100 books like Small Island

By Andrea Levy,

Here are 100 books that Small Island fans have personally recommended if you like Small Island. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Bring Up the Bodies

Ken Parejko Author Of Kasia's Story

From my list on the conflict between personal spirituality and religion.

Why am I passionate about this?

It was during the epistemological craziness around the year 2000 that I christened myself a truth warrior. I was already a scientist. Yet I knew there were other important truths, not of the mind but of the heart, truths we discover and marvel over in the realm of art. So as a biology professor I was granted a sabbatical to write the second of three of my novels, about Pliny the Elder. It is through literature, some of my own making, that I find new ways of seeing and experiencing the world: and of discovering and validating what is true, and what is not.

Ken's book list on the conflict between personal spirituality and religion

Ken Parejko Why did Ken love this book?

Though I did enjoy the earlier Wolf Hall I found Bring Up the Bodies more readable and compelling.

Hilary Mantel paints intimate word pictures of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, and especially Thomas Cromwell, struggling to make his way through the minefield of political intrigue at Henry’s court. Though it is against almost every principle he holds dear, Cromwell charts a course which one step at a time ultimately brings Anne Boleyn down.

Finding himself in an almost impossible situation, he agonizes over every decision, looking at it from many sides: legal, political, ethical, spiritual, and religious. Meanwhile not far in the background we see the Church’s Pope Clement trying desperately, like Oz’s man behind the curtain, to control events.

Mantel’s genius was her ability to transform dry history into compelling, character-driven stories.

By Hilary Mantel,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Bring Up the Bodies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Man Booker Prize

The second book in Hilary Mantel's award-winning Wolf Hall trilogy, with a stunning new cover design to celebrate the publication of the much anticipated The Mirror and the Light

An astounding literary accomplishment, Bring Up the Bodies is the story of this most terrifying moment of history, by one of our greatest living novelists.

'Our most brilliant English writer' Guardian

Bring Up the Bodies unlocks the darkly glittering court of Henry VIII, where Thomas Cromwell is now chief minister. With Henry captivated by plain Jane Seymour and rumours of Anne Boleyn's faithlessness whispered by…


Book cover of Beloved

Donna Hemans Author Of The House of Plain Truth

From my list on haunting: how the past lingers with us.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in a culture that both fears and embraces spirits or outrightly rejects the idea that spirits live on beyond death. I grew up on stories of rolling calves and duppies that caused havoc among the living. Since then, I’ve been fascinated by what haunts us—whether it be our familial spirits that float among the living and continue to play a role in our lives, our memories, or our past actions. I’ve written three books that play with this idea of past actions lingering long into the characters’ lives and returning in unexpected ways.  

Donna's book list on haunting: how the past lingers with us

Donna Hemans Why did Donna love this book?

This book is a longtime favorite of mine. Toni Morrison was a master at blending the personal story and the political, and in this book, she blends the true story of a mother who kills her child to prevent slave catchers from returning the baby to life as a slave.

Morrison’s fictional Sethe is haunted by the ghost of the baby she killed and the memories of her difficult life as a slave. This is one of the novels I return to time after time, both for the beauty of the writing and the portrayal of a mother’s love, guilt, and the lingering impact of slavery.

By Toni Morrison,

Why should I read it?

33 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…


Book cover of Colour Bar: Movie Tie-In: A United Kingdom

Sylvia Vetta Author Of Sculpting the Elephant

From my list on mixed relationships.

Why am I passionate about this?

I married Indian born Atam Vetta when mixed relationships were rare and viewed with hostility not just in the UK. In 1966, they were illegal in South Africa and in most Southern States of the USA (until Loving v Virginia). In India they are not illegal but many upper-caste Indians do not approve of marriage outside of caste. In the UK attitudes have revolutionised. Mixed relationships are no longer rare and it is predicted that by 2075 the majority of the population will be of mixed ancestry. There are mixed relationships in all three of my novels. My aim was to explore what we have in common whilst being honest about the challenges. The ultimate prize is an enhanced understanding and the creativity that comes with crossing cultures.

Sylvia's book list on mixed relationships

Sylvia Vetta Why did Sylvia love this book?

London 1945: the heir to the largest tribe of Bechuanaland (Botswana) arrives in Britain. Seretse Khama, an urbane 24-year-old was welcomed into the elite world of Oxford. But when he fell in love with Englishwoman Ruth Williams, the full force of colonial power was brought to bear to prevent their marriage. 

