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Old 04-18-2011, 08:09 PM   #1
Discipline
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Historical fiction

ITT we discuss historical fiction. I recently discovered James Michener and I do believe I'll be reading everything he's ever written. Almost done with Caribbean at the moment.

Some suggested questions/talking points:

What's your take on historical fiction in general?

What's your take on using historical fiction as a learning tool?

Who are your favorite books/authors and why?
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Old 04-18-2011, 08:14 PM   #2
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Re: Historical fiction

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What's your take on using historical fiction as a learning tool?
I don't find I learn much directly from the material. Its when they drop in cool tid bits, like mentioning some politician or something, and I end up going on a research binge.
I really don't trust anything in historical fiction as being facutally correct till i look it up; but when its well written it really stokes an interest
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Old 04-18-2011, 11:26 PM   #3
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Re: Historical fiction

michener is good , another writer with a similar style imo, is James Clavelle.. who also writes stuff that is borderline on historical fiction. His books at least give you a (fictional) insight into other cultures, ranging from fuedal japan to modern day hong kong.

First of all, read his book King Rat, it is amazing , Clavelle was actually a POW in WWII that was put in a camp in Singapore, and King Rat is his account of the time in camp, told in a fictional novel. One of my favorite books all time.

his book Shogun is also fantastic.. although it can be a little soap-opera-esq (so can michener, imo) he spins enormous webs of characters all with their own motivations and they all inter relate .. this is another of his best. This book is all about a sailor who shipwrecks onto fuedal japan, there is a ton of japanese culture imbibed within. It also has quite a bit of sailing terminology and I found myself googling a lot of words.

Tai Pan is another thick novle of his , further in the future, probably early 1800's and it is about the establishment of Hong Kong as a port for trading.. and is heavily tied to the real history of hong kong, and the silver/opium/tea trade. Not his best but still entertaining if you read shogun.

The coolest thing about clavelle is his asian series all relate to each other and if you read them in order , you are following the stories of several families , companies, etc, over the period of hundreds of years... when you get tto the last book , you know whos great grand daddy killed who, etc..
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Old 04-18-2011, 11:27 PM   #4
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Re: Historical fiction

my take on it as a learning tool... well, it wouldnt fly as a textbook in history class, but books like clavelles, give me an insight into a world i would previously have zero knowledge of .. so even if it is only 50% correct, thats 50% more than i knew before.
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Old 04-19-2011, 07:36 AM   #5
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Re: Historical fiction

Bernard Cornwell is a very good start for historical fiction

Obviously if people don't like his narrative style then they're not going to like his books, but he's absolutely faultless about research. Even more importantly, at the end of the 'story' he gives an explanation about his research and tells you a few tid bits of extra info that weren't included in the main narrative and he explains where he 'fudged' the facts to fit the story.
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Old 04-20-2011, 07:33 PM   #6
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Re: Historical fiction

They give you pegs upon which to hang hats.
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Old 04-20-2011, 08:25 PM   #7
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Re: Historical fiction

This will sound strange but i got the best insight into what it was "really" like to live in the Middle Ages from G. R. R. Martin's fantasy series Song of Ice and Fire. There's very little actual fantasy in there (like Orcs or magic), at least in the first books, but it paints a way more savage, gritty and with that an imo more realistic picture of the life back then than for example Ken Follett's stuff.
You can also clearly see that the factions in the books are modelled after real nations with for example Mongol-type horsemen, knights and free cities similar to the ones in medieval/renaissance Italy.
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Old 07-23-2011, 09:38 AM   #8
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Re: Historical fiction

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Originally Posted by ashes of eight View Post
michener is good , another writer with a similar style imo, is James Clavelle.. who also writes stuff that is borderline on historical fiction. His books at least give you a (fictional) insight into other cultures, ranging from fuedal japan to modern day hong kong.

First of all, read his book King Rat, it is amazing , Clavelle was actually a POW in WWII that was put in a camp in Singapore, and King Rat is his account of the time in camp, told in a fictional novel. One of my favorite books all time.

his book Shogun is also fantastic.. although it can be a little soap-opera-esq (so can michener, imo) he spins enormous webs of characters all with their own motivations and they all inter relate .. this is another of his best. This book is all about a sailor who shipwrecks onto fuedal japan, there is a ton of japanese culture imbibed within. It also has quite a bit of sailing terminology and I found myself googling a lot of words.

