The best historical fiction books that will make you feel like you are there

The Books I Picked & Why

All the Light We Cannot See

By Anthony Doerr

Book cover of All the Light We Cannot See

Why this book?

Reading this novel, I was completely immersed in the settings of a Nazi training school in Germany, and Paris and St Malo in France. Feeling connected with the setting as a reader is so important for a story to come to life, and the author’s depiction of wartime St Malo made me feel as if I had visited the town in real life. The rhythms of the sea, the ancient buildings, and landmarks were all depicted in detail. Anthony Doerr’s sense of place is intimate, sensory, and absorbing. When you combine this with a tale that explores moral integrity, the deep attachments we make with others, and the horrors of war, you have a story that will take you on a vivid and emotional journey.

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The Miniaturist

By Jessie Burton

Book cover of The Miniaturist

Why this book?

The setting of 17th century Amsterdam was one I was unfamiliar with, so it was a delight to be taken into the intimate domestic life of Petronella Oortman and the intrigue of her dollhouse, the secret lives of her servants, and the complex social hierarchy of this time and place. Jessie Burton’s writing is both rich in detail and emotive, so I felt privy to both the psychological complexity of the characters and the life they spend traversing the canals and streets of the city.

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The Good Wife of Bath

By Karen Brooks

Book cover of The Good Wife of Bath

Why this book?

14th century England was another period I knew little about, and this wonderfully researched story made it real to me. With authentic and witty dialogue, a setting where sheep farming and weaving are predominant as means to make a living, and women are the property of their husbands, I was transported into Eleanor’s world and deeply invested in her fate. The true-to-life setting and emotional subtleties made it an immersive and enjoyable read.

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Anna Karenina

By Leo Tolstoy

Book cover of Anna Karenina

Why this book?

The upper echelons of Russian society of the 19th century and their surroundings are realistically depicted in this classic novel, where a doomed love story is set against the opulent backdrops of St Petersburg, Moscow, and rural Russia. The balls, luxurious restaurants, and parties of pre-revolutionary Russia are rendered in exquisite detail, the yearnings and preoccupations of the nobility well drawn. It’s even more fascinating to read about this society knowing that it was coming to an end.   

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The Signature of All Things

By Elizabeth Gilbert

Book cover of The Signature of All Things

Why this book?

In this epic story spanning multiple locations and the 18th and 19th centuries, we follow Alma Whittaker, heiress and lover of moss, whose quick wit and adventuring spirit make her a wonderful heroine. But it’s also the finely observed settings of this novel that make it a story to fully inhabit and read compulsively. It’s a book to travel through as we inhabit Philadelphia, Tahiti, London, and Peru, seeing everything in vivid detail through Alma’s eyes.

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