100 books like Back of the Big House

By John Michael Vlach,

Here are 100 books that Back of the Big House fans have personally recommended if you like Back of the Big House. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Book cover of Life on a Plantation

Lori Benton Author Of Mountain Laurel

From my list on life in the Antebellum South.

Why am I passionate about this?

Lori Benton is an award-winning, multi-published author of historical novels set during 18th century North America. Her literary passion is bringing little-known historical events to life through the eyes of those who lived it, either set along the Appalachian frontier, where European and Native American cultures collided, or amidst the conflict-laden setting of the southern plantation. Her novel, Mountain Laurel, begins an epic family saga that immerses readers in 1790s North Carolina plantation life and the moral dilemmas created by the evils of slavery.

Lori's book list on life in the Antebellum South

Lori Benton Why did Lori love this book?

When I begin researching a new historical subject I usually turn first to children’s books for a quick, broad overview. For Southern USA plantation life, Kalman’s book, part of the Historic Communities series, is a perfect introduction to the subject of southern plantations, with splendidly detailed drawings of homes and outbuildings, a glossary of terms, and many photographs from the latter decades before emancipation. Its focus is split between the planters’ lives and the lives of those they enslaved, introducing readers to every facet of this setting and the challenges faced by those who lived there. A great springboard into the subject for homeschooling.

By Bobbie Kalman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Life on a Plantation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Describes the plantations that existed in the southern United States into the nineteenth century, examining what life was like for the owners of these large farming communities, their children, and the slaves.


Book cover of Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South

Lori Benton Author Of Mountain Laurel

From my list on life in the Antebellum South.

Why am I passionate about this?

Lori Benton is an award-winning, multi-published author of historical novels set during 18th century North America. Her literary passion is bringing little-known historical events to life through the eyes of those who lived it, either set along the Appalachian frontier, where European and Native American cultures collided, or amidst the conflict-laden setting of the southern plantation. Her novel, Mountain Laurel, begins an epic family saga that immerses readers in 1790s North Carolina plantation life and the moral dilemmas created by the evils of slavery.

Lori's book list on life in the Antebellum South

Lori Benton Why did Lori love this book?

This extensive and prize-winning narrative of Southern women’s daily existence in the antebellum era covers all the bases on this subject. With the following chapter titles, how could it not? Southern Women, Southern Households; The View from the Big House; Between Big House and Slave Community; Gender Conventions; Women Who Opposed Slavery; And Women Who Did Not. A must-read for anyone wishing to delve into the subject of women’s lives in the antebellum south.

By Elizabeth Fox-Genovese,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Within the Plantation Household as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Documenting the difficult class relations between women slaveholders and slave women, this study shows how class and race as well as gender shaped women's experiences and determined their identities. Drawing upon massive research in diaries, letters, memoirs, and oral histories, the author argues that the lives of antebellum southern women, enslaved and free, differed fundamentally from those of northern women and that it is not possible to understand antebellum southern women by applying models derived from New England sources. |A powerful historical study in which the author's use of letters, memoirs, oral histories, as well as extensive archival sources bring…


Book cover of Women's Life and Work in the Southern Colonies

Ida Flowers Author Of Jessie's Passion

From my list on everyday life in the Southern colonies.

Why am I passionate about this?

Ever since I started reading the Little House series at the age of ten, I’ve been in love with women’s history. In college I had the opportunity to write a paper on the topic of my choice and I chose women of the American colonial period. I found that while our daily life is now very different, our feelings as women are much the same. The more primary sources I discovered, the more I could feel the fears, sorrows, and joys of the determined women who came before us, unwittingly creating records of their experiences in their correspondence and journals as they built homes and businesses from the raw, wild land.

Ida's book list on everyday life in the Southern colonies

Ida Flowers Why did Ida love this book?

Julia Cherry Spruill is herself a fascinating character, one who worked in her husband’s shadow most of her life, an academic wife, as it were, creating research methods for the decade-long project of examining women’s experiences in the New World. The book, after being published, was largely ignored for thirty years, until it was published in paperback at a time when women’s history was attaining status as an academic field. Women’s Life and Work is overflowing with details concerning women’s activities, clothing, food and drink, childbearing, and death, with personal anecdotes of their feelings about it all. 

