American History Novels

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Selected novels for learning about American history. July 2008.

Colonial Period

Hervey Allen: Bedford Village
Frontier and Indian life in Pennsylvania in the 1760s.

Lawrence Hill: Someone Knows My Name
Life story of a woman captured into slavery in West Africa in 1745: her struggles and life up to 1802 in North Carolina, New York, and Nova Scotia.

Anya Seton: The Winthrop Woman
Based on the true story of Elizabeth Winthrop, niece of Governor Winthrop of Massachusetts, and her rebellion against Puritan restrictions.

American Revolution

Howard Fast: Citizen Tom Paine
One of his best historicals, about the famous writer & revolutionary, though April Morning is also good.

William Martin: Citizen Washington
“Personal testimony” by great and small people after Washington’s death recreates a figure with many human failings who nonetheless achieves greatness.

F. van Wyck Mason: Guns for Rebellion
Mason is known for his colorful storytelling which also is historically accurate.

Jeff Shaara: Rise to Rebellion, and The Glorious Cause
These two novels bring to life all the main characters of the Revolutionary struggle.

Early United States

John Jakes: North and South
Two families in the 20 years leading up to the Civil War.

David Nevin: 1812
Events leading up to the War of 1812, through the eyes of the country's leaders.
If you like this, also read his Eagle's Cry, taking place in 1799.

Nancy Zaroulis: Call the Darkness Light
Women workers in the mills of Lawrence, Massachusetts in the 1840s.

Civil War to 1900

Willa Cather: My Antonia
Famous & beautiful story of prairie immigrants in the late 1800s, a love story, and farm versus city life.

Cecelia Holland: An Ordinary Woman
Master historical novelist Holland bases this on the true story of Nancy Kelsey, who went by wagon train to California in 1841, and lived until 1896.

Jeff Shaara: The Killer Angels
A gripping depiction of the Battle of Gettysburg, a turning point in the Civil War.

Twentieth Century

John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath
Prize-winning novel about the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the Okie migration to California.

Herman Wouk: The Winds of War, and War & Remembrance
This saga describes the lead-up to WWII, the war itself, and its effects, mostly from the viewpoint of a single family, one of whom is an advisor to Roosevelt.

Single books covering long periods of U.S. history

Pete Hamill: Forever
Irish immigrant Cormac O’Connor comes to NYC in 1741, becomes immortal by chance, and lives (at least) until 2001 when the book ends, having covered over 250 years of city history. A strange but fun book by the famed New York City writer & commentator.

William Martin: Back Bay
Boston seen through the eyes of six generations of the Pratt family, from colonial times up to the present era.

James Michener: Chesapeake
The Chesapeake area of Maryland/Virginia, from 1583 to the 1970s. Michener's sagas are too long for some tastes, but if you like him there are others (Alaska; Centennial; Hawaii).

Nancy Zaroulis: Massachusetts
Bartholomew Revell arrives on the Mayflower in 1620, and this book follows his family for 350 years.

Multi-book series

Thomas Fleming: The Stapleton Family Saga
(He's also written very good nonfiction histories.)
Remember the Morning (two women, former Indian captives, in the 1730s)
Liberty Tavern (divided loyalties during American Revolution)
The Wages of Fame (1820s to 1840s; two Senators)
When This Cruel War is Over (Civil War)
The Spoils of War (Reconstruction after the Civil War)

Mary Lee Settle: Beulah Land books
Very well-received novelist.
Unfortunately we only have the first one she wrote, O Beulah Land (settling of West Virginia in the 1770s), but we can get the next two, and the "prequel" Prisons, by interlibrary loan. They follow people and social issues in a West Virginia town from colonial times to the early 20th Century.

Gore Vidal: Narratives of Empire
The Narratives of Empire is a series of seven historical novels by Gore Vidal published between 1967 and 2000. The novels interweave generations of two fictional American families with real figures from history, and are set mostly in the Washington, D.C. area. Some call these books the American Chronicle Series, but Vidal has said the correct name is "Narratives of Empire".
1. Burr , narrated in 1836, but also covering the years 1776 through 1805 from the point of view of Aaron Burr
2. Lincoln, covering Abraham Lincoln's presidency
3. 1876, 1875 to 1877
4. Empire, 1898 to 1907
5. Hollywood, 1917 to 1923
6. Washington D.C., 1937 to the early 1950s
7. The Golden Age, 1939-1950, with a final chapter at the turn of the 21st century

Category: Reading Lists, Historical Fiction

Page last changed: November 09, 2012, at 01:17 PM EST.