The best novels about slavery from both sides

Michael C. White Author Of Soul Catcher
By Michael C. White

Who am I?

I’m the author of seven novels, including Soul Catcher, a Booksense and Historical Novels Review selection; A Brother’s Blood, which was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book and an Edgar Award Finalist; The Blind Side of the Heart, A Dream of Wolves, and The Garden of Martyrs, a Connecticut Book Award finalist and made into an opera. My historical novel Beautiful Assassin won the 2011 Connecticut Book Award for Fiction. I’ve also published a collection of his short stories, Marked Men, in addition to over 50 short stories in national journals.  I was the founding editor of two magazines, American Fiction and Dogwood, as well as the founder and former director of Fairfield University's MFA Creative Writing Program. I’ve just completed a new historical novel set during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.


I wrote...

Soul Catcher

By Michael C. White,

Book cover of Soul Catcher

What is my book about?

Augustus Cain is a man with a past he wants to forget, a present without prospect or fortune, and an uncertain future marred by the loss of his most prized possession: the horse that has been his working companion for years. He is also a man haunted by a terrible skill—the ability to track people who don’t want to be found. Rosetta is a runaway slave fueled by the passion and determination only a mother can feel.  Her flight is her one shot at freedom, and she would rather die than return to the living hell that she has left behind.

In the perilous years before the Civil War, the fates of these two remarkable people will intertwine in an extraordinary adventure—a journey of hardship and redemption that will take them from Virginia to Boston and back—and one that will become an extraordinary test of character and will, mercy and compassion. It is an odyssey that will change them both forever.

The books I picked & why

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The Confessions of Nat Turner

By William Styron,

Book cover of The Confessions of Nat Turner

Why this book?

A great and controversial novel—aren’t great novels always controversial?The Confessions of Nat Turner takes as its starting point the mind of a slave, Nat Turner, as he awaits his execution for leading a failed slave rebellion in 1831. Even when it was published in 1967, the novel inspired a strong backlash from the African-American community, who were upset, in part, because of the portrayal of a Black man lusting after a White woman. Written by a Southern White, the novel is a powerful story, powerfully told, one that remains as relevant today as it did when it was first published. 

The Confessions of Nat Turner

By William Styron,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Confessions of Nat Turner as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE

In 1831 Nat Turner awaits death in a Virginia jail cell. He is a slave, a preacher, and the leader of the only effective slave revolt in the history of 'that peculiar institution'. William Styron's ambitious and stunningly accomplished novel is Turner's confession, made to his jailers under the duress of his God. Encompasses the betrayals, cruelties and humiliations that made up slavery - and that still sear the collective psyches of both races.


The Underground Railroad

By Colson Whitehead,

Book cover of The Underground Railroad

Why this book?

The reason I so love this novel is that it seamlessly blends the horrific elements of a realistic portrayal of slavery, with a beautifully rendered fantasy/symbolic element. The two merge flawlessly to form a world that is at once brutal and appalling with another that is highly symbolic, fantastical, and lyrical in its beauty. The most obvious and compelling example of the latter element is referred to in the title itself—the mythically depicted underground railroad. Unlike the real one (run by heroes like Harriet Tubman), Whitehead’s symbolic railroad develops on an imaginative and magical level, which suggests the “underground” reality of a slave’s rich psychical and imaginative world.

The Underground Railroad

By Colson Whitehead,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Underground Railroad as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NOW A MAJOR TV SERIES BY BARRY JENKINS (COMING MAY 2021)

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE FOR FICTION 2017
WINNER OF THE ARTHUR C. CLARKE AWARD 2017
LONGLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE 2017
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER 2016

'Whitehead is on a roll: the reviews have been sublime' Guardian

'Luminous, furious, wildly inventive' Observer

'Hands down one of the best, if not the best, book I've read this year' Stylist

'Dazzling' New York Review of Books

Praised by Barack Obama and an Oprah Book Club Pick, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead won the National Book Award 2016 and the…


Beloved

By Toni Morrison,

Book cover of Beloved

Why this book?

In both raw and densely poetical language, Morrison’s novel sets out to shock readers, especially white readers, about the horrors of the South’s “peculiar institution,” as well as the North’s often quiet complicity. It sets up a mythical, almost Sophoclean tragedy: namely, how far will an escaped slave mother go to prevent her child from suffering what she had to. The answer lies at the heart of this powerful novel.

Beloved

By Toni Morrison,

Why should I read it?

22 authors picked Beloved as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Toni Morrison was a giant of her times and ours... Beloved is a heart-breaking testimony to the ongoing ravages of slavery, and should be read by all' Margaret Atwood, New York Times

Discover this beautiful gift edition of Toni Morrison's prize-winning contemporary classic Beloved

It is the mid-1800s and as slavery looks to be coming to an end, Sethe is haunted by the violent trauma it wrought on her former enslaved life at Sweet Home, Kentucky. Her dead baby daughter, whose tombstone bears the single word, Beloved, returns as a spectre to punish her mother, but also to elicit her…


The Known World

By Edward P. Jones,

Book cover of The Known World

Why this book?

This novel takes for its premise the little-known fact that freed slaves in the South sometimes themselves owned slaves. While slavery was and is primarily a white institution, Jones wants to focus on larger questions of human trafficking, human dignity, and the broad culpability of slavery. But what I find most interesting about this novel is that it brings the question of slavery into a modern context, where it exists not just as a historical fact but as a contemporary plague that haunts us today. The multiple characters—White and Black—force us to question what each of us would do if slavery still existed.

The Known World

By Edward P. Jones,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Known World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Masterful, Pulitzer-prize winning literary epic about the painful and complex realities of slave life on a Southern plantation. An utterly original exploration of race, trust and the cruel truths of human nature, this is a landmark in modern American literature.

Henry Townsend, a black farmer, boot maker, and former slave, becomes proprietor of his own plantation - as well as his own slaves. When he dies, his widow, Caldonia, succumbs to profound grief, and things begin to fall apart: slaves take to escaping under the cover of night, and families who had once found love beneath the weight of slavery…


Cloudsplitter

By Russell Banks,

Book cover of Cloudsplitter

Why this book?

What makes this immense novel (768 pages) so engrossing is that we get a very inside view of the great (or demonic—depending on your perspective) figure of John Brown. Told by his son Owen, the novel gives us both a panoramic view of Brown, his vision of slavery, his tumultuous times, and his quest to eradicate slavery by any means, as well as a very intimate portrait of the myth of John Brown as opposed to man and father.  

Cloudsplitter

By Russell Banks,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cloudsplitter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Owen Brown is the last surviving son of America's most famous political terrorist, John Brown, who in 1859 raided the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, intending to galvanise the Southern slaves into rebellion. Now Owen tells John's story. This incredible novel recreates pre-Civil War America, when slavery was tearing the country apart, and tells of one man's passage from abolitionist to guerrilla fighter and, finally, martyr. Cloudsplitter is a dazzling, suspenseful, heartbreaking story filled with both intimate scenes of domestic life and chilling violence.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Slavery, slave rebellions, and slaves?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Slavery, slave rebellions, and slaves.

Slavery Explore 230 books about Slavery
Slave Rebellions Explore 15 books about slave rebellions
Slaves Explore 72 books about slaves

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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