Thursday, May 27, 2010
I've always loved the long, epic historical novels by writers like James Michener, Leon Uris and Herman Wouk. They do take some patience, admittedly, but they're a fun way to learn about history. And they are damn entertaining. I still count Leon Uris's Trinity — a novel about unrest in turn-of-the-20th-century Ireland — as one of my all-time favorites. I also loved Uris' Exodus, about the founding of Israel, and I've read most of his catalog, including Mila 18, Mitla Pass, Redemption, O'Hara's Choice, The Haj and Battle Cry.
Caribbean (810 pages), The Source (1,078 pages), Chesapeake (1,083 pages), and Texas (1,322 pages). My favorite was The Source, but Texas was very good, too.
I learned more about World War II from Herman Wouk's hulking two-book series, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, than I did in any high school or college history course (and I was a history minor!). Most (old) people probably know this story from the 1983 Robert Mitchum mini-series, but I highly recommend the books — if you've got a few, um, months, of free reading time. I also really enjoyed Wouk's two-novel series about the founding of Israel, The Hope and The Glory. And, though it doesn't exactly fit the criteria of this post, Wouk's The Caine Mutiny is fantastic as well.
The Simpsons, which is the consummate gauge of pop culture in my opinion, has joked about these bricks of books in two different episodes. To me, this is strong evidence for the fact that I'm not alone amidst the stuffy history professors in enjoying these books. There is an element of main-stream-ness to them as well. In one episode, the local yokel Cletus wields Trinity as a weapon, stating that "Nothing cracks a turtle like Leon Uris." In another, a bookstore has a sign outside advertising a special: "Michener: $1.99/Lb." Good stuff.
I bring this up now, because I've just immersed myself in Edward Rutherfurd's 900-page history/fiction mash-up titled New York. We started in 1664, and more than 100 pages in, we haven't gotten much further. It ends in modern times, so we have a lot of time to travel yet! This is my first time reading Rutherfurd, supposedly a disciple of Mr. Michener, so I'm hoping it turns out well. Anyone read any of his other novels? Are they any good?
What about you? Are you a history buff as well as a literary geek? What are some of your favorite hefty historical novels?
(Others long history novels I've enjoyed, but won't detail at all since this post is approaching the length of Michener novel: Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth, the Shaara's Civil War trilogy, John Jakes North & South trilogy, etc., etc)
Posted by Greg Zimmerman at 12:02 PM