20 Best Wilbur Smith Books For History Lovers

Are you looking for the best Wilbur Smith books? Discover some of his most popular titles in our guide. 

If you are interested in some of the best works of historical fiction, you have probably heard about Wilbur Smith. He is a British and South African author born in Zambia. He specializes in crafting historical fiction about how international powers have been involved in the southern portion of Africa for more than four hundred years.

He is known for telling stories from both the perspective of indigenous populations and white immigrants. Born in Kabwe, Zambia, in 1933, he built a career by showcasing what was happening in Africa at the behest of European powers. Even though he passed away in 2021, he is still considered one of the best historical fiction authors. If you want to explore Wilbur Smith’s most significant works, take a look at his works below. 

1. River God, 2008

Wilbur Smith
Wilbur Smith via Wikipedia, Public Domain

River God is arguably the most popular book by Wilbur Smith. The book focuses on Tanus, who is a young warrior. The gods have named him to be the leader of the army of Egypt. The kingdom is divided in two, and he has been named the leader to bring the kingdom back together again.

On the other hand, he is after much more than just a unified kingdom. He wants to gain possession of Lady Lostris. The book focuses on his trials and tribulations as he has to juggle multiple priorities to fulfill his destiny. If you like reading historical fiction books, you might want to check out our round-up of the best James Michener books!

“I was sitting in the Temple of Karnak on the Nile, as the sun was going down, and I was all alone, and the great Hypostyle Hall was full of shadows and ghosts of the past, and suddenly I heard this little voice saying “my name is Taita, write my story”… and if you believe that you’ll believe anything.”

Wilbur A. Smith, River God

2. Birds of Prey

Birds of Prey takes place in 1667. The book follows a character named Francis Courtney, exploring South Africa with his son, Hal. They are trying to maneuver a caravel, a warship exploring the tip of the continent. They are waiting for one of the galleons of the Dutch East India Company, which should have a tremendous amount of treasure as it comes back from East Asia. What ensues is a tremendous amount of adventure, violence, and triumph.

“A man’s passion is like a fire in tall, dry grass, hot and furious but soon spent. A woman is like a magician’s cauldron that must simmer long upon the coals before it can bring forth its spell. Be swift in all things but love.”

Wilbur Smith, Birds of Prey

3. The Sound of Thunder, 2007

The Sound of Thunder focuses on Sean Courtney, who finds himself in the middle of the Boer War. He is sent to the front lines before being dispatched with the Commandos on a special mission. He quickly has to adjust to the pace of combat, but all he wants is peace. He wants to get married, start a farm, and raise a family. But, all of a sudden, he finds that a peaceful life is very far away, as he continues to fight for his life in the middle of a strange land. 

“Scowling a little to cover the strength of his pride and his love, Sean examined him surreptitiously. The beauty of this boy’s face was almost indecent, the innocence of the eyes and faultless skin should have belonged to a girl.”

Wilbur Smith, The Sound of Thunder

4. When the Lion Feeds, 2006

When The Lion Feeds focuses on a leader named Sean. He is an influential leader who took possession of South Africa at the end of the 1800s. He or his twin brother grew up on a farm, and the book focuses on his journey as he grows from a boy into a man. Eventually, he will become the leader of South Africa, and he tries to make his mark on history. However, he encounters many challenges along the way, and he has to balance maintaining complex relationships with his family members against his duties to his country. 

“Then she looked at his eyes and her panic smoothed away. With those eyes watching over her she was never to feel frightened again, not until the very end and that was a long time away. Going into his love was like going into a castle, a thick-walled place. A safe place where no one else could enter.”

Wilbur Smith, When the Lion Feeds

5. The Quest, 2008

The Quest is one of the most popular books by Wilbur Smith. This story talks about a warlock who studies the lore of the ancient gods. Recently, Egypt has been hit by several plagues that have weakened the kingdom, leaving it vulnerable to outside forces. As natural disasters continue to strike, one has to take command, stabilize the country, and fight for the people, but will this fight be successful? Want to read more fiction novels? Check out our roundup of the best Paulo Coelho books!

“Happiness cannot last, he thought. It is too intense.”

Wilbur Smith, The Quest

6. Ghost Fire, 2019

Ghost Fire took place in 1754. The Courtney family has been torn apart by tremendous death, guilt, and betrayal. They feel alone, haunted by the spirits of family members, friends, and past lovers. They are trying to figure out how they can a town for their mistakes and make it out alive. But, they find themselves on another adventure in the middle of a foreign land, struggling for survival. 

