I, Claudius by Robert Graves (Vintage, $16). The first historical novel I remember reading and still one of the finest treatments of imperial Rome. Graves is very good on pre-Judeo-Christian morality, and the women are gloriously villainous. No one in Game of Thrones has anything on Livia or Messalina.
The Baklava Club by Jason Goodwin (Sarah Crichton, $26). This is the latest in a wonderful series of detective stories set in 19th-century Istanbul. Yashim may be a eunuch, but he has all the equipment he needs to unlock the mysteries of the Ottoman Empire. I have to declare an interest here, as the author is my brother, but I think non-family members will love these books as well.
Music and Silence by Rose Tremain (Washington Square, $32). An eerily atmospheric book about intrigue at the Danish Court in the 17th century. There is no exposition here; the reader is completely immersed into the chilly world of King Christian and his adulterous queen.
The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles (Back Bay, $16). Fowles's reputation has dimmed since his death, but The French Lieutenant's Woman is a masterful deconstruction of a Victorian novel. His description of the hypocrisies and hysteria of a 19th-century English coastal town are wonderfully acute.
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (Pocket Books, $10). Some of it is offensive now (the sympathetic treatment of the Ku Klux Klan, for example), but as compelling storytelling with a splendidly amoral heroine fighting to survive the American Civil War, it still works.
My Dear I Wanted to Tell You and The Heroes' Welcome by Louisa Young (Harper Perennial, $15 each). These two novels contain powerful imaginings of the collateral damage inflicted by World War I on a generation of young people. Their protagonist, Riley Purefoy, has half his face blown away by a shell, but the conflict also damages his friends and lovers in less visible ways. The Heroes' Welcome, to be released in March 2015, is very perceptive about the Great War's long legacy.
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