The best books on the English Caribbean

Natalie Zacek Author Of Settler Society in the English Leeward Islands, 1670-1776
By Natalie Zacek

The Books I Picked & Why

Capitalism and Slavery

By Eric Williams

Capitalism and Slavery

Why this book?

This book remains a classic almost a century after its publication. Written by a black Oxford-educated scholar who would lead Trinidad to independence and become its first black prime minister, it shows readers how slaveholders in Britain’s West Indian colonies reaped immense fortunes, and how this wealth, invested in Britain’s infrastructure, helped create the Industrial Revolution and make Britain a global economic powerhouse. Lucidly written, it continues to inspire debate about the connections between slavery in the sugar fields of the Caribbean and the rise of the factory in England’s industrial heartlands.


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A Small Place

By Jamaica Kincaid

A Small Place

Why this book?

Kincaid is best known as a writer of novels and short stories, but this brief and piercing account of her experiences growing up in Antigua towards the end of the era of British rule illuminates the ways in which slavery and colonialism continued to affect Afro-Caribbean people well into the twentieth century. This memoir describes ugly experiences in beautiful prose, and offers a meditation on how individuals are shaped by history, but also how they can liberate themselves from it.


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Tacky's Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War

By Vincent Brown

Tacky's Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War

Why this book?

Tacky’s Revolt, a slave uprising in Jamaica in 1760-1, is not widely known outside the Caribbean, but Brown’s book should change that situation. Written with great attention to the significance of physical spaces as well as historical sources, Tacky’s Revolt provides insights into the lived experiences of enslaved people, and in particular how some drew upon their experiences as warriors in west African societies to stage a rebellion that aimed to overthrow plantation society. It depicts both the terrifying power and the surprising fragility of white authority in an island in which at this time 9 of 10 residents were of African descent, and nearly all of those were enslaved.


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A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados

By Richard Ligon

A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados

Why this book?

A refugee from the English Civil War, Ligon arrived in Barbados in 1647 and purchased a share of a sugar plantation there. In this surprisingly readable account of his experiences, he provides a vivid picture of a society newly colonized by the English but already deeply committed to plantation agriculture and an enslaved labor force. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the book is Ligon’s various interactions with Africans, whom he is able to see as individuals, and by whose personalities, appearance, and talents he sometimes finds himself captivated, yet whom he has few moral scruples about buying or selling.


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A Brief History of Seven Killings

By Marlon James

A Brief History of Seven Killings

Why this book?

This prize-winning novel does for Jamaica from the 1960s through the 1990s what Dickens did for Victorian London, exploring the structure of society, from political elites to slum residents, through dozens of vividly drawn characters: politicians and music promoters, gangsters and CIA agents. Centering on a real 1976 attempt to murder the reggae star Bob Marley, A Brief History depicts both the richness and resilience of Jamaican culture and the nation’s struggles to gain its independence and to create peace and prosperity for its people.


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