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James Michener: Author of Sweeping Saga Historical Fiction Books

Updated on November 3, 2015

James Michener historical fiction books take the reader on a sweeping saga through the ages

Historical Fiction is a wonderful book genre because it teaches while it entertains. James Michener's famous sweeping sagas follow the history of a specific country, region or state throughout hundreds if not thousands of years. He has a way of bonding the reader to the characters in an unforgettable manner. James Michener's books are typically very long sometimes spanning over a thousand pages and yet still when finished the reader is left wanting more.

Historical Fiction is my favorite genre and James Michener is my favorite author. I have read every one of his sweeping sagas and am so regretful to know that since he has died there are no more to come. Any person who has not yet read a James Michener books is in for a real literary treat. I only wish I could embark on that journey of discovery afresh. I search for other authors who write the same genre but I have not found a comparable writer.

Note: I have listed the books in order of my personal preference, starting with my favorite. I hope you enjoy as much as I do!

Hawaii - A Novel by James Michener

Hawaii is arguably the best book ever written by James Michener (possibly by anyone if you ask a fan.) It's historical fiction so it follows true historical events and educates the reader about Hawaiian history. It however tells this through with fictional stories and characters in a fun and engaging manner.

It starts with the volcanic activity that forms Hawaii and the drop of a seed from a lone bird's beak that brings green to the islands. Finally Polynesian seafarers discover Hawaii and make it their home. Some of these first inhabitants and their ancestors are followed through the ages up until Hawaii becomes the 50th state of the United States of America. As generations progress different immigrants are introduced into the mix and their stories and contributions are told. It is an absolutely engaging, enthralling story that is nearly impossible to put down.

Texas - A Novel by James Michener

This monumental saga that crosses four and a half centuries charts the epic history of Texas. The interesting and believable characters come to life starting with Coronado looking for the 7 cities of Cibola. Riveting pieces of history covering how Spanish priests brought "salvation" to the natives, the Spanish-American war, the Alamo, how the discovery of oil changed Texas, the State's desire to be independent and more. The book has some of Michener's most appealing characters. Over a 1,000 pages long, this saga is very hard to stop reading once started.

The Covenant - A Novel by James Michener

The Covenant is one of Michener's largest works at over 1200 pages. It is an epic tale about South Africa covering thousands of years. It covers members of the powerful Zulu nation, the first Afrikaners, the struggle between the Dutch settlers and the British latecomers. It describes how Apartheid came about, cultural differences, conflict, love, struggle and war. This book is a historically accurate, enthralling read.

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Alaska - A Novel by James Michener

The bold and majestic history of Alaska is told in this fascinating tale that begins a billion years ago. In true Michener fashion the first main characters are the now extinct woolly mammoth and mastodon. People follow including the Eskimos, Athapaskans, and Russians. Russia's Peter the Great sends a Danish navigator and explorers come from America during the gold rush seeking fortune. Though this novel is over 1,000 pages long it will seem a quick read because it's hard to stop turning the pages due to a vivid history and unforgettable characters.

Centennial - A Novel by James Michener

Written as a tribute to America's bicentennial, this 900 page book covers 136 million years. It's an epic novel of Colorado, its land and people. The cast of characters includes Native Americans, French fur trappers, English noblemen, gold-seekers, ranchers, trappers, traders and American cowboys. Families travel from other places to settle out west in this fictional town of Colorado. This epic piece of literature has a lot to teach about American history as well as human nature. This book was made into a 12 part television mini-series.

Caribbean - A Novel by James Michener

This story begins in 1310 and covers 700 years of dramatic history including events like Mayan Civilization, Christopher Columbus’s arrival, pirate invasions, the slave revolt of Haiti, the battles between the Spanish and British and the rise of Castro. It starts with the true natives, the Tainos and Caribs and spans different islands and their stories throughout the ages.

The Life of James A Michener

James Michener (February 3, 1907 - October 16, 1997) is considered by many to be one of the best American authors. He wrote more than 40 books in his time, including works of fiction and non-fiction. He was best known for his historial fiction sweeping sagas.


He was raised by an adoptive Quaker mother in Doylestown Pennsylvania. He married his first wife, Patti Koon, in 1935. Then in 1948 he married his second wife, Vange Nord. He married his third wife, Mari Yoriko Sabusawa the same year he and Vange divorced in 1955.


In 1929 he graduated from Swarthmore College with a degree in English and Psychology, Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude. He later received a masters degree from University of Northern Colorado which at that time was called Colorado State Teachers College.

Work History

Michener held several teaching jobs including one at Harvard. He was an education editor at Macmillan Publishers. He traveled trhoughout the South Pacific while on active duty during World War II. He unsuccesffully ran as a Democratic candidate for the house of representatives of Pennsylvania in 1962. He later served as a campaign manager and was also Secretary for the 1967-1968 Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention.


In his career James Michener wrote over 40 books which sold over 75 million copies worldwide during his lifetime. At times in his life he claimed to write for 12-15 hours per day. Several of his novels were very large at over 1,000 pages long.

Michener published his first work in 1947 called Tales of the South Pacific which was based on his experiences in World Ward II. This book won the Pulitzer Prize and later became the basis for the Pulitzer Prize Broadway and film musical- South Pacific. His book Centennial was made into a 12 part television mini-series.

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Poland - A Novel by James Michener

This majestic tale of Poland primarily follows three Polish families. It spans eight tumultuous centuries and these people and their ancestors. It's very historically accurate and the details may surprise many people. This often sad tale of a strong people transports the reader to another time and place in a way that only Michener can.

