I’ve seen a number of posts lately about the trend toward long books. Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books are credited with stimulating these trends. It’s interesting that all the long book lists are fiction. I suspect that part of the attraction is the chance to lose oneself in a really good story that you don’t want to end. I personally found myself wishing that Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See was at least several hundred pages longer. I’ve reveled in Lord of the Rings several time and thoroughly enjoyed Sharon Kay Penman’s fiction. I have a couple Hilary Mantel books on my TBR stack on the recommendations of friends.
Goodreads has a feature on its stats pages that tells you what were the longest books you’ve read each year. I got curious what books would come up. It turns out that my long books with one exception, have been history or biography and the one work of fiction explores an alternate history. I’ve been on Goodreads since 2011 and here are my long books for each year.
2011: Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace (880 pages). Ross details his diplomatic efforts in the Middle East during the Clinton years, when negotiators probably got as close to an Israel-Palestinian peace as they ever have, only to see Arafat walk away.
2012: Gordon W.Prange, At Dawn We Slept (889 pages). This is Prange’s monumental work on Pearl Harbor at the beginning of World War II.
2013: Stephen King, 11/22/63 (842 pages). King explores how history might have diffent if Kennedy had survived the attempt on his life.
2014: Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (920 pages). The first of three volumes, covering Roosevelt’s early life until the day he learns of McKinley’s death and that he is President.
2015: Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit (910 pages). More Roosevelt! Goodwin, looks at the Roosevelt and Taft presidencies. Two big men, one long book.
2016 (so far): Douglas Southall Freeman, Lee Lieutenants (910 pages). This was the abridged version of Freeman’s study of Lee’s commanders.
King’s ability to spin a tale is well established. But what many haven’t discovered, remembering high school history classes, are that many who write history are a pleasure to read. This was certainly true of the books by Ross, Morris, Goodwin and Freeman. I hope you discover them, along with writers like Barbara Tuchman, David McCullough, Winston Churchill (who wrote history as well as made it), David Halberstam (who also wrote some good baseball books–a kind of history), and Arthur Schlesinger.
So if you are looking for something different in a long book, try some history or biography!