My favorite way of consuming history is through novels. Yeah, it’s the lazy readers way. I do read non-fiction, too, but it’s so much more fun to have a cast of well-drawn characters move through the landscape with some well-researched historical era. (This is what I’ve done in Crimson Sky, my novel about the Conquistadors marching into the land of the pueblos.) David L. Robbins is a master at this. I’ve read four of his books so far and am now an enthusiast.
The War of the Rats is set in Stalingrad as the Nazi forces have the Russians under siege. Robbins focuses on a sniper brigade with one particularly effective leader who had been a hunter in his native Siberia and is a natural at sniping. He’s so lionized by the Party, hungry for heroes, that Hitler sends his own expert sniper to duel it out with our hero. So there’s that story, and then I learned all this history about Stalingrad at the same time. Robbins includes an afterword that discusses the actual events from which he derived his story.
I just finished The Betrayal Game about the days leading up to the Bay of Pigs invasion. I lived through that era, but I was a teenager and didn’t pay much attention. In Robbins’ account, we have a CIA agent, a professor (a recurring character), a sniper, Fidel himself, and various Cuban revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries. It doesn’t matter at bit that we know Fidel is not going to be assassinated in 1961 – it’s still a page turner. And I now know a lot more about those days than I did before.
If you like historical novels, look up David L. Robbins. He is definitely what my husband would call a “man’s writer,” but as you can see, I like him too. He’s way good.