With the swift approach of the Christmas gifting season, I wanted to share with my readers a few of my suggestions for great books (or series) that I’ve loved. Some of these have inspired my own storytelling, while others have simply caught my heart or informed my thinking. All are wonderfully written, and I think that every book on this list is worth your time:
The Aubrey-Maturin Series: No other historical novels have ever surpassed Patrick O’Brien’s epic set of novels following the misadventures of an officer of the British Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, and his eccentric physician companion. The sweep of history worked into the stories, the sincerely heartfelt emotions of the characters, and the amazing detail O’Brien wove into his tales all make these must-read books.
The Harry Potter Series: A wholly different series of books, I am quite certain that these books will still be as much read and beloved a hundred years from now as they are today. Ostensibly aimed at children, but featuring characters who must struggle with some of the deepest questions of right and wrong, these books will light up your imagination, and touch your heart.
The Source: As an author of historical fiction, both O’Brien and Michener intimidate me deeply, and Michener is at the height of his powers in making a coherent and fascinating story out of the long history of the Levant. If you want to understand why Israel has wound up at the center of so conflict, both in the past and in the present, I cannot think of a better introduction to that land’s background.
Guns, Germs and Steel: The widely disparate lifestyles of peoples in different parts of the world seem to defy explanation – why did some societies turn toward organized agriculture and more advanced technologies, while others found that the hunter-gatherer lifestyle was better suited to their needs? When civilizations came into contact and conflict with one another, what determined which ones would prevail? Diamond provides some provocative and thoughtful explanations, and along the way, teaches us a great deal about our history.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress: Robert Heinlein is best known for his seminal work Stranger in a Strange Land, but some of his lesser-known works are no less revolutionary and powerful. This novel appears on the surface to be a mere action-adventure about a revolution in a penal colony on the Moon, but along the way, Heinlein delves into some of the basic questions of how societies are – and can be – structured, as well as what it means to be a person at all. A surprisingly moving novel, this is Heinlein at his best.
Starship Troopers: Another Heinlein novel, this one is best known for inspiring the vapid gore-and-slime movies of the same name. Rest assured that the novel bears no resemblance to the films. Instead, in this novel, Heinlein explores the questions of what it means to offer one’s service in defense of what one holds dear.
Anthem: Ayn Rand isn’t to everyone’s taste, though it helps to remember that she is a Russian novelist, despite writing in English. However, this slim novel is a departure from the dense, difficult complexity of some of her better-known works, and is the story of the emergence from a dystopia and the meaning of what it is to be an individual.
Bridge to Terabithia: A deeply moving novel, this is both a coming-of-age story and a novel that ventures into the fraught waters of childhood love and loss. I’m not ashamed to admit that the ending makes me weep every time I read it.
Journal of the American Revolution: A collection of some of the best articles from the Journal, this book collects details of the American Revolution of interest to both armchair scholars and serious students of the era, in an approachable and highly readable way. Also, I would hardly be an author if I didn’t encourage my readers to buy a book that I contributed to.
The Light and The Prize: Again, I cannot call myself an author if I don’t remind you to buy my books, too. These two novels are the first in the Tales From a Revolution Series, each of which recounts the events in a different colony during the American Revolution, and all of which focus on how the Revolution was experienced by ordinary people, few of whom set out to change history, but all of whom contributed in one way or another to the outcome.