“There were murmurs of alarm as the men took in the news. Mansur knew they would not be thinking of casualties and loss of life. Each man would be computing in his head the impact on his balance ledger.”

Wilbur Smith, Ghost Fire

7. The Seventh Scroll, 2008

The Seventh Scroll follows the story of Pharaoh Mamose and those who seek to discover his fortune. For 4,000 years, people have been looking for his tomb, but it has never been found. Suddenly, a genius egyptologist feels she has discovered a clue to the ancient tomb. But, on the other hand, the tomb could be filled with a bunch of booby traps that mean they might not make it out with their lives. So now, the exploration team has to work together to determine if they are in the right location and how they can get the knowledge and treasure out successfully. 

“However, her shoulder, which the falling rock had struck, was badly bruised. He massaged it with arnica cream. His own bruises he treated less ceremoniously.”

Wilbur Smith, The Seventh Scroll

8. Blue Horizon, 2004

Blue Horizon follows Jim and Mansur Courtney. They are trying to make a life for themselves somewhere in Africa. Specifically, they target a remote location where they believe they can lay claim to just about any land they come across. Unfortunately, they realize Africa has been devastated by war, and there are a lot of risks they have to take along the way. All of a sudden, their destiny changes, as they are faced with a rescue mission to save someone who is being held prisoner on a convict ship.

“Although they were all nearly at the end of their tether, Jim roused the camp again before dawn. Using a span of oxen, and with much shouting and cracking of long whips, they heaved the overturned wagon back on to its wheels.”

Wilbur Smith, Blue Horizon

9. A Falcon Flies, 1980

A Falcon Flies took place in 1860. Europe is in the middle of breaking up the rest of Africa. Now, a couple approaches Africa onboard a fast boat. They have finally returned to Africa after a long time, searching for their father, who went missing during a missionary trip. Will they be able to find him, and what does the continent have in store for them? This is a story that focuses on how a young couple learns more about not only Africa but also themselves. 

“At other times they cut the monotony of a long tack with a contest of arms, taking turns at an empty corked brandy bottle thrown over the stern by a crewman, using a magnificent pair of percussion dueling pistols.”

Wilbur Smith, a Falcon Flies

10. The Sunbird, 1972

The Sunbird focuses on Dr. Ben Kazin, who is a talented archaeologist. Now, he has to work closely with his partner to discover a lost city built during the time of the Carthaginian empire more than 2,000 years ago. Will they find the information necessary to finish the thesis? Will they find glory and gold as they dig for treasure? They will learn more about a storied, ancient culture and themselves on this journey. 

“Fly for me, Bird of the Sun.”

Wilbur Smith, The Sunbird

11. The New Kingdom, 2021

The New Kingdom takes place in Egypt, where the gods are always watching. Now, a new power is rising in the middle of a major city, and a sinister evil is plotting. Will Hui, who has thus far lived a life of luxury, be able to overcome this evil and take his rightful place as one of the leaders of the country? Or will he become consumed with power on his own? What ensues is a story of love, duty, and wisdom.

“Hui looked around the jagged teeth of the rocks on the hills where he had followed the old desert wanderers’ tracks, to the undulating waves of the desert sands to the west. Squinting towards the east, he could make out the faintest glimmer of the Great River mirroring that sweep of twinkling stars overhead.”

Wilbur Smith, The New Kingdom

12. Eagle in the Sky, 2011

Eagle in the Sky focuses on a passionate love affair between a man and a woman as they look for a better life in Africa for their family and their unborn child. Unfortunately, they find that they spend much of their time running from war and illness across a vast, unfamiliar land. As they try to find their way into Namibia, will they be able to find the home they so desperately want? 

13. The Leopard Hunts in Darkness, 2008

The Leopard Hunts in Darkness tells the story of Craig Mellow, a young writer. Despite being a talented writer, he also lost a limb during an adventure in Africa. Nevertheless, he still wants to return to the continent, and his homeland, which has been ripped apart by war. He will learn much about himself and his homeland as he tries desperately to return to his native land. 

“They do say that socialism is the ideal philosophy-just as long as you have capitalists to pay for it.”

