10 books like Life on a Plantation

By Bobbie Kalman,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like Life on a Plantation. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Back of the Big House

By John Michael Vlach,

Book cover of Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery

Though it was wealthy white planters who built plantations, the enslaved people who worked them imbued these landscapes with their own meanings. With over 200 photographs and drawings of Antebellum plantations, Vlach leads readers on a tour of plantation outbuildings, providing examples of how slaves used these spaces despite—and in defiance of—their masters’ intentions. Testimonies of former slaves (drawn from the Federal Writers’ Project collection) give the reader a sense of what it was like to live and work in these settings.

Back of the Big House

By John Michael Vlach,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Behind the ""Big Houses"" of the antebellum South existed a different world, socially and architecturally, where slaves lived and worked. John Michael Vlach explores the structures and spaces that formed the slaves' environment. Through photographs and the words of former slaves, he portrays the plantation landscape from the slaves' own point of view. The plantation landscape was chiefly the creation of slaveholders, but Vlach argues convincingly that slaves imbued this landscape with their own meanings. Their subtle acts of appropriation constituted one of the more effective strategies of slave resistance and one that provided a locus for the formation of…


Within the Plantation Household

By Elizabeth Fox-Genovese,

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

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.

Within the Plantation Household

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…


Women's Life and Work in the Southern Colonies

By Julia Cherry Spruill,

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

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. 

Women's Life and Work in the Southern Colonies

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."

The Plantation Mistress

By Catherine Clinton,

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

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.

The Plantation Mistress

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…


Tropical Babylons

By Stuart B. Schwartz (editor),

Book cover of Tropical Babylons: Sugar and the Making of the Atlantic World, 1450-1680

Although not exclusively focused on the Caribbean, the articles in this volume illuminate the long and complex history of sugar production in the early modern Iberian world, beginning with the Iberian Peninsula itself and expanding into the Atlantic island groups and across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and Brazil. The last article focuses on sugar production in seventeenth-century Barbados, underscoring that a long history of sugar cultivation preceded the better-known establishment of sugar production in the English and French islands. Here the reader will learn how sixteenth-century Europeans eagerly incorporated sugar into their cuisines and diet, at times consuming prodigious quantities. Together these articles present a fascinating and often surprising early history of a commodity that has had a huge impact on the world.

Tropical Babylons

By Stuart B. Schwartz (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The idea that sugar, plantations, slavery, and capitalism were all present at the birth of the Atlantic world has long dominated scholarly thinking. In nine original essays by a multinational group of top scholars, Tropical Babylons re-evaluates this so-called ""sugar revolution,"" presenting a revisionist examination of the origins of society and economy in the Atlantic world. Focusing on areas colonized by Spain and Portugal, these essays show that despite reliance on common knowledge and technology, there were considerable variations in the way sugar was produced. With studies of Iberia, Madeira and the Canary Islands, Hispaniola, Cuba, Brazil, and Barbados, this…


Island Beneath the Sea

By Isabel Allende,

Book cover of Island Beneath the Sea

This novel also explores the suffering inflicted on enslaved Black women by their White colonial masters. An unwilling French heir to his father’s plantation buys an adolescent slave girl as his wife’s maid. But then he uses the child for sex, while she longs for freedom. Fortunately, there’s a faint light of hope at the end of the tunnel of oppression.

The fact that this story is set during the time when enslaved Africans revolted against France, made me celebrate the indefatigable spirit of these warriors. Despite defeating Napoleon’s army and becoming the first self-liberated slave society, Haitians were faced with the challenge of building a successful nation in hostile surroundings. This novel reminds me of the price they paid then and still pay for their freedom.

Island Beneath the Sea

By Isabel Allende,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Island Beneath the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the sugar plantations of Saint-Domingue to the lavish parlors of New Orleans at the turn of the 19th century, Isabel Allende's latest novel tells the story of a mulatta woman, a slave and concubine, determined to take control of her own destiny in a society where that would seem impossible.

Born a slave on the island of Saint-Domingue - now known as Haiti -Tete is the product of violent union between an African mother she never knew and one of the white sailors who brought her into bondage.

When twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the island in 1770, it's…


Sugar and Slaves

By Richard S. Dunn,

Book cover of Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that modern historical scholarship focused upon the West Indies begins with Richard S. Dunn’s Sugar and Slaves. Blazing a trail that nearly all subsequent scholars in the field continue to travel, Dunn’s work brings a materialist and statistical awareness to the study of Caribbean history. Though this may sound like a recipe for aridity, the results are anything but dry. In his analysis of medical records, census data, mortality rates, and summaries of plantation inventories, Dunn opens up a picture of the English West Indies not as a society with slaves, but as a true slave society – one dominated by an institution that consumed countless lives with breathtaking indifference (and whose legacy continues to haunt the region today).  

Sugar and Slaves

By Richard S. Dunn,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Sugar and Slaves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published by UNC Press in 1972, Sugar and Slaves presents a vivid portrait of English life in the Caribbean more than three centuries ago. Using a host of contemporary primary sources, Richard Dunn traces the development of plantation slave society in the region. He examines sugar production techniques, the vicious character of the slave trade, the problems of adapting English ways to the tropics, and the appalling mortality rates for both blacks and whites that made these colonies the richest, but in human terms the least successful, in English America.


The Known World

By Edward P. Jones,

Book cover of The Known World

Toni Morrison once described her books as simple stories about complicated characters, and this also applies to The Known World. This beautifully-written novel, told from the perspective of slave-owners, surprises—but in this case, because they’re Black.

I’d come across an instance of African American slave-owning (which were very few) while researching my first book. Jones understands that the contradictions of the premise offer a great opportunity to explore the fiction of American racial identity.

In The Known World, there are no characters in white hats and others in black hats. The African American characters are no more noble than the white ones.

No, slavery corrupts all.

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…


The French Sugar Business in the Eighteenth Century

By Robert Louis Stein,

Book cover of The French Sugar Business in the Eighteenth Century

This book offers a lucid and very accessible study of the nuts and bolts of the eighteenth-century French sugar business. Readers get a clear understanding of the key aspects of the enterprise that made France the main sugar exporter in the world – from how it was financed, to how it relied on African slave labor, to its cultivation in the Caribbean sugar plantations. It also offers one of the best discussions of the local French domestic industries involved in the sugar business.

The French Sugar Business in the Eighteenth Century

By Robert Louis Stein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The French Sugar Business in the Eighteenth Century as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Book by Stein, Robert Louis


Pau Hana

By Ronald Takaki,

Book cover of Pau Hana: Plantation Life and Labor in Hawaii

Pau Hana is a concise overview of the immigration of workers from around the Pacific and the world, which created Hawai‘i's multiethnic community in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The immigrants were recruited by the Hawaiian Monarchy and white sugar planters as laborers for their highly profitable plantations. Workers arrived from China, Portugal, Japan, Puerto Rico, Korea, the Philippines, and even Norway, and settled in the islands. Takaki details the work they did, the camp housing, the abuses and retaliation, the opium and alcohol, the gambling and prostitution, and the worker strikes that eventually resulted in better wages and working conditions.

Pau Hana

By Ronald Takaki,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

1983: by Ronald Takaki- Life on the plantation from 1835-1920.


5 book lists we think you will like!

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