Top Ten Historical Fiction Writers of All Time

Oh, the Memories!

In going through my library today I came across a number of books that I hadn’t picked up in a long while. It brought back many pleasant memories of late nights and early mornings—trying to get in a few hours of reading before or after work. I remembered how much I enjoyed those hours—rushing to get through the end of a chapter before I had to leave. As most of those books were works of historical fiction, I decided to compile a list of my Top Ten Historical Fiction Writers of All-Time. I will start with my honorable mentions and then proceed from 10 to 1. Here goes:

Honorable Mention:  Julian Stockwin, Dewey Lamden, Phillipa Gregory, Alexander Kent, Sharon K. Penman, Manda Scott, Michael Shaara, Steven Pressfield, Arthur Conan Doyle (for his HF novel The White Company)

10.  G.A. Henty – (1832 – 1902) Prolific English writer who tackled an enormous range of subjects. He is credited with writing over 100 books of historical fiction.

9.    Allan Mallinson – (Living) English writer best known for his Matthew Hervey series set during the Napoleonic Wars

8.    Ken Follett – (Living) Welsh writer best known for his novel Pillars of the Earth which was made into a successful mini-series

7.    Edward Rutherford – (Living) English writer known for his epic novels spanning generations. Reading him is a commitment, as his books usually run to more than 1,000 pages. His debut novel, Sarum, is my favorite.

6.    Rosemary Sutcliff – (1920 – 1992) English writer known for her works on Roman Britain. Her novel Eagle of the Ninth was adapted for the screen in the 2011 movie The Eagle.

5.    C.S. Forster – (1899 – 1966) English writer best known for his Horatio Hornblower series about a British naval officer during the Napoleonic Wars

4.    Howard Bahr – (Living) This one may surprise you. HB is an American writer who is also a professor of creative writing in Mississippi. He has written three books set during the American Civil War, my favorite being The Year of Jubilo. Pick it up. You’ll be glad you did.

year of jubilo

3.    Charles Frazier – (Living) American writer whose work is generally classified as Literary Fiction. But I will give him the benefit of the doubt for his Civil War novel Cold Mountain. I read it long before it became a movie and was utterly captivated. Forget the movie but you must read the book.

2.    Bernard Cornwell – (Living) English writer (living in America) best known for his Sharpe series following the adventures of a rugged British infantry officer during the Napoleonic Wars.

1.    Patrick O’Brian – (1914 – 2000) English writer best known for his 20-volume Aubrey / Maturin series set among the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. The film Master and Commander with Russell Crowe was based loosely on an amalgamation of two of these novels.

So there you have it. My top ten historical fiction writers of all-time. Controversial perhaps – but writing, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. What are your top ten? Drop me a note in the comments.


12 thoughts on “Top Ten Historical Fiction Writers of All Time

    • Thanks for the comment. I actually own eight of his books but have only gotten through Gods and Generals. Perhaps he would make the list once I have read more of his work. I also just realized that I left Steven Pressfield off the list. I may actually edit him in. Cheers.

  1. I don’t know that I have ten top authors, but let’s go for books: Tolstoy, War and Peace; Unsworth, Morality Play, Songs of the Kings; Barry, A Long, Long Way; Dunmore, The Lie; Furst, Dark Star, Night Soldiers; Kantor, Andersonville; Mantel, Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies.

  2. I’d like to cheat and combine my favorite historical fiction authors, when they’ve been prodigious, with my top ten favorite books when there’s just one. Even then it’s tough to choose. All Quiet on the Western Front is up there, and so is Cloudsplitter, by Russell Banks.
    In general I love the writing of Frank Delaney, Jeff Shaara, and Fannie Flagg. Catch-22 has to be in there. Oh heavens! EL Doctorow. Can’t leave him out! Okay, under my cheater’s criteria, that’s seven. Add And Ladies of the Club, by Helen Hooven Santmeyer, Willa Cather’s work, and there’s just one spot left. Cheating further, I’ll call that a 4-way tie between The Color Purple (oh, I feel terrible for not mentioning her sooner!), The Known World, By Edward P. Jones, The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara, and the work of Bernard Cornwell. Yikes. Still feel as if I left some important ones out!

  3. In this exercise cheating is easily overlooked. I also loved All’s Quiet on the Western Front and Killer Angels. I struggled a bit reading Catch-22. But it was a long time ago. Maybe I should try it again.

  4. As a writer of historical novels, among other genres, I liked your list very much. When I was starting out Rosemary Sutcliffe was one of my heroes. I still reread her books.
    And thanks for following my blog. I will look forward to following yours.

  5. Really great list…

    Love to hear folks advocating for both Shaaras here.

    Any sense of how the early church era of historical fiction (or even “extra-biblical” fiction around the life of Christ might fit in?

    That era is what I am obsessed with 🙂 think The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas or Anne Rice’s two books on the life of Christ.

    Anyone have a sense of other authors in that space?

    Great blog!

    • Thanks for the comment. As to works of fiction set in the early Christian era, the two books that immediately come to mind are “Ben Hur” by Lew Wallace and “The Greatest Story Ever Told” by Fulton Oursler. In more recent years Walter Wangerin, Jr. has written a number of historical fiction novels on Christ and the early church. Cheers.

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