The Greatest "Historical fiction, Survival" Books of All Time

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 313 '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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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.


The "Survival" genre in literature encompasses a broad range of books that focus on the theme of survival against the odds. These narratives often follow individuals or groups as they confront extreme conditions, hostile environments, or life-threatening situations that test their resilience, resourcefulness, and will to live. Whether it's the story of a castaway on a deserted island, a protagonist enduring a post-apocalyptic world, the harrowing tale of a mountaineer trapped by an unexpected storm, or the true account of a person surviving a natural disaster, survival books plunge readers into intense scenarios where the stakes are life and death. This genre not only provides thrilling and suspenseful entertainment but also explores the human spirit's capacity for endurance, the psychological effects of isolation and danger, and the complex moral decisions one must make when pushed to the limits of human experience.

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  1. 1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

    Set during the turmoil of World War II, the novel follows the intersecting lives of a blind French girl and a German boy. The girl, living in occupied France, seeks solace in the world of books and the imagination, while the boy, a member of Hitler Youth, is a radio operator for the German forces. Their paths cross in the walled city of Saint-Malo, with the narrative exploring themes of survival, morality, and the human spirit.

    The 1954th Greatest Book of All Time
  2. 2. King Rat by James Clavell

    Set in a Japanese POW camp during World War II, the narrative revolves around the lives of Western prisoners who struggle to survive under harsh conditions. The story focuses on an American corporal, known for his savvy trading and black market dealings within the camp, earning him the nickname "King Rat." His entrepreneurial spirit and cunning allow him to rise above the desperate circumstances, but his actions and morality are called into question as he forms complex relationships with fellow prisoners. The book explores themes of survival, power dynamics, and the moral ambiguities of life in captivity, as alliances are formed and tested in the face of adversity and the fight to stay alive.

    The 3782nd Greatest Book of All Time
  3. 3. The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy

    "The Crossing" is a novel set in the late 1930s and early 1940s that follows a young man named Billy Parham and his brother Boyd. The story primarily revolves around their adventures in the United States and Mexico, including their encounters with a wolf, horse traders, and a Mexican outlaw. The narrative explores themes of loss, survival, and the harsh realities of life, set against the backdrop of the American West and the Mexican wilderness.

    The 4113th Greatest Book of All Time
  4. 4. I Am Fifteen--and I Don't Want To Die by Arnothy Christine

    The book is a poignant memoir of a young girl's harrowing experiences during World War II. At the age of fifteen, she finds herself caught in the siege of Budapest, facing the horrors of war firsthand. With a blend of youthful innocence and a will to survive, she navigates the dangers of bombings, starvation, and the threat of death. Her narrative captures the resilience of the human spirit in the face of destruction, as she clings to life and the hope for a future beyond the devastation of conflict.

    The 4248th Greatest Book of All Time
  5. 5. The Terror by Dan Simmons

    "The Terror" is a historical fiction and horror novel that follows the ill-fated Franklin Expedition. The crew of two British Royal Navy ships are trapped in the Arctic ice, where they face not only the harsh environmental conditions but also a mysterious and brutal monster that stalks them in the endless night. The novel combines historical and survival themes with supernatural horror, creating a chilling and suspenseful atmosphere.

    The 4624th Greatest Book of All Time
  6. 6. The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall

    This novel is set during World War II and follows a group of young friends in a British town who discover a crashed German aircraft. Inside, they find a machine gun, which they take as a trophy and set up in a hidden fortress. As they gather more weapons, their fortress becomes a place of refuge and resistance. The story explores themes of friendship, the innocence of youth amidst the horrors of war, and the moral dilemmas faced by the characters as they navigate their own private war. Through their adventures, the novel delves into the impact of conflict on children and the blurred lines between play and reality in wartime.

    The 4641st Greatest Book of All Time
  7. 7. Quarantine by Jim Crace

    Set in the Judean desert, the book tells the story of a group of individuals who have chosen to quarantine themselves for forty days in order to find spiritual growth and healing. Among them is a young man who believes he is the son of God. As they battle the harsh conditions, their physical and psychological limits are tested, leading to a climactic and tragic end. The novel offers a unique interpretation of the biblical story of Jesus's forty-day fast in the wilderness.

    The 4704th Greatest Book of All Time
  8. 8. Follow the River by James Alexander Thom

    "Follow the River" is a historical novel based on the true story of Mary Ingles, a woman who was captured by Shawnee Indians in 1755 during the French and Indian War. After being taken to Ohio, Mary, who was pregnant at the time of her capture, gives birth and is subsequently separated from her baby. Despite the harrowing circumstances, she manages to escape with another woman. The narrative follows her perilous 1,000-mile journey through the wilderness, back to her home in Virginia, showcasing her resilience, courage, and unwavering determination.

    The 6782nd Greatest Book of All Time
  9. 9. The Siege by Helen Dunmore

    "The Siege" is a historical fiction novel set during the Siege of Leningrad in World War II. The story revolves around the Levin family and their struggle to survive the harsh winter and the brutal blockade imposed by the German army. The narrative explores the themes of love, hope, and endurance in the face of adversity, providing a poignant depiction of the human spirit's resilience during one of the most tragic periods in history.

    The 7414th Greatest Book of All Time
  10. 10. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

    Set during World War II, this heartwarming novel tells the story of Ada, a young girl with a clubfoot who has been locked away and mistreated by her mother her entire life. When London is evacuated, Ada and her younger brother Jamie are sent to the countryside, where they find refuge with Susan, a woman who reluctantly takes them in. As Ada learns to trust and love for the first time, she discovers her own strength and resilience, ultimately finding freedom and a sense of belonging in the midst of war.

    The 9902nd Greatest Book of All Time

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.