at that list just makes me tired. War and Peace anyone? I actually refuse to read it. While I loved Anna Karenina and other of Tolstoy’s works, I just…I can’t. I can’t do it.

  22. Elegant Blog on May 21, 2017 at 1:15 am

    Forever Amber By Kathleen Winsor

    […] add a few extras. So many of those “old-timey” books were made into great mo […]

Leave a Comment