It has personal resonance for me because when I met Atam, in 1964, Smethwick was in the grip of a racist campaign. Atam and I volunteered to help the sitting Labour MP, Patrick Gordon Walker combat the Conservative Peter Griffiths’ campaign. The slogan was, ‘If you want a nigger for a neighbour vote Labour’. Atam was welcomed because he spoke Punjabi, Hindi, and Urdu and we accompanied Patrick Gordon Walker canvassing. When I watched A United Kingdom, the film about Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, I knew that they had portrayed it well when the government representatives treat…

By Susan Williams,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The true story of a love which defied family, Apartheid, and empire - the inspiration for the major new feature film A United Kingdom, starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike

London, 1947. He was the heir to an African kingdom. She was a white English insurance clerk. When they met and fell in love, it would change the world.

This is the inspiring true story of Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, whose marriage sent shockwaves through the establishment, defied an empire - and, finally, triumphed over the prejudices of their age.

'Reading the book, I realised that I had never…


Book cover of The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity

Friederike Otto Author Of Angry Weather: Heat Waves, Floods, Storms, and the New Science of Climate Change

From my list on starting to think about the much abused idea of freedom.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a physicist who ended up doing their PhD in philosophy, because the “so what” question for me always was more interesting to answer than finding out how the physical world is changing. Working as a climate scientist I see how climate change and extreme weather devastate livelihoods on a daily basis. It makes me very aware I know nothing, but also that the philosophical and humanist ideas we build our societies upon are much more important to solve the climate crisis than physics and technology. One of the most important ones is to reclaim freedom and actually allow people to live good lives.

Friederike's book list on starting to think about the much abused idea of freedom

Friederike Otto Why did Friederike love this book?

Identity isn’t personal, it is shaped by all sorts of influences, some of them we are very aware of and some of them we have never thought about. To be free means to be aware of all of them.

Appiah shows that while you cannot escape identity, you can pick and choose much more than most people make us believe. There is no inevitability and that is extremely liberating.

As a white woman, it made me see much better how not to equate privilege with guilt only, but responsibility and agency. 

By Kwame Anthony Appiah,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Who do you think you are? That's a question bound up in another: What do you think you are? Gender. Religion. Race. Nationality. Class. Culture. Such affiliations give contours to our sense of self, and shape our polarized world. Yet the collective identities they spawn are riddled with contradictions, and cratered with falsehoods.

Kwame Anthony Appiah's The Lies That Bind is an incandescent exploration of the nature and history of the identities that define us. It challenges our assumptions about how identities work. We all know there are conflicts between identities, but Appiah shows how identities are created by conflict.…


Book cover of The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History

Sylvia Vetta Author Of Sculpting the Elephant

From my list on mixed relationships.

Why am I passionate about this?

I married Indian born Atam Vetta when mixed relationships were rare and viewed with hostility not just in the UK. In 1966, they were illegal in South Africa and in most Southern States of the USA (until Loving v Virginia). In India they are not illegal but many upper-caste Indians do not approve of marriage outside of caste. In the UK attitudes have revolutionised. Mixed relationships are no longer rare and it is predicted that by 2075 the majority of the population will be of mixed ancestry. There are mixed relationships in all three of my novels. My aim was to explore what we have in common whilst being honest about the challenges. The ultimate prize is an enhanced understanding and the creativity that comes with crossing cultures.

Sylvia's book list on mixed relationships

Sylvia Vetta Why did Sylvia love this book?

Mixed relationships are not new: think Antony and Cleopatra. The most famous and possibly the earliest in US history are of Pocahontas and John Smith. If you want a romantic Disney-type version of the story, this book is not for you.

Where I live you will find the world’s first public museum, the Ashmolean. Most of the original collection was assembled during the 17th century by the John Tradescants, father and son. They collected objects from Asia, Africa, and the Americas. The most significant American object is Powhatan’s Mantle. Powhatan was Pocahontas’s father. It is a reminder of how much the white settlers owed their survival to the local people.

Dr. Linwood "Little Bear" Custalow and Angela L. Daniel "Silver Star" claim that they are revealing for the first time the oral history of the Mattaponi tribe regarding the story of Pocahontas and John Smith. This probably is the most…

By Linwood Custalow, Angela L. Daniel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The True Story of Pocahontas is the first public publication of the Powhatan perspective that has been maintained and passed down from generation to generation within the Mattaponi Tribe, and the first written history of Pocahontas by her own people.


Book cover of William Shakespeare: The Complete Works

Sylvia Vetta Author Of Sculpting the Elephant

From my list on mixed relationships.

Why am I passionate about this?

