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The Value of Historical Fiction


My romanticized view of history was crushed in college when my history professor explained that historians in writing history sometimes create fictional narratives around the facts to make it coherent and more interesting to read. I much prefer reading that George Washington cut down the cherry tree or that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. It conjures up interesting images in the mind. By all accounts, Nero was cruel enough to have done so. But some would say he couldn't have, as the violin was invented centuries after Nero. Neither did George Washington cut down the cherry tree.

I have been reading a lot of Historical Fiction lately and have found the opposite to be true for historical fiction writers. Although their work is labeled as fiction and yes, they are to a great extent, they go to great lengths to research the period, practices, etc. to achieve some level of accuracy. (Check out some of the credit pages to get an idea.)

"Historically accurate fiction"—now you might call that an oxymoron, but I have been catching up on a lot of interesting history lately by reading historical fiction. I much prefer catching up on history this way—with some romance and suspense thrown in—it's a three for one deal!

Here is a list of eight which I've read, with some interesting history to pique your interest.

The Auschwitz Escape by Joel Rosenburg

Thought you knew a lot about the Holocaust, read about the horrible day to day operations inside the Auschwitz death camp and the daring escape of a few, to let the world know of the atrocities committed by Hitler and his men.



A Lady Like Sarah by Margaret Brownley

If you think liquor stores were closed on Sundays for religious reasons, think again. Liquor stores in Texas were first prohibited from being open on Sundays so that the men could show up for work on Monday mornings.




The Icecutter's Daughter  by Tracie Peterson

Ever wondered how folks got ice before refrigeration was invented? Learn about the dangerous profession of the icecutters — they cut blocks off frozen lakes.




Jewel of the Pacific by Linda Lee Chaikin

Dreaming of that Hawaiian vacation? Did you know Hawaii was ruled by a monarchy before it was annexed to the United States. Read about Queen Liliuokalani (the last reigning monarch of Hawaii) and the movement towards annexation.




Lady in the Mist by Laurie Alice Eakes

Thought the draft was bad? Learn about the practice of "impressment" in American history, where the British captured American men and forced them into the Royal Navy.




The Lightkeeper's Ball  by Colleen Coble

Read about suspense, murder, and greed on the New York socialite scene of 1910. A bonus surprise is a cameo by Lady [Caroline] Astor who resided in the Astor Mansion on Fifth Avenue. (No, not at 42nd Street! The Astor Mansion was located on 65th Street and Fifth Avenue).




Love on the Line by Deanne Gist

When the telephone was first invented, people could listen in on your conversation and I don't mean the NSA! Your neighbors on the same exchange could just pick up their handset and listen in on your coversation. And here is something that will ruffle the feathers of every nature loving, environmentally conscious person - milliners once used real birds and eggs to decorate the hats they made.



The Daughters of Caleb Bender Series: Paradise Valley, The Captive Heart, Though Mountains Fall by Dale Cramer

Experience the Mexican Revolution through the eyes of one Amish family who moved there from Ohio to escape US authorities. A new law in 1920 in Ohio literally forced Amish parents to raise their children in "American culture" which conflicted with Amish plain ways. How thankful we are for present day diversity and cultural pluralism.



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Historical fiction

I can't recommend "Wolf Hall" & "Bring Up the Bodies" highly enough as great books in their own right and also as exemplary examples of historical fiction.

civil war fiction

Jeff Shaara's novels of the US civil war are amazing. He is such a good writer. His research and knowledge of the places and characters is very impressive. As an historian, I resisted reading Shaara's books for years, claiming that it wasn't accurate or backed up by primary sources but I was wrong. Shaara is one of my very favorite writers now.

Historical Fiction at it's finest

Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series should definitely be on your reading list! Great characters showcased by excellent story lines, impeccably researched.

Don't Forget About . . .

Sharon Kay Penman. Her books about England's Plantagenet kings and the Welsh Princes are both thrilling and thoroughly researched.

Historical Fiction

I recent discovered the books of Edward Rutherford, especially Paris.

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