The best books about history that read like the most gripping fiction you’ve ever experienced

Roy M. Griffis Author Of The Old World
By Roy M. Griffis

Who am I?

I love history that is about people. The discoveries they made or the adventures they had (or endured) are thrilling and fascinating, but it’s the people who make it compelling. From Ernest Shackleton dumping handfuls of gold on the ice to show his stranded men he was committed to getting them out of Antarctica alive, to a fussy young William Travis writing desperately for help that would never come, and being of the first to die during the attack on the Alamo…the best books make those events, the times, and the stakes very very real. And the very best histories give you the humanity of the choices and decisions that led them there.

I wrote...

The Old World

By Roy M. Griffis,

Book cover of The Old World

What is my book about?

A soldier fights for his soul in the trenches of France. A field hospital nurse battles death every day. Are duty and honor enough of a reason to go on in the hell of a world at war?

An English Lieutenant and an immigrant Russian nurse meet scarcely a mile from the bloody trenches of World War One France, where they witness the hell that the hands of men can create. The memory of their brief weeks together will follow them for years as they cross a world staggered by war, revolution, and duplicity. Epic historical fiction, the By the Hand of Men saga sweeps across four continents in a gripping tale of fate, loss, redemption, and love.

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The books I picked & why

The Last Days of the Incas

By Kim MacQuarrie,

Book cover of The Last Days of the Incas

Why did I love this book?

An astonishing and infuriating book about betrayal, treachery, and superior technology. Being introduced to the complexities of the Inca culture, religion, and government, along with the economics (and religious sops to those economics) driving the Spainards makes for a tense and gripping story. I called it “infuriating” because, knowing how those populations would be decimated by disease and slavery, reading about the ways they were betrayed was really tough. By telling the story with such detail (the research behind it must have been staggering) makes it new, alive, and ultimately heart-breaking.

By Kim MacQuarrie,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Last Days of the Incas as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Last Days of the Incas is a popular epic history of the conquest of the powerful Inca Empire, the largest empire ever known in the New World, by 168 Spaniards, led by Francisco Pizarro, a one-eyed conquistador, and his four brothers. It describes the three-year conquest and the 37 year guerrilla war that followed as the Incas relocated from their capital, Cuzco, high in the Andes, to a new capital, Vilcabamba, deep in the Amazon jungle.

Because they brought with them two powerful weapons, horses and muskets, the Spaniards were able to conquer an Inca force that outnumbered them…

Book cover of Jungle of Stone: The Extraordinary Journey of John L. Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya

Why did I love this book?

One of the real contagions of contemporary life (for anyone in any time, I suspect) is the way one can become complacent about the existence we are experiencing: we can take “what everyone knows” for granted. Like the Ferris Wheel, which was invented for the Chicago World’s Fair to outshine the previous Fair’s Effiel Tower. Now, any carnival midway or small circus has one. 

The same with many “ancient ruins.” Cruise ships stop at Minos or the Mexican pyramids for organized tours. But these places had been lost for millennia until they were re-discovered in the last 200 – 300 years. In Jungles of Stone, the initial discovery was almost an accident. Seen as an opportunity by Stephens and Catherwood, the magnificence and majesty of what they find converts their commercial enterprise into something more like a crusade. While the book recounts their arduous efforts to uncover the lost civilization, it also educates us about the many amazing parts of the Mayan’s lives and cities.

By William Carlsen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

New York Times Bestseller (Expeditions) * THE "MASTERFUL CHRONICLE"* OF THE DISCOVERY OF THE LEGENDARY LOST CIVILIZATION OF THE MAYA--AN "ADVENTURE TALE THAT MAKES INDIANA JONES LOOK TAME"* In 1839, rumors of extraordinary yet baffling stone ruins buried within the unmapped jungles of Central America reached two of the world's most intrepid travelers. Seized by the reports, American diplomat John Lloyd Stephens and British artist Frederick Catherwood-both already celebrated for their adventures in Egypt, the Holy Land, Greece, and Rome-sailed together out of New York Harbor on an expedition into the forbidding rainforests of present-day Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. What…

Book cover of Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II

Why did I love this book?

Back before extreme sports were a thing, people found personal ways to test themselves. In this case, we have guys from New Jersey who did scuba diving to depths that were the edge of both human physiology and the technology of the time, while exploring sunken wrecks over 200 feet below the surface. For fun. Then they tripped over a lost Nazi submarine. Off the coast of New Jersey.  

It sounds like the worst kind of B-movie nonsense, but it’s true. Two of the men become driven to not only document the submarine’s provenance as an actual German vessel, but to identify it and contact the relatives of the perished soldiers. From wild-men who crawled inside sunken passenger liners for kicks, they became dedicated researchers determined to bring closure to those left behind, regardless of the risk to themselves.   

By Robert Kurson,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Shadow Divers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

New York Times Bestseller 

In the tradition of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air and Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm comes a true tale of riveting adventure in which two weekend scuba divers risk everything to solve a great historical mystery–and make history themselves.

For John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, deep wreck diving was more than a sport. Testing themselves against treacherous currents, braving depths that induced hallucinatory effects, navigating through wreckage as perilous as a minefield, they pushed themselves to their limits and beyond, brushing against death more than once in the rusting hulks of sunken ships.
But in the…

Book cover of The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo--And the Sacrifice That Forged a Nation

Why did I love this book?

One thing my selections have in common is my own awe for the amount of research that went into the work. In this instance, Mr. Donovan has gone back to original sources, found old letters, telegrams, newspaper reports, interviews with survivors, and so on, turning the famous participants (e.g. Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, etc.) from the stiff, stock characters of popular imagination or media and mockery into recognizable human beings: Jim Bowie with his tenacious will (see the description of a duel fought on an island in a river against several opponents) and a heart-broken by the death of a beloved wife, or Crockett, an out-of-office politician, and national figure, heading West in the hopes of finding a new beginning.

None of them planned on being a hero, but, at the end, were willing to die for their friends and their adopted home of Texas.

By James Donovan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For almost two centuries, the last stand at the Alamo has been recognized as a defining moment in America's history. On February 23, 1836, a Mexican army thousands of soldiers strong attacked a makeshift garrison of about 200 Texas settlers-among them, Davy Crockett, James Bowie, and William Barret Travis-holed up in the abandoned mission on the outskirts of San Antonio. The Texans refused to surrender, and for almost two weeks, the immense force lay siege to the fort, bombarding its occupants with a constant barrage of artillery fire. Then, in the predawn hours of March 6, the Mexican troops unleashed…

Book cover of Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley & Livingstone

Why did I love this book?

This is another story that has been parodied out of any semblance of the magnificently foolish endeavor that ended up becoming almost noble. While today the idea would be risible, this book contextualizes the time and culture that created a national hero of the Reverend Livingstone, a clergyman traveling to “darkest Africa” to spread the Good Word to the savages and why finding him became a Western obsession. The insights into the day-to-day life and difficulties of the many and varied characters, tribes, and nations are balanced nicely against the struggles of the main characters to find their way through Africa and life itself.

By Martin Dugard,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1866 Britain's foremost explorer, Dr David Livingstone, went in search of the answer to an age-old geographical riddle: where was the source of the Nile? Livingstone set out with a large team, on a course that would lead through unmapped, seemingly impenetrable terrain into areas populated by fearsome man-eating tribes. Within weeks his expedition began to fall apart - his entourage deserted him and Livingstone vanished without trace. He would not be heard from again for two years.
While debate raged in England over whether Livingstone could be found in the unmapped wilderness of the African interior, James Gordon…

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