Though educational, non-fiction history books can be extremely dry. One can learn a lot from something like The Black Book of Communism, but one has to stay awake first! At times, therefore, I think it makes sense to learn from historical novels. Depending on the author's talent, these can make you live in a particular time and place, rather than give you the mundane facts about it.
It's with this intention in mind that I read Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, which is set after Napoleon had been ousted from France, but was making a comeback to re-take it! The book was outstanding.
Dumas explores a number of themes in the book, including religion, revenge, and the keys to happiness. He does this by weaving a lengthy but outstanding story through a few decades.
With a lot of books, I get where they're going and so I'm always checking page numbers with the hope of getting closer to the end. With this book, though it was long, I was dreading the end because it would mean my journey was complete.
There was not as much historical education as I would have liked in the book, however. The author uses it as background but stays pretty true to his own material. Still, the book gives one a pretty good idea of what life was like for various classes of people. It was a time when duels to the death, rather than Tweetstorms, settled scores, and when patients with ailments were bled by their doctors literally, rather than financially.