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Dive into the True Stories Behind Your Favorite Historical Fiction Books

November 12 2020

As a lifelong lover of literature and history, I find the two often intersect for me. Many times, when I read a compelling historical fiction book, I am immediately hungry for more and head directly to the nonfiction section of my local library or bookstore. Below is a collection of some fantastic historical fiction must-reads, followed by engaging nonfiction books focused on the same subject. Eye-opening and compelling, these are the ultimate reads for history buffs everywhere.

Bonnie
by Christina Schwarz

A page-turning and heartbreaking thriller about a young woman seduced by passion, money, and crime, BONNIE depicts the short life of Bonnie Parker from her own doomed perspective. Vividly written and transportive, this book will change the way you look at the unforgettable outlaw.

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Bonnie
Christina Schwarz

“Absorbing...poignant, often heartbreaking...Schwarz is a vivid storyteller.” –The New York Times Book Review

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Drowning Ruth vividly evokes the perennially fascinating true crime love affair of Bonnie and Clyde in this suspenseful, gorgeously detailed fictional portrait of Bonnie Parker, one of America’s most enigmatic women.

Born in a small town in the desolate reaches of western Texas and shaped by her girlhood in an industrial wasteland on the outskirts of Dallas, Bonnie Parker was a natural performer and a star student. She dreamed of being a movie star or a singer or a poet. But her dramatic nature, contorted by her limited opportunities and her overwhelming love for Clyde Barrow, pushed her into a course from which there was no escape but death.

Infusing the psychological acuity of literary fiction with the relentless pacing of a thriller, Bonnie follows Bonnie from her bright, promising youth to her final month of shoot-outs, kidnappings, and desperate car chases through America’s hinterland in the grip of the Great Depression, as the noose of the law tightened around her. Enriched by Christina Schwarz’s extensive research in the footsteps of Bonnie and Clyde and written with her powerful sense of place and time, Bonnie is a plaintive and page-turning account of a woman destroyed by a lethal combination of longing and love.

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Go Down Together
by Jeff Guinn

Break through the legends and glamour of America’s most infamous criminal couple with this in-depth exploration of Bonnie and Clyde. From their beginnings in poverty to their bloody end, GO DOWN TOGETHER explores how the society they lived in helped mold the two into criminals. This is one astonishing and compelling true story.

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Go Down Together
Jeff Guinn

Bestselling author Jeff Guinn combines exhaustive research with surprising, newly discovered material to tell the real tale of two kids from a filthy Dallas slum who fell in love and then willingly traded their lives for a brief interlude of excitement and, more important, fame. Go Down Together has it all—true romance, rebellion against authority, bullets flying, cars crashing, and, in the end, a dramatic death at the hands of a celebrity lawman. This is the real story of Bonnie and Clyde and their troubled times, delivered with cinematic sweep by a masterful storyteller.

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Napoleon's Last Island
by Thomas Keneally

The bestselling author of the classic SCHINDLER'S LIST brings his lyrical prose to this fascinating novel of the last years of Napoleon Bonaparte. Exiled by the British to a tiny island in the Atlantic, he finds friendship with a teenaged girl living there with her family. A coming-of-age story unlike any other, this is a unique look at one of history’s most complex men.

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Napoleon's Last Island
Thomas Keneally

The bestselling author of Schindler’s List and The Daughters of Mars returns with an “insightful and nimble...consistently fresh and engaging” (The New York Times Book Review) novel about the remarkable friendship between a quick-witted young woman and one of history’s most intriguing figures, Napoleon Bonaparte, during the final years of his life in exile on St. Helena.

In October 1815, after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon Bonaparte was sent to live the remainder of his life in exile on the remote Southern Atlantic island of St. Helena. There, on what he called “the cursed rock,” with no chance of escape, he found an unexpected ally: a spirited British teenager named Betsy Balcombe who lived on the island with her family. While Napoleon waited for his own accommodations to be made livable, the Balcombe family played host to the infamous exile, a decision that would have far-reaching consequences for them all.

In Napoleon’s Last Island, based on a true story, acclaimed author Thomas Keneally re-creates Betsy’s powerful and complex friendship with the man dubbed The Great Ogre, her clashes and alliances with his remaining courtiers, and her uneasy journey to adulthood as she begins to see the imperfections and weaknesses of human nature. As he brings a fascinating period vividly to life, Keneally shines a fresh light on one of history’s most enigmatic, charismatic figures. “The book is a complex and mesmerizing success,” raves the Christian Science Monitor, hailing it as “a masterpiece in miniature…unfailingly great reading [and] testimony to the fact that Keneally is our greatest living practitioner of historical fiction.”

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Napoleon
by Andrew Roberts

Based on his thousands of personal letters, this insightful biography of one of the world’s most enigmatic and influential statesmen and soldiers will keep you on the edge of your seat. Epic in scope and also humanizing, NAPOLEON is a biographical masterpiece.

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Napoleon
Andrew Roberts

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My Dear Hamilton
by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

The story of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, one of the most beloved characters in modern musical theater, has touched countless people. In this engaging and intimate novel, the wife of Alexander Hamilton is brought to vivid life. Based on her actual letters, MY DEAR HAMILTON allows you to step into the early days of the United States of America and spend time with one of its most remarkable Founding Mothers.

