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Historical prose 367 book

Genre: Prose

Toward the middle of the sixteenth century, as the Ashikaga shogunate crumbled, Japan came to resemble one huge battlefield. Rival warlords vied for dominance, but from among them three great figures emerged, like meteors streaking against the night sky. These three men, alike in their passion to control and unify Japan, were strikingly different in personality: Nobunaga, rash, decisive, brutal; Hideyoshi, unassuming, subtle, com­plex; Ieyasu, calm, patient, calculating. Their divergent philosophies have long been recalled by the Japanese in a verse known to every schoolchild:

What if the bird will not sing?

Nobunaga answers, "Kill it!"

Hideyoshi answers, "Make it to sing."

Ieyasu answers, "Wait."

This book, (the title by which Hideyoshi is still known in Japan), is the story of the man who made the bird want to sing.

Genre: Prose

The Killer Angels (1974) is a historical novel by Michael Shaara that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1975. The book tells the story of four days of the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War: June 29, 1863, as the troops of both the Union and the Confederacy move into battle around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and July 1, July 2, and July 3, when the battle was fought. A film adaption of the novel, titled Gettysburg, was released in 1993.

Reading about the past is rarely so much fun as on these pages.

Genre: Prose

"A masterful tale of treachery and duplicity… Spellbinding."-New York Times

The year is 1908, the place, a small Greek island in the declining days of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. For twenty years Basil Pascali has spied on the people of his small community and secretly reported on their activities to the authorities in Constantinople. Although his reports are never acknowledged, never acted upon, he has received regular payment for his work. Now he fears that the villagers have found him out and he becomes engulfed in paranoia. In the midst of his panic, a charming Englishman arrives on the island claiming to be an archaeologist, and charms his way into the heart of the woman for whom Pascali pines. A complex game is played out between the two where cunning and betrayal may come to haunt them both. Pascali's Island was made into a feature film starring Ben Kingsley and Helen Mirren.

"Darkly ironic… Offers an almost Conradian richness."-The New Yorker

"A compelling portrait of a schemer whose shabby amorality scarcely ensures his survival in a world where treachery is the rule."- Boston Sunday Globe

Genre: Prose

If one had the misfortune to be born in the 12th century, then Sicily was the place to be. The Normans had conquered the island, finding it effectively divided in two, inhabited partly by Arabs, partly by Greeks. From the outset, they had given both these communities major responsibility in the government. As well as Latin and Norman French, Greek and Arabic were official languages of the developing state; and when in 1130 that state became a kingdom under Roger II, it was already an example to all Europe of cultural and religious toleration. The chief minister and head of the all-important navy was always a Greek (our word admiral derives through Norman Sicily from the Arab title of emir), while the treasury was entrusted to Arabs, whose mathematics were better than anyone else's.

Roger himself was as unlike a Norman knight as it is possible to be. Brought up in Palermo by an Italian mother in a world of Greek and Muslim tutors, he was a southerner – indeed, an oriental – through and through; and the chapel that he built in the Royal Palace is one of the wonders of the world. The ground plan is that of a western basilica; but the walls are encrusted with Byzantine mosaics as fine as any in existence, while the wooden roof, in the classical Islamic style, would do credit to Cairo or Damascus. Here as nowhere else the Norman achievement is given visual expression.

But of course it was all too good to last. The independent Norman kingdom of Sicily endured only 64 years, ending soon after the death of the last legitimate king, William the Good. But perhaps that kingdom, swallowed up by the Holy Roman Empire, carried within itself the seeds of its own destruction. It was too heterogeneous, too eclectic, too cosmopolitan. It hardly tried – or perhaps it had no time – to develop any natural traditions of its own. And it paid the price.

Here, then, is the tragedy that forms the backdrop to the Booker-longlisted The Ruby in her Navel. Nowadays the story of Norman Sicily is largely and undeservedly forgotten; knowing it and loving it as I do, I picked the book up with some trepidation (which, I may say, was hardly diminished by its appalling title). But I have long admired its author, so I plunged in – and was instantly, and almost literally, transported. Now, it is not easy to transport a reader 1,000 years into the past, into a country and cultural climate 1,000 miles away from his own; I can only say that Unsworth succeeded triumphantly. His hero, born in England of a Norman father but brought to Sicily as a child, tells his story in the first person. It begins with him working as a civil servant in the office of a high-ranking Arab; he is sent on a mission to Calabria, where he meets a troupe of travelling dancers from eastern Anatolia (one of them the owner of the eponymous navel) and where he is accidentally reunited with a childhood sweetheart, now unhappily married. There follows a somewhat picaresque story of love, betrayals and attempted regicide, all of it set against the constant rivalries of Latin and Greek, Christian and Muslim – the latter further exacerbated by the recent catastrophic second crusade.