By Julia Cherry Spruill,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Women's Life and Work in the Southern Colonies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Out of a wealth of documentation, and often from the words of the people themselves, Spruill's account brings these women's lives out of the shadows-opening a usable past that was not there before.

In the words of Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., it is "an important contribution to social history to which students will constantly turn."

Book cover of The Plantation Mistress: Woman's World in the Old South

Lori Benton Author Of Mountain Laurel

From my list on life in the Antebellum South.

Why am I passionate about this?

Lori Benton is an award-winning, multi-published author of historical novels set during 18th century North America. Her literary passion is bringing little-known historical events to life through the eyes of those who lived it, either set along the Appalachian frontier, where European and Native American cultures collided, or amidst the conflict-laden setting of the southern plantation. Her novel, Mountain Laurel, begins an epic family saga that immerses readers in 1790s North Carolina plantation life and the moral dilemmas created by the evils of slavery.

Lori's book list on life in the Antebellum South

Lori Benton Why did Lori love this book?

Another in-depth examination of the topic, this book focuses on the fifty-five years following the Revolutionary War, exploring the swift and sweeping changes in American society during this early Federal period and how they influenced the daily lives of planters’ wives. Clinton drew on hundreds of memoirs, diaries, and women’s letters to explore the issue of gender in antebellum Southern culture. This book makes a good follow up to Spruill’s work on the lives of Southern colonial era women.

By Catherine Clinton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This pioneering study of the much-mythologized Southern belle offers the first serious look at the lives of white women and their harsh and restricted place in the slave society before the Civil War. Drawing on the diaries, letters, and memoirs of hundreds of planter wives and daughters, Clinton sets before us in vivid detail the daily life of the plantation mistress and her ambiguous intermediary position in the hierarchy between slave and master.

"The Plantation Mistress challenges and reinterprets a host of issues related to the Old South. The result is a book that forces us to rethink some of…


Book cover of The Kitchen House

Diane C. McPhail Author Of The Abolitionist's Daughter

From my list on little-known Civil War era history.

Why am I passionate about this?

Diane C. McPhail is the award-winning author of The Abolitionist’s Daughter, her debut novel based on family history and little-known impediments to Southern Abolitionism and anti-slavery. Her yet-to-be-titled second novel, a historical 1900 Chicago & New Orleans psychological mystery, is due for release in the spring of 2022. As an experienced therapist, Diane has a passionate interest in the complex, sometimes conflicting, qualities of character and culture, and how those intricacies complicate the plot. Diane holds an M.F.A., M.A., and Doctor of Ministry.

Diane's book list on little-known Civil War era history

Diane C. McPhail Why did Diane love this book?

In this bestseller, Grissom offers an intricate view of little-known history. I am intrigued by stories that open a window onto aspects of life in history that, for one reason or another, are unfamiliar. Grissom’s story of an Irish indentured servant struggling to bridge the gap between race and class is just such a revelation. These issues remain timeless and powerful.

By Kathleen Grissom,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Kathleen Grissom, New York Times bestselling author of the highly anticipated Glory Over Everything, established herself as a remarkable new talent with The Kitchen House, now a contemporary classic. In this gripping novel, a dark secret threatens to expose the best and worst in everyone tied to the estate at a thriving plantation in Virginia in the decades before the Civil War.

Orphaned during her passage from Ireland, young, white Lavinia arrives on the steps of the kitchen house and is placed, as an indentured servant, under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate slave daughter. Lavinia learns to cook,…


Book cover of Working Cures: Healing, Health, and Power on Southern Slave Plantations

Janet Farrell Brodie Author Of Contraception and Abortion in Nineteenth-Century America

From my list on American women’s lives in the American Revolution.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have loved these five books for many years. I used them often in college history classes and students always loved them, too. We learn much about women’s lives and hearts (and, of course, about men’s) from each book. They bring into vivid detail women’s hard work---domestic labor and paid work---but the books also vividly illuminate the joys, pleasures, and griefs in women’s lives--sickness and healing, children, sexuality, love, and loss. We see deeply into the lives of slaves, into the lives of the working poor, as well as of the middling classes during decades of enormous change. These books cover true events and real people, based on letters and diaries and traceable events.

