The best Jane Austen books

7 authors have picked their favorite books about Jane Austen and why they recommend each book.

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The Jane Austen Society

By Natalie Jenner,

Book cover of The Jane Austen Society

Jane Austen wrote and revised most of her novels in a cottage lent to her by her brother in Chawton, England. This book is a fictional account of a group of individuals in post-World War II Chawton who are all lost—or have experienced great loss. They band together in an attempt to save Jane Austen’s home from destruction. I loved getting to experience the story from each of the character’s perspectives, and the author’s prose is delightful. This novel is a testament to how people from all walks of life have been changed by Jane Austen, and how reading Jane Austen can save us.


Who am I?

I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time when I was ten years old, and I loved the book so much that I reread it a few months later. In my teenage years and early twenties, I thought that I was like Elizabeth Bennet—she’s witty and opinionated, goes her own way, and loves to read books and play the pianoforte. As I grew older, I realized that in many ways I'm more like Mary Bennet (social situations can be difficult!). Jane Austen always offers me new insights into my life, and her stories have become a sort of mythology, providing fertile ground from which writers and filmmakers have created their own works.


I wrote...

The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet

By Katherine Cowley,

Book cover of The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet

What is my book about?

Mary Bennet is the dull, plain, overlooked sister from Pride and Prejudice. Which means she’s also the last person anyone would suspect to solve a murder.

Upon the death of her father, Mary is invited to stay with a distant relative, Lady Trafford, at Castle Durrington. But once she arrives, she’s faced with one mystery after another. Who is Lady Trafford really, and what is she hiding? Do her secrets and manipulations place the small seaside community at risk of an invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte? Always curious, Mary sets out to discover the answers. But when she finds the dead body of a would-be thief she outed prior to her father’s funeral, she jeopardizes her position at the castle and her family’s good name in her quest for the truth.

Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen

By Deborah Hopkinson, Qin Leng (illustrator),

Book cover of Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen: The Story of Six Novels, Three Notebooks, a Writing Box, and One Clever Girl

A luminous portrait of Jane Austen chocked full of spirited text and shimmery illustrations that capture the times. The story highlights the beginnings of Austen’s great career as a novelist from her youngest days all the way to famous writer. It’s a great addition to any classroom or library. Like Jane Taylor before her, Austen’s success paved the way for women authors to come.


Who am I?

I’m an author and a college writing professor with an MFA in Creative Writing. Additionally, I am involved in and teach other art forms and the humanities including music, film, and literature. I enjoy researching and writing about literary figures, musicians, and other creatives, all of which have been a focus in my children’s books.


I wrote...

Like a Diamond in the Sky: Jane Taylor's Beloved Poem of Wonder and the Stars

By Elizabeth Brown, Becca Stadtlander (illustrator),

Book cover of Like a Diamond in the Sky: Jane Taylor's Beloved Poem of Wonder and the Stars

What is my book about?

Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are. Did you ever wonder who wrote that famous verse?

In the days when most girls were brought up to run a home, Jane Taylor had a different kind of education in the English countryside, where she was inspired by nature and the stars, and dreamed of becoming a writer. But in the late 1700s, it was not considered proper for women to be writers. Jane and other female poets were shunned, unable to use their own names when published. But Jane did write, and she never forgot her love for the beauty of nature and the glow of stars, or her desire to write for children. Her published poetry became universally known for generations to come: Twinkle, twinkle little star.

The Real Jane Austen

By Paula Byrne,

Book cover of The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things

I love Jane Austen’s novels – the fine detail with which she paints characters based on everyday life, as she described it in a letter to her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh: “… the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour...” Sadly, Austen died at age 41, in the prime of her life, and the peak of her writing skills. Her last novel was unfinished. Most biographers surmise that she died of Addison’s disease – an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the patient’s adrenal glands, slowly sapping their energy for lack of the stress hormone cortisol. Ironically, the illness can be brought on or exacerbated by chronic stress, which certainly towards the end of her life Jane Austen experienced in spades.

When her father died, Jane Austen, being a woman, did not…


Who am I?