It is a good story, which holds the attention from start to finish; but its real strength lies in the power of the author's historical imagination. He made me feel what it was actually like to live, work and travel in Norman Sicily. There is no whitewashing; almost all the characters, including the narrator himself, are to a greater or lesser degree unpleasant. But life, one feels, was never dull, if one had the misfortune to be born in the 12th century.

Genre: Prose

Robert Merivel, who has studied to be a physician, is appointed, ironically, to be veterinarian for the spaniels of King Charles II, who has recently been restored to the throne following the death of Oliver Cromwell. Merivel enjoys the gaiety and frivolity of court life, and, a bit of a fool, he entertains the king. The king's decision to placate one of his lovers by marrying off his favorite mistress to Robert Merivel, spells the beginning of the end for Merivel's tenuous fortunes. Warned not to fall in love with his wife, Celia Clemence, since the king intends to continue seeing her, Merivel cannot help himself, and he is cast out, losing not only the king's affection, but also his house and, of course his wife.

Joining a group of men who work at an asylum for the insane, Merivel learns that there are deeper concerns in life than the hedonism of his life at court, and he develops genuine affection for several of the kindly Quaker men with whom he works. When he transgresses the society's rules, however, he is cast out from there, too, ending up in London at the time of the Great Plague and eventually the Great London Fire.

Painting vivid pictures of Merivel's life-at court, at the asylum in Whittlesea, and in the neighborhoods of London -author Rose Tremain brings the age, its customs, its science, and its social structure to life. The years of 1664 – 1666 are especially difficult, and as Merivel lives through the horrors of the Plague and the panic of the Great Fire, which Tremain recreates with the drama they deserve, the reader can see Merivel becoming less a fool and more a human. Like the restoration of the king to the throne, Merivel's "restoration" to dignity takes place after a period of dark reflection and self-examination, and both Merivel and the country learn from their travails.

Tremain develops Merivel's personal transformation with sensitivity, finesse, and much ironic humor, and when, at last, he is noticed again by the court, his understanding of himself and his role in the world is far more profound than it was before. Depicting the personal and the philosophical turmoils of these early Restoration years with a historian's eye for detail and a detached observer's sense of wit, Tremain illustrates the contradictions of this period realistically and often with dark humor. A fine historical novel, Restoration transcends its period, offering observations, themes, and lessons for the present day.

Mary Whipple

Genre: Prose

1072 – England is firmly under the heel of its new Norman rulers.

The few survivors of the English resistance look to Edgar the Atheling, the rightful heir to the English throne, to overthrow William the Conqueror. Years of intrigue and vicious civil war follow: brother against brother, family against family, friend against friend.

In the face of chaos and death, Edgar and his allies form a secret brotherhood, pledging to fight for justice and freedom wherever they are denied. But soon they are called to fight for an even greater cause: the plight of the Holy Land. Embarking on the epic First Crusade to recapture Jerusalem, together they will participate in some of the cruellest battles the world has ever known, the savage Siege of Antioch and the brutal Fall of Jerusalem, and together they will fight to the death.

Genre: Prose

A story of passion and idealism, which describes a group of men and women in the Middle Ages whose destinies are fatefully linked with the building of a cathedral. In a country torn by civil war, two generations struggle to rise above their primitive circumstances and create something beautiful.

***

“KEN FOLLETT TAKES A GIANT STEP!” – San Francisco Chronicle

“With this book Follett risks all and comes out a clear winner… a historical novel of gripping readability, authentic atmosphere and memorable characterization… Beginning with a mystery that casts its shadow… the narrative is a seesaw of tension… suspense… impeccable pacing… action, intrigue, violence and passion… ambition, greed, bravery, dedication, revenge and love… A NOVEL THAT ENTERTAINS, INSTRUCTS AND SATISFIES ON A GRAND SCALE.” – Publishers Weekly

“An extraordinary epic buttressed by suspense… a mystifying puzzle involving the execution of an innocent man… the erection of a magnificent cathedral… romance, rivalry and spectacle… A MONUMENTAL MASTERPIECE… A TOWERING TRIUMPH FROM A MAJOR TALENT.” – ALA Booklist

Genre: Prose

In seventh-century China, during the great Tang dynasty, a young girl from the humble Wu clan entered the imperial gynaecium, which housed ten thousand concubines. Inside the Forbidden City, she witnessed seductions, plots, murders, and brazen acts of treason. Propelled by a shrewd intelligence, an extraordinary persistence, and a friendship with the imperial heir, she rose through the ranks to become the first Empress of China.