Tai Pan is another thick novle of his , further in the future, probably early 1800's and it is about the establishment of Hong Kong as a port for trading.. and is heavily tied to the real history of hong kong, and the silver/opium/tea trade. Not his best but still entertaining if you read shogun.

The coolest thing about clavelle is his asian series all relate to each other and if you read them in order , you are following the stories of several families , companies, etc, over the period of hundreds of years... when you get tto the last book , you know whos great grand daddy killed who, etc..
I am only just getting into historical fiction have read the first 2 Genghis books int he Conqueror series by Conn Iggulden and am halfway through 'The brothers boswell' by Philip Baruth,

Anyway the point of the quote was to say that you have convinced me to read all of James Clavellle books i nearly picked up Tai Pan the other day but i was a bit out off by its size tbh, but im going back for it!
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Old 07-23-2011, 01:32 PM   #9
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Re: Historical fiction

I really enjoyed Clavell. If you enjoyed him I think you would also enjoy Colleen McCulloughs' series about ancient Rome. The first book in the series is "The First Man in Rome". It starts with the career of Gaius Marius (Consul of Rome 7 times!!), covers Sulla, Pompey, Crassus, Caesar, Cleopatra, and finally Antony and Octavian. Enjoy!!
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Old 07-24-2011, 06:15 PM   #10
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Re: Historical fiction

Back when I used to read fiction, I thoroughly enjoyed W.E.B. Griffin's "The Corps" series, about a bunch of Marines in the Pacific theater of WW2. It's fairly easy to read with mostly likeable characters.

One of my favorite stand-alone books is "The Thin Red Line" by James Jones, story about a bunch of guys on Guadalcanal... The book is nothing like the movie, really, not sure what Malick was smoking when he made the film (although I do like the film, it's just a totally different entity/effect). Really gives one a taste of how grotesque actual war is.
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Old 07-24-2011, 06:41 PM   #11
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Re: Historical fiction

Michener's Chesapeake is 5 star.

Also enjoy Neal Stephenson...Cryptonomicon and his trilogy are interesting riffs on cryptology, technology, etc in a historical context. Very fictional in general though.
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Old 07-24-2011, 06:42 PM   #12
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Re: Historical fiction

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Back when I used to read fiction,

Not sure how to comment on this without trolling...
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Old 07-24-2011, 06:47 PM   #13
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Re: Historical fiction

Ernest Hemingway - A Farewell to Arms (WWI) and For Whom the Bell tolls (Spanish Civil War).

After reading them, read an essay on the historical background and autobiographic elements - then read them again

In general I dont really like that genre. Most stories are pretty bad imho and when it comes to a historical period I am interested in I normally prefer a history book.

edit:
as a learning tool: well it is more entertaining so you can use it as an introduction to the topic but the key problem is that it might be difficult to seperate facts from fiction.

Last edited by bambam_jr; 07-24-2011 at 06:58 PM.
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Old 07-24-2011, 11:26 PM   #14
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Re: Historical fiction

I really like Jeffrey Shaara's works on the Revolution, WWI, WWII and of course the Civil War. His father Michael wrote "The Killer Angels" about Gettysburg. Jeffrey carried on the tradition by writing "Gods and Generals" and the "Last Full Measure."

I think that their philosophy is to use historical situations and remain true to them, but then explore principal character's thoughts and motivations based on historical accounts and documents.
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Old 07-25-2011, 07:18 PM   #15
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Re: Historical fiction

Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

still have Philip Roth's Plot Against America on my shelf unread

the first chapter of Underworld by Delillo is f'n amazing, must read

James Ellroy has some solid 1940s LA
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Old 08-18-2011, 04:46 AM   #16
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Re: Historical fiction

Could anyone recommend any good historical fiction on either ancient japan, like the very old samurai warriors and ninjas or pirate and buccaneer times?
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Old 08-18-2011, 05:59 AM   #17
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Re: Historical fiction

Man in the high castle by Philip K Dick where Germany and Japan divide up the USA after winning WWII is interesting
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Old 08-19-2011, 10:46 AM   #18
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Re: Historical fiction

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Originally Posted by bronx bomber View Post
I really enjoyed Clavell. If you enjoyed him I think you would also enjoy Colleen McCulloughs' series about ancient Rome. The first book in the series is "The First Man in Rome". It starts with the career of Gaius Marius (Consul of Rome 7 times!!), covers Sulla, Pompey, Crassus, Caesar, Cleopatra, and finally Antony and Octavian. Enjoy!!
Just finished the first one. It's not bad but she's nowhere near as good a storyteller as Clavell.

