Good Minds Suggest—James Ellroy's Favorite Historical Ripsnorters

Posted by Goodreads on September 8, 2014

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Since James Ellroy made his name on the rogue cops and dead dames of his bestselling L.A. Quartet—a razor-sharp noir series set in the City of Angels that includes The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz—he has expanded his writing to an operatic scale. His ambitious Underworld USA series reenvisioned the "secret history" of the 20th century, throwing the JFK assassination, mobster subterfuge, J. Edgar Hoover, and other major players into a steaming, nihilistic tale of politics and bloodshed. Ellroy now returns with an equally epic new historical novel, Perfidia, the first of what will be a follow-up L.A. Quartet about the city that is his love and obsession. Beginning December 6, 1941, the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor shocked the nation, the book investigates the possible murder of a Japanese family. If you're looking for history that will blow your hair back, try one of Ellroy's favorite historical ripsnorters.

Libra by Don DeLillo
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"John F. Kennedy's assassination, largely seen through the eyes of Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald seeks out history. He's a pawn in a complex conspiracy characterized by many levels of deceit, interlocking agendas, screwups, and a demonically propulsive fate. There are mobsters, rogue CIA men, aggrieved Cuban exiles. DeLillo pulls off two astonishing feats: He makes the grandiose lowlife Oswald sympathetic and has you rooting for the conspirators. And this book fearlessly takes the pulse of 1963 America."

Watergate by Thomas Mallon
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"Here is the secret human infrastructure of the most scrutinized political scandal in American history. You get all the facts, meet all the players, and see how and why it all happened. Watergate is a conversational epic; Thomas Mallon sustains skulduggery and repartee with a blithe and seamless narrative ease. The gang's all here: Dick Nixon, his White House goon squad, Martha Mitchell—zonked out of her gourd. This brilliant novel is most poignantly a story of fleeting love, its memory, a minor conspirator's compromised redemption. In the end Watergate breaks your heart."

Billy Bathgate by E.L. Doctorow
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"The title character is a teenage boy in Depression-era New York City. He narrates his story from the unspecified present and speaks in an all-new narrative voice. It is rife with anachronism, invented slang, metaphysical rumination. This voice is solely the product of Mr. Doctorow's stunning imagination. In Billy Bathgate's words, we live the reign and fall of the Bronx gangster Dutch Schultz, and we become the benefactors of a hideous predator's largesse. This novel celebrates the very idea of the American myth, in a mythic language created from the ground up."

The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk
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"We're aboard the minesweeper USS Caine. Our eyes are those of Ensign Willie Keith, a rich-kid lounge lizard, late of Broadway dives and posh Long Island. Willie's running from his suffocating mom and a consuming love affair with a wrong-side-of-the-tracks girl. The crew of the Caine is a microcosm of America in wartime extremis. Willie is the observer who becomes someone stronger and braver through the simple art of observation. Psycho Captain Queeg and the Caine's mutineers capture center stage and ultimately fade behind Willie's transformation. The Caine Mutiny is a coming-of-age parable and a grand historical romance."

Exodus by Leon Uris
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"Long before 'Identity Politics' was both canonized and reviled, Leon Uris proudly proclaimed himself to be an American, a Jew, and a Zionist. Exodus is the romance of emerging nationhood. Israel is founded in the wake of unspeakable atrocity. This is the greatest of the 1950s vintage Big Bestsellers. It's pulpy, punchy, pithy, and righteously heartfelt. It is frenzied in its depiction of a homeland fought for and secured. This large novel bursts with pride."

Vote for your own favorites on Listopia: Best Historical Fiction

Comments Showing 1-25 of 25 (25 new)

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Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* Not my usual reading fare, but these look interesting and I made a note of them for future reading, thanks.

message 2: by Mary (new)

Mary Perkins Exodus is one of my all time favorite books. It helped me, at 15, become aware of the Holocaust and the strength of a people fighting for an identity in the world. No matter how you might feel about Israel these days, Exidus is a must read!

message 3: by Neil (new)

Neil Friedman I first read Exodus in paperback shortly before my Bar-Mitzvah and it continues to be one of my favorite books. While I've read and enjoyed several other Leon Uris sagas, Exodus still reverberates within me and always comes to mind when I read current event on the never-ending Israel-Palestine conflict.

message 4: by Catherine (new)

Catherine I have read Exodus at least 3 times. One of my all time the characters and the history, not only of Israel but of the brothers from Russia, the Polish ghetto, the horrific camps and so much more.
Such a fascinating book.

message 5: by Ted (new)

Ted Exodus and Mutiny are two of my favorites. Will get to the others. Thanks for the list.

message 6: by Neil (new)

Neil Friedman Ted wrote: "Exodus and Mutiny are two of my favorites.

