23 thoughts on “Reader Friday: Historical Epics

    • I so agree with The Thorn Birds. I read the book before the TV series was made and loved it. The series was different from the book and I loved it so much I wanted to buy it, but it wasn’t available on DVD for a long time. I finally got it and it was every bit as good as I remembered. I watched it recently and read the book again afterwards. Sigh…

  1. Moby Dick. I didn’t know the story behind the story. About 100 pages in I was thinking how realistic it felt. I was right there with Ishmael. (I didn’t know at the time that Melville used actual sea experience to write his tale.) It still amazes me he wrote such a huge story without a computer, and yet the plot holds together without logic errors and name change mishaps and so forth.

    • Glad to see your shout out to Moby-Dick, Vera. It’s a true classic because people either love it or hate it. Count me among the former. But all writers should at least admire what Melville was going for, which was so far beyond what any novelist of his day was attempting.

      • I finally read Moby Dick a year ago and loved it. I think the key to this book, like a lot of classics, is to go in as open-minded as possible. Don’t bring your 21st century popular fiction expectations to the experience. I loved wallowing in the strange, fascinating world Melville crafted.

  2. “Shogun” was fascinating and entertaining. Read decades ago and loved it.
    “The Haj” by brilliant author Leon Uris, which I likewise read decades ago, humanized the Mideast conflict. It painted a stark picture of the divisions there. The story left me feeling sad for the people of that region and deeply pessimistic about resolution. Unfortunately the deep-seated conflicts remain.
    I did not love the book due to the tragic aspects but found it powerful, provocative, and prophetic.
    Leon Uris is the best author of historical fiction I’ve read…multiple truly excellent books imo.

  3. I guess I’m one of the few who admit to reading and loving James Michener’s epic tales, especially Centennial. but I loved them when I was in my twenties. Not sure I’d enjoy them that much now.

  4. How are you defining epic?
    I still have my battered copy of Shogun on my bookshelf, which means it made the cut when we moved. I liked Hawaii and the Thorn Birds, too.

  5. For me it’s got to be London by Edward Rutherford. A huge tome that took months to read, but it gave me a macrocosmic perspective of human development over entire ages. I loved his incisive, deep views of personal lives and some recurring genetic traits that carry on through hundreds of generations. A moving experience.

  6. War and Peace (the Maud translation) was the most satisfying novel I’ve read in a while. Tolstoy places us in the center of the action, whether a battlefield or a dinner party. The book opens with the hostess of an evening reception calling Napoleon “the Antichrist” and my attention was held throughout its 1300 pages.

  7. I’m going to cheat here because I’ve never read the genre. I’ve had Ken Follett on my TBR forever.

    Don Quixote is amazing. That word gets thrown around a lot nowadays, but I’m truly amazed Cervantes wrote a book that’s hilarious and still seems innovative 400 years later.

  8. Epic historical has two meanings in my mind–a more recent novel written about another time. The Alienist is one such novel that I loved when I read it, a historical epic crime novel. The other meaning is an epic novel written in a now-historical period. Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White is that second kind of epic historical (and also, perhaps the first detective novel) that I love.

  9. Funny you should ask this question today, Jim. A reader just mailed me Night Flying Woman: An Ojibway Narrative written by her granddaughter in 1983. The story spans Ni-bo-wi-se-gwe (Night Flying Woman) or Oona, as she was called, from her birth during the nineteenth century when white settlers overran their lands to her untimely death. It’s a story of enormous change, of uprootings, and of loss. But it also tells of the great strength and continuity of the Ojibway People in saving “the old ways” while learning the new.

    So far, I’m loving it.

  10. Many years ago, I read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and fell in love. I’ve read many “epic” stories since, but IMHO, nothing has matched it. And no character matches the unforgettable Count Vronsky . . . 🙂

  11. Hmm… that word “epic”… here’s one definition: ‘EPIC: heroic; majestic; impressively great in scale or character, extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size or scope.”

    With that context, I’ll go with Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. That’s one of the books that got me thinking: “Hey, I can do that.” And I did.

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