This week, I’m recommending the Flashman series, by George MacDonald Fraser. Cataloging the adventures and exploits of Harry Flashman (originally introduced as a character in Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays), a 19th century soldier in the British army and an inveterate coward and opportunist, who always manages to (undeservedly) come out a hero, the books may very well be the best historical fiction ever written. If you’ve read historical fiction before and didn’t care for it, don’t let it scare you away from Flashman; the stories are amazing, the plotting astounding, and Fraser is an unbelievably good writer. (He also co-wrote the screenplay for Octopussy, for any James Bond fans among us.)
The books are primarily a British phenomenon; they are favorites of Mr. Shakes, who introduced them to me. I’ve read the first two, both of which are absolutely brilliant. In the first one, Flashy serves in India and Afghanistan; in the second, he’s wrapped up in an incredible plot that takes him to Germany and has him entangled, much to his disdain, with Otto von Bismarck. (Mr. Shakes tells me that later in the series, he comes to America and meets up with Lincoln—I can’t wait!)
Flashy is a loathsome character, the ultimate anti-hero. He’s racist, sexist, manipulative…and fucking hilarious. I promise you’ll love to hate him, and anyone with an interest in history or politics is sure to enjoy these books. Honestly, they seem custom-tailored for clever smart-asses who love the wonky shit we talk about every day.
If you take my recommendation and pick up Flashman, which is the first in the series, and I sincerely hope you do, I’d love to hear what you think of it.
And of course, please leave your own weekly recommendations in comments.