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My Dear Hamilton
Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

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Eliza Hamilton
by Tilar J. Mazzeo

More than simply the wife of a famous man, Eliza Hamilton is a crucial and unforgettable hero in early American history. With in-depth research and eye-opening prose, this unputdownable biography is the ultimate exploration of a woman whose influence is still felt in this country.

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Eliza Hamilton
Tilar J. Mazzeo

From the New York Times bestselling author of Irena’s Children comes a “vivid, compelling, and unputdownable new biography” (Christopher Andersen, #1 New York Times bestselling author) about the extraordinary life and times of Eliza Hamilton, the wife of founding father Alexander Hamilton, and a powerful, unsung hero in America’s early days.

Fans fell in love with Eliza Hamilton—Alexander Hamilton’s devoted wife—in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s phenomenal musical Hamilton. But they don’t know her full story. A strong pioneer woman, a loving sister, a caring mother, and in her later years, a generous philanthropist, Eliza had many sides—and this fascinating biography brings her multi-faceted personality to vivid life.

This “expertly told story” (Publishers Weekly) follows Eliza through her early years in New York, into the ups and downs of her married life with Alexander, beyond the aftermath of his tragic murder, and finally to her involvement in many projects that cemented her legacy as one of the unsung heroes of our nation’s early days.

This captivating account of the woman behind the famous man is perfect for fans of the works of Ron Chernow, Lisa McCubbin, and Nathaniel Philbrick.

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Stolen Beauty
by Laurie Lico Albanese

Taking you from early 1900s Vienna to the devastation of World War II, this intoxicating novel weaves together the lives of two women and their connection to a famous painting. A passionate and moving novel, STOLEN BEAUTY explores the power of perseverance, family, and love.

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Stolen Beauty
Laurie Lico Albanese

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The Lady in Gold
by Anne-Marie O'Connor

The fascinating true story of one of the most revered paintings of the twentieth century, THE LADY IN GOLD explores the artist and muse behind it; how darkly evolving Austrian politics helped shape its celebrity; its shelf life as a Nazi prize with its Jewish origins stripped away; and finally its modern priceless fame. This is a striking and masterful epic tale for art lovers everywhere.

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The Lady in Gold
Anne-Marie O'Connor

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The Killer Angels
by Michael Shaara

This Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece brings some of the bloodiest days of American history to vivid life. In this novel, you journey to the battlefield of Gettysburg and encounter the men who fought as living, breathing individuals. You won’t be able to put down this thrilling and moving novel of the Civil War’s turning point.

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The Killer Angels
Michael Shaara

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Gettysburg
by Stephen W. Sears

Offering eye-opening and new insights, this is the definitive and most expansive look at the Civil War’s deadliest battle. Whether or not you’re a longtime Civil War buff, Stephen W. Sears has crafted a masterful work of scholarship that is necessary reading for all Americans.

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Gettysburg
Stephen W. Sears

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MENTIONED IN:

Dive into the True Stories Behind Your Favorite Historical Fiction Books

By Kerry Fiallo | November 12, 2020

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Innocent Traitor
by Alison Weir

Alison Weir’s debut historical fiction novel breathlessly depicts the life of Lady Jane Grey, a teenaged girl who found herself in the midst of tremendous and deadly unrest in Britain before becoming the tragic Nine Days’ Queen. INNOCENT TRAITOR is an evocative and compelling tale of intrigue, power, and betrayal.

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Innocent Traitor
Alison Weir

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MENTIONED IN:

Dive into the True Stories Behind Your Favorite Historical Fiction Books

By Kerry Fiallo | November 12, 2020

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Crown of Blood
by Nicola Tallis

The life and downfall of one of Britain’s most misunderstood royals is expertly explored in this thrilling biography. By humanizing Lady Jane Grey, Nicola Tallis depicts an intelligent and devout young woman unfairly caught in the turbulence of the Tudor era. Lady Jane may be an overlooked woman in history, but here her story is finally fully told.

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Crown of Blood
Nicola Tallis

A significant retelling of the often-misunderstood tale of Lady Jane Grey's journey through her trial and execution—recalling the dangerous plots and web of deadly intrigue in which she became involuntarily tangled, and which ultimately led to a catastrophic conclusion.

"Good people, I am come hither to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same.” These were the heartbreaking words of seventeen-year-old Lady Jane Grey as she stood on the scaffold awaiting death on a cold February morning in 1554. She is known to history as "the Nine Days Queen," but her reign lasted for thirteen days. The human and emotional aspects of her story have often been ignored, although she is remembered as one of the Tudor Era’s most tragic victims. While this is doubtless true, it is only part of the complex jigsaw of Jane’s story.

Crown of Blood is an important and significant retelling of an often-misunderstood tale: set at the time of Jane’s downfall and following her journey through to her trial and execution, each chapter moves between the past and the “present,” using a rich abundance of primary source material (some of which has never been published) in order to paint a vivid picture of Jane’s short and turbulent life.

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Photo credit: Brankospejs / iStock

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