9 Exuberant Historical Novels About The 20th Century

The 20th century was a time defined by sweeping cultural change and technological advancement, as well as multiple major struggles on the international stage. If you want to dive into this unique era, check out the books listed here, which cover everything from World War II to the dawn of the digital age. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

Fiction Set in the 20th Century: Our 9 Picks

Title Author
1. An Unlikely Arrangement Patty Wiseman
2. The Fig Orchard Layla Fiske
3. The Memory of Love Jim Fergus
4. The Summer Before the Storm Gabriele Wills
5. Chateau of Secrets Melanie Dobson
6. What You See in the Dark Manuel Muñoz
7. Pepperland Barry Wightman
8. Dear Mrs. Bird A.J. Pearce
9. In Love and War Liz Trenow

8 Great Films From the 20th Century

  1. Citizen Kane (1941)
  2. The Godfather (1972)
  3. City Lights (1931)
  4. Schindler's List (1993)
  5. Casablanca (1942)
  6. Psycho (1960)
  7. Pulp Fiction (1994)
  8. 12 Angry Men (1957)

The History of World War I

In Depth

Transporting readers from Palestine to France, from decadent city life to the chaos of World Wars I and II, the books included on this list vividly illustrate events from the 1900s. Filled with scintillating detail and intense emotion, here are, in no particular order, nine historical novels that make the 20th century come alive.

For #1 we find "An Unlikely Arrangement" by Patty Wiseman. In the first installment of Wiseman's series about Detroit in 1929, defiant seventeen-year-old Ruth Squire is furious when her parents decide to betroth her to Dutch immigrant Peter Kirby. After she finally meets the man and discovers how nice and attractive he is, however, she ends up falling for him. But it's not going to be smooth sailing for the girl. When powerful banker Eric Horton threatens to repossess the Squires' house unless his uncompromising terms are met, a chain of misfortunes leads Ruth into a web of dangerous intrigue.

Arriving at #2 is "The Fig Orchard" by Layla Fiske. Set in the Middle East during World War I, this poignant coming-of-age epic follows the journey of a young Palestinian woman from youth to adulthood as she negotiates her changing world. Nisrina, who lives in a remote patriarchal village ruled by tradition, is arranged to marry a man who's a complete stranger to her. Although apprehensive, she finds on her wedding night that her husband is a kind person. But when he is abducted and forced to fight for the Turkish army in the war, Nisrina is swept up in an adventure that will change her life forever.

Although apprehensive, she finds on her wedding night that her husband is a kind person.

For #3 we get "The Memory of Love" by Jim Fergus. Arriving in Paris in the 1920s, Colorado cowboy and World War I veteran Bogey Lambert meets gorgeous, free-thinking painter Chrysis Jungbluth. An uninhibited student at a prestigious French arts academy, Chrysis has no problem asserting her independence in a society that values the contributions of men over women. Still, she's not past enjoying the nightlife and having a good time with a guy. Thankfully, Bogey is just the right man for a whirlwind romance.

Landing at #4 is "The Summer Before the Storm" by Gabriele Wills. Along the placid lakes and majestic forests of Canada in the years before the Great War, the aristocratic Wyndham family enjoys a charmed, decadent existence. Their world is disrupted when Jack, an estranged nephew of the family, comes to their home looking to improve his life. But the drama of his arrival is nothing compared to the turbulence of the encroaching war. As family members set out to fight in Britain and France with the possibility of never returning, the Wyndhams find their safe, privileged way of life falling apart.

For #5 we have "Chateau of Secrets" by Melanie Dobson. In wartime Normandy, noblewoman Gisele is keeping resistance fighters hidden in the underground tunnels beneath her family's chateau. When Nazis take over her home, the intrepid young woman must accommodate them while making sure her secret never gets out. Decades later, Gisele's granddaughter Chloe visits the empty chateau with a documentary filmmaker interested in her family history. Chloe knows nothing about the dramatic events that occurred on the property, nor about her grandmother's role in the war, but she's about to uncover truths beyond anything she could imagine.

When Nazis take over her home, the intrepid young woman must accommodate them while making sure her secret never gets out.

Showing up at #6 is "What You See in the Dark" by Manuel Munoz. Partly inspired by the filming of Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," this captivating novel uses second-person narration to describe Bakersfield, California in 1959. At the center of the drama is bartender Dan Watson, the son of embittered waitress and motel owner Arlene. When he falls for Teresa, a Mexican-American salesperson and singer, the gossip and bigotry of their community puts their romance in jeopardy. Tensions are further stoked when a famous director and his actress show up in town to shoot a movie, causing reality and fiction to collide with grisly results.

For #7 we have "Pepperland" by Barry Wightman. Gripped by his passion for music, computer science graduate Martin "Pepper" Porter rejects a job offer from I.B.M. to start a rock band in early 1970s Chicago. Rising to semi-stardom, Pepper is torn away from his musical life when he is confronted by his old flame Susan, a counterculture radical living as a fugitive. A fellow computer wiz, Susan wants her former lover to join her in revolutionizing communication technologies and bringing about the era of digital information. As the two embark on a quest to transform the world, they must dodge threats from a government hot on their trail.

At #8 is "Dear Mrs. Bird" by A.J. Pearce. Alternately heartrending and uplifting, Pearce's novel pays homage to the brave women who contributed to the war effort while on the ground in London. Emmy Lake, a part-time phone operator for the fire brigade, dreams of making a name for herself as a wartime correspondent. But after answering a job ad with the intention of fulfilling her wish, she finds that she's actually been hired as a typist for stringent advice columnist Henrietta Bird. Against her boss's wishes, Emmy responds to letters from troubled women with the determination to keep spirits up while German bombs continue to scar the city.

Emmy Lake, a part-time phone operator for the fire brigade, dreams of making a name for herself as a wartime correspondent.

Finally, for #9 we get Liz Trenow's "In Love and War." Over the summer of 1919, three disparate women travel to the battlefields of a small Belgian town to cope with the losses of their loved ones in the war. Ruby, a timid young woman from England, has come to find her husband's grave. Wealthy, self-assured American Alice is in search of her brother, whom she believes to be alive. Martha, who is accompanied by her young son Otto, is looking for her eldest child while trying to conceal her German identity. As the women attempt to find closure amid the trenches and graveyards of Flanders, their lives intersect in powerful ways.