Top 20 U.S. Historical Fiction Books

“We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”

These words were spoken by the great Martin Luther King Jr., a man who, himself, was a great influence in how history has molded rights, liberties, and societies. The United States of America is a region of the world with a rich and chronicled history. The country, known as one of the world’s powers, has certainly had its fair share of triumphs and tragedies both today and in the times of yore.

From the Mayan Calendar to the discovery of the New Found Land, the American Revolution, the Civil War, the World Wars, and many more monumental and notable junctures in the world’s long history, the United States has surely had an abundance of stories to tell.

It is this affluence in exceptional chronicles that has attracted and inspired authors to write fiction work of their own, basing many of their stories’ milieus upon true and real events in history. These stories use the whims of fiction to portray the conditions and circumstances of the historical events they choose to retell.

Through 20 different historical fiction books about the United States listed below, relive the strife, the drama, and the adventure of days a bygone era as award-winning and highly acclaimed writers recreate the history that shaped the world today through the power of fiction.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Set right at the very heart of the Jazz Age, The Great Gatsby is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tour de force. Capturing the intoxicating allure and sin of its milieu, the novel explores the tale of the bewitching and wealthy Jay Gatsby.

A love story directed towards the enchanting dame, Daisy Buchanan, the story is an exploration traversing the glitz and the glamour of the lavish Long Island parties in an era where The New York Times declared that “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsessions.”

This seductively written account of America in the 1920s is Fitzgerald’s supreme achievement, loved by millions as a classic and brilliantly re-envisioned as a movie that starred talents in the rarified leagues of Leonardo DiCaprio.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird is a book that deals with sensitive issues that, in times less forgiving, haven’t given much attention. The novelty in this masterpiece lies in its ability to tackle serious societal concerns like rape and racial inequality while still emanating narratives that exude warmth and humor.

The novel also produced an icon of morality and an exemplar of integrity for lawyers through the development of the persona of Atticus Finch, the narrator’s father. Historians have also noted that this masterwork in American literature has served a positive impact in broadening the education on race and society in the country.

Historian Joseph Crespino explains, “In the twentieth century, To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the most widely read book dealing with race in America, and its main character, Atticus Finch, the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism.”

The main themes of this Harper Lee masterpiece are racial injustice and the ravaging of innocents. Academics have also pointed out that through Lee’s literary eloquence, the author was also able to include notable commentaries on class, courage, compassion, and gender roles in the midst of the prevalence of the Deep South.

This book is widely used in the US to educate its population about tolerance and prejudice. In 2006, British librarians put the book ahead of the Bible as one of the literary pieces that “every adult should read before they die”.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

The legacy of the March Sisters has endured the test of time as generations of readers both young and old, man or woman, have laughed, cried, and fallen in love with their spirit and love. Louisa May Alcott’s obra maestra, Little Women, has ingeniously crafted a timeless take that gave life to beautifully written characters Jo, the tomboy and aspiring writer; the unfortunately frail Beth; the charming and enchanting Meg, and the romantic yet somewhat spoiled Amy.

Their devotion to each other and their family despite their differences is an inspiration to many, especially after their fates put them into the tragic circumstances of having to navigate through the Civil War-afflicted streets of New England.

Roughly based upon the life of Louisa May Alcott herself, there are a number of parallelisms in the novel and the author’s life story that produced ageless and undying narratives that portray issues in class, love and death, war and peace, and the cultural diversity that exist between Europe and America.

A victim of gender roles and misogyny herself, Little Women accurately portrayed women’s hardships in a harsher era that took so much from a people equally capable as men. Alcott, herself, was merely asked to write a “woman’s book” but created something more – a masterpiece that would last for ages.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

In the aftermath of the American Civil War, hardships ensued. Margaret Mitchell takes her readers back in time to witness the hardships of the American Civil War and the Reconstruction Era that followed through the eyes of the young Scarlette O’Hara. Once wealthy and spoiled as the daughter of an affluent plantation era, Scarlett now lives in scarcity. The coming-of-age story masterfully penned by Margaret Mitchell is set in Clayton County and Atlant, both situated in the state of Georgia. The novel portrays how the once-wealthy protagonist struggles through hardships and how she musters every means necessary to make ends meet and improve her living condition.

11/22/63 by Stephen King

This literary classic takes its readers right into the panic in Dallas as President Kennedy is assassinated on November 22, 1963. Written by the legendary Stephen King, the maestro recreates the circumstances that changed the course of the country’s history and sends his readers in a heart-stopping attempt of trying to alter the course of time.

Sending a man back in time in a mission to prevent the infamous JFK assassination, King sets the stage for his readers and allows them to relive real-life events in the past – a moment in time when everything that could go wrong, went wrong.

