The best historical books to make you feel the power of hope against impossible odds

S.D. Livingston Author Of A Queen's Revenge
By S.D. Livingston

Who am I?

I’m an accidental historian, one that stumbled over a love of history in spite of myself. In school, history was all just dates and places—not the kind of thing to inspire a kid that loved stories about people, not dusty old battles. But then a funny thing happened on the way to an English degree. A few history electives suddenly seemed way more appealing than another round of Austen, and led me to a BA History with Distinction. The first half of the twentieth century is a favorite period, but I say bring on the Renaissance and Viking ships too!


I wrote...

A Queen's Revenge

By S.D. Livingston,

Book cover of A Queen's Revenge

What is my book about?

“The invaders promised peace. Peace to the ancient Celtic kingdoms that obeyed them. But oaths are only honored between men, and when King Prasutagus dies the Roman invaders bring a new threat to Queen Boudicca: relinquish power or die. They expect her to cower. They don’t expect this fierce queen of Britain to march against the mighty Roman army—and win.”

The books I picked & why

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The Inheritors

By William Golding,

Book cover of The Inheritors

Why this book?

In The Inheritors, William Golding brings to life a creature from the distant past: Lok, a hairy, barely verbal hominid whose small band is the last of their kind. New words and thoughts confuse him, flashes of logic slip out of his grasp, and he discovers the existence of mysterious Others; invaders with the formidable technology of bow and arrow. But The Inheritors is much more than an exciting adventure. The story stays with me because Lok is a mirror of us—of the human urge to try, to fail, to push on despite the odds. We have no idea what the next thousand years will hold. Neither did Lok. But just like him, we can’t help moving forward.

The Inheritors

By William Golding,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Hunt, trek, and feast among Neanderthals in this stunning novel by the radical Nobel Laureate and author of Lord of the Flies, introduced by Ben Okri.

This was a different voice; not the voice of the people. It was the voice of other.

When spring comes, the people leave their winter cave, foraging for honey, grubs, and the hot richness of a deer's brain. They awaken the fire to heat their naked bodies, lay down their thorn bushes, and share pictures in their minds. But strange things are happening: inexplicable scents and sounds. Imaginable beasts are half-glimpsed in the forest;…


A Prayer for Owen Meany

By John Irving,

Book cover of A Prayer for Owen Meany

Why this book?

If Owen Meany is the most unlikely hero you’ll ever meet, he’s also the one that made me think the hardest about whether we make our own fate. I first read this book over twenty years ago, and just the mention of Owen’s name conjures images of a small boy, his broken voice, and his unshakeable faith that he will fulfill a noble destiny. Set during the years around the Vietnam War, the story touches on the odd turns in life that we often put down to chance—or are they something more? A Prayer for Owen Meany is both irreverent and achingly sad. Long after you’ve put it down, you’ll still be saying a prayer for the boy, and the man, with the broken voice.

A Prayer for Owen Meany

By John Irving,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Prayer for Owen Meany as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A work of genius' Independent

'Marvellously funny . . . What better entertainment is there than a serious book which makes you laugh?' Spectator

'If you care about something you have to protect it. If you're lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.'

Summer, 1953. In the small town of Gravesend, New Hampshire, eleven-year-old John Wheelwright and his best friend Owen Meany are playing in a Little League baseball game. When Owen hits a foul ball which kills John's mother, their lives are changed in an instant.

It…


A Shout in the Ruins

By Kevin Powers,

Book cover of A Shout in the Ruins

Why this book?

This book is a gut punch of straight-up prose that reads like pure poetry. The story begins during the convulsions of the American Civil War, and tracks a line directly from the 1860s to the 1950s. This is no dry history lesson though. Presidents and generals don’t rate a mention and the heroes are ordinary people. And that’s where the novel shines: it proves that profound thoughts can be expressed in plain language, and the author delivers them here with powerful simplicity. A Shout in the Ruins is an absolute gem of a story that should not be missed.

A Shout in the Ruins

By Kevin Powers,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Shout in the Ruins as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Sultanate of Oman overlooks one of the most strategic waterways in the Middle East: the Strait of Hormuz. Sharing the guardianship of the Strait with Iran, Oman's position is of key importance to the security of the entire Gulf, which holds a large portion of the world's oil resources. In a 1970 palace coup, Sultan Qaboos ibn Sa'id overthrew the repressive and reclusive rule of his father and embarked on a program of modernization. Oman became one of the success stories of the developing world, instituting a modern educational system, creating a modern infrastructure, becoming an oil exporter, and…


Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

By Doris Pilkington, Nugi Garimara,

Book cover of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

Why this book?

The story sounds like legend: three young girls flee their captors and survive a thousand-mile trek across the Australian desert. Sadly, Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is all too true. It traces the real-life journey of Molly, Gracie, and Daisy, three Aboriginal Australian children forcibly removed from their families in 1930, part of a racist government strategy to wipe out Aboriginal culture. It’s an amazing tale of survival, but what really inspires me is Molly’s story after that fateful journey: her refusal to give in to a system bent on crushing her. Remarkably, almost a hundred years later, her fight for human rights still echoes in the headlines of today.

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

By Doris Pilkington, Nugi Garimara,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The most consistent of all series in terms of language control, length, and quality of story."

David R. Hill, Director of the Edinburgh Project on Extensive Reading.


Sarah's Key

By Tatiana De Rosnay,

Book cover of Sarah's Key

Why this book?

Sarah’s Key keeps us hoping in spite of ourselves—and despite the terrible odds facing a Jewish family in Paris, 1942. When the police come knocking one night, ten-year-old Sarah has no idea that her family is being rounded up for transport to an internment camp. She locks her little brother in a closet to save him, certain she’ll return the next day. That fateful choice will echo from WWII into the present, where the apartment’s new occupant uncovers long-ago choices and secrets in her own family. For me, though, the real question isn’t whether Sarah can rescue her brother. It’s about the many ways we justify our own ‘us’ and ‘them,’ and the hope that we can learn from history’s lessons.

Sarah's Key

By Tatiana De Rosnay,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Sarah's Key as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours. Paris, May 2002: On Vel' d'Hiv's 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that…


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