Historical fiction immerses us in times long since past. If you’re looking to lose yourself in a different time and place, read through our list of the 15 best historical fiction books.
Best Historical Fiction Books
The stories that came before us shape our future.
We learn from history every day. We make decisions, plans, and choices based on ones made in the past.
Historical fiction is a genre that is well-researched enough to educate us while still bringing the excitement of a fictional tale.
It’s a genre that blends well with romance, mystery, or thriller. It combines elements of many different genres to create an evocative way to showcase important historical events.
Whether you’re craving a tale about forbidden love that must survive a war or a coming-of-age story that can only watch history unfold, we’ve got the book for you on our list of the best historical fiction books.
15. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Kicking off our list of the best historical fiction books is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. It has a 4.25 average rating across over 960,000 ratings on Goodreads.
This is an epic love story that transcends time and location. It begins in 1945 following the Second World War as Claire Randall enjoys a second honeymoon with her husband.
But then she enters a stone circle and finds herself flung through time to Scotland in 1743.
It is there, as an Outlander, that Claire meets James Fraser. As tension and passions mount, she must choose between desire or fidelity in a fight for love and her life.
14. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is a beautiful and heartbreaking historical fiction book. It has a 4.38 average rating across over 974,000 Goodreads users.
This is a great recommendation for anyone who is a fan of Greek mythology as it primarily follows two ancient characters: Achilles and Patroclus.
Achilles is the son of the goddess Thetis and king Peleus. As a strong warrior, he enchants everyone he meets.
Patroclus is a young prince who was exiled from his homeland. When the two young men meet, they develop a bond like no other.
Chiron, the centaur, trains the boys for war, and when news arrives detailing Helen of Sparta’s capture, heroes are sent to Troy in revenge.
Achilles always seeks glory and quickly decides to join the cause. Unable to separate from his friend, Patroclus follows. The Fates will test them, and sacrifices will be made.
13. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Kristin Hannah‘s novel The Nightingale has a 4.60 average rating across over 1.011 million readers on Goodreads.
In 1939, Vianne kisses her husband goodbye as he leaves for war.
When the Nazis invade France, a German captain seizes control Vianne’s home. To keep herself and her daughter safe, they must live with the enemy and make impossible choices.
Meanwhile, Vianne’s sister Isabelle is looking for any way to help. She meets Gaëtan, a man who believes they can fight the Nazis from the inside.
But as Isabelle begins to fall for him, he betrays her. Isabelle joins the Resistance, ready to lay down her life to save others.
12. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Next on our list of the best historical fiction books is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This beautiful novel has a 4.32 average rating with over 1.359 million ratings on Goodreads.
Marie-Laure is twelve years old when the Nazis invade Paris. Alongside her father, she flees to Saint-Malo to live with her reclusive great-uncle.
Marie-Laure’s father once worked for the Museum of Natural History. She doesn’t know that he’s carrying the museum’s most dangerous jewel as they run.
Werner is from a mining town in Germany and grew up loving the radio. He can build and fix them easily, which is why the Nazis recruit him to locate the Resistance.
Marie-Laure won’t stand aside when she can help. Her involvement with the Resistance entwines her path with Werner’s.
11. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini has a 4.41 average rating with over 1.373 million ratings on Goodreads.
Mariam is sent to Kabul at fifteen, where she will marry forty-five-year-old Rasheed.
Nearly twenty years later, fifteen-year-old Laila escapes the growing unrest by living in Mariam’s household. The two find solace in each other and develop a love as deep as a mother-daughter relationship.
As time passes, the Taliban begin their rule over Afghanistan. With these changes, women face starvation and brutality.
But love can conquer anything and make anyone strong.
10. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Next on our list of best historical fiction books is Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. It has a 4.10 average rating across over 1.524 million ratings on Goodreads.
Jacob is lost after the death of his family. Not knowing where to go, he jumps onto a passing train.
This train is full of circus performers trying to survive in the Great Depression. As a veterinary student, Jacob’s new job is to care for the animals.
In this circus, he meets Rosie, an elephant the twisted trainer deems untrainable. But she isn’t untrainable at all, and Jacob finds a way to understand her.
9. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is an internet favourite. It has a 4.47 average rating across over 1.625 million Goodreads users.
Monique is a struggling writer and reporter, but her life changes when Evelyn Hugo chooses her to tell her life story.
The reclusive Hollywood movie icon has kept her past a secret, but now she’s ready to tell all. Evelyn weaves tales and exposes the secrets of her glamorous life in Los Angeles in the 1950s.
