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The Greatest Historical Fiction

In building our first historical fiction list, we've been surprised how much literature falls into this genre. Many titles already appearing on our Greatest Literature of All Time list, or on the database of contenders for that list, meet the criteria to be considered historical fiction. Works long enjoyed as part of the literary mainstream, it often turns out, are also part of this genre.

Equally impressive has been the amount of fiction published and acclaimed as historical in recent years. The field is evergreen.

Now, the definition of historical fiction can be somewhat elastic. The one point everyone agrees on is that it takes place in the past. But how far in the past is debatable. At least sixty years before the time of writing, say some. At least thirty years, say others. Sometimes the limit is set at the birth of the author; an "historical" story can't take place in an era the writer lived through.

Other requirements have been proclaimed or disputed. The work must be historically accurate. Or historically accurate in general outline. Or not at all, letting alternative histories into the genre. Supernatural elements are or are not allowed, creating or barring an overlap with fantasy fiction. A dozen other criteria have been proposed.

For our purposes in creating this list of the "greatest historical fiction of all time" we have followed, as well as possible, the consensus of readers, writers and critics on what is historical fiction.

Though based on the same extensive research as our other greatest-literature lists, this one is relatively new. We anticipate revisions for some time to come as new titles are discovered and old titles are reassessed. Check back to get updates.

Latest update: August 25, 2022

The 222 greatest historical fiction works of all time

Click linked titles and authors for details, critiques and comments.

c.1020
Japan
Prose narrative
c.1360–1400
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Luo Guanzhong
China
Novel
c.1360–1589
Water Margin
Shi Nai'an, Luo Guanzhong
China
Novel
1592
Journey to the West
Wu Cheng'en
China
Novel
1594
The Unfortunate Traveller
Thomas Nashe
England
Novel
1678
La Princesse de Clèves
Madame de La Fayette
France
Novel
1764
The Castle of Otranto
Horace Walpole
England
Novel
1800
Castle Rackrent
Maria Edgeworth
Ireland
Novel
1803
Thaddeus of Warsaw
Jane Porter
England
Novel
1814
Waverley
Walter Scott
Scotland
Novel
1817
Rob Roy
Walter Scott
Scotland
Novel
1819
Ivanhoe
Walter Scott
Scotland
Novel
1825
The Talisman
Walter Scott
Scotland
Novel
1826
The Last of the Mohicans
James Fenimore Cooper
United States
Novel
1827–1842
The Betrothed
Alessandro Manzoni
Italy
Novel
1828
Rachel Dyer
John Neal
United States
Novel
1829
The Chouans
Honoré de Balzac
France
Novel
1831
The Elixir of Life
Honoré de Balzac
France
Novel
 
Victor-Marie Hugo
France
Novel
1839
Charterhouse of Parma
Stendhal
France
Novel
1842
Windsor Castle
William Harrison Ainsworth
England
Novel
1844
The Luck of Barry Lyndon
William Makepeace Thackeray
England
Novel
 
The Three Musketeers
Alexandre Dumas
France
Novel
1844–1846
The Count of Monte-Cristo
Alexandre Dumas
France
Novel
1845
Twenty Years After
Alexandre Dumas
France
Novel
1847
The Vicomte of Bragelonne
Alexandre Dumas
France
Novel
1848
Vanity Fair
William Makepeace Thackeray
England
Novel
1850
Nathaniel Hawthorne
United States
Novel
1855
Westward Ho!
Charles Kingsley
England
Novel
1858
The Confessions of an Italian
Ippolito Nievo
Italy
Novel
1859
A Tale of Two Cities
Charles Dickens
England
Novel
 
The Virginians
William Makepeace Thackeray
England
Novel
1862
Salammbô
Gustave Flaubert
France
Novel
 
Victor-Marie Hugo
France
Novel
1863
Romola
England
Novel
1865–1869
War and Peace
Leo Tolstoy
Russia
Novel
1866
Hereward the Wake
Charles Kingsley
England
Novel
1868
The Man Without a Country, and Other Tales
Edward Everett Hale
United States
Story collection
1872
England
Novel
 