Internationally recognized mind-body science and design and health pioneer, Esther Sternberg M.D. is Research Director, Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine, Inaugural Andrew Weil Chair for Research in Integrative Medicine, Professor of Medicine, Psychology, Architecture, Planning & Landscape Architecture, Founding Director, University of Arizona Institute on Place, Wellbeing & Performance, and Associate Director (Research), Innovations in Healthy Aging. Formerly a National Institutes of Health Senior Scientist and Section Chief, she received the U.S. Federal Government’s highest awards, authored over 235 scholarly articles, and two engaging and popular science-for-the-lay-public books: The Balance Within chronicling mind-body science underpinning stress and illness and belief and wellness, and Healing Spaces, which helped ignite the 21st-century design and health movement.


I wrote...

The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions

By Esther M. Sternberg,

Book cover of The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions

What is my book about?

I tend to read biographies, historical fiction, and non-fiction. In my book, The Balance Within, I include historical context for some of the common notions about stress that have been around for thousands of years – things your grandmother may have told you about stress and illness, belief and healing, and place and wellbeing. What science is discovering is that these notions do reflect scientific truths. They can help us understand the universality of our biological responses to threats – the stress response, and the basis for how believing can help make you well.

Our brains and physiological responses have not changed in millennia – although our modern understanding of how these responses work to keep you well or make you sick have made exponential leaps, through advances in science and technology. 

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor

By Stephanie Barron,

Book cover of Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor: Being the First Jane Austen Mystery

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor is the first of Stephanie Barron’s 14 Jane Austen mysteries, based on Austen’s “discovered” diaries about her adventures as a sleuth.  The series’ witty tone is true to Austen’s, and portrayals of Austen’s family are based in fact. In this opening volume, Jane is visiting a friend “of more fashion than means” newly married a middle aged earl—who dies, poisoned, after a celebratory party. His will divides his estate between his countess and an heir known to be too fond of her, making the pair obvious suspects. As Jane works to prove her friend innocent, the descriptions of aristocratic Regency life, dress, manners, and law are superb. 


Who am I?

I’m an historian who writes novels, and an avid reader of historical murder mysteries—especially ones whose characters are affected by social, religious, and political change. Lately, I’ve been fascinated by the breakup of rural British estates between 1880 and 1925, when, in a single generation, the amount of British land owned by the aristocracy fell from 66% to perhaps 15%. I thought it might be interesting to set a “country house” mystery on one of the failing estates, with a narrator influenced by the other great change of the period: from horses to automobiles. “Interesting” was an understatement; writing it was eye-opening.  


I wrote...

All Men Glad and Wise: A Mystery

By Laura C. Stevenson,

Book cover of All Men Glad and Wise: A Mystery

What is my book about?

The end of WWI finds Willingford Hall, a 2000-acre baronet’s estate, in mourning. Its heir has been killed at Passchendaele, leaving behind a historic stable, a talented young horse, and Harry Green, a stable boy whose father is the head groom. In 1919, Willingford Hall’s steward is murdered, and the investigation proves that his embezzlement has brought the estate near bankruptcy. If it’s sold, what will happen to Harry’s father, now that automobiles are replacing horses? And what will happen to Harry, a stable lad who is in fact a lass—and one with no skills suitable to women? Harry’s answer is clear: she must find the murderer, thus proving herself Somebody instead of a servant. Her decision is more dangerous than she knows. 

Jane Austen's Letters

By Deirdre Le Faye,

Book cover of Jane Austen's Letters

Jane Austen is known mainly from her novels, but her surviving letters provide a wonderful insight into her life and character. Most of them were written to her sister, Cassandra, whenever they were separated. This edition, by Deirdre Le Faye, is the most complete and accurate collection of the known letters, and it also includes invaluable notes on what she wrote and the people who were mentioned.


Who am I?

I was brought up in Maidenhead in Berkshire, a town on the River Thames to the west of London. After studying archaeology at University College, Cardiff, I worked for many years as a field archaeologist. I met my wife, Lesley, on an excavation at Milton Keynes, and we have worked together ever since, both in archaeology and as authors of archaeology and history books. It was only after studying the Napoleonic period, which was when Jane Austen lived and wrote, that I understood the context of her novels and came to a much deeper appreciation of them.


I wrote...

Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England: How Our Ancestors Lived Two Centuries Ago

By Roy Adkins, Lesley Adkins,

Book cover of Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England: How Our Ancestors Lived Two Centuries Ago

What is my book about?