Wilbur Smith, The Leopard Hunts in Darkness

14. The Burning Shore, 2007

The Burnin Shore follows a character named Centaine Thiry. He grew up with tremendous power, wealth, and privilege. He is from a large French estate, but suddenly, she has plunged into war. Then, suddenly, she meets a famous South African pilot named Michael Courtney. Now, she is in love with him, and she decides to go with him on an adventure. Unfortunately, the adventure also means danger, and she finds herself amid a major battle off the coast of Africa. Eventually, she will discover that life is not always the luxurious dream she has enjoyed thus far. 

“I heard the footfalls, but it’s stopped now. It’s watching us, I can feel it. At that moment a small cloud passed over the moon and the world turned dark.”

Wilbur Smith, The Burning Shore

15. Wild Justice, 1960

Wild Justice is a thriller that focuses on what it is like to deal with a terrorist attack. As an innocent character stands by and watches a massive attack unfold, will the party be able to stop them and save innocent lives? This is a thrilling story that focuses on bravery, sacrifice, and the value of a single life. 

“The blonde girl held up her left hand and showed him the shiny grey egg. ‘This is a special grenade, designed for killing the occupants of a battle tank,’ she said quietly.”

Wilbur Smith, Wild Justice

16. The Diamond Hunters, 1970

The Diamond Hunters is a thriller that focuses on the treasure race that takes place in Africa. Now, the main character finds himself journeying across an unknown land in the middle of a Land Rover, trying to simultaneously find treasure and run from people trying to kill him. When will he learn that enough is enough? 

“’This is Johnny Lance – and you know I mean it.’ The door opened almost immediately. Johnny pushed his way through it, not glancing at the man who held it.”

Wilbur Smith, The Diamond Hunters

17. Warlock: A Novel of Ancient Egypt, 2008

Warlock is a novel that focuses on a war that lasted 60 years as two pharaohs struggled for control of Egypt. Now, they both claim to power, but who is going to win out? This is a story of war, deception, betrayal, and alliances. The victor will decide the future of the famous empire, while the loser will fade into the historical background

“In his long life, Taita has gone from slave to warlock, and now his wisdom and abilities are known throughout the kingdom. But even his immense skills cannot protect those close to him from the evil that lurks at the heart of Egypt.”

Wilbur Smith Warlock: A Novel of Ancient Egypt

18. Vicious Circle, 2013

Vicious Circle is a fast-paced story focusing on family secrets, greed, and vengeance. The main character is Hector Cross, and he thought he was leaving behind the realities of war when he got married, but all of a sudden, his life is turned upside down again, and he finds himself facing the barrel of a gun.

19. Those in Peril, 2011

Those in Peril tells the story of Hazel Bannock, who is the heir to a major oil corporation. She is spending time in the Indian Ocean, only to find her yacht hijacked by pirates. Now, she and her daughter are held prisoner. They are demanding a massive ransom for her release. Will she and her daughter ever go free? 

“Duplicity thy name is woman!”

Wilbur Smith, Those in Peril

20. The Dark of the Sun, 1960

The Dark of the Sun focuses on the story of Bruce Curry. He travels with a group of mercenaries on his way to a mining town. Unfortunately, it is being besieged by rebels in the middle of the African jungle. Unfortunately, the operation becomes a nightmare, and a massive struggle for survival ensues.

“About nine feet six and I weigh twenty stone, he answered, and almost laughed aloud. And how does it end? It ends with words. Words can kill anything.”

Wilbur Smith, The Dark of the Sun

FAQs About the Best Wilbur Smith Books

In what order should I read Wilbur Smith books?

There’s not necessarily an order where you should read Wilbur Smith’s books. You might want to read them in order of when they take place in history, or you might want to read them in order of publication date. There are plenty of options available. 

What age are Wilbur Smith books suitable for?

Different books are suitable for people of different ages. For example, once children understand what happened in Africa during colonial times should get some value from reading Wilbur Smith’s books. Most young adults will love his work as well. 

What is the most popular Wilbur Smith book?

River God is generally considered his most famous book, but this is open for debate. Some people believe Birds of Prey or Blue Horizon is his most famous book. These books would be an excellent introduction for people who want to explore his publications. 

What are some books I should read before reading Wilbur Smith’s books?

Before you read his books, you might be interested in reading a textbook version of what happened in Africa during the age of European colonialism. That way, you have a firm historical backdrop against which to place his book. Or, you might want to look at some historical fiction books by Ken Follett

Looking for more reading material? Check out our round-up of Hemingway’s best books!