Best Historical Fiction Authors: 8 Writers You Must Read

Are you interested in the best historical fiction authors of all time? There are plenty of amazing historical novel examples from which to choose. Learn more

If you are looking for historical fiction books, there are plenty of options from which to choose. Some books take place in London while others may take place in New York or Paris. Whether drawing from the United States, England, or somewhere in between, there are plenty of best seller books from the 18th century, 19th century, 20th century, and numerous other time periods.

Who are some of the best historical fiction writers of all time? Whether are you are looking at historical fiction novels from Hilary Mantel, Ken Follet, or a number of others, there are plenty of authors available. Take a look at some of the award-winning novelists you may want to check out. 

Best historical fiction authors

1. Ken Follet, Born 1949

Ken Follett - Wikipedia
Ken Follett official website, via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Ken Follet was one of the greatest historical fiction writers of all time. He has sold more than 160 million copies of his works, and many of them have found their way onto lists of the best historical fiction works of all time. A few of his books have even found their way to the number one position on the New York Times Bestseller List, with many of them being thrillers.

He was born in 1949 in Wales, located in the United Kingdom. He was not allowed to watch television as a child, so he started reading. When he was 10 years old, his family moved to London. He attended University College London, studying philosophy. He initially had a job as a reporter for the evening news before he left journalism and became a writer.

Some of his most popular works include Eye of the Needle, The Key To Rebecca, World Without End, and Whiteout. You can pick up a copy of Eye of the Needle for yourself from Amazon.

2. Hilary Mantel, Born 1952

Hilary Mantel is a British writer who has positioned herself as one of the greatest writers of historical fiction of all time. She has been awarded the Booker Prize twice, first for Wolf Hall and then for Bring Up the Bodies. She grew up in Derbyshire and attended the University of Sheffield, graduating in 1973. 

She published her first novel, every day is Mother’s Day, in 1985. She published the sequel a year later. The first book to put her on the map was Fludd, set in 1956, and focusing on the Roman Catholic Church. She is best known for Wolf Hall, which focuses on the rise of Thomas Cromwell during the Middle Ages in the court of Henry VIII. Bring Up the Bodies is the second work in her trilogy which focuses on Cromwell.

Hilary Mantel has become one of the most influential historical fiction writers of all time. You and pick up a copy of Wolf Hall from Amazon. You should also check out the other two books in the trilogy. 

3. Geraldine Brooks, Born 1955

Geraldine Brooks is from Sydney, Australia. She has worked as a journalist and as a writer during the course of her career, focusing on historical fiction. Her father was a singer in an American big band who met her mother while he was on tour in Adelaide and got stuck. Geraldine attended the University of Sydney, getting a job as a reporter following graduation. She work for the Sydney Morning Herald for a while before moving to the United States to earn a Master’s Degree from Columbia University. 

During her career as a journalist, she covered a variety of incidents across the world, serving as a source of inspiration for her writing. She published her first book, Nine Parts of Desire, in 1994. The book was based on her experiences with Muslim women, becoming a bestseller that was translated into 17 languages. Other significant works by Brooks include Year of Wonders, March, and Foreign Correspondence.

You can pick up a copy of March, set during the American Civil War, from Amazon.

4. Diana Gabaldon, Born 1952

Diana Gabaldon - Wikipedia
Gage Skidmore, photographer. via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Diana Gabaldon is an American writer known for the Outlander series of novels. He has the ability to merge multiple genres of literature together, including historical fiction. She was born in Scottsdale Arizona and grew up in Flagstaff. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Northern Arizona University. She continued her education to earn a Master’s Degree in Marine Biology from the University of California at San Diego. She also earned her PhD in behavioral ecology from Northern Arizona University. 

She earned a job in Environmental Studies at Arizona State University, serving as the founding editor of the science software quarterly. She wrote software reviews and technical articles for computer publications during the 1980s. She eventually left to write full-time.

The first novel she wrote was as practice. She didn’t have any intention of continuing as a writer, and did not have a background in history. She was inspired to pursue the genre after watching Doctor Who. 

Her marquee work is the Outlander series, which focuses on a 20th century nurse who travels back in time to Scotland in the 18th century and finds romance and adventures. The character travels to North America, England, France, and the West Indies along the way. You can pick up a copy of the Outlander series for yourself from Amazon.

5. Philippa Gregory, Born 1954

Philippa Gregory - Wikipedia
Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0. via Wikipedia

Philippa Gregory is a British novelist who has published a variety of best-selling historical fiction novels. She was actually born in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. She studied journalism in college in Cardiff. Then, she spent a year as a reporter with the Portsmouth News. She eventually earned an English literature degree from the University of Sussex in 1982. She worked for BBC Radio for two years before she attended the University of Edinburgh, earning her PhD in 18th century literature.

