The Greatest "Fiction, Historical fiction" Books Since 1980

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 264 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed books. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details can be found on the rankings page.

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Fiction

Historical fiction

Historical fiction is a genre of literature that combines fictional stories with real historical events, settings, and characters. These books often take place in a specific time period and are based on research and factual information, but also include imaginative elements to create a compelling narrative. Historical fiction allows readers to experience the past in a unique and engaging way, while also providing insight into the social, cultural, and political issues of the time.

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  1. 1. Beloved by Toni Morrison

    This novel tells the story of a former African-American slave woman who, after escaping to Ohio, is haunted by the ghost of her deceased daughter. The protagonist is forced to confront her repressed memories and the horrific realities of her past, including the desperate act she committed to protect her children from a life of slavery. The narrative is a poignant exploration of the physical, emotional, and psychological scars inflicted by the institution of slavery, and the struggle for identity and self-acceptance in its aftermath.

  2. 2. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

    The novel tells the story of Saleem Sinai, who was born at the exact moment when India gained its independence. As a result, he shares a mystical connection with other children born at the same time, all of whom possess unique, magical abilities. As Saleem grows up, his life mirrors the political and cultural changes happening in his country, from the partition of India and Pakistan, to the Bangladesh War of Independence. The story is a blend of historical fiction and magical realism, exploring themes of identity, fate, and the power of storytelling.

  3. 3. Atonement by Ian McEwan

    Atonement is a powerful novel that explores the consequences of a young girl's false accusation. The narrative follows the lives of three characters, the accuser, her older sister, and the sister's lover, who is wrongly accused. This false accusation irrevocably alters their lives, leading to the accused's imprisonment and eventual enlistment in World War II, while the sisters grapple with guilt, estrangement, and their own personal growth. The novel is a profound exploration of guilt, forgiveness, and the destructive power of misinterpretation.

  4. 4. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

    Set in a wealthy Italian monastery in the 14th century, the novel follows a Franciscan friar and his young apprentice as they investigate a series of mysterious deaths within the monastery. As they navigate the labyrinthine library and decipher cryptic manuscripts, they uncover a complex plot involving forbidden books, secret societies, and the Inquisition. The novel is a blend of historical fiction, mystery, and philosophical exploration, delving into themes of truth, knowledge, and the power of the written word.

  5. 5. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

    Set in the mid-19th century, this novel follows a violent teenager known as "the Kid" as he joins a group of Indian-hunters led by the enigmatic and brutal Judge Holden. The narrative is a gruesome depiction of the lawless American West, filled with philosophical musings, vivid descriptions of the harsh landscape, and brutal, relentless violence. The story explores themes of human nature, morality, and the inherent chaos and brutality of life.

  6. 6. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

    The book follows the lives of two Jewish cousins, one a skilled escape artist and the other a talented artist, before, during, and after World War II. They create a popular comic book superhero, which brings them fame and fortune. However, their success is complicated by personal struggles, including the escape artist's attempts to rescue his family from Nazi-occupied Prague and the artist's struggle with his sexuality. The narrative explores themes of escapism, identity, and the golden age of comic books.

  7. 7. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

    The novel is a poignant tale of an English butler, Stevens, who reflects on his life and career during a road trip through the English countryside. As he delves into his past, he reveals his unquestioning loyalty to his former employer, Lord Darlington, and his unexpressed love for the housekeeper, Miss Kenton. The narrative explores themes of dignity, duty, and regret, as Stevens comes to terms with his unquestioning devotion to his employer and the missed opportunities in his personal life.

  8. 8. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

    "The House of the Spirits" is a multi-generational saga that explores the lives of the Trueba family, set against the backdrop of political upheaval in an unnamed Latin American country. The narrative is driven by the family's strong and magical women, including clairvoyant Clara and her granddaughter Alba. The story spans over three generations, weaving together personal, social, and political threads, and is rich in elements of magical realism. The novel explores themes of love, violence, social class, and the struggle for power.

  9. 9. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

    Set in 1950s India, this epic novel follows the story of four families over a period of 18 months, focusing primarily on the young woman Lata and her mother's quest to find her a suitable husband. The narrative explores the political, social, and personal upheavals in a newly independent India, struggling with its own identity amidst the backdrop of a society grappling with religious tensions, land reforms, and the shaping of a modern democratic state. Lata's journey is an exploration of love, ambition, and the weight of familial duty.

  10. 10. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

    This novel explores the complex relationships between four Chinese-American mothers and their American-born daughters. The narrative switches between the perspectives of the eight women, revealing their pasts, their struggles with cultural identity, and the misunderstandings that have grown between the generations. The mothers, who all experienced hardship in their native China, want their daughters to have better lives and thus push them to excel in America. The daughters, in turn, struggle to reconcile their American surroundings with their Chinese heritage.

  11. 11. Possession by A. S. Byatt

    "Possession" is a novel that interweaves two storylines, one set in contemporary times and the other in the Victorian era. The contemporary plot follows two academics who uncover a secret love affair between two 19th-century poets, while the Victorian storyline presents the clandestine romance itself. As the modern scholars delve deeper into the past, they find themselves falling in love as well, mirroring the historical romance they are researching. The book explores themes of love, passion, and the power of the written word.

  12. 12. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

    Set in Nazi Germany during World War II, the novel follows the story of a young girl who finds solace in stealing books and sharing them with others. In the midst of the horrors of war, she forms a bond with a Jewish man her foster parents are hiding in their basement. The story is narrated by Death, offering a unique perspective on the atrocities and small acts of kindness during this period. The girl's love for books becomes a metaphor for resistance against the oppressive regime.