The Killer Angels (The Civil War Trilogy #2) by Michael Shaara

Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer-prize winning gem of a novel, The Killer Angels is set on the battlefield of the four bloodiest and bravest days of American history. In the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War, two armies go to war for two very different visions for the USA. One side fought for their way of life and the other fought for liberty.

With more than just bullets and rifles carried over to the field of war, the novel tells the story of the discord, the politics, the memories, the promises, and the love that boiled over in the battles in Pennsylvania. It depicts that monumental Battle of Gettysburg and the days leading up to it in an indelible and haunting recreation of the fight for America’s fate.

Lincoln (Narratives of Empire #2) by Gore Vidal

In Gore Vidal’s emblazoned novel, Lincoln, the second installment to the ‘Narratives of Empire,’ he adeptly chisels upon the seemingly monolithic perception that Americans swathed the great Abraham Lincoln.

Through a superbly-conceived and adeptly-implemented resurrection of the Great Emancipator and Savior of the Union, the novel chronicles the humane Abraham Lincoln – the man, the political animal, the statesman who took a seat in an embattled capital. It showed how a simple and determined man from Illinois navigated a people who favored the South and even those who supported the Union were in doubt of Lincoln’s capability of saving the state from its spiraling into chaos.

Poles apart from the perfect symbol Americans know today, Vidal introduces a Lincoln agonizing over any beacon of hope, his abhorrence of slavery shaken. The novel shares the rarely told story of the president’s path towards his greatest decision, pounded by a Civil War laying waste to a country in pain, grave personal tumult, the unprecedented loss of a beloved child, and the volatility of a wife perceived as a traitor for Southern relations – a humanization of the myth and the legend, Abraham Lincoln.

Lonesome Dove (Lonesome Dove #1) by Larry McMurtry

Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning literary masterwork, is a love story, a tale of adventure, and an accurate portrayal of the American frontier. Lonesome Dave is among the highest-rated historical fiction books in Good Reads. It is regarded as the most celebrated novel ever written about the last defiant wilderness of the United States. 

America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray

Stephanie Dray and Laurie Kamoie, through this award-winning historical fiction novel, recounts the life of Martha “Patsy” Jefferson, Founding Father Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter. Researched from rich chronicles, countless historic letters, and original sources, Dray and Kamoie pens an enthralling account of Thomas Jefferson’s life’s work through the eyes of his daughter. Regarded as the most mystifying founding founders in history, Patsy honored her father’s trust as she kept every secret revealed to her by her the American legend, be it by design or otherwise.

Loyal to the Jefferson lineage, Patsy takes on the mantel of being Thomas’ helpmate, protector, and constant companion, venturing with him even when he became American minister to France and through the wake of her mother’s death. Even at a young age, Patsy knew how intensely her father cared for their family, but it is through her adventures with him that she comes to realize that his love for the country overrules every priority still.

Blindspot by Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore

This historical fiction masterpiece was written by actual historians. Award-winning scholars Jill Lapore and Jane Kamensky channeled their passions for history and the chronicles of the American Revolution into writing their novel, Blindspot. The story revolves around the embattled lives of two people in revolutionary-era Boston.

Attempting to run from his debtors amidst the tumult of the American Revolution, protagonist Stewart Jameson, a portrait painter from Scotland, found himself in the chilling streets of Boston. He meets Fanny Easton, a woman once among Boston’s elite fallen from grace, now disguising herself as a boy after he advertised for an apprentice. Together, the duo find themselves solving a murder of an abolitionist as the revolution pours into the streets of Boston.

Burr by Gore Vidal

Many know and recognize the name Aarron Burr as the treasonous Founding Father who bested Alexander Hamilton in a duel, taking his life with a pistol in the award-winning musical, Hamilton. But in his own retelling, acclaimed American novelist, Fore Vidal, perceptive expertise and guile take center stage as he reimagines Aaron Burr in the setting of early-republican era America. This historical fiction novel dedicated to the book’s namesake provides insights into the Founding Fathers’ political and personal dynamics, accompanied by a commentary of the machination and mechanisms that fuel society.

The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron

Through William Styron’s retelling of Nat Turner’s unforgettable Slave Revolt of 1831, the African-American communities in various parts of the country were empowered to share their interest in learning more about slave narratives.

The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1967 for its impact in spreading awareness about important social struggles and racial equality. While critics lauded the book for its insightful storyline that depicts the story of slavery in America, Styron’s masterpiece was still met with its share of backlash. Several writers published “corrective” material to what they believe was Styron’s twist that seemed appropriate to the story of Nat Turner and slavery. Despite such circumstances, however, the African-American communities expressed their support for Styron. Prominent African-Americans like James Baldwin and Henry Louis Gate Jr. have high praise for the author.

The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove

Harry Turtledove takes his readers to an alternative universe to explore one question: what would have happened if the Confederacy had won the American Civil War?

