Dig Into Something New: Biography and Historical Fiction

BOOK LOGO (628x640)Do you mainly read just Biography?  Historical Fiction?  I’ve compiled this list to show what books you can read from the other genre.  Or, you could read the biography and historical fiction selections about a person or time period and see how they compare!

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Hearing the Lindbergh name brings to mind things like  Charles Lindbergh’s historic transatlantic flight and the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, but did you know that Anne Morrow Lindbergh was also an accomplished pilot and author?  Read about her in Susan Hertog’s biography Anne Morrow Lindbergh - Copy Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Life, or try out Against Wind & Tide by Anne herself.

  • You may also want to check out some of the books that  Anne wrote, including Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead and Gift From the Sea.

Melanie Benjamin’s fictional account of Anne’s life in The Aviator’s Wife explores the marriage of Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Charles Lindbergh.  The novel is told through Anne’s recollection of their courtship, marriage, and struggle with the media.  (Other historical figures that make an appearance include Amelia Earhart, Henry Ford, Joseph Kennedy and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.)

Ernest Hemingway

Read about the lives of American author Ernest Hemingway and his wives.  Through the years Hemingway married (and divorced) 4 women.  Known for his simplistic style of writing, Hemingway gained influence during the 1920s, and continued to write through the 1950s.

Explore Paris in the 1920s through the eyes of Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast as he begins his writing career surrounded by the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ford Maddox Ford.   The manuscripts for this book were gathered and published posthumously.

Hemingway’s Boat  by Paul Hendrickson focuses on Hemingway’s life after he had established himself as an author, from 1934-1961.  The book centers around the one constant in Hemingway’s life, his boat.  The book includes material that has not previously been published, including some insight from Hemingway’s sons.

The Paris Wife

For a fictionalized account of Hemingway’s time in Paris, try The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.  You’ll read about Hemingway through the eyes of his first wife, Hadley Richardson.

 Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck takes place in Key West during Hemingway’s marriage to his second wife, Pauline Pfieffer.  This fictional account is told through the eyes of a young girl who befriends Hemingway and works as a maid in his house.

Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great

Sophia Augusta Fredericka (Catherine the Great)  was born in Germany.  After marrying into the Russian Romanov family, she took over the throne from her husband and led a fairly scandalous life!  Read about it in biography Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert Massie.

Delve into the fictional world of Catherine the Great with The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak.  Told through the eyes of Catherine’s confidante, Varvara becomes Catherine’s confidante, and helps her navigate through all the conspiracies and intrigue of the Russian court.

Elizabeth I

The WatchersDaughter of Henry VIII, Elizabeth was the last monarch of the Tudor dynasty.  Elizabeth, also known as the “Virgin Queen” never married, but held the throne for 44 years.  Learn more about Elizabeth I in The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I by Stephen Alford.  The Watchers tells the gripping account of the unflagging battle by spies, code breakers, ambassadors and confidence-men who sought to protect Elizabeth I from the most powerful rulers of Europe who conspired to destroy her, their plans most fully realized by the Spanish Armada.

Explore court intrigues, and the political power wielded by Elizabeth I in I, Elizabeth by Rosalind Miles.  This fictional account is told through a diary written by Elizabeth I near the end of her reign.

Mary Queen of Scots 

The Other Queen

Perhaps you’ll feel less sympathetic towards Elizabeth I after reading about Mary Stuart.  After being imprisoned for 19 years, Elizabeth I ordered Mary Stuart’s execution. In Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart J.A. Guy draws on new sources to shatter various myths surrounding this odd monarch and uncover some of the scandals and political machinations underpinning, and undermining, her throne.

The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory presents a tale that was inspired by Mary, Queen of Scots.  It follows Mary’s long imprisonment in the household of the Earl of Shrewbury (and his spying wife, Bess).

Jane Austen

Jane AustenAlthough Jane Austen lived and wrote over almost 200 years ago, she produced works and characters that are still relevant today.  Learn about the author behind Pride and Prejudice in  Jane Austen: A Life by David Nokes.  Drawing on unpublished sources, the Nokes offers an intimate, psychological portrait of the novelist, revealing the truth behind many disturbing Austen family secrets.