I also remember and enjoyed "The Caine Mutiny," which I read and enjoyed more
after I sfirst aw the movie.

message 7: by Helen (new)

Helen LoBosco Read Exodus as a young woman of 21 which was many years ago. I think those of us who were children during World War II were protected from learning about the atrocities. I am glad that the information exists in the schools today.
I had read The Diary of Anne Frank but the details of what the Nazis did in the concentration camps were not described and, of course, the author was unaware of how bad the camps were. Exodus enlightened me and I found it easy to read.

message 8: by Gharford (new)

Gharford Also feel that Exodus can be accused of unashamed bias and of perpetuating fairly crude Zionist propaganda. Are there any sympathetic character who are gentle or Arab?

message 9: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Probably Ari's friend and family...the man Ari called "his brother"..later murdered by the Nazi.
The book is about what happened to the Jews..and is not Zionist propaganda in my opinion. I am not Jewish or Arab but don't know why you would call it crude?? Just saying.

message 10: by Neil (new)

Neil Friedman Gharford wrote: "Also feel that Exodus can be accused of unashamed bias and of perpetuating fairly crude Zionist propaganda. Are there any sympathetic character who are gentle or Arab?"

Your "feelings" are way off. It is NOT propaganda of any sort. If you read the book or even saw the movie, you'd know Ari's lifelong friend is Taha, (John Derek), the mukhtar of a nearby Arab village, who is killed for his loyalty to his Jewish friends.

message 11: by Norman (new)

Norman Ham Billy Bathgate is a great novel. So good, you feel like you're living in the era. Well-written and fun to read.

message 12: by Diane (new)

Diane Powers Exodus, by far the best book I have ever read. The movie did it no justice at all. I always have a copy of it, and I think it is time I read it again.

message 13: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Me too it, love it..altho the movie was worth it because of Paul Newman..(when I was young and so was he)to look at !Watch the movie whenever it is replayed.
actually..thought the cast was super BUT I agree..the book was the BEST !

message 14: by Neil (new)

Neil Friedman FYI, Exodus scheduled to run on TCM next week.

message 15: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Thanks Neil..I'll be sure to watch it again..

message 16: by edward (new)

edward E.L.Doctorow is hard to beat. I can't wait to read Billy Bathgate.

message 17: by Rabbicular (new)

Rabbicular Exodus should be read after reading Uris's novel Mila 18. That novel will give you the necessary background about the Holocaust to understand the motivations of the characters in Exodus. Uris wrote Mila 18 after Exodus by expanding on his reference to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in Exodus. I feel it is Uris' best work.

message 18: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Read Mila 18..totally agree..loved it too.

message 19: by Michael (new)

Michael "Watergate" by Thomas Mallon is the best of a good bunch.

message 20: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Batey Just finished reading Perfidia. Tough, rough, big book. It was so very complicated that had a time keeping up with all characters, but..... had to finish. I think I will wait for the next book to be made into a movie. LA Confidential was great movie.

message 21: by Celestine (new)

Celestine Nudanu Read all Leon Uris works, but Exodus tops them all. I read Exodus in my teens. Extremely profound! Opened my eyes to the Holocaust and all that Israel was and is. No matter what is happening today,Exodus is a must read.

message 22: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Batey Gharford wrote: "Also feel that Exodus can be accused of unashamed bias and of perpetuating fairly crude Zionist propaganda. Are there any sympathetic character who are gentle or Arab?"

Are you aware of the history of the Jewish people and how their people have been treated through out time? The US would not allow Jewish refugees to enter the US, turned boats away and so did Europe. An the English occupants of Isreal did not want them to enter also. I do not blame them for looking for their own "home". Exodus is part history and part fiction. But at the same time a very sad and uplifting read.

message 23: by Tita Russell (new)

Tita Russell Thanks, have been searching for good historical-fiction book. I'll make a note for my future reading

message 24: by Robert (last edited Nov 05, 2014 02:24AM) (new)

Robert Da Discussing a book like Exodus (not that there is another quite like it) is certain to be somewhat divisive in an open forum like this.

The whole story was of course remarkable, but what stays with me is the background it provides to the (unfortunately) still living conflict in Israel / Palestine.

The descriptions of limited and deeply regrettable atrocities committed by some Israeli forces (whilst trying to overcome Palestinian militant resistance which was cutting off the route to Jerusalem) give some historical basis to the ongoing militancy.

But perhaps even more relevant today is the final section in which Uris summarises the macro-geo-political background to the crisis, which is still in place today. It describes that the Arab-Middle-Eastern powers were not concerned with the welfare of the Palestinian people but were more motivated by keeping them in place, armed and in poverty as an open wound.

message 25: by Jason (new)

Jason S. Please try Thrust From the Hand of God by Jason Litz. It is in 1870 and is an historical adventure. It is very good and gets better and better as it unfolds! Thanks!

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