The Source - A Novel by James Michener

This is the most vast and sweeping sagas of all the books of James Michener. It's a story of the holy land that goes back thousands of years ago. Modern day archeologists are excavating the site of a fictional town that is very representative of religious towns in the Middle East. It starts in prehistoric times before religions existence and tells the story of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It's fascinating to watch certain bloodlines throughout the ages as they are not always the same religion though the characters would never guess the past of their ancestors. It's a fascinating and educational read unlike any other book.

Throughout his life James Michener donated substantial amounts of money to charity which totaled over $100 million. When he died he left his entire estate as well as the copyrights to his books to Swarthmore College.

Mexico - A Novel by James Michener

An American journalist travels to Mexico to cover a showdown between two famous matadors who represent "the two faces of Mexico, the Spaniard versus the Indian." He becomes swept up in the history of his ancestors. Starting 1400 years ago from ancient Mayans to invading Spaniards to modern-day Mexico this sweeping tale through the history of Mexico is captivating with characters that come vividly to life.

Chesapeake - A Novel by James Michener

This saga spans 400 years of America's great Chesapeake Bay and its Eastern Shore. The book chronicles the life of Edmund Steed, his family and ancestors. It begins in the unspoiled world of Native Americans until the voyage of Captain John Smith. It covers the Revolutionary war up to modern times. This is yet another Michener book that is over 1,000 pages long that still manages to be a page turner. It offers a great lesson in American history on the Chesapeake Bay in an engaging manner that bonds the reader to the characters.

Recessional - A Novel by James Michener

Michener's last novel, Recessional, departs from his epic format and depicts life in The Palms, a fictional Florida retirement community and hospice. Michener wrote it near the end of his life when he was himself a resident of an extended care facility. The central character is Andy Zorn, a divorced physician forced out of practice by a malpractice claim and recruited as business manager for The Palms. The novel is poplulated with a cast of fascinating often adventurous retirees and a young woman in rehabilitation who wins Zorn's affection. Michener weaves in his insights into the state of American health care, particularly dealing with the terminally ill.

Non-Fiction Books by James A Michener

Though James Michener is best known for his fiction books he also has written some excellent non-fiction books. They also typically focus on a specific place and can help you learn more about the world. One such book is:

The Bridge at Andau: The Compelling True Story of a Brave, Embattled People

This true story of Hungarian refugees escaping Soviet suppression is as easy to read and fascinating to read as his works of fiction.

© 2012 Melissa Miotke

What is your favorite genre of book to read? Have you ever read a book by James Michener?

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    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      4 years ago

      These books look like quite an interesting read.

    • MusicMadness LM profile image

      MusicMadness LM 

      5 years ago

      Hawaii is the only book of Micheners that I've read. I'm a sucker for anything beach and water related. I've been meaning to read some of his others, but just haven't had the time.

    • CampingmanNW profile image


      5 years ago

      To single out only two books from a vast library of work by Michener.....I have to say Centennial followed by the Covenant. Both outstanding books. Thanks for an entertaining and fairly thorough lens on a writing icon of our times.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Hmm... Surprised at the fact that I have never read any of James Michener's works. Look forward to reading a few of his titles after reading this reviews!

    • Camden1 profile image


      5 years ago

      I have read quite of few of Michener's books, but it's been several years. I forgot all about him - I'll have to read some more of his work. I'm especially interested in Alaska, because we're going there next year on vacation.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 

      5 years ago from Ljubljana

      I like all sorts of genres and I never heard about James Michener. Looking at all recommendations I think I have to check his works.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I loved Centennial but enjoyed all his books. He has a way of making history come alive with very human characters and a rich background of facts.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I have read a couple of his books and his range and scope never fail to amaze me. He was a true giant of American literature.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      How interesting. I've never read any of his books, but always looking for a new authoer to try. I really haven't read much historical fiction. I'll have to give a Hawaii a try.

    • LaraineRoses profile image

      Laraine Sims 

      5 years ago from Lake Country, B.C.

      I love historical fiction and yes, I've read most of his books. I'll have to get busy and read the rest. I was sorry when he passed away. Oh, I do love to read cookbooks too! Imagine that!

    • Melissa Miotke profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa Miotke 

      5 years ago from Arizona

      @Monica Ranstrom: Hawaii is a great place to start-you'll be hooked!

    • Monica Ranstrom profile image

      Monica Ranstrom 

      5 years ago

      I've never read any of them! Shame on me! I'll start with Hawaii :)

    • BestRatedStuff profile image


      5 years ago

      Thanks for reminding me of a favorite author, he writes so well.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Hawaii and The Source are my two favorites. You can just get lost in one of his books.

    • bushaex profile image

      Stephen Bush 

      5 years ago from Ohio

      It is always amazing to me how quickly 1000 of Michener's pages just fly by. My favorite is given away by one of my most recent lenses (Centennial). He was one of a kind. SquidAngel Blessings.

    • TeacherSerenia profile image


      5 years ago

      Oh and about his Biography - The World is my Home. That was WONDERFUL. I think I loved it even more than his fiction books!!!!

    • TeacherSerenia profile image


      5 years ago

      OMG - I cant beleive it. I finally find someone else who loves James Michener books as much as i do!!!The first James Michender book I ever read was The Source back in the early 1980s. I also read Caravan as well. Those 2 books got me interested. Then I read Texas and I was HOOKED. I have read pretty much every single fiction book of his. I have not read all of the non fiction books, and I know he wrote a few. I loved Space, Chesapeake, Centennial, Poland, Alaska, The Covenant, Mexico and Texas. Hawaii was OK but not one of my favourites.Excellent lens!!!!

    • Nanciajohnson profile image

      Nancy Johnson 

      5 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      I have read just about all of Michener's books. Recessional was one of my favorites, probably because my parents retired to Florida and I work with retirees in Arizona. You should add it to your list. It is a good novel.

    • Scarlet Spider profile image

      Scarlet Spider 

      5 years ago

      Great lens!


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