The best fiction and nonfiction books involving history to thrill, disturb, and intrigue

Who am I?

Errick Nunnally was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, and served one tour in the Marine Corps before deciding art school was a safer pursuit. He enjoys art, comics, and genre novels. A graphic designer, he has trained in Krav Maga and Muay Thai kickboxing. His work has appeared in several anthologies of speculative fiction. His work can be found in Apex Magazine, Fiyah Magazine, Galaxy’s Edge, Lamplight, Nightlight Podcast, and the novels, Lightning Wears a Red Cape, Blood for the Sun, and All the Dead Men.


I wrote...

All The Dead Men: Alexander Smith #2

By Errick Nunnally,

Book cover of All The Dead Men: Alexander Smith #2

What is my book about?

Alexander Smith is a long-lived werewolf losing his mind to a supernatural Alzheimer’s. He hates magic, and vampires—excepting his adopted daughter, Ana, of course—so it makes sense in this sequel to Blood for the Sun that he’s coping with his daughter’s abduction, a guilty remnant of his past, and a vampire church named Our Lady of Perpetual Death that isn’t at all what it seems to be.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Slave Ship: A Human History

By Marcus Rediker,

Book cover of The Slave Ship: A Human History

Why this book?

Both incredibly fascinating and horrifying, this book found its start in the author’s desire to write about sailing ships. I’m interested in socio-political history and I’ve found that there’s nothing more disturbing or terrifying than looking deep into the world’s past. It’s a great way to be informed and to pepper fiction with interesting nonfiction details. (And to be horrified.) Our imaginations can not outpace what people have actually done. In the foreword, Reddiker describes researching the subject and finding information about the ships that carried human cargo for chattel slavery. There’s a personal anecdote as the author digs further into the records. He suffers an unexpected emotional impact as he began to understand what an immense human tragedy the entire affair was. Then he realizes that no one else has written about the subject from this perspective and his research becomes focused on revealing this history. It is stunning and sobering stuff.


A Book of Tongues

By Gemma Files,

Book cover of A Book of Tongues

Why this book?

This book falls under the category “urban fiction” or “magical realism” or “western” or…something. At least, that’s what drew me to it in the first place. It takes place in America’s old west, features magic-using criminals leading a gang and draws on some Native American lore. The magic is terrifying, it’s a mix of environmental and mind-altering hoodoo. The most powerful antagonist is rugged, homosexual, unashamed, and a conflicted terror of a person. His partner in crime is simply terrifying. Together, they drive a trilogy that’s so well threaded through the old west you can taste the grit as you turn the page. Though the emphasis is on the pursuit of magic and the machinations it drives, the settings are a delight to experience. Files weaves a world in these novels that is equally fascinating and terrifying. Her prose and daring are an inspiration.


Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo"

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Book cover of Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo"

Why this book?

This book is a raw peek into America’s troubled past. It’s a series of interviews that Hurston conducts with a man who was on the last slave ship to make the transatlantic passage. It is a difficult read on two levels: subject matter and English. Hurston presents the words of a man named Cudjo Lewis as authentically as possible. What may seem to some today as parody, is translated to the page with accuracy. For me it communicated first-hand some of the past my main character has lived through. Books like this help to inform my protagonist’s current attitude toward the world (Alexander Smith in Blood For The Sun and All The Dead Men).


Pimp My Airship: A Naptown by Airship Novel

By Maurice Broaddus,

Book cover of Pimp My Airship: A Naptown by Airship Novel

Why this book?

I don’t often read “steampunk” because it usually reflects the Victorian era of England or a ‘what if’ scenario involving the Confederacy and I’m just sick to death of the subjects. Along came “steamfunk,” an addition to the genre where the focus wouldn’t be on exclusively white characters, but Black sourced from the African continent. Then once upon a time, Broaddus cracked a joke on Twitter: “I’m going to write a steampunk story with an all-Black cast and call it ‘Pimp My Airship.’ To his chagrin (and eventual delight) several editors asked to see the story. The worldbuilding in this story is phenomenal. It take place in Indiana, part of an alternate history where England has established a “United States of Albion” and Native Americans have managed to retain a sizeable chunk of territory. There’s so much more to the book in relation to history and cultural norms. I thoroughly enjoyed it and aspire to write fictional worlds this tightly. The situation itself is an anecdote in challenging oneself to write wherever the path may take you. I never thought I’d write in someone else’s universe until I was asked and I absolutely adore the results.


Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America

By Elliot Jaspin,

Book cover of Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America

Why this book?

Here is a book about history that is horrific, often referenced, and not as fully understood as it should be. It’s about entire towns erased from existence or whole segments of a population violently displaced in one night. Full of terrifying tales, the author began looking into the subject thinking there’d be several historical incidents and instead found too many to include in the book. It is a harrowing accounting of racial cleansing right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. and a potent reminder of how this country operated well into the twentieth century. Again, this sort of thing is good background to inform my character’s current attitude and makes for ripe pickings in flashbacks or background stories.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in slaves, airships, and veterans?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about slaves, airships, and veterans.

Slaves Explore 58 books about slaves
Airships Explore 12 books about airships
Veterans Explore 36 books about veterans

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Reading the Holocaust, A Path in the Mighty Waters, and Six-Gun Snow White if you like this list.