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7 Epic Books Based on American History

A good historical fiction novel will take you back in time and immerse you in a bygone era. And the truly epic ones–sweeping in scope and monumental in scale–will keep you there for a while. If you’re looking for a book that’ll really delve into America’s past in all its sin and glory, here are seven historical epics that bring America’s history to life.

This Scorched Earth by William Gear

The American Civil War tore at the very roots of our nation and destroyed most of a generation. To truly understand the madness and despair of such a horrendous conflict one needs to pick a moment. Or see that war through one family’s eyes.

In rural Arkansas, such was the Hancocks. Devastated by a cruel war, they faced down their personal hells and, in spite of it all, survived.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is the grandest story ever written about the last defiant wilderness of America.

Journey to the dusty little Texas town of Lonesome Dove and meet an unforgettable assortment of heroes and outlaws, whores and ladies, Native Americans and settlers. Richly authentic, beautifully written, always dramatic, Lonesome Dove is a book to make you laugh, weep, dream, and remember.

The Battle Hymn Cycle by Ralph Peters

In this series beginning with Cain at Gettysburg, Ralph Peters chronicles the major battles of the American Civil War as Union and Confederate, North and South, Blue and Gray, engage in the nation’s most devastating conflict. This sweeping series tells the stories of the flesh and blood men who fought the war that changed American history forever.

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

Inspired by The Odyssey, Cold Mountain is the story of a wounded Confederate soldier who leaves the battlefield to journey home to his pre-war beloved. His journey through the devastated landscape of the soon-to-be-defeated South interweaves with Ada’s struggle to revive her father’s farm, with the help of an intrepid young drifter named Ruby. As their long-separated lives begin to converge at the close of the war, Inman & Ada confront the vastly transformed world that’s arrived..

New York by Edward Rutherfurd

Edward Rutherfurd celebrates America’s greatest city in a rich, engrossing saga, weaving together tales of families rich and poor, native-born and immigrant—a cast of fictional and true characters whose fates rise and fall and rise again with the city’s fortunes.

From this intimate perspective we see New York’s humble beginnings as a tiny Indian fishing village, the arrival of Dutch and British merchants, the Revolutionary War, the emergence of the city as a great trading and financial center, the convulsions of the Civil War, the excesses of the Gilded Age, the explosion of immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the trials of World War II, the near demise of New York in the 1970s and its roaring rebirth in the 1990s, and the attack on the World Trade Center. New York is a look at American history through the long and exciting life of the world’s second most populous city.

The Son by Philipp Meyer

This novel is an epic, multigenerational saga of power, blood, and land that follows the rise of one unforgettable Texas family from the Comanche raids of the 1800s to the border raids of the early 1900s to the oil booms of the 20th century.

Part epic of Texas, part classic coming-of-age story, part unflinching portrait of the bloody price of power, The Son is an utterly transporting novel that maps the legacy of violence in the American West through the lives of the McCulloughs, an ambitious family as resilient and dangerous as the land they claim.

Bound for Gold by William Martin

Boston rare-book dealer Peter Fallon and his girlfriend, Evangeline Carrington are headed to California, where their search for a lost journal takes them into the history of Gold Rush. The journal follows young James Spencer, of the Sagamore Mining Company, on a spectacular journey from staid Boston, up the Sacramento River to the Mother Lode. During his search for a “lost river of gold,” Spencer confronts vengeance, greed, and racism in himself and others, and builds one of California’s first mercantile empires.