Novels for High School History Class: Books by Time Periods

Fitting in a novel to a world history class is difficult. There is a lot to cover and adding a novel complete with in-classroom discussion seems next to impossible. But if you can manage it, and I highly encourage you to, your students will be greatly benefited.

Novels in history class can add a human element that is often missing in history class. Teachers don’t always connect the content to students lives and experiences but novels can. Especially if you pick a novel that won’t be read in English class, students will have an experience that most history students won’t and will have an opportunity for further information.

The following books were chosen by time periods. I thought this was a fun way to approach this blog. Also, we can all find a bunch a books by white men that tell the story of white men. I created a list that isn’t Euro-centric and has only one verified male author. Other factors considered were:

  • Readability (students have to be able to understand the language. Too many words, phrases, and experiences that they can’t understand, the less likely they will want to read it).
  • Availability (if a teacher can’t easily get enough copies for students to read, it wasn’t included in the list. This includes books that are crazy expensive – left off the list)

Although there are links to the books on Barnes & Noble, they are not affiliate links.

Ancient World: The Epic of Gilgamesh

Quite frankly this almost didn’t make the list because I don’t think it is easy to read. Advanced history classes may have no issue with this but lower level history classes or classrooms with struggling readers will have problems. Nevertheless, I think if you are well versed in this book and the background history it can work really well.

For struggling students, I like the idea of not reading the entire book but selecting specific passages to share and studying the history of the time. After all, many students will be amazed that they are reading something so old. I mean, they are sharing something that people have read for 4,000 years.

Medieval: The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

This is the world’s first novel, meaning, it is written in a way that we expect when we read a novel. It is not a poem unlike everything before it. And it was written by a woman.

The Tale of Genji is still different in terms of flow because it was written in the 11th century and was written in Early Middle Japanese. However, it showcases the privileged lifestyles of the high-court of Japan and is a unique way to study early medieval Japan. It would also be an awesome introduction to comparing medieval Japan to medieval Europe, a favorite higher-level lesson of world history teachers.

Regency: Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

Besides the fact that I love Austen, I think she is too often skipped by public schools because she wrote romances. Her writing is sublime and the story is still relatable yet is filled with wonderful historical talking points especially when comparing the Regency world to today.

This time period is also about a hundred years before suffrage becomes a thing but at the moment when feminism is gaining traction. When viewed from that point it makes for an interesting read.

African Colonization: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Many high school English classes will read this book but if your high school isn’t one of them, consider this in your world history class. The book is about British political and religious influences in Africa as they colonize the continent. It is a work of fiction but it is a unique way to discuss European involvement in Africa and gives a human perspective. The colonization of Africa is usually presented by only showcasing the improvements or perceived improvements of colonization rather than the dramatic shifts that changed life forever.

Iranian Revolution: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

I’m surprised by some of the reviews of this book on Amazon. Several point out that this isn’t just a graphic novel because it is illustrated but it is actually a graphic novel. To say that this shouldn’t be read in high school history classes is just outright wrong. I’m sorry, it’s wrong. History is nothing but atrocities and this book is the story of one’s girls experiences during the fall of the Shah and the Iranian Revolution. It isn’t pleasant. It is violent. It also shares teenage angst and trying to find one’s self.

All of those reasons are why your students will actually like reading this b0ok.


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