The Trumpet-Major The
England
Novel
1880
Ben-Hur
Lew Wallace
United States
Novel
1881
Mark Twain
United States
Novel
1885
Marius the Epicurean
Walter Pater
England
Novel
1886
Scotland
Novel
1889
The Master of Ballantrae
Scotland
Novel
1891
The Fleeing Mamluk
Jurji Zaydan
Lebanon
Novel
1892
The Captive of the Mahdi Pretender
Jurji Zaydan
Lebanon
Novel
1895
United States
Novel
1895–1896
Quo Vadis
Henryk Sienkiewicz
Poland
Novel
1895–1913
Sandokan
Emilio Salgaari
Italy
Novel
1897
Pharoah
Bolesław Prus
Poland
Novel
1899
Virgin of Quraish
Jurji Zaydan
Lebanon
Novel
1900–1901
The Fall of the King
Johannes V. Jensen
Denmark
Novel series
1901
Germany
Novel
1905
The Scarlet Pimpernel
Baroness Orczy
England
Novel
1908–1921
The Long Journey
Johannes V. Jensen
Denmark
Novel
1910
Gora
Rabindranath Tagore
Bengal
Novel
1911
The Corn King and the Spring Queen
Naomi Mitchison
Scotland
Novel
1912
Riders of the Purple Sage
Zane Grey
United States
Novel
1920–1922
Kristin Lavransdatter
Sigrid Undset
Norway
Novel series
1921
Scaramouche
Rafael Sabatini
Italy
Novel
1922
Captain Blood
Rafael Sabatini
Italy
Novel
1925
Jud Süß
Lion Feuchtwanger
Germany
Novel
1927
Jalna
Mazo de la Roche
Canada
Novel
 
The Devil at the Long Point
Riccardo Bacchelli
Italy
Novel
 
The Bridge of San Luis Rey
Thornton Wilder
United States
Novel
1929–1943
Peter the Great
Alexy Tolstoy
Russia
Novel
1930
Destry Rides Again
Max Brand
United States
Novel
1930–1943
The Man Without Qualities
Robert Musil
Austria
Novel
1931
The Conqueror
Georgette Heyer
England
Novel
 
Pearl S. Buck
United States
Novel
1932–1942
Josephus trilogy
Lion Feuchtwanger
Germany
Novel series
1934
England
Novel
1936
Jamaica Inn
Daphne du Maurier
England
Novel
 
Absalom, Absalom!
William Faulkner
United States
Novel
 
Gone With the Wind
Margaret Mitchell
United States
Novel
1936–1938
The Wind Has Risen
Tatsuo Hori
Japan
Novel
1937–1967
Horatio Hornblower
C.S. Forester
England
Novel series
1938
Count Belisarius
Robert Graves
England
Novel
1938–1940
The Mill on the Po
Riccardo Bacchelli
Italy
Novel
1941
Owen Glendower
John Cowper Powys
England
Novel
 
Ride This Night
Vilhelm Moberg
Sweden
Novel
1944
Death Comes as the End
Agatha Christie
England
Novel
1946
King Jesus
Robert Graves
England
Novel
 
Return to Ithaca
Eyvind Johnson, Pär Lagerkvist
Sweden
Novel
 
Bridge on the Drina
Ivo Andrić
Yugoslavia
Novel
1949
The Kingdom of This World
Alejo Carpentier
Cuba
Novel
1949–1959
The Emigrants
Vilhelm Moberg
Sweden
Novel series
1950
Barabbas
Eyvind Johnson, Pär Lagerkvist
Sweden
Novel
1951
Memoirs of Hadrian
Marguerite Yourcenar
Belgium
Novel
 
Porius
John Cowper Powys
England
Novel
 
Spartacus
Howard Fast
United States
Novel
1955
The Inheritors
William Golding
England
Novel
 
Raquel: The Jewess of Toledo
Lion Feuchtwanger
Germany
Novel
 
Metello
Vasco Pratolini
Italy
Novel
1956–1957
The Cairo Trilogy
Naguib Mahfouz
Egypt
Novel series
1957
Doctor Zhivago
Boris Pasternak
Russia
Novel
1958
The Leopard
Giusseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Italy
Novel
 