Janet's book list on American women’s lives in the American Revolution

Janet Farrell Brodie Why did Janet love this book?

Slaves brought deep knowledge of healing cures and medicines from Africa and that knowledge remained and circulated, helping “to heal the body and preserve the soul” as they endured slavery. Slaves held a “relational view” of sickness and health, focusing on the broader slave community and its health rather than the wellness or illness of the individual. This book in no way romanticizes slave healing as aiding an idealized communal harmony. Fett never lets us forget that slaves always faced conflict and struggle, especially since slaveholders intervened constantly in matters of health. Here, though, we gain a deep and powerful—and painful—understanding of certain kinds of relations on plantations, particularly male and female slaves’ work of curing and healing, and the uses of “conjuring,” “working roots,” divination, and “the clandestine practices of antebellum hoodoo.” Interpreting medical beliefs and practices, Fett illuminates broader social struggles over power.

By Sharla M. Fett,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Exploring the charged topic of black health under slavery, Sharla Fett reveals how herbalism, conjuring, midwifery, and other African American healing practices became arts of resistance in the antebellum South. Fett shows how enslaved men and women drew on African and Caribbean precedents to develop a view of health and healing that was distinctly at odds with slaveholders' property concerns. While white slaveowners narrowly defined slave health in terms of ""soundness"" for labor, slaves embraced a relational view of health that was intimately tied to religion and community. African American healing practices thus not only restored the body but also…


Book cover of The Known World

Xolani Kacela Author Of Stop Anxiety In Its Tracks

From my list on a deep understanding of human nature.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have a passion for helping people realize they are only limited by their imagination. By dreaming wildly and acting on one’s dreams, a person can achieve highly unlikely outcomes. People are born to be free and pursue the things in life that make them happy and fulfilled. However, people need education, training, and mentoring. I am driven to do each of these to help others live fulfilling and purposeful lives. My expertise arises from my formal training and applied life lessons acquired from modeling highly-gifted teachers and friends.

Xolani's book list on a deep understanding of human nature

Xolani Kacela Why did Xolani love this book?

This book is so special in its depiction of human beings striving for survival.

It is the only book that shows African American as slaveholders. The charm is the clarity with which Jones writes. His gift is the ability to say complex things simply. He made me strive to be a better writer. His story helped me feel deeply in ways I had not previously known I could feel.

By Edward P. Jones,

Why should I read it?

4 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…


Book cover of A Hard Fight for We: Women's Transition from Slavery to Freedom in South Carolina

Lee Ann Timreck Author Of Pieces of Freedom: The Emancipation Sculptures of Edmonia Lewis and Meta Warrick Fuller

From my list on the activism of African American women.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm fascinated with material culture – studying the things we make and use – and what they tell us about our history. My particular passion is for nineteenth-century Black material culture, often the only tangible history of enslaved and newly-emancipated Black lives. The books on my list educated me of the historical realities for African Americans, from emancipation to Jim Crow – providing critical context for deciphering the stories embedded in historical artifacts. Overall, the gendered (and harrowing) history these books provide on the contributions of African-American women to civil rights and social justice should be required reading for everyone. 

Lee's book list on the activism of African American women

Lee Ann Timreck Why did Lee love this book?

“Slave women’s transition to freedom, while deeply desired, prayed for, and actively pursued, was a treacherous and ambiguous process.” With these words, Leslie Schwalm goes on to detail the activist role Black women played in securing emancipation and shaping a different future for themselves and their families, from slavery to freedom. 

Schwalm uses oral narratives to capture their experiences before, during, and after the Civil War, and examines how social, racial, and political realities influenced the lives of Black women. This book is a must read on how African American women continuously challenged the barriers to free labor, family autonomy, and legal rights, in their quest to “define and defend freedom”.

By Leslie A. Schwalm,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Hard Fight for We as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

African-American women fought for their freedom with courage and vigor during and after the Civil War. Leslie Schwalm explores the vital roles of enslaved and formerly enslaved women on the rice plantations of lowcountry South Carolina, both in antebellum plantation life and in the wartime collapse of slavery. From there, she chronicles their efforts as freedwomen to recover from the impact of the war while redefining their lives and labor.