Her works have focused on a variety of historical periods, including the Tudor era of the 16th century. Some of her novels have been set in the 17th century, while others have been set in the 18th century. The most popular book, titled The Other Boleyn Girl, won the award for the Romantic novel of the year in 2001. Another one of her works, The White Queen, was turned into a TV series.

You can pick up a copy of The Other Boleyn Girl, which focuses on the life of Anne Boleyn (one of the queens of Henry VIII), from Amazon, one of the best historical fiction books of all time.

6. Sarah Waters, Born 1966

Sarah Waters - Wikipedia
Annie_C_2 – https://www.flickr.com/photos/97117226@N00/149667884/ by Cc-by-2.0 via Wikipedia

Sarah Waters is a historical fiction author from Wales. She is known for her numerous books that focus on Victorian society. Of note, many of her works focus on lesbian protagonists, including Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet. She is originally from Pembrokeshire, but moved to Middlesbrough at a young age. After finishing grammar school, he attended the University of Kent, earning her bachelor’s degree in English literature. He went on to earn her master’s, as well as a PhD from the University of London. 

The first book to put her on the map was Tipping the Velvet, which she published in 1998. This book was adapted into a television series for BBC Two, and focuses on lesbian relationships during the Victorian era. It has also been translated into 24 languages. Some of her other significant works include Affinity, Fingersmith, and The Night Watch. She has become one of the most influential modern writers, particularly among the LGBTQ community.

You can pick up a copy of Tipping the Velvet on Amazon.

7. Colson Whitehead, Born 1969

Colson Whitehead - Wikipedia
Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0. via Wikipedia

Colson Whitehead is one of the most popular authors of American historical fiction. He was born in New York City and grew up in Manhattan. His parents own an executive recruiting firm, and he attended the Trinity School in Manhattan. He attended Harvard University, graduating in 1991. He still lives in New York City, from which he has published many of his work. Of note, he received a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2002, which he uses to further his career as a writer.

He published his first book in 1999, titled The Institution. His most popular work is The Underground Railroad, which he published in 2016. This book won the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction as well as the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It focuses on the life of slaves if they try to escape from the Southern United States during the first half of the 19th century. In 2020, he won another Pulitzer Prize for his book titled The Nickel Boys. He has also published a few works of nonfiction as well.

His works have influenced a lot of young authors in the field of historical fiction. You can pick up a copy of The Underground Railroad for yourself from Amazon.

8. Bernard Cornwell, Born 1944

Bernard Cornwell - Wikipedia
SarahSierszyn from Chatham, MA, USA – DSC_0051, via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Bernard Cornwell is an English author who focuses on historical fiction. Most of his works have focused on the Waterloo Campaign, which was the last campaign of Napoleon during the early 19th century. Eventually, Napoleon would be defeated at Waterloo by a coalition of a variety of other countries.

His best-known novels focus on The Rifleman, Richard Sharpe. The series was eventually turned into a television series of the same name. His works have also served as the basis for the television series The Last Kingdom, run by the BBC. Today, he lives in the United States with his wife, frequently moving between Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Charleston, South Carolina.

His most popular novel series, Sharpe, focuses on Richard Sharpe, who was sent to the Iberian Peninsula to fight against Napoleon. The series takes place over seven years, with Sharpe frequently engaging with the enemy across multiple battles. You can pick up a copy of Sharpe for yourself from Amazon.

Final Word On The Best Historical Fiction Authors

The world of historical fiction is a wide-ranging genre. There are plenty of works that focused on the Medieval Times, While others focus on the Cold War. There are also plenty of books that focus on World War II, such as American, Japanese, and Nazi soldiers. The top writers of historical fiction have a unique ability to blend general facts of the era with entertaining fictional twists. Many of their works are adapted to television series and movies.

If you are looking for fun, entertaining, thrilling books to read, you may want to check out a few of the books on this list as well. Then, remember that many of these writers also write books that focus on the other periods of history. You may want to check out some of their other works as well. This is a great way to not only learn about a certain time in history but also be entertained by some of the most talented writers in the world.

FAQs About the Best Historical Fiction Authors

Are historical books non-fiction?

There are lots of ways people write about history. There are some people who write non-fiction novels that focus on getting the dates and facts precise. In some cases, they read more like a textbook. In other cases, people use historical dates as context for works of fiction. That is exactly where historical fiction comes into play. 

Are historical fiction books historically accurate?

Some of the characters in historical fiction books might be fictional; however, the events that take place in the book are usually historically accurate. A historical novelist has to do a tremendous amount of research to make sure they get their facts correct. 

Are historical fiction books a good way to learn about history? 

Historical fiction books are a good way to learn about the general facts of the time period; however, they usually do not possess the same level of granular detail as a history textbook.

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