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5 Classic James Michener Novels

by Theodore Scott Dec 15, 2008
Theodore Scott introduces you to an iconic American author.

I love James Michener novels so much people make fun of me for it. His books are thick and they usually have one word titles.

Michener takes what could be a dry subject and educates you while also entertaining you with drama in his narrative style.

He wrote over forty books, most of them centered on specific places.  The books were historical accounts of people and places told using fictional characters. These characters make you care about the events they are experiencing.

No matter how much I already know about a place, I always come away from a Michener book excited about everything I just learned and wanting to go there on my next trip.

At the beginning of each of his books, Michener tells the reader what is history and what he made up. When a character is fictional, the conditions and experiences of that person are still crucial to the overall story. They provide the framework for understanding the major events in the book.

I haven’t read a bad Michener book. All of them are good, but the five below are excellent choices.

1. Alaska

This book tells the story of America’s wildest land – a land that still seems untamed today. Along the way, you will learn about Alaska’s early Russian history, the native people of the Arctic, the settlers, and the Gold Rush.

For me, Michener has always made history resonate. This book will make you want to go to Alaska and see where all this took place.
Price: $10.85 | BUY

2. The Source

This book uses the framework of an archaeological mound to tell the story of Judaism. The mound is the remains of a fictional city in Israel. Michener presents the chapters as layers of the mound. You get to see, chronologically, how the inhabitants lived their lives through successive generations.

This is an entertaining way to learn about the Jewish Middle East, from the life of early Hebrews to modern Israel.
Price: $10.85 | BUY

3. Texas

I moved to Texas recently. I didn’t know anything about the place, so I picked up Michener’s book on the topic. The book explains the interactions between the many groups of pioneers that settled the area.

Michener never presents just one side of a story. He takes great care to present a strong Mexican heritage along with the American spirit that clashed with it. Germans, Scots, and Native Americans all play their parts. The story is intricate because that reflects how the world often behaves.
Price: $10.85 | BUY

4. Caribbean

Covering this diverse area in a short time span (albeit in only 800 pages), this book island hops through the time of the Mayans, Christopher Columbus, cannibals, New World colonies, and Castro. I am sure that most people on their serene Caribbean vacation don’t think about the history of their destination.

When I go, I will want to reread this book.
Price: $10.17 | BUY

5. The Covenant

This epic is a chronicle of South Africa’s history. Michener churned out another 1200+ page brick of a masterpiece. You get to absorb the story of Afrikaners, Zulus, spice merchants and missionaries.

Most Westerners could use an education in the events of this part of the world, and this is a great place to start.
Price: $8.99 | BUY

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