Freedwomen asserted their own ideas of what freedom meant and insisted on important changes in the work they performed both for white employers and in their own homes. As Schwalm…


Book cover of The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: An African American Heritage Book

Patrick Bixby Author Of License to Travel: A Cultural History of the Passport

From my list on memoirs about lives on the move.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been putting my passport to good use for the last thirty years or so. Few things make me happier than showing up in an unfamiliar place – whether a village in Ecuador, a town in Ireland, or a city in Ghana – and trying to become familiar with the people, the customs, the food, all of it. But I suppose what I love most is a good story. During those three decades, I’ve also become a Professor of English at Arizona State University, where my research has increasingly focused on how artists and ideas move across geographical and cultural boundaries. In my latest book, License to Travel, these various interests come together. 

Patrick's book list on memoirs about lives on the move

Patrick Bixby Why did Patrick love this book?

This book moves me whenever I open it, no matter the chapter, no matter the page.

It presents the harrowing tale of Douglass’s flight from slavery as a young man with a degree of urgency and detail that is not found in his other writings.

But it is the account of his travels through Europe and North Africa as a man of almost seventy, finally free to pursue his lifelong wanderlust, that is perhaps most poignant: “I had strange dreams of travel even in my boyhood days,” he writes. “I thought I should some day see many of the famous places of which I heard men speak, and of which I read even while a slave.”

In between Paris and the pyramids, Douglass repeatedly compares what he sees in the Old World with what he knows so well, and often so painfully, of American ideals, values, and aspirations.

By Frederick Douglass,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This richly illustrated edition of this classic American autobiography sheds new light on Douglass's famous text for a new generation of readers.

Famous orator and former slave Frederick Douglass published his third and last autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, in 1881. No longer in danger as an escaped slave, it goes into greater detail and encompasses Douglass's entire life, from his early years living with his grandmother in Maryland to the events during and after the Civil War, including his meetings with presidents and dignitaries and his deep involvement with the burgeoning suffragist movement. His account reveals what…


Book cover of Doctoring Freedom: The Politics of African American Medical Care in Slavery and Emancipation

Andrew M. Wehrman Author Of The Contagion of Liberty: The Politics of Smallpox in the American Revolution

From my list on understanding health and politics in the early US.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian of early American history who discovered the history of medicine somewhat by accident. As a history graduate student, I wanted to understand how ordinary Americans experienced the American Revolution. While digging through firsthand accounts written by average Americans, I came across a diary written by a sailor named Ashley Bowen. Although Bowen wrote made entries daily beginning in the 1760s, he hardly mentioned any of the political events that typically mark the coming of the American Revolution. Instead, day after day, he wrote about outbreaks of smallpox and how he volunteered to help his community. From then on, I began to understand just how central and inseparable health and politics are. 

Andrew's book list on understanding health and politics in the early US

Andrew M. Wehrman Why did Andrew love this book?

Gretchen Long’s book Doctoring Freedom includes remarkable stories not only of how Black people were abused and left out of American health care, such as it was in the 19th century, but centers the book on Black Americans’ efforts to support their health and their citizenship while being denied both. Long’s finely detailed case studies of Black doctors, such as John Donalson Austin who had been an enslaved herbal healer who was denied the right to practice when free, is one of many stories Long uncovers as she details the ways Black healers and doctors used clinics, hospitals, and dispensaries as sites of resistance to both medical and political authorities.

By Gretchen Long,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For enslaved and newly freed African Americans, attaining freedom and citizenship without health for themselves and their families would have been an empty victory. Even before emancipation, African Americans recognized that control of their bodies was a critical battleground in their struggle for autonomy, and they devised strategies to retain at least some of that control. In Doctoring Freedom, Gretchen Long tells the stories of African Americans who fought for access to both medical care and medical education, showing the important relationship between medical practice and political identity.
Working closely with antebellum medical journals, planters' diaries, agricultural publications, letters from…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in slaves, plantations, and the South?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about slaves, plantations, and the South.

Slaves Explore 105 books about slaves
Plantations Explore 30 books about plantations
The South Explore 186 books about the South