Things Fall Apart
Chinua Achebe
Nigeria
Novel
1960
City of My Dreams
Pers Ansers Fogelström
Sweden
Novel
1961
Hombre
Elmore Leonard
United States
Novel
1962
The Death of Artemio Cruz
Carlos Fuentes
Mexico
Novel
1963
The Heritage of the Prioress
Carlo Alianello
Italy
Novel
1964
Time of Parting
Anton Donchev
Bulgaria
Novel
 
Fair Hope
William Heinesen
Denmark
Novel
 
The Spire
William Golding
England
Novel
 
The Lightning of August
Jorge Ibargüengoitia
Mexico
Novel
 
Arrow of God
Chinua Achebe
Nigeria
Novel
1965–1989
Lord Ramage series
Dudley Pope
England
Novel series
1967
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Gabriel García Márquez
Colombia
Novel
 
The Confessions of Nat Turner
William Styron
United States
Novel
1968
True Grit
Charles Portis
United States
Novel
1969
John Fowles
England
Novel
1969–1999
Aubrey–Maturin series
Patrick O'Brian
England
Novel series
including Master and Commander, Post Captain, HMS Surprise, The Mauritius Command, Desolation Island, and others
1970
Troubles
J.G. Farrell
England
Novel
1971
The Scorpion God
William Golding
England
Novel
 
The Egyptian
Mika Waltari
Finland
Novel
 
August 1914
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Russia
Novel
1973
The Siege of Krishnapur
J.G. Farrell
England
Novel
 
Burr
Gore Vidal
United States
Novel
1974
I, the Supreme
Augusto Roa Bastos
Paraguay
Novel
1975
Shōgun
James Clavell
Australia
Novel
 
The Autumn of the Patriarch
Gabriel García Márquez
Colombia
Novel
 
Terra Nostra
Carlos Fuentes
Mexico
Novel
 
Ragtime
E.L. Doctorow
United States
Novel
1975–2011
The Bolitho Novels
Alexander Kent
England
Novel series
1976
Roots
Alex Haley
United States
Novel
1977–1994
Cadfael Chronicles
Ellis Peters
England
Novel series
1980
The Name of the Rose
Umberto Eco
Italy
Novel
 
The Clan of the Cave Bear
Jean M. Auel
United States
Novel
1980–1989
To the Ends of the Earth
William Golding
England
Novel series
1981
Midnight's Children
Salman Rushdie
India
Novel
 
The War of the End of the World
Mario Vargas Llosa
Peru
Novel
1982
Schindler's List
Thomas Keneally
Australia
Novel
 
The House of the Spirits
Isabel Allende
Chile
Novel
 
An Ice-Cream War
William Boyd
Scotland
Novel
 
The Color Purple
Alice Walker
United States
Novel
1983
Ancient Evenings
Norman Mailer
United States
Novel
1984
The Evil Coming North
Fulvio Tomizza
Italy
Novel
1985
The Black Robe
Brian Moore
Canada
Novel
1985
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Patrick Suskind
Germany
Novel
 
The Old Gringo
Carlos Fuentes
Mexico
Novel
 
Lonesome Dove
Larry McMurtry
United States
Novel
1987
In the Skin of a Lion
Michael Ondaatje
Canada
Novel
 
News From the Empire
Fernando del Paso
Mexico
Novel
 
Beloved
Toni Morrison
United States
Novel
1988
Oscar and Lucinda
Peter Carey
Australia
Novel
1989
The Pillars of the Earth
Ken Follett
England
Novel
 
The Remains of the Day
Kazuo Ishiguro
England
Novel
1990
The Silent Duchess
Dacia Maraini
Italy
Novel
 
The Chimera
Sebastiano Vassalli
Italy
Novel
1991–1995
Pat Barker
England
Novel series
1991–
Outlander
Diana Gabaldon
United States
Novel series
1992
The English Patient
Michael Ondaatje
Canada
Novel
1993
A Dead Man in Deptford
Anthony Burgess
England
Novel
 
Birdsong
Sebastian Faulks
England
Novel
1995
The Blue Flower
Penelope Fitzgerald
England
Novel
 
