Reading the Past: Historical Fiction

Albert and Mileva Einstein
Albert and Mileva Einstein

In the best historical fiction, facts blend seamlessly into the story. While at times, the accuracy of details can become slippery, historical fiction can bring together geography, historic events, social culture and fascinating people into a compelling read.  These stories can also inspire readers to search out the real information and details, especially when a novel focuses on an intriguing person or event.
For example, in The Other Einstein, Marie Benedict focuses on the life of the woman who was Albert Einstein’s first wife, Mileva Maric.  A brilliant physicist in her own right, she contributed quite a bit to Einstein’s work, although just how much is unknown. After reading Benedict’s book, if you find you want to know more about the real Mileva Maric, we suggest picking up In Albert's Shadow: The Life and Letters of Mileva Marić, Einstein's First Wife by Mileva Einstein-Marić to read previously unpublished letters that bring her life and marriage into focus quite sharply.  Our electronic resources offer even more information through Biography In Context, where you may read biographical information, as well as articles from The Christian Science Monitor, The Economist, and other resources.

Another example of a recently popular historical fiction book is All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. While the characters in that story are fictional, the setting and historical events are real. If reading this novel made you curious about what life was like in occupied France, we offer suggestions of more books, including The General's Niece: The Little-known De Gaulle Who Fought to Free Occupied France by Paige Bowers and Voices From the Dark Years: The Truth About Occupied France 1940-1945 by Douglas Boyd.

If the setting of a story, like Lonesome Dove, makes you want to read more about real-life Texas Rangers and life in the late 1870’s American West, you may enjoy books like The Texas Rangers by Mike Cox or Finding the Great Western Trail by Sylvia Gann Mahoney.

Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange
Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange

Historical fiction can also be inspired by real life as captured in art, like in the book Mary Coin by Marisa Silver. Silver took the famous Migrant Mother photograph by Dorothea Lange as inspiration for her story. Pairing this book with a title like The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan underscores the struggles of the main character in Silver’s story.

If you find that a historical novel motivates you to want to learn more, the Library’s rich collections are the perfect way to delve into history and discover the true details that inspire the fictional stories.

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