Given the choice, which do you prefer? Real history? Or historical fiction? (Assume, for the purposes of this discussion that they are equally well-written and engaging.)
Tough one! I'm more of a fiction person generally but I think if I really wanted to learn about something I'd choose nonfiction. Historical fiction is fun but you have to take it with a grain of salt and it's not all created equal. Some of it is alarmingly disconnected from historical reality; some of it is quite faithful to it. To get anything out of historical fiction- to be able to distinguish the good from the bad- you have to be pretty well-informed about the period you're reading about. If I'm not well-informed, I treat historical fiction like pure fiction and leave it at that.