The Preston Brewer
Andrea Camilleri
Italy
Novel
1996
Alias Grace
Margaret Atwood
Canada
Novel
1997
The God of Small Things
Arundhati Roy
India
Novel
 
Cold Mountain
Charles Frazier
United States
Novel
 
The Memoirs of Cleopatra
Margaret George
United States
Novel
 
Memoirs of a Geisha
Arthur Golden
United States
Novel
 
Mason and Dixon
Thomas Pynchon
United States
Novel
 
The Red Tent
Anita Diamant
United States
Novel
1998
Colony of Unrequited Dreams
Wayne Johnston
Canada
Novel
 
The Poisonwood Bible
Barbara Kingsolver
United States
Novel
 
My Name Is Red
Orhan Pamuk
Turkey
Novel
1999
Girl With a Pearl Earring
Tracy Chevalier
England
Novel
 
Years With Laura Diaz
Carlos Fuentes
Mexico
Novel
2000
The Blind Assassin
Margaret Atwood
Canada
Novel
2001
Ian McEwan
England
Novel
 
The Other Boleyn Girl
Philippa Gregory
England
Novel
2002
The Last Crossing
Guy Vanderhaege
Canada
Novel
 
The Last Legion
Valerio Manfredi
Italy
Novel
 
Mary, called Magdaline
Margaret George
United States
Novel
 
Twentieth Wife
Indu Sundaresan
United States
Novel
 
Fingersmith
Sarah Waters
Wales
Novel
2003
Property
Valerie Martin
United States
Novel
2003–2004
The Baroque Cycle
Neal Stephenson
United States
Novel series
2003–2013
Emperor
Conn Iggulden
England
Novel series
2004
The Plot Against America
Philip Roth
United States
Novel
2005
March
Geraldine Brooks
Australia
Novel
 
The Book Thief
Markus Zusak
Australia
Novel
 
Three Day Road
Joseph Boyden
Canada
Novel
 
A Long Long Way
Sebastian Barry
Ireland
Novel
 
The March
E.L. Doctorow
United States
Novel
 
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Lisa See
United States
Novel
 
The Historian
Elizabeth Kostova
United States
Novel
2006
Inés of My Soul
Isabel Allende
Chile
Novel
 
Measuring the World
Daniel Kehlmann
Germany
Novel
 
Half of a Yellow Sun
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Nigeria
Novel
 
The Night Watch
Sarah Waters
Wales
Novel
2006–2015
Cicero Trilogy
Robert Harris
England
Novel
2007
The Book of Negroes
Lawrence Hill
Canada
Novel
 
A Thousand Splendid Suns
Khaled Hosseini
United States
Novel
 
The Castle in the Forest
Norman Mailer
United States
Novel
2007–2011
Conqueror
Conn Iggulden
England
Novel series
2007–2017
The Adventures of Hector Lynch
Tim Severin
England
Novel series
2008
Bring Up the Bodies
Hilary Mantel
United States
Novel
2009
The Lacuna
Barbara Kingsolver
United States
Novel
 
Wolf Hall
Hilary Mantel
United States
Novel
 
Brooklyn
Colm Tóibín
Ireland
Novel
2010
The Lonbg Song
Andrea Levyl
England
Novel
2011
The Sisters Brothers
Patrick deWitt
Canada
Novel
 
Half-Blood Blues
Esi Edugyan
Canada
Novel
 
The Buddha in the Attic
Julie Otsuka
United States
Novel
2012
Arthur & George
Julian Barnes
England
Novel
 
Twelve Rooms
Enid Shomer
United States
Novel
2013
The Orenda
Joseph Boyden
Canada
Novel
 
The Luminaries
Eleanor Catton
New Zealand
Novel
2014
The Books of Jacob
Olga Tokarczuk
Poland
Novel
 
All the Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr
United States
Novel
2015
The Nightingale
Kristin Hannah
United States
Novel
2016
Days Without End
Sebastian Barry
Ireland
Novel
 
The Underground Railroad
Colson Whitehead
United States
Novel
2017
Pachinko
Min Jin Lee
United States
Novel