The book is about how ordinary people lived during Jane Austen’s lifetime, based on eyewitness accounts. Her novels are centred on the upper classes, because they were the people who had spare money to buy books and spare time to read them. To understand her novels, it is necessary not only to know the way of life of the upper classes and aristocracy, who are portrayed and often satirised in her work, but also how the vast majority of people lived who are not represented in the novels. It is the labour and skills of these people who supported the luxurious lifestyles of the wealthy minority.

Matters of Fact in Jane Austen

By Janine Barchas,

Book cover of Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity

Nowadays, Jane Austen’s novels look superficially like historical romances, but she actually wrote contemporary novels for a contemporary audience, and they are much more complicated and subtle than they first appear. This book explains many of the mentions of people, places, and events in her novels that were obvious to her readers, but which are far from obvious now.


Who am I?

I was brought up in Maidenhead in Berkshire, a town on the River Thames to the west of London. After studying archaeology at University College, Cardiff, I worked for many years as a field archaeologist. I met my wife, Lesley, on an excavation at Milton Keynes, and we have worked together ever since, both in archaeology and as authors of archaeology and history books. It was only after studying the Napoleonic period, which was when Jane Austen lived and wrote, that I understood the context of her novels and came to a much deeper appreciation of them.


I wrote...

Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England: How Our Ancestors Lived Two Centuries Ago

By Roy Adkins, Lesley Adkins,

Book cover of Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England: How Our Ancestors Lived Two Centuries Ago

What is my book about?

The book is about how ordinary people lived during Jane Austen’s lifetime, based on eyewitness accounts. Her novels are centred on the upper classes, because they were the people who had spare money to buy books and spare time to read them. To understand her novels, it is necessary not only to know the way of life of the upper classes and aristocracy, who are portrayed and often satirised in her work, but also how the vast majority of people lived who are not represented in the novels. It is the labour and skills of these people who supported the luxurious lifestyles of the wealthy minority.

Jane Austen

By Deirdre Le Faye,

Book cover of Jane Austen: A Family Record

Although we have some of Jane Austen’s letters and other writing, besides her novels, many more letters have been lost, and relatively little is known about her life. In 1913, nearly a century after her death, William and Richard Austen-Leigh (descendants of her brother James) published what was then known in a book called Life and Letters of Jane Austen. Much more material has been accumulated since, and in 1989 the work was extensively enlarged and revised by Deirdre Le Faye. It is essential reading for those who want to find out about Jane Austen’s life.


Who am I?

I was brought up in Maidenhead in Berkshire, a town on the River Thames to the west of London. After studying archaeology at University College, Cardiff, I worked for many years as a field archaeologist. I met my wife, Lesley, on an excavation at Milton Keynes, and we have worked together ever since, both in archaeology and as authors of archaeology and history books. It was only after studying the Napoleonic period, which was when Jane Austen lived and wrote, that I understood the context of her novels and came to a much deeper appreciation of them.


I wrote...

Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England: How Our Ancestors Lived Two Centuries Ago

By Roy Adkins, Lesley Adkins,

Book cover of Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England: How Our Ancestors Lived Two Centuries Ago

What is my book about?

The book is about how ordinary people lived during Jane Austen’s lifetime, based on eyewitness accounts. Her novels are centred on the upper classes, because they were the people who had spare money to buy books and spare time to read them. To understand her novels, it is necessary not only to know the way of life of the upper classes and aristocracy, who are portrayed and often satirised in her work, but also how the vast majority of people lived who are not represented in the novels. It is the labour and skills of these people who supported the luxurious lifestyles of the wealthy minority.

Martha Lloyd's Household Book

By Julienne Gehrer,

Book cover of Martha Lloyd's Household Book: The Original Manuscript from Jane Austen's Kitchen

Martha Lloyd was a close friend of Jane Austen and a relative by marriage. She lived with the Austen family at Chawton in Hampshire when Jane was there with her mother and sister, and much later Martha married Jane’s widowed brother, Francis. Her household book shows us the recipes and homemade medical remedies that they used at that time. This book has a facsimile of the original manuscript, along with various notes, as well as a section on Martha Lloyd that is the best available summary of her life.


Who am I?

