The best American historical novels that have become forgotten

Why am I passionate about this?

Schoolteacher turned writer. With the encouragement of my old college friend, the great Michael Crichton I began writing detective novels—paperback originals at first, then a hardback thriller called Target of Opportunity, which was a detective novel but included a long section of historical background about the Resistance in southern France. From there I moved to biographical fiction: novels about Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant. Then straight historical fiction, often with a Parisian background, because I’ve lived and worked in that marvelous city and can’t get enough of it.


I wrote...

The Sixth Conspirator

By Max Byrd,

Book cover of The Sixth Conspirator

What is my book about?

A fictional version of a real event—the little-known mission of retired General George Sharpe to track down Europeans and fugitive Confederates who may have aided Booth in the assassination of Lincoln. I add three fictional characters to Sharpe’s team and send them on a manhunt to Canada, England, Rome, and Paris. The manhunt soon turns into a woman-hunt as well, as the mysterious Sarah Slater becomes an obsession for Sharpe. She too was a real person, probably Booth’s lover, possibly an accomplice. The climactic chapters take place in Paris, against the backdrop of the famous International Exposition of 1867. 

The Wall Street Journal called it “elegant storytelling.” The New York Times said it “will delight any Civil War buff.”

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Arundel

Max Byrd Why did I love this book?

Roberts wrote many better-known novels—e.g. Northwest Passage and Rabble in Arms. Few people remember this wonderful adventure, which takes young Steven Nason on Benedict Arnold’s doomed expedition up the Kennebec River to assault Quebec. (Arundel is a town in southern Maine.) Exuberant writing, great historical detail, and a wonderful depiction of New England Indian life. A classic.

By Kenneth Roberts,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This is the classic series from Pulitzer Prize-winning historical novelist Kenneth Roberts, all featuring characters from the town of Arundel, Maine. Arundel follows Steven Nason as he joins Benedict Arnold in his march to Quebec during the American Revolution.


Book cover of The Great Meadow

Max Byrd Why did I love this book?

The appealing heroine Diony Hall moves with her new husband into the Kentucky wilderness. A beautiful variation on the archetypal plot, “Someone Goes on a Journey,” written in gorgeous prose and featuring many perfectly rendered actual characters such as Thomas Jefferson and Daniel Boone. The story shows determined human nature struggling against hostile nature, the earliest of the great American themes.

By Elizabeth Madox Roberts, M. E. Bradford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Great Meadow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Set at the time of the western migration from Piedmont Virginia to her native Kentucky, Ms. RobertsAIs novel recounts the heroism of the Kentucky pioneer. Roberts was that rare thing, a true artist...She was one of the indispensables.O-Robert Penn Warren. Southern Classics Series.


Book cover of The Bad Lands

Max Byrd Why did I love this book?

Here is the other archetypal plot, the reverse of the first: “A Stranger Comes to Town.” In this case, a protagonist who seems an unlikely but brilliantly persuasive amalgam of Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Adams—a bookish Easterner—arrives in the Dakota Territory in 1883 to make a new life for himself after the death of his wife. The new life will feature lynchings, cattle drives, saloons, brothels, and an even harsher wilderness than Diony Hall found in Kentucky. The author’s cinematic Warlock is a western masterpiece. This forgotten title is every bit as good.

By Oakley Hall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Bad Lands as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's 1883 in Johnson County, in the old Dakota Territory a rugged, wide-open landscape of rolling, red earth, prairie, and cattle as far as the eye can see. But the land is closing, the "Beef Bonanza" is ending, and the free-range cattlemen are stuck watching a way of life disappear in a blaze of drought and gunfire. An action-packed western from one of the masters of the genre, Oakley Hall's The Bad Lands blends round-ups and rustlers, whorehouses and land grabs, shoot-outs and the threat of hangings in a tale of the war between the cowboys and the cattle barons.…


Book cover of The Trees

Max Byrd Why did I love this book?

A beautiful first sentence: “They moved along in the bobbing, springy gait of a family that followed the woods as some families follow the sea.” Then a powerful saga of the settlement of the Ohio River Valley at the end of the eighteenth century, the next move west from Kentucky. At once optimistic and anguished, American history as Chekhov might have written it.

By Conrad Richter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“They moved along in the bobbing, springy gait of a family that followed the woods as some families follow the sea.” In that first sentence Conrad Richter sets the mood of this magnificent epic of the American wilderness. Toward the close of the eighteenth century the land west of the Alleghenies and north of the Ohio river was an unbroken sea of trees. Beneath them the forest trails were dark, silent, and lonely, brightened only by a few lost beams of sunlight. Here the Lucketts, a wild, woodsfaring family, lived their roaming life, pushing ever westward as the frontier advanced…


Book cover of To Have and to Hold

Max Byrd Why did I love this book?

Colonial Jamestown, an English soldier turned American explorer, a bought wife who is in fact an escaping ward of King James I—a brutal pursuer, pirates, shipwrecks, Pocahontas’s brother, an Indian attack on Jamestown, poison! The plot is overloaded with incidents, but the details of colonial life are fascinating and Johnston’s perfect mastery of colonial English make this a thrilling adventure, a number one best-seller in 1900. For years it was a standard on school reading lists and was twice made into a film. Hard to find, but worth the effort.

By Mary Johnston,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked To Have and to Hold as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A dauntless hero will do whatever it takes to win the heart of his bride in Mary Johnston’s bestselling historical adventure set in colonial Jamestown

Captain Percy is the embodiment of bravery. At the suggestion of a friend, he boards a ship to America to stake his claim in the New World—and perhaps even meet the woman of his dreams. Meanwhile, eligible women are setting sail to the very same place on “bride ships” in order to find husbands and forge new lives. Jocelyn Leigh is one such lady. She fled Europe in order to escape an unwanted suitor, but…


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Kanazawa

By David Joiner,

Book cover of Kanazawa

David Joiner Author Of Kanazawa

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

My book recommendations reflect an abiding passion for Japanese literature, which has unquestionably influenced my own writing. My latest literary interest involves Japanese poetry—I’ve recently started a project that combines haiku and prose narration to describe my experiences as a part-time resident in a 1300-year-old Japanese hot spring town that Bashō helped make famous in The Narrow Road to the Deep North. But as a writer, my main focus remains novels. In late 2023 the second in a planned series of novels set in Ishikawa prefecture will be published. I currently live in Kanazawa, but have also been lucky to call Sapporo, Akita, Tokyo, and Fukui home at different times.

David's book list on Japanese settings not named Tokyo or Kyoto

What is my book about?

Emmitt’s plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of purchasing their dream home. Disappointed, he’s surprised to discover her subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo.

In his search for a meaningful life in Japan, and after quitting his job, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa’s most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English. He becomes drawn into the mysterious death of a friend of Mirai’s parents, leading him and his father-in-law to climb the mountain where the man died. There, he learns the somber truth and discovers what the future holds for him and his wife.

Packed with subtle literary allusion and closely observed nuance, Kanazawa reflects the mood of Japanese fiction in a fresh, modern incarnation.

Kanazawa

By David Joiner,

What is this book about?

In Kanazawa, the first literary novel in English to be set in this storied Japanese city, Emmitt's future plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of negotiations to purchase their dream home. Disappointed, he's surprised to discover Mirai's subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo, a city he dislikes.

Harmony is further disrupted when Emmitt's search for a more meaningful life in Japan leads him to quit an unsatisfying job at a local university. In the fallout, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa's most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English.

While continually resisting Mirai's…


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