Genre: Prose

An exquisitely written historical epic, Anne Enright's third novel is based on the true story of the beautiful Irishwoman Eliza Lynch, who, in the 1860s, became, briefly, the richest woman in the world. The book opens in Paris, with Eliza in bed with Francisco Solano Lopez – heir to the untold wealth of Paraguay. The fruit of their congress will be extraordinary, and will send her across the Atlantic: leading a caravan of servants, clothes, jewellery and champagne on the regal voyage down the River Parana to claim her glorious future in Asuncion.

What she finds is a narrow, provincial town: a decayed nobility, contemptuous of this Irish courtesan, and the oppressed poor, yearning for self-determination. Together with Lopez, Eliza embarks on a series of disastrous wars that define the nation and demonstrate her power. She seems to carry all before her, until the moment when she discovers the true sweep of her own cruelty.

With the lavish imaginative richness of Marquez and the crazed panoramic sweep of Herzog's Fitzcarraldo, The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch is a bold and brilliantly achieved novel about sex, beauty and, corruption and the end of the old world.

Genre: Prose

A tragic love triangle set in a forgotten place during an invisible war.

Inspired by true events, “Underground” tells the story of a troubled romance between Lukas and Elena, two members of the underground Lithuanian resistance movement in mid-1940s.

After shooting up a room full of Soviet government workers during their engagement party, Lukas and Elena become folk heroes to their political cause, but are forced deep into hiding in order to escape punishment for their role in the massacre.

When their secret bunker is discovered, Lukas is nearly captured. Believing his beloved Elena has been killed in the raid, Lukas is forced to flee the country and the increasingly hopeless resistance movement that he has defended over the years.

Finding himself stranded in Paris, Lukas tries in vain to generate some political interest in the plight of his country. Settling quietly in Europe, Lukas falls in love again, remarries, and begins his life anew. When an unexpected crisis arises back home, the tranquility of Lukas’ new life is shattered. Stealing back into his former country, Lukas embarks on the most important fight of his life.

Based on true historical revelations and fragments of the author’s family history, “Underground” is an engaging literary thriller and love story that explores the narrow range of options open to men and women in desperate situations, when history crashes into personal desires and private life.

Genre: Prose

BROTHER TURNS ON BROTHER to win the ultimate prize, the throne of England, in this dazzling account of the wars of the Plantagenets. They are the claimants and kings who ruled England before the Tudors, and now Philippa Gregory brings them to life through the dramatic and intimate stories of the secret players: the indomitable women, starting with Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen.

The White Queen tells the story of a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition who, catching the eye of the newly crowned boy king, marries him in secret and ascends to royalty. While Elizabeth rises to the demands of her exalted position and fights for the success of her family, her two sons become central figures in a mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the missing princes in the Tower of London whose fate is still unknown. From her uniquely qualified perspective, Philippa Gregory explores this most famous unsolved mystery of English history, informed by impeccable research and framed by her inimitable storytelling skills.

With The White Queen, Philippa Gregory brings the artistry and intellect of a master writer and storyteller to a new era in history and begins what is sure to be another bestselling classic series from this beloved author.

Genre: Adventures

"The fulfilled renown of Moby-Dick and of As I Lay Dying is augmented by Blood Meridian, since Cormac McCarthy is the worthy disciple both of Melville and Faulkner," writes esteemed literary scholar Harold Bloom in his Introduction to the Modern Library edition. "I venture that no other living American novelist, not even Pynchon, has given us a book as strong and memorable."

Cormac McCarthy's masterwork, Blood Meridian, chronicles the brutal world of the Texas-Mexico borderlands in the mid-nineteenth century. Its wounded hero, the teenage Kid, must confront the extraordinary violence of the Glanton gang, a murderous cadre on an official mission to scalp Indians and sell those scalps. Loosely based on fact, the novel represents a genius vision of the historical West, one so fiercely realized that since its initial publication in 1985 the canon of American literature has welcomed Blood Meridian to its shelf.

"A classic American novel of regeneration through violence," declares Michael Herr. "McCarthy can only be compared to our greatest writers."

Genre: Prose

Paha Sapa, a young Sioux warrior, first encounters General George Armstrong Custer as Custer lies dying on the battlefield at Little Bighorn. He believes?as do the holy men of his tribe?that the legendary general's ghost entered him at that moment and will remain with him until Sapa convinces him to leave.

