The best books with epic poems to stir the warrior and the wit in you

Who am I?

I have been writing poetry for over 50 years and realized that as soon as I read Milton’s Paradise Lost – which blew my mind and emotions with its power of language – that epic poetry is the highest and greatest form of poetry. Thus, I have been assiduously reading epics ever since! I love them. And I write books on poetry writing (e.g. The Poetry Show: Macmillan, 1987), write on poetry for New York’s The Epoch Times, and am on the Advisory Board of The Society of Classical Poets. My own HellWard demonstrates a lifetime’s distillation about writing epic poetry, and shortly volume 2, StairWell, will be available.


I wrote...

HellWard

By James Sale,

Book cover of HellWard

What is my book about?

Dante’s Inferno in the Twenty-First Century… A psychological and metaphysical thriller in epic poetic form about nearly dying of cancer and descending into a Dantean-type of Hell where both the dead and the soul-dead are each in their separate wards. Meet awful family members, dire friends, a dreadful boss, a perverted pupil, and a murdering neighbour; plus, some infamous (and contemporary) politicians, poets, and philosophers all contributing to human misery in their self-righteous and mad words, actions, and productions.

Let Dante take you through an odyssey in Hell just as he leads James, and meet not just real people but a cornucopia of mythological and Biblical characters whose presence will amaze and astound you – and yet will resonate with some of your own experiences, and throw a fascinating light on them.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Paradise Lost

James Sale Why did I love this book?

If you are fed up with the mundane, the triviality of everyday life, and if you want to experience the sublime – writing that is sublime, that lifts you up to see imaginary and heroic worlds where the invisible forces that underpin reality battle for supremacy, then this is the poem for you. True, its language can seem difficult, but so can Shakespeare’s; instead of thinking that’s a problem, embrace it – let the language work its magic and soar to the stars and back! I have loved this poem ever since I read it when I was twenty, and quote it all the time. It will inspire the warrior in you.

By John Milton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Paradise Lost as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'An endless moral maze, introducing literature's first Romantic, Satan' John Carey

In his epic poem Paradise Lost Milton conjured up a vast, awe-inspiring cosmos ranging across huge tracts of space and time. And yet, in putting a charismatic Satan and naked Adam and Eve at the centre of this story, he also created an intensely human tragedy on the Fall of Man. Written when Milton was in his fifties - blind, bitter and briefly in danger of execution - Paradise Lost's apparent ambivalence has led to intense debate about whether it manages to 'justify the ways of God to men'…


Book cover of The Divine Comedy

James Sale Why did I love this book?

This poem is probably the greatest single poem in world literature; sadly, it’s not written by an English poet but an Italian, which means it’s important to get a great translation! To get the feel for the poetry and for accuracy of the Inferno, I recommend J. Simon Harris’s very recent Dante Inferno for book 1 and Dorothy L. Sayers's version for the rest. Truly, this is a hero’s journey – it has everything: hell, purgatory, and heaven; not to mention sexual passion, perversion, deepest treachery, friendship, and such a love as makes the heart stop! The opening line of the poem makes it clear that this is our journey, not just Dante’s. Read this and climb to heaven yourself! As a bonus, it’s full of witty and funny moments.

By Dante Alighieri, C.H. Sisson (translator),

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Divine Comedy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Described variously as the greatest poem of the European Middle Ages and, because of the author's evangelical purpose, the `fifth Gospel', the Divine Comedy is central to the culture of the west. The poem is a spiritual autobiography in the form of a journey - the poet travels from the dark circles of the Inferno, up the mountain of Purgatory, where Virgil, his guide leaves him to encounter Beatrice in the Earthly Paradise. Dante conceived the poem as the
new epic of Christendom, and he creates a world in which reason and faith have transformed moral and social chaos into…


Book cover of Legends of Liberty

James Sale Why did I love this book?

From two great past epic classics, I now move to the contemporary present: Benson Brown’s is a mock epic a la Byron (think, Don Juan). Brilliantly funny, witty, exposing the American War of Independence in ways you have never seen before – a laugh-out-loud poem, and full of rich historical details as well as mythological conceits which makes it a unique reading experience. Weirdly, for all its parody, I probably learnt more about the American War from it than from actual historical texts. The back page blurb says: "Thomas Jefferson is sent to Hell for a mysterious sin." Find out what – get the poem!

By Andrew Benson Brown,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Legends of Liberty as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A mock-epic poem about the American Revolution featuring supernatural twists, historical icons with extraordinary powers, and action-filled battle scenes.