Through this novel, this award-winning author, best known for historical fiction, presents a twisted conflict that revolves around the curious natures of alternative history and time travel

On the field against the Union, White Supremacist South African General Rober E. Lee graces the field with AK-47s to turn the tide. When the confederacy claims its victory, the United States breaks into two separate nations. Conflicts, however, arise in time as Lee himself is convinced of the necessity to abolish slavery, culminating in hostility with his former allies from South Africa.

March by Geraldine Brooks

Those wise enough to have read Louisa May Alcott’s famous classic, Little Women, will recognize the story and legacy of the March girls who lived in New England during the height of the Civil War Era. Through their exploits, often forgotten is their father. Who is that March girls’ father?

Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, March, by Geraldine Brooks follows the life of the famous family, focusing on its patriarch, March, who was an abolitionist and chaplain forced to leave his beloved family to engage in a war that will test his principles and faith in both the Union and himself.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

The LA Times summarized this novel that centers around the high-octane exhilaration of the Gold Rush era as the result of “if Cormac McCarthy had a sense of humor.” The Sister Brothers presents its readers with a satirical experience of the Gold Rush milieu and the United States’ Wild West era.

The novel follows the journey of two brothers, Charlie and Eli Sisters as they trek from Oregon to California to assassinate Hermann Kermit Warm – the man who holds the formula that helps gold diggers find motherlodes with ease. The story takes a turn for the cryptic and crazy, however, when the formula releases unanticipated effects onto those who utilize it.

Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

EL Doctorow’s magnum opus fully captures the essence of the Ragtime Era by telling the story of a wealthy Upper Middle-Class white family at the turn of the 20th century living on the outskirts of New York City. Regarded as a “pastiche” of Americana, the novel maps out the paths for each of the members of the family and reinvents famous personalities like Emma Goldman, Henry Ford, JP Morgan, ragtime musician Coalhouse Walker Jr. and everyday Americans as well.

A “pastiche” of Americana, the novel charts multiple paths for the family and reimagines famous figures such as Henry Ford, anarchist Emma Goldman, J.P. Morgan, and ordinary Americans like ragtime musician Coalhouse Walker Jr.

Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon

Before Netflix released the award-winning series on their video streaming services, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon was, first, a decorated and best-selling historical fiction novel published in 1991.

The first of a series consisting of nine books, the last chapter released just this 2021, the story follows the beleaguered ventures of protagonist Claire Randall. As a WWII-era nurse, Claire struggles to hold the fort in caring for the wounded when she was suddenly taken back into time, landing in 18th Century Scotland.

Through her ventures, she finds her way into North Carolina in the 1760s, where she navigates through the impending American Revolution. As she endeavors to stay alive, she slowly comes to realize that history was far different and complex than what she was taught in the 20th century.

When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka

The story is set in 1942, just a few months after the December 1941 Pearl Harbor attack. Executive Order 9066 is under full implementation under the orders of President Roosevelt. The result – 110,000 Japanese-American men, women, and children in internment camps.

Julie Otsuka’s award-winning novel conveys the internment experience from the perspective of an anonymous family. It tells of the experience of a mother, daughter, and son, as the voyage from their residence in Berkeley to what was called an assemble center in San Francisco, to an internment camp in Topaz, Utah while also shedding some light on the father’s internment in a camp in New Mexico for who were deemed to be dangerous enemy aliens.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)

This Pulitzer prize-winning masterpiece takes place in the peculiar settings of 1960 and 1972. Through its narratives, Jeffrey Eugenides reimagines the American epic that follows the birth and re-birth of Calliope, the child born twice, and the Greek-American Stephanides family.

Set in two different periods decades apart, Calliope was born twice; once as a girl in 1960 Detriot, and again in Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. Through her endeavors, she is set on an exploration of the cryptic, as she attempts to uncover a family secret shrouded by veils of mystery and conspiracy that has traveled with the family from Greece, Prohibition-era Detriot, and the notorious race riots of 1967.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

This novel, included in the prestigious Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection, follows the story of urban slave Hetty “Handful” Grimke in early 19th century Charleston. Written at the prime of her writing and imaginative capabilities, Sue Monk Kidd shares Hetty’s passionate thirst for a life outside the stifling walls of the Grimke manor with her readers. Meanwhile, the Grimke daughter, Sarah, has always realized that there is more to the world than what is in front of her. However, her dreams are perpetually suffocated by the walls society has imposed upon women.

Kidd presents a literary gem that espouses values of women empowerment, hope, courage, and struggle for liberty – the unquenchable longing for a voice in the world.

Through historical fiction, people are given the unique entryway into learning about days that have passed. And the United States, with its rich history, is definitely among the best regions to explore, having a destiny intertwined with many other parts of the world.

Historical fiction, and the creative authors that make the genre exceptional, now present themselves as viable alternatives in learning about the world’s histories, mysteries, and lessons in an entertaining and engaging way.

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