  13. 13. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

    This novel is a unique blend of six different stories, each set in a different time and place, spanning from the 19th century South Pacific to a post-apocalyptic future. Each tale is written in a different style, reflecting the time and setting it represents, and they are all connected through shared themes and recurring motifs. The stories are nested within each other, with each interrupted by the next, only to be concluded in the second half of the book. The novel explores themes of predacity, civilization, reincarnation and the eternal recurrence of the same behaviors throughout history.

  14. 14. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

    The novel is a historical fiction set in the 1500s, during the reign of King Henry VIII. The story is told from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, a man of humble beginnings who rises to become the King's chief minister. The narrative explores the political and religious upheavals of the time, including King Henry's break with the Catholic Church and his controversial marriage to Anne Boleyn. The protagonist's cunning, ambition, and survival instincts are central to the plot as he navigates the treacherous waters of the Tudor court.

  15. 15. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

    The Poisonwood Bible is a novel that follows the experiences of a missionary family in the Belgian Congo during the 1960s. The story is told from the perspective of the wife and four daughters of the Baptist minister who drags his family into the politically volatile Congo on a mission to save souls. The novel explores themes of cultural arrogance, religious zeal, and the clash of Western and African values, as well as the personal growth and self-discovery of the women in the family as they grapple with the harsh realities of their new life and the fallout from their father's single-minded vision.

  16. 16. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

    "A Fine Balance" is a poignant narrative set in India during the 1970s, a time of political turmoil and upheaval. The plot revolves around four diverse characters - a widow, a young student, and two tailors - who are brought together by fate. Through their interconnected lives, the book explores themes of caste, poverty, political corruption, and the human spirit's resilience. It offers a profound exploration of the delicate balance that sustains life amidst adversity.

  17. 17. Regeneration by Pat Barker

    "Regeneration" is a historical and anti-war novel set in a mental hospital during World War I. The narrative focuses on the experiences and interactions of a psychiatrist and his patients, most of whom are soldiers suffering from severe shell shock. The novel explores themes of masculinity, identity, and the psychological effects of war, while also critiquing the societal pressures and expectations that led many men to enlist and subsequently suffer from mental trauma.

  18. 18. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    The novel is set in Nigeria during the Biafran War, exploring the impact of the conflict on the lives of its characters. The story is told from the perspective of three characters: a young houseboy, a radical university professor, and the professor's wealthy lover. The narrative delves into themes of love, race, and war, offering a vivid depiction of the horrors of conflict and the resilience of the human spirit.

  19. 19. So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell

    The novel revolves around a young boy in Illinois who befriends a new classmate, Cletus, whose father has been murdered. The protagonist becomes obsessed with the murder, imagining the events leading up to the tragedy from the perspectives of the involved parties. The novel explores themes of memory, guilt, and the impact of trauma on childhood friendships.

  20. 20. The Known World by Edward P. Jones

    "The Known World" is a historical novel set in antebellum Virginia, exploring the complex relationships between slaves, free blacks, and whites. The story revolves around a black man who becomes a slave owner, his wife, and their slaves. It provides a unique perspective on the moral complexities and personal consequences of slavery, while also examining the intricate social hierarchy of the time. The narrative is filled with richly drawn characters, each with their own stories and struggles, offering a vivid portrayal of a little-known aspect of American history.

  21. 21. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

    "Birdsong" is a historical novel that explores the horrors of World War I through the eyes of Stephen Wraysford, a young Englishman. The narrative alternates between Stephen's passionate love affair with a married woman in pre-war France and his experiences in the trenches of the Western Front. The novel also includes a subplot set in the 1970s, where Stephen's granddaughter tries to unravel the mystery of her grandfather's past. The book is a poignant exploration of love, war, and the endurance of the human spirit.

  22. 22. The Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett

    Set in the 12th century, the novel is a sweeping epic of good and evil, treachery and intrigue, violence and beauty. It revolves around the construction of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England. The story is centered on the lives of three main characters: a master builder, a monk, and a noblewoman, whose destinies are intertwined with the building of the cathedral and the tumultuous events of the time, including war, religious strife, and power struggles.

  23. 23. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

    The book tells the story of two retired Texas Rangers who embark on a perilous cattle drive from Texas to Montana in the 1870s. The narrative focuses on the duo's adventures and the characters they meet along the way, including a variety of outlaws, Indians, and settlers. This epic tale of the Old West explores themes of friendship, unrequited love, and the harsh realities of frontier life.

  24. 24. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

    This novel is a powerful story set against the backdrop of tumultuous events in Afghanistan, from the fall of the monarchy through the Soviet invasion and the rise of the Taliban regime. It follows the life of a wealthy boy and his best friend, a servant's son, their shared love for kite flying, and a terrible incident that tears their lives apart. The narrative explores themes of guilt, betrayal and redemption as the protagonist, now an adult living in America, is called back to his war-torn homeland to right the wrongs of his past.

  25. 25. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

    "Cold Mountain" is a novel set during the American Civil War, following a wounded Confederate soldier who deserts the army to make a perilous journey back home to his beloved. The narrative alternates between his arduous trek and the struggles of the woman he left behind as she tries to maintain their North Carolina homestead. The novel explores themes of love, survival, and the destructive impact of war on the human spirit.

Reading Statistics

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If you're interested in downloading this list as a CSV file for use in a spreadsheet application, you can easily do so by clicking the button below. Please note that to ensure a manageable file size and faster download, the CSV will include details for only the first 500 books.

Download