I was brought up in Maidenhead in Berkshire, a town on the River Thames to the west of London. After studying archaeology at University College, Cardiff, I worked for many years as a field archaeologist. I met my wife, Lesley, on an excavation at Milton Keynes, and we have worked together ever since, both in archaeology and as authors of archaeology and history books. It was only after studying the Napoleonic period, which was when Jane Austen lived and wrote, that I understood the context of her novels and came to a much deeper appreciation of them.


I wrote...

Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England: How Our Ancestors Lived Two Centuries Ago

By Roy Adkins, Lesley Adkins,

Book cover of Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England: How Our Ancestors Lived Two Centuries Ago

What is my book about?

The book is about how ordinary people lived during Jane Austen’s lifetime, based on eyewitness accounts. Her novels are centred on the upper classes, because they were the people who had spare money to buy books and spare time to read them. To understand her novels, it is necessary not only to know the way of life of the upper classes and aristocracy, who are portrayed and often satirised in her work, but also how the vast majority of people lived who are not represented in the novels. It is the labour and skills of these people who supported the luxurious lifestyles of the wealthy minority.

Jane Austen

By Park Honan,

Book cover of Jane Austen: Her Life: The Definitive Portrait of Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Art, Her Family, Her World

There are many biographies and other narratives of Jane Austen, with many published since 1997, when Professor Park Honan updated his original book. Even so, his biography is still, in my opinion, the best. It is comprehensive, detailed, and accurate, with copious endnotes. The author also had unparalleled help from descendants of Jane Austen. His writing style is straightforward, and he is excellent at depicting the overall context of her life and how it influenced her writing, from her two brothers in the Royal Navy to productions in the London theatres.


Who am I?

I was brought up in Maidenhead in Berkshire, a town on the River Thames to the west of London. After studying archaeology at University College, Cardiff, I worked for many years as a field archaeologist. I met my wife, Lesley, on an excavation at Milton Keynes, and we have worked together ever since, both in archaeology and as authors of archaeology and history books. It was only after studying the Napoleonic period, which was when Jane Austen lived and wrote, that I understood the context of her novels and came to a much deeper appreciation of them.


I wrote...

Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England: How Our Ancestors Lived Two Centuries Ago

By Roy Adkins, Lesley Adkins,

Book cover of Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England: How Our Ancestors Lived Two Centuries Ago

What is my book about?

The book is about how ordinary people lived during Jane Austen’s lifetime, based on eyewitness accounts. Her novels are centred on the upper classes, because they were the people who had spare money to buy books and spare time to read them. To understand her novels, it is necessary not only to know the way of life of the upper classes and aristocracy, who are portrayed and often satirised in her work, but also how the vast majority of people lived who are not represented in the novels. It is the labour and skills of these people who supported the luxurious lifestyles of the wealthy minority.

The Neapolitan Novels Boxed Set

By Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein (translator),

Book cover of The Neapolitan Novels Boxed Set

Simply the finest literary achievement of the 21st century by my reckoning. I won’t pick just one of the books, and you can’t make me. The story of Lila and Lenu is a story of poverty, competition between two women, but it’s also the story of the last century. Ferrante is one of the finest observers of human behaviour that I’ve ever read, and I rudely neglected my loved ones when I was in the grip of these novels.


Who am I?

Before I became a writer, I worked for a time in the violence against women sector, and I started to see how violence against women was normalised or sanctioned by a complex matrix of laws, norms, and ideas that stick to our society like a spider’s web. I wanted to do my part in unpicking the web—and for me, as a writer, that comes in the form of beginning to break down simplistic stories and archetypes about what women should be, and what they historically might have been, in favour of a liberated future where the true potential of half the human race can be dreamed of, and realised. 


I wrote...

Young Women

By Jessica Moor,

Book cover of Young Women

What is my book about?

When Emily meets enigmatic and dazzling actress Tamsin, her life changes. Drawn into Tamsin's world of Soho living, boozy dinners, and cocktails at impossibly expensive bars, Emily's life shifts from black and white to technicolour and the two women become inseparable.

Tamsin is the friend Emily has always longed for; beautiful, fun, intelligent, and mysterious and soon Emily is neglecting her previous life—her work assisting vulnerable women, her old friend Lucy—to bask in her glow. But when a bombshell news article about a decades-old sexual assault case breaks, Emily realises that Tamsin has been hiding a secret about her own past. A secret that threatens to unravel everything...

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