Thomas Jefferson is sent to Hell, where, guided by Dante, he meets old friends and tries to figure out which among his many mortal sins will determine his final punishment. An ailing, world-weary Mercury passes his herald’s wand to Paul Revere, who saddles up for his midnight ride with the fastest horse on earth. Apollo, handicapped and traumatized by modern warfare, comes out of retirement to fire a shot that sends shock waves around the planet. The minutemen at Lexington and…


Book cover of The Parliament of Poets

James Sale Why did I love this book?

This is a remarkable book, truly a modern epic poem. The verse is not strictly formal but somehow throughout its length Glaysher maintains interest, so that although his language can seem archaic in places, yet because the poetry is about such current issues that concern us – the fate of planet Earth and humanity more specifically – and because the linguistics are so varied and skillful, we realize that this is a poet working for deliberate effects, and not one who has only read poetry from three hundred years ago. One fabulous quality of this poem is its clarity and luminous quality. I love the fact that this poem is easy to understand and follow: it is a poet writing for people, not one trying to show off.

By Frederick Glaysher,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Gazing from the moon, we see one Earth, without borders, Mother Earth, her embrace encircling one people, humankind."

Thirty years in the making, The Parliament of Poets: An Epic Poem, by Frederick Glaysher, takes place partly on the moon, at the Apollo 11 landing site, the Sea of Tranquility.

Apollo, the Greek god of poetry, calls all the poets of the nations, ancient and modern, East and West, to assemble on the moon to consult on the meaning of modernity. The Parliament of Poets sends the main character, the Poet of the Moon, on a Journey to the seven continents…


Book cover of Virtue's End

James Sale Why did I love this book?

Sometimes one has to come clean: does nepotism rule? It’s true: Joseph Sale is my son, a successful horror and fantasy novelist. But here he has taken Edmund Spenser’s C16th masterpiece, The Faerie Queen, which was unfinished, and completed it using a different stanzaic form. I’d like to recommend The Faerie Queen itself, but it is too dense and archaic. Joseph’s sequel, by way of contrast, is modern, fast-paced, action-packed, thrilling, and imaginative in the highest order. To see what the heroic is like (and bring out the warrior in you) read Book 6 and Canto 5: the epic descent of Thoth into hell – a match for Gandalf and the Balrog in writing style and power. 

By Joseph Sale, Brian Barr (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Virtue's End as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Virtue’s End is a spell, a magickal incantation designed to invoke and vivify that which has been lost by the modern world. This lyrical, occult fantasy-epic follows the account of Horus, a magickal sorcerer blessed with both hellish and heavenly powers, who, upon meeting the demon Melmoth, embarks on a strange quest to save the mystical realm of Ethismos, the seat of human imagination. There, Horus will meet great warriors and friends who will aid him in his battle against the coming darkness, as well as ghosts of his past, spectres of the traumas he has endured, and old enemies…


You might also like...

Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

Book cover of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

Christina Ward Author Of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

New book alert!

Who am I?

For me, history is always about individuals; what they think and believe and how those ideas motivate their actions. By relegating our past to official histories or staid academic tellings we deprive ourselves of the humanity of our shared experiences. As a “popular historian” I use food to tell all the many ways we attempt to “be” American. History is for everyone, and my self-appointed mission is to bring more stories to readers! These recommendations are a few stand-out titles from the hundreds of books that inform my current work on how food and religion converge in America. You’ll have to wait for Holy Food to find out what I’ve discovered.

Christina's book list on the hidden history of America

What is my book about?

Does God have a recipe? Independent food historian Christina Ward’s highly anticipated Holy Food explores the influence of mainstream to fringe religious beliefs on modern American food culture.

Author Christina Ward unravels how religious beliefs intersect with politics, economics, and, of course, food to tell a different story of America. It's the story of true believers and charlatans, of idealists and visionaries, and of the everyday people who followed them—often at their peril.

Holy Food explains how faith pioneers used societal woes and cultural trends to create new pathways of belief and reveals the interconnectivity between sects and their leaders.

Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

What is this book about?

Does God have a recipe?

"Holy Food is a titanic feat of research and a fascinating exploration of American faith and culinary rites. Christina Ward is the perfect guide – generous, wise, and ecumenical." — Adam Chandler, author of Drive-Thru Dreams

"Holy Food doesn't just trace the influence that preachers, gurus, and cult leaders have had on American cuisine. It offers a unique look at the ways spirituality—whether in the form of fringe cults or major religions—has shaped our culture. Christina Ward has gone spelunking into some very odd corners of American history to unearth this fascinating collection of stories…


Genres
  • Coming soon!

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the American Revolutionary War, folklore, and World War 1?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the American Revolutionary War, folklore, and World War 1.

The American Revolutionary War Explore 40 books about the American Revolutionary War
Folklore Explore 330 books about folklore
World War 1 Explore 857 books about World War 1