Cover image of "People of the Book," a good example of the outstanding historical fiction of Geraldine Brooks.

The Australian-American author Geraldine Brooks has written six works of outstanding historical fiction to date. She began her career as a journalist, working as a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. In France, she met and married an American journalist and converted to Judaism. In addition to her novels, she has written three nonfiction books, two of them based on her years as a reporter. Her work has won several other literary awards in addition to the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for March, her second novel.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

The titles below are arranged in chronological order by the date of publication.

Year of Wonders (2001) – Geraldine Brooks’ outstanding novel about England and the Plague

In Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks tackles the familiar territory of the bubonic plague, adding great emotional depth to the reader’s understanding of its impact and the now-alien setting in which it appeared. Read this book, and you’ll gain a new appreciation of both the virtues and the failings of Christianity as practiced in 17th Century England, and you’ll understand the depths of ignorance and superstition that reigned among the overwhelming majority of people living a mere three centuries ago. Be forewarned: this is not the story of the Black Death of the 14th Century but of a later outbreak of the plague.

March (2005)This Civil War novel brings hidden truths to light

March tells the untold tale of the absent father in Louisa May Alcott’s 19th Century bestseller, Little Women. Mr. March is a passionately idealistic transcendentalist preacher in Concord, Massachusetts, a romanticized version of Alcott’s own famous father. At the advanced age of 39, he joins the Union Army as a chaplain soon after the cannons roar at Fort Sumter. During his time with the army, he encounters Grace, a beautiful and well-spoken liberated slave whom he had briefly known and lusted after more than 20 years earlier in the South. The plot of the novel revolves around the intersections of his life with Grace’s, revealing the unspoken truths of relationships between whites and blacks in the antebellum South, the racism that runs as deeply among Northern troops as Southern, and the sad consequences for March’s life. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

People of the Book (2008) – The strange story of the Sarajevo Hagadah

Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks will carry you on the eloquence of her prose through the five-century journey throughout Southern Europe of the fabled Sarajevo Hagadah. In Brooks’ hands, this remarkable example of the bookmaker’s art serves as a time machine, taking us from Seville in the late 15th Century, to Sarajevo and Sydney in the early 21st. More to the point, the Sarajevo Haggadah emerges in the pages of People of the Book as a brilliant symbol of reconciliation among Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

Caleb’s Crossing (2011)In Colonial America, the first Native American goes to Harvard

The year was 1660, the place an island now called Martha’s Vineyard. The “college at Newtowne” was a theological seminary across the bay much later named Harvard University. The college was then 24 years old and sported a student body of 33 young men. The following year a brilliant young Indian, Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, matriculated as a student there. This brilliant historical novel tells the tale of Caleb’s “crossing” from his life as a chieftain’s son in the untamed expanse of what was then simply called “the island,” to the ranks of the educated elite in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Harvard’s first Indian graduate.

The Secret Chord (2015) – A biblical story, brilliantly retold

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.

Horse (2022) – A novel about a famous racehorse sheds light on slavery

Beginning in 2001, Australian-American historical novelist Geraldine Brooks brought out a new book every three or four years. Her fifth, a novel about the Biblical King David, appeared in 2015. But it was not until seven years later that Brooks’ sixth novel, appeared. (Her husband of 35 years had died in 2019.) It was worth the wait, though. It’s a worthy successor to her Civil War novel, March, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and People of the Book, about the interaction of Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the history of southern Europe. Horse is a stunning example of her art. Reflecting her own love of horses, the book celebrates the most famous racehorse of the 19th century. In the process, Brooks brings to light the conflict between North and South in the 1850s and 60s and its legacy in the divisions that still plague American society today.

About the author

Photo of author Geraldine Brooks

Geraldine Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel March as well as several other awards. Horse is her sixth novel and ninth book. Brooks was born in 1955 and educated in Sydney, Australia, and began a career in journalism with the Sydney Morning Herald. She moved to the United States to obtain a master’s degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism and married Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian and Journalist Tony Horwitz. She worked as a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, winning major awards in the process. Her husband died in 2019, ending their marriage of 35 years.

I’ve also read and reviewed a number of other outstanding historical novels. Among them are these:

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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