The best novels for accurate immersion in a past time and place

Stoney Compton Author Of Treadwell: A Novel of Alaska Territory
By Stoney Compton

Who am I?

As a child I read and experienced history books as adventures. Adventure drew me to Alaska after a hitch in the Navy. I wanted to write an accurate historical novel about Juneau and the Treadwell Mine and began my research. I knew the Alaska Historical Library was the perfect place to begin. When I discovered the extensive photo collections, I flashed back to my admiration of the historical novels that impressed me. I borrowed technique and structure from all and incorporated imagery in my manuscript. My main goal was to successfully immerse the reader in a good novel about 1915 in Alaska Territory.


I wrote...

Treadwell: A Novel of Alaska Territory

By Stoney Compton,

Book cover of Treadwell: A Novel of Alaska Territory

What is my book about?

1915 – A man is kidnapped from Treadwell, Alaska Territory, the world’s most modern gold mine. Recognized by a witness, the killer is caught but no hard evidence is found. The mine and two fraternal organizations hire a Pinkerton detective to box up the murderer with circumstantial evidence. August Lepke arrives in Juneau after an eventful voyage from Seattle. Through him we meet the residents of Gastineau Channel who aid, challenge, and change his life forever.

Based on actual events, the novel transports one to a time and place few knew, and nobody now remembers. Leavened with period newspaper pages and articles as well as photographs of the time and place, the reader becomes immersed in the lives of Caucasians, Filipinos, and Tlingits of Gastineau Channel.

The books I picked & why

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1919: Volume Two of the U.S.A. Trilogy

By John Dos Passos,

Book cover of 1919: Volume Two of the U.S.A. Trilogy

Why this book?

I first read 1919 by Dos Passos when I was a teenager in the Navy. Having a yen for history since the age of eight, I was transported to an era where hopes and dreams have shattered or vanished. The author created the gritty and tawdry ambiance of characters as far out of their depth as was the reader.

We meet many limned characters with engaging flaws and hopes. The point-of-view shifts constantly and the narrative is spaced with advertising jingles from period radio programs and magazines to promote visualization.

The USA trilogy never left me. After pursuing art and making my living as a commercial artist for 15 years I turned to writing. I realized I wanted to create an immersive portrait of Juneau using similar tactics. I believe I succeeded.

1919: Volume Two of the U.S.A. Trilogy

By John Dos Passos,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked 1919 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A Depression-era novel about American tumult has—perhaps unsurprisingly—aged quite well.”—The New Yorker

In 1919, the second volume of his U.S.A. trilogy, John Dos Passos continues his “vigorous and sweeping panorama of twentieth-century America” (Forum).

Employing a host of experimental devices that would inspire a whole new generation of writers to follow, Dos Passos captures the many textures, flavors, and background noises of the era with a cinematic touch and unparalleled nerve.1919 opens to find America and the world at war, and Dos Passos’s characters, many of whom we met in the first volume, are thrown into the snarl. We follow…


Time and Again

By Jack Finney,

Book cover of Time and Again

Why this book?

Being a romantic I loved Time and Again (as well as the movie) for the story’s construction. I appreciate verisimilitude in historical novels and Finney has done his homework. Having briefly visited New York City twice, I do not know it personally. 

Finney makes it breathe in 1882 with fascinating detail that never bores, and by using photographs. I thought the novel was perfect, and it stuck in my head as much for production/construction values as well as the story. When I first researched Treadwell at the Alaska Historical Library in Juneau I came across dozens of photographs, and the form for the novel coalesced in my head.

In retrospect I realize the novels I loved taught me about the architecture of story as well as entertaining me.

Time and Again

By Jack Finney,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Time and Again as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Si Morley is bored with his job as a commercial illustrator and his social life doesn't seem to be going anywhere. So, when he is approached by an affable ex-football star and told that he is just what the government is looking for to take part in a top-secret programme, he doesn't hesitate for too long. And so one day Si steps out of his twentieth-century, New York apartment and finds himself back in January 1882. There are no cars, no planes, no computers, no television and the word 'nuclear' appears in no dictionaries. For Si, it's very like Eden,…


Quicksilver: Volume One of the Baroque Cycle

By Neal Stephenson,

Book cover of Quicksilver: Volume One of the Baroque Cycle

Why this book?

Quicksilver, Volume One of the Baroque Cycle is an amazing novel and not for those who like quick reads. At nearly 1,000 erudite pages it depicts the lives and confusions of natural philosophers between the years 1660 and 1713 at the dawn of the scientific revolution. Robert Hooke, Isaac Newton, King Charles II, and many others fill the pages with wit, history, avarice, sex, political duplicity, religious prejudice, and wars that seem to pop up by whim. 

The sheer volume of historical research evident in Quicksilver eclipses all other works of the genre. The number of “throw away” lines that reveal deeper research and add but a thought or two to the current narrative is awesome. This is rapture for a bibliophile. Mr. Stephenson is a genius.

Quicksilver: Volume One of the Baroque Cycle

By Neal Stephenson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Quicksilver as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Quicksilver is the story of Daniel Waterhouse, fearless thinker and conflicted Puritan, pursuing knowledge in the company of the greatest minds of Baroque-era Europe, in a chaotic world where reason wars with the bloody ambitions of the mighty, and where catastrophe, natural or otherwise, can alter the political landscape overnight.

It is a chronicle of the breathtaking exploits of "Half-Cocked Jack" Shaftoe -- London street urchin turned swashbuckling adventurer and legendary King of the Vagabonds -- risking life and limb for fortune and love while slowly maddening from the pox.

And it is the tale of Eliza, rescued by Jack…


Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

By Erik Larson,

Book cover of Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Why this book?

Dead Wake is fact that reads like fiction. Not often do I choose a book already knowing how it ends. His artistic rendering of the world in 1915 is alone worth the read. He introduces us to the passengers of the SS Lusitania, who they are, why they are on the ship, and he makes us care.

Larson limns Captains Turner of the Lusitania, and Schweiger of the U-20, the Imperial German submarine. The author carefully choreographs the final voyage of the doomed ship. The sinking is not the end of the story. 

The last third of the book is devoted to what happened after the torpedo hit. Captain Turner survives the attack as well as many of the passengers. This is a beautifully researched, but heartrending read. 

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

By Erik Larson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Dead Wake as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era's great transatlantic "Greyhounds" and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover,…


Master & Commander

By Patrick O'Brian,

Book cover of Master & Commander

Why this book?

This is the first of the 21 Aubrey/Maturin novels about the British side in the Napoleonic Wars. Read one and you’re hooked for the duration! O’Brian recreates an accurate and nuanced immersion into the age of sail and the British Navy. His characters are rich and complex with foibles and flaws, yet rise to the circumstances of their lives. His research is impeccable and exhaustive. One feels they are on the oak deck next to the crew.
The movie of the same title is far more truncated than the novel, but still a wonder in its beautifully rendered scenes.

The casual brutality, foreign intrigues, and vivid battle scenes leave the reader with racing heart and the hint of salt air in their nose. This series is a true treasure.

Master & Commander

By Patrick O'Brian,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Master & Commander as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This, the first in the splendid series of Jack Aubrey novels, establishes the friendship between Captain Aubrey, R.N., and Stephen Maturin, ship's surgeon and intelligence agent, against a thrilling backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. Details of a life aboard a man-of-war in Nelson's navy are faultlessly rendered: the conversational idiom of the officers in the ward room and the men on the lower deck, the food, the floggings, the mysteries of the wind and the rigging, and the roar of broadsides as the great ships close in battle.


5 book lists we think you will like!

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