She covers her seven husbands, the cutthroat industry, and her great forbidden love. But as Evelyn’s story comes to a close, Monique quickly learns that their lives intersect.
8. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden has a 4.14 average across over 1.892 million ratings on Goodreads.
Nitta Sayuri is a young peasant girl who is sold to a renowned geisha house. She is a servant and apprentice and faces many trials on the journey to becoming a geisha.
Her memories cover before, during, and after World War II, as she covers the dark secrets behind how the geisha learn to pour tea and enchant even the most powerful men.
7. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is a beloved historical fiction book, with a 4.13 average rating across over 2.005 million Goodreads users.
The March sisters are constantly at odds. Meg fancies herself all grown up. Jo is a tomboy and an aspiring author. Beth is sweet but frail. And Amy is endlessly romantic.
With their father away at war, they must rely on one another despite their differences.
Their adventures and celebrations are always exciting, but every day they wonder if their father will return home to them.
6. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Next on our list of the best historical fiction books is The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. This powerful and moving story has a 4.39 average rating across over 2.265 readers on Goodreads.
In Nazi Germany, Liesel sits by her brother’s grave. Half hidden in the snow is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind by accident.
Liesel steals the book, but reading steals her heart. With the help of her father, she learns to read.
As her love deepens, she begins to steal books from Nazi book burnings, the library, and anywhere else she can find them.
But when her family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s whole life changes.
5. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Help by Kathryn Stockett is a powerful novel with a 4.47 average rating and over 2.517 ratings on Goodreads.
Skeeter has just graduated from university, but in 1962, she is expected to find a husband. She would rather spend time with her maid Constantine, but she’s gone missing, and no one will give Skeeter answers.
Aibileen is a black maid who lost her son. She is raising her seventeenth white child, whom she cares for deeply.
Minny is Aibileen’s best friend but constantly speaks before she thinks and always loses her job. She finds a job working for someone new in town, but this woman has secrets of her own.
Despite their differences, these three women will join forces and cross lines that have never been crossed before. Their project might change the way their town and time define themselves.
4. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini has a 4.33 on Goodreads with over 2.855 ratings.
In 1970s Afghanistan, Amir and his best friend Hassan hope to win the local kite-fighting competition. But something happens to Hassan that neither of the boys expected.
When the Russians invade, Amir’s family flees to America. But as the year’s pass, he realizes that he must return to Afghanistan, now under Taliban rule, to achieve his redemption.
3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Kicking off our top three best historical fiction books is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. This beloved classic has a 4.28 average rating across over 3.769 ratings on Goodreads.
Elizabeth Bennet struggles with many issues in her society. Living in the society of the British Regency, morality, education, and marriage are all important factors.
When she meets Mr. Darcy, an eligible bachelor, it isn’t love at first sight. She finds him arrogant, and he is entirely indifferent toward her.
The two clash repeatedly, but as time passes, they realize that the line between love and hate is extremely thin.
2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This F. Scott Fitzgerald favourite invites you to the lavish parties of the 1920s. The Great Gatsby has a 3.93 average rating with over 4.633 million ratings on Goodreads.
Jay Gatsby adores throwing extravagant parties that last through the day and into the night. He has everything except what matters most.
Despite how many people find themselves welcome in his Long Island mansion, Gatsby always seems lonely.
He has his eye on someone, but no one knows who. His secret and silent longing turn into a destructive obsession that begins to unravel everything he’s built.
1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
At the top of our list of the best historical fiction books is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It has a 4.27 average rating across over 5.470 million Goodreads users.
During the Great Depression, Scout and her brother Jem live with their father, Atticus, in Alabama. Atticus is a lawyer who takes the case of a black man charged with raping a white girl.
As prejudice gets in the way of a man’s struggle for justice, Jem and Scout learn of the discrimination and hypocrisy adults feel toward race and class.
Coming of age in the south, the siblings must realize that history will only bend so far.
Summary for Best Historical Fiction Books
Our list of the best historical fiction books is full of novels that span across history. Whether you’re looking to fall in love in 19th-century England or join the Resistance in 1940s France, we’ve got a book for you.
We hope you found a few new books to add to your to-be-read pile. Happy reading!
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003)
- The Help by Kathryn Stockett (2009)
- The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (2005)
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868)
- Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (1997)
- The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2017)
- Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (2006)
- A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (2007)
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014)
- The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (2015)
- The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (2011)
- Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (1991)