Three favorites from the historical novelist’s shelves.
In novels like Duchess of Milan and Byzantium, Michael Ennis crafts historical fiction that brings the events of antiquity to life in vivid detail. His most recent page-turner, The Malice of Fortune, is a mystery that finds Niccolò Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci assisting a young courtesan in the search for a serial killer and the rescue of her kidnapped son. This week, Ennis points us to his three favorite books, all steeped in history — ancient, imagined, and otherwise.
By Dante Alighieri
“What if today a single literary voice combined the metaphysical profundity of Stephen Hawking; the earnest piety of Rick Warren; the biting political commentary of Maureen Dowd; the sassy gossip of Gawker media; the terrifying imagination of Stephen King; a Wikipedia-like compendium of knowledge — and then made it all rhyme like Jay-Z? That improbable talent would be the next Dante Alighieri, the fourteenth century Florentine exile who kick-started the Renaissance with his epic journey from the feculent depths of Satan’s frozen pit to a psychedelic encounter with the Prime Mover. Along the way, Dante chats up a who’s who of history, explains the known universe, settles scores with his enemies, and has a literally transporting reunion with a dead lover. Nobody before or since has written anything so audaciously, poetically ambitious.”
By Barbara W. Tuchman
“Nothing inspired me to write historical fiction quite so much as Tuchman’s historical nonfiction. In this classic she reconstructs the chaotic fourteenth century with the narrative drive of a novelist, framing her story around the life and times of the French nobleman Enguerrand de Coucy, a rare “whole man in a fractured time,” who escaped his century’s endemic plagues and power struggles only to fall victim to a military adventure — the west’s last great Crusade, which ended disastrously at Nicopolis in 1396 — that he counseled against. Tuchman navigates the archival evidence with a keen eye for history’s ironies and an unerring moral compass, reminding us that the powerful will always have their peculiar, infuriating follies and the little people will always pay for them.”
By Robert Harris
“This alternative-history mystery almost single-handedly defines a genre. In a chillingly realistic 1964 Berlin, a triumphant Hitler celebrates his 75th birthday amid Albert Speer’s grotesquely over-sized architectural monuments, while the fate of Europe’s Jews is only a rumor shrouded in Nazi propaganda — until a browbeaten SS cop comes across evidence of the Wannsee conference, where the final solution was plotted. What sets this book apart is the pitch-perfect mash-up of documented facts, historical figures, and the intricately imagined details of a vast, suffocating postwar Nazi bureaucracy, populated with true-believing thugs and mindless disciples. You enter Harris’s Fatherland in dreadful fascination and exit profoundly grateful that this brilliantly conceived what-might-have-been never was.”