In this fictional version of Jane’s life, Just Jane: A Novel of Jane Austen’s Life by Nancy Moser, Jane searches for romance and observes human nature.

Mary Todd LincolnMrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

There have long been debates over the mental stability of Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of President Abraham Lincoln.  Whether or not these claims are true, her friendship with Mrs. Keckly is an inspiring story that has been explored in both biography and fiction.  Jennifer Fleischner explores this relationship in her biography, Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly: The Remarkable Story of the Friendship Between a First Lady and a Former Slave.   You can also try the popular new fictionalized acount by Jennifer Chiaverini in Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker.

Charles Darwin

Dig into Charles Darwin with Darwin, His Daughter & Human Evolution  by Randal Keynes.   Keynes gives us a glimpse into the life of the man who changed the world’s way of comprehending the origins of human nature and tells the story of Darwin’s home life, his inner turmoil, and his relationships with his wife and daughter.

In Harry Thompson’s fictional novel, To the Edge of the World, Captain Robert Fitzroy takes Charles Darwin aboard.  They explore unknown waters and discover new plants and species that ultimately changed how human beings see themselves.

Zelda Fitzgerald Z

Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald were the celebrities of the 1920s, and they were known for ridiculous (and sometimes scandalous) stunts when out-on-the town.  Although they looked like a golden couple, they were plagued with problems.  Zelda wrote a semi-autobiographical book called Save Me the Waltz as part of her therapy during one of her stays at the Phipps Clinic.  When she sent it to the publisher her husband was outraged because of the personal details she added (that did not portray F. Scott in a very flattering light).  As a result, this final version has been heavily edited.

Therese Fowler wrote a fictional account of the Fitzgeralds in Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgeraldwhich begins just before Zelda’s courtship with F. Scott Fitzgerald (much to the dismay of Zelda’s parents).

Below StairsAre you a Downton Abbey fan?  You might want to try the nonfiction account of a maid in 1920s England that inspired the show!  Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir by Margaret Powell shares the intimate secrets of the servants (and owners) of the great houses of England.  Aside from inspiring television shows, Powell’s memoir has also been the stimulus for a number of historical fiction accounts of this ear told from the perspective of the staff; try The House at Riverton by Kate Morton.

Some more historical fiction to try:

1. Fever by Mary Beth Keane

A fictionalized account of the life of Typhoid Mary, an Irish immigrant who moved to New York at the turn of the century and became a successful cook, until the Department of Health noticed the trail of disease she left behind.

2. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Assuming the power recently lost by the disgraced Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell counsels a mercurial Henry VIII on the latter’s efforts to marry Anne Boleyn against the wishes of Rome, a successful endeavor that comes with a dangerous price.  Bring Up the Bodies  is second in the series.

3. I, Claudius by Robert Graves

Claudius, born weak and with a stutter, was shamed and dismissed by his family as an idiot. This allowed him to live under the public radar and avoid his family’s scandal and eventual murder. Claudius survived to become the emperor of Rome in 41 A.D.

4. The Girl With the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

A poor seventeenth-century servant girl knows her place in the household of the painter Johannes Vermeer, but when he begins to paint her, nasty whispers and rumors circulate throughout the town.

More Biography:

5. The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss

Traces the story of the mixed-race swordsman and father of novelist Alexandre Dumas, discussing his rise to the French aristocracy, his military triumphs ,and the adventures that inspired such classics as “The Three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo.”

6. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

An analysis of Abraham Lincoln’s political talents identifies the character strengths and abilities that enabled his successful election, in an account that also describes how he used the same abilities to rally former opponents in winning the Civil War.

7. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Separates fact from fiction to reconstruct the life of the most influential woman of her era, revealing Cleopatra as a complex woman and shrewd monarch whose life and death reshaped the ancient world.

8. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (also published under the title The Duchess) by Amanda Foreman

In 1774, Georgiana married wealthy aristocrat and fifth duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish. The marriage spoiled immediately, andGeorgiana, noted for her style and political involvement, yet limited as a woman by law, dealt with her adulterous and cold husband through secret substance and gambling addictions as well as illicit romances.

Are there other historical figures or eras you’re interested in?  Leave a comment telling us what it is, and we’ll give you some suggestions!