Robert Harris' sereies on Cicero is very good.
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Old 08-20-2011, 03:31 AM   #19
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Re: Historical fiction

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Could anyone recommend any good historical fiction on either ancient japan, like the very old samurai warriors and ninjas or pirate and buccaneer times?
Shogun by James Clavell. It's been mentioned several times ITT.
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Old 08-22-2011, 12:46 PM   #20
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Re: Historical fiction

Shogun isn't really ancient Japan though. It's set in 1600 or thereabouts.

Another good novel on Japan is The Thousand Autumns of Jacoob de Zoet by David Mitchell but that's a bit later still.
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Old 09-01-2011, 09:56 AM   #21
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Re: Historical fiction

I love the historical fiction book " War and Peace " by Leo Tolstoy.
The book trails the French invasion of Russia , five aristocratic Russian families and Napoleonic Era influence on Russia.

It's a long read(almost 1500 pages), but it is a very good book.

Just my opinion...
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Old 09-01-2011, 02:19 PM   #22
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Re: Historical fiction

+1 to everyone that suggested James Clavell, and especially Shogun. It's my favorite book of all time. It's 1200 pages or so, but I was honestly heartbroken when it ended, because it was just so damn good and I wanted it to last 4000 pages.
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Old 07-13-2016, 02:37 AM   #23
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Re: Historical fiction

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Originally Posted by MidyMat View Post
I love the historical fiction book " War and Peace " by Leo Tolstoy.
The book trails the French invasion of Russia , five aristocratic Russian families and Napoleonic Era influence on Russia.

It's a long read(almost 1500 pages), but it is a very good book.

Just my opinion...
I know this is an old thread, but this post resonated enough that I wanted to comment.

This was the book that rekindled my love of history a few years back. Tried to read it once a long time ago and only got halfway through, but went at it a second time more recently. It was a slow read, but I enjoyed it quite a bit, and it led me to all sorts of historical enquiry during and afterwards.
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Old 07-15-2016, 06:42 AM   #24
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Re: Historical fiction

Historical fiction is essential in the sense that it puts flesh on the dry bones of an academic historical or sociological perspective. You can learn more about income inequality from Les Miserables than from reading a great economist.

But is there a recognized distinction between fiction which preserves the historical facts and that which takes great liberties with it? Because I don't appreciate fiction which misleads people on the basic facts. In almost every popular Hollywood movie that comes out which has a historical setting in which historical events motivate the plot, the producers, for whatever reason, make huge misleading changes to the history. The first I discovered this was in Braveheart. For some reason, when I was younger, I assumed that people making movies like took pains to meticulously make the work historically accurate. Then I discovered that Braveheart was just way off in it's fact base and since then I don't know of a single movie which is accurate historically (though there well may be some).

The Christopher Columbus movies are the worst in this regard. I think that many cases of taking liberties is done because it fits better with the dramatic development of the story. But when it comes to the origin story of this country I do consider such movies as forms of propaganda given the patterns of deviation from the historical record.

Of course, our high school history books are simply God awful, so maybe there is some blame there.
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Old 07-15-2016, 10:40 PM   #25
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Re: Historical fiction

i think real historical fiction is pretty close to the factual record but then they add in conversations and so forth that never happened that way.

a good series is michael dobbs and his 4 books on world war 2... Winston's War was the first and best known - and i think the first chronologically.

i liked 1916 by morgan llewelyn sp? about the easter uprising in ireland.... part of a series. didn't like the follow-up one i read as much.

leon uris is excellent.. trinity and exodus are probably the 2 most famous historical fiction books about ireland and israel respectively.

i like roman books......... robert harris has 3 i think. a bunch of others. colleen mccullough comes to mind.

robert harris also with the dreyfus affair book.. that's not the name though of the book.

shaara civil war books....

sorry didn't see there are a bunch of comments above this in the thread.. some is dupicates of others' suggestions.
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