The best historical fiction to curl up with

James O. Goldsborough Author Of Blood and Oranges: The Story of Los Angeles: A Novel
By James O. Goldsborough

Who am I?

Following a forty-year career in journalism, fifteen of those years as a foreign correspondent, I started writing fiction and historical fiction. In the fifteen years, I’ve been at it, I’ve written a family memoir, Misfortunes of Wealth; a newspaper novel, The Paris Herald; and my first venture into historical fiction, Waiting for Uncle John, the story of our first attempt to invade Cuba, in 1851. As one commentator said of Uncle John: “If only President Kennedy could have read this book.” My latest work of historical fiction, Blood and Oranges, tells the story of Los Angeles in the 20th Century through the eyes of a family, two brothers and two sisters, whose members have a hand in the city’s seminal events.

I wrote...

Blood and Oranges: The Story of Los Angeles: A Novel

By James O. Goldsborough,

Book cover of Blood and Oranges: The Story of Los Angeles: A Novel

What is my book about?

An action-packed historical novel of twentieth-century Los Angeles that follows three generations of the Mull family, from the roaring twenties to the fiery nineties. Mulholland’s aqueduct unleashes unimagined wealth, growth, crime, death, and destruction in valley of the angels. There are oil derricks on the beaches, highways covering the orchards, buses mysteriously replacing the world’s best trolley system, gilded church domes in place of brick and ivy, floating casinos in Santa Monica Bay. Hollywood. Murder in the hills; fires in the mountains; riots in the hoods.

The Mull brothers, identical twins from Salinas, rise with the water that nourishes the new city. Willie is a fiery preacher who, like Augustine, can’t quite shake his delight in the opposite sex; Eddie makes a fortune in oil and real estate and a few enemies along the way. Eddie’s daughters, Maggie and Lizzie, set out to right the wrongs of their father, but then must answer to their own children.

The books I picked & why

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I, Claudius: From the Autobiography of Tiberius Claudius, Born 10 B.C., Murdered and Deified A.D. 54

By Robert Graves,

Book cover of I, Claudius: From the Autobiography of Tiberius Claudius, Born 10 B.C., Murdered and Deified A.D. 54

Why this book?

Most of us want to know more about the Roman Empire than Shakespeare gives us in Julius Caesar, though probably not as much as Gibbon offers us in six volumes. Robert Graves’ I, Claudius does what historical fiction does best: it is a brilliant narrative about a complex and important period of history that most of us want to understand. The emperor Claudius is the narrator, brutally honest, marvelously flawed, tragically situated as emperor between Caligula and Nero. Whew, such company!


By Kenneth Roberts,

Book cover of Arundel

Why this book?

Arundel is the compelling story of Col. Benedict Arnold’s march to Quebec in 1775 on Gen. Washington’s orders to take Canada and the St. Lawrence from Britain at the start of the Revolutionary War. I’ve long admired Kenneth Roberts’ ability to navigate the treacherous path between history and fiction. One must stick to the history yet bring it alive through characters the author imagines to give the story drama and narrative power. Few writers of historical fiction have done it better or chosen better themes. Like Emperor Claudius, Benedict Arnold is a man of history worth understanding.

The Winds Of War

By Herman Wouk,

Book cover of The Winds Of War

Why this book?

As more contemporary writers of historical fiction go, Herman Wouk is at the top. The Winds of War does with the beginnings of World War II what Barbara Tuchman did with The Guns of August, her history of events on the eve of World War I. This is a story that can best be told by a narrator who, Zadig-like, is present at the key events of the period. In other words, it is a story best told through the devices of historical fiction. The story takes place in 1939-’41, three of the most dramatic years of the Twentieth Century. 

Caleb's Crossing

By Geraldine Brooks,

Book cover of Caleb's Crossing

Why this book?

Caleb’s Crossing is a stunning piece of research and recreation into the lives of Puritans and Native Americans in and around Martha’s Vineyard in the 17th Century. Brooks, a master of the art, weaves together a detective story and a love story about how a young English woman and the son of a chieftain strive to overcome the failure of the Puritans to convert the Wampanoag tribe to Calvinism. Her investigation into this little-known period is a triumph of sleuthing.

Wolf Hall

By Hilary Mantel,

Book cover of Wolf Hall

Why this book?

So you thought you knew all about Thomas Cromwell, the devious and manipulative chief minister behind some of Henry VIII’s most heinous deeds. History has treated him generally as beyond redemption for his hand in the murders of some of England’s finest, including his relentless war against England’s Catholics. And let’s not forget poor Anne Boleyn. Hilary Mantel’s research tells a more complex story of a far more complex man.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like I, Claudius, The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, and Courage, My Love if you like this list.