In BLACK HILLS, Dan Simmons weaves the stories of Paha Sapa and Custer together seamlessly, depicting a violent and tumultuous time in the history of Native Americans and the United States Army. Haunted by the voice of the general his people called "Long Hair," Paha Sapa lives a long life, driven by a dramatic vision he experiences in the Black Hills that are his tribe's homeland. As an explosives worker on the massive Mount Rushmore project, he may finally be rid of his ghosts?on the very day FDR comes to South Dakota to dedicate the Jefferson face.

Genre: Prose

As England descends into civil war, John Tradescant the Younger, gardener to King Charles I, finds his loyalties in question, his status an ever-growing danger to his family. Fearing royal defeat and determined to avoid serving the rebels, John escapes to the royalist colony of Virginia, a land bursting with fertility that stirs his passion for botany. Only the native American peoples understand the forest, and John is drawn to their way of life just as they come into fatal conflict with the colonial settlers. Torn between his loyalty to his country and family and his love for a Powhatan girl who embodies the freedom he seeks, John has to find himself before he is prepared to choose his direction in the virgin land. In this enthralling, freestanding sequel to Earthly Joys, Gregory combines a wealth of gardening knowledge with a haunting love story that spans two continents and two cultures, making Virgin Earth a tour de force of revolutionary politics and passionate characters.

Genre: Prose

Tremendous historical novel of the early 1600s, as seen through the eyes of John Tradescant, gardener to the great men of the age. A traveller in a time of discovery, the greatest gardening pioneer of his day, yet a man of humble birth: John Tradescant’s story is a mirror to the extraordinary age in which he lives. As gardener and confidante to Sir Robert Cecil, Tradescant is well placed to observe the social and political changes that are about to sweep through the kingdom. While his master conjures intrigues at Court, Tradescant designs for him the magnificent garden at Hatfield, scouring the known world for ever more wonderful plants: new varieties of fruit and flower, the first horse chestnuts to be cultivated in England, even larches from Russia. Moving to the household of the flamboyant Duke of Buckingham, Tradescant witnesses at first hand the growing division between Parliament and the people; and the most loyal of servants must find a way to become an independent squire.

Genre: Prose

An epic heroic novel, set in Ancient Greece, and based on the true story of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. This is the story of Xeones, the only survivor of 300 Spartan warriors ordered to delay for as long as possible the million-strong invading army of King Xerxes of Persia.

Genre: Prose

Three Women Who Share One Fate: The Boleyn Inheritance.

Anne of Cleves: She runs from her tiny country, her hateful mother, and her abusive brother to a throne whose last three occupants are dead. King Henry VIII, her new husband, instantly dislikes her. Without friends, family, or even an understanding of the language being spoken around her, she must literally save her neck in a court ruled by a deadly game of politics and the terror of an unpredictable and vengeful king. Her Boleyn Inheritance: accusations and false witnesses.

Katherine Howard: She catches the king's eye within moments of arriving at court, setting in motion the dreadful machine of politics, intrigue, and treason that she does not understand. She only knows that she is beautiful, that men desire her, that she is young and in love – but not with the diseased old man who made her queen, beds her night after night, and killed her cousin Anne. Her Boleyn Inheritance: the threat of the axe.

Jane Rochford: She is the Boleyn girl whose testimony sent her husband and sister-in-law to their deaths. She is the trusted friend of two threatened queens, the perfectly loyal spy for her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, and a canny survivor in the murderous court of a most dangerous king. Throughout Europe, her name is a byword for malice, jealousy, and twisted lust. Her Boleyn Inheritance: a fortune and a title, in exchange for her soul.

The Boleyn Inheritance is a novel drawn tight as a lute string about a court ruled by the gallows and three women whose positions brought them wealth, admiration, and power as well as deceit, betrayal, and terror. Once again, Philippa Gregory has brought a vanished world to life – the whisper of a silk skirt on a stone stair, the yellow glow of candlelight illuminating a hastily written note, the murmurs of the crowd gathering on Tower Green below the newly built scaffold.

Genre: Prose

Forced by circumstance to seek refuge with Fleur, her young daughter, in the remote abbey of Saint Marie-de-la-Mer, Juliette reinvents herself as Soeur Auguste under the tutelage of the kindly Abbess. But times are changing: the murder of Henri IV becomes the catalyst for massive upheaval in France.

A new appointment is made, and Juliette's new life begins to unravel. For the new Abbess is Isabelle, the eleven-year-old child of a corrupt and noble family. Worse, Isabelle has brought with her a ghost from Juliette's past, masquerading as a cleric, a man she has every reason to fear.

