Cover image of "The Secret Chord," a biblical story

The King David story has been told not just in the Bible but countless other times over the three millennia since he reigned over Israel and Judah. Perhaps never before, though, has any author plumbed so deeply into the complex personality that comes to light from Biblical sources and told the tale so even-handedly of his life during the seventy years from birth to death.

In The Secret Chord, Geraldine Brooks has portrayed David as both saint and sinner, poet and warrior, doting father and pitiless murderer — a man whose kingdom spanned all the territory from Egypt to Mesopotamia. (Today’s nation of Israel is but a splinter carved from that vast expanse of land.)  This book may be the final word on David; it’s difficult to envision any other author examining the man’s life with such care, compassion, and attention to detail. The narrator of this story is the prophet Nathan (Natan), who served King David as both seer and political adviser. Nathan’s tale is told in an out-of-sequence series of flashbacks that creates the maximum suspense and turns the book into a compulsive reading experience.

Some, though not all, scholars believe King David was a mythical figure who figures in history only through the legends created in the years following his supposed reign. Does it matter to us whether the man was real or only a myth? I don’t think so. The true value in David’s story lies in what moral lessons we can take from the decisions he made and the consequences that followed.

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (2015) 316 pages ★★★★★

About the author

Geraldine Brooks is an Australian-born journalist who has made a life in the United States. She won the Pulitzer Prize for an earlier historical novel, March, about the exploits in the Civil War of the father of the girls in Little Women. The other three novels she’s written have explored the years of the Black Plague in England, the saga of the Sarajevo Haggadah, and the life of the first Native American to attend Harvard College. She has also written three nonfiction books. Earlier, Brooks was a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, covering crises in Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East.

For more great reading

All of the author’s books can be found at The outstanding historical fiction of Geraldine Brooks.

If you enjoy reading history in fictional form, check out 20 most enlightening historical novels. And if you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers.

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