Genre: Prose

Santa Catarina, a convent near Venice, is home to over one hundred women in 1567. But with powerful forces for change raging outside the convent, and with the world of the women within threatened by a new arrival, passions, hysteria, and conflict will come to threaten their very survival.

By the second half of the sixteenth century, the price of wedding dowries had risen so sharply within Catholic Europe that most noble families could not afford to marry off more than one daughter. The remaining young women were dispatched—for a much lesser price—to convents. Historians estimate that in the great towns and city-states of Italy up to half of all noblewomen became nuns. Not all of them went willingly… This story takes place in the northern Italian city of Ferrara in 1570, in the convent of Santa Caterina.

Genre: Prose

“I suppose I ought to warn you at the outset that my present circumstances are puzzling, even to me. Nevertheless, I am sure of this much: My little story has become your history. You won't really understand your times until you understand mine.”

So begins the account of Agnes Shanklin, the charmingly diffident narrator of Mary Doria Russell's compelling new novel, . And what is Miss Shanklin's “little story?” Nothing less than the creation of the modern Middle East at the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference, where Winston Churchill, T. E. Lawrence, and Lady Gertrude Bell met to decide the fate of the Arab world - and of our own.

A forty-year-old schoolteacher from Ohio still reeling from the tragedies of the Great War and the influenza epidemic, Agnes has come into a modest inheritance that allows her to take the trip of a lifetime to Egypt and the Holy Land. Arriving at the Semiramis Hotel just as the Peace Conference convenes, Agnes, with her plainspoken American opinions - and a small, noisy dachshund named Rosie - enters into the company of the historic luminaries who will, in the space of a few days at a hotel in Cairo, invent the nations of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan.

Neither a pawn nor a participant at the conference, Agnes is ostensibly insignificant, and that makes her a welcome sounding board for Churchill, Lawrence, and Bell. It also makes her unexpectedly attractive to the charismatic German spy Karl Weilbacher. As Agnes observes the tumultuous inner workings of nation-building, she is drawn more and more deeply into geopolitical intrigue and toward a personal awakening.

With prose as graceful and effortless as a seductive float down the Nile, Mary Doria Russell illuminates the long, rich history of the Middle East with a story that brilliantly elucidates today's headlines. As enlightening as it is entertaining, is a memorable, passionate, gorgeously written novel.

Genre: Prose

Set in Italy during the dramatic finale of World War II, this new novel is the first in seven years by the bestselling author of and .

It is September 8, 1943, and fourteen-year-old Claudette Blum is learning Italian with a suitcase in her hand. She and her father are among the thousands of Jewish refugees scrambling over the Alps toward Italy, where they hope to be safe at last, now that the Italians have broken with Germany and made a separate peace with the Allies. The Blums will soon discover that Italy is anything but peaceful, as it becomes overnight an open battleground among the Nazis, the Allies, resistance fighters, Jews in hiding, and ordinary Italian civilians trying to survive.

Mary Doria Russell sets her first historical novel against this dramatic background, tracing the lives of a handful of fascinating characters. Through them, she tells the little-known but true story of the network of Italian citizens who saved the lives of forty-three thousand Jews during the war's final phase. The result of five years of meticulous research, is an ambitious, engrossing novel of ideas, history, and marvelous characters that will please Russell's many fans and earn her even more.

Genre: Prose

Daring and original stories set in New Testament times, from a rising young Norwegian author Lars Petter Sveen’s Children of God recounts the lives of people on the margins of the New Testament; thieves, Roman soldiers, prostitutes, lepers, healers, and the occasional disciple all get a chance to speak. With language free of judgment or moralizing, Sveen covers familiar ground in unusual ways. In the opening story, a group of soldiers are tasked with carrying out King Herod’s edict to slaughter the young male children in Bethlehem but waver in their resolve. These interwoven stories harbor surprises at every turn, as the characters reappear. A group of thieves on the road to Jericho encounters no good Samaritan but themselves. A boy healed of his stutter will later regress. A woman searching for her lover from beyond the grave cannot find solace. At crucial moments an old blind man appears, urging the characters to give in to their darker impulses. Children of God was a bestseller in Norway, where it won the Per Olov Enquist Literary Prize and gathered ecstatic reviews. Sveen’s subtle elevation of the conflict between light and dark focuses on the varied struggles these often-ignored individuals face. Yet despite the dark tone, Sveen’s stories retain a buoyancy, thanks to Guy Puzey’s supple and fleet-footed translation. This deeply original and moving book, in Sveen’s restrained and gritty telling, brings to light stories that reflect our own time, from a setting everyone knows.