I married Indian born Atam Vetta when mixed relationships were rare and viewed with hostility not just in the UK. In 1966, they were illegal in South Africa and in most Southern States of the USA (until Loving v Virginia). In India they are not illegal but many upper-caste Indians do not approve of marriage outside of caste. In the UK attitudes have revolutionised. Mixed relationships are no longer rare and it is predicted that by 2075 the majority of the population will be of mixed ancestry. There are mixed relationships in all three of my novels. My aim was to explore what we have in common whilst being honest about the challenges. The ultimate prize is an enhanced understanding and the creativity that comes with crossing cultures.

Sylvia's book list on mixed relationships

Sylvia Vetta Why did Sylvia love this book?

Shakespeare’s tragedies resonate in most cultures because they address the human condition. That is why Romeo and Juliet have spawned West Side Story, many films, and Russian ballets. I personally organised the Joe and Zara workshop with a mixed group of teenagers working on a modern take on the story. The young people in this ten-minute video from the workshop are impressive. 

Othello too is tragic. Othello describes how Desdemona would come again ‘greedy –to hear tales of adventure sorrow and suffering. ‘She loved me for the dangers I had passed and I loved her that she did pity them.’ I relate to that.

By William Shakespeare,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The second Oxford edition of Shakespeare's Complete Works reconsiders every detail of their text and presentation in the light of modern scholarship. The nature and authority of the early documents are re-examined, and the canon and chronological order of composition freshly established. Spelling and punctuation are modernized, and there is a brief introduction to each work, as well as an illuminating and informative General Introduction. Included here for the first
time is the play The Reign of King Edward the Third as well as the full text of Sir Thomas More. This new edition also features an essay on Shakespeare's…


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 Kindred

Hajar Yazdiha Author Of The Struggle for the People's King: How Politics Transforms the Memory of the Civil Rights Movement

From my list on understanding revisionist history politics.

Why am I passionate about this?

I studied forty years of the political misuses of the memory of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement as a sociologist at USC and the daughter of Iranian immigrants who has always been interested in questions of identity and belonging. My interest in civil rights struggles started early, growing up in Virginia, a state that celebrated the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday alongside Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. I wanted to understand how revisionist histories could become the mainstream account of the past and how they mattered for the future of democracy.

Hajar's book list on understanding revisionist history politics

Hajar Yazdiha Why did Hajar love this book?

I am, to put it lightly, obsessed with the way Octavia Butler revolutionizes the timescape and invites us to speculate about worlds that could be. In this and so many of her books, her vision of Afrofuturism is one that reminds us that our ancestral pasts and our imagined futures are always connected. 

I thought a lot about the future when I wrote my book, and I share Butler’s conviction that there is collective healing and liberation in revisiting and reimagining the past.

I also love that my neighborhood library in Pasadena is the one Octavia Butler used to frequent!

By Octavia E. Butler,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Parable of the Sower and MacArthur “Genius” Grant, Nebula, and Hugo award winner

The visionary time-travel classic whose Black female hero is pulled through time to face the horrors of American slavery and explores the impacts of racism, sexism, and white supremacy then and now.

“I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm.”

Dana’s torment begins when she suddenly vanishes on her 26th birthday from California, 1976, and is dragged through time to antebellum Maryland to rescue a boy named Rufus, heir to a slaveowner’s plantation. She soon…


Book cover of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa

Martin Fletcher Author Of Promised Land: A Novel of Israel

From my list on the refugee experience.

Why am I passionate about this?

In my work as a news reporter and war correspondent, I met people on the worst day of their lives. I always wondered: What now? How will they get on with life? My own parents faced that dreadful dilemma. Penniless refugees, their families murdered in the Holocaust, unemployed in London, how on earth did they find the strength to carry on? One day at a time, they just did what they had to do. That is the subject of my fiction, always trying to answer that existential question: How do we live with trauma, and still find love and happiness?

Martin's book list on the refugee experience

Martin Fletcher Why did Martin love this book?

A beautifully intertwined story of the decline of a man and the parallel decline of a nation, Zimbabwe, which pivots into an entirely new story: the author’s dying Christian British father was actually a Polish Jew, born Kazimierz Goldfarb, whose family was killed in Treblinka concentration camp.

Godwin’s story is ultimately inspiring and uplifting as he comes to terms with his family’s past while building his own future in his new country.

By Peter Godwin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked When a Crocodile Eats the Sun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Peter Godwin, an award-winning writer, is on assignment in Zululand when he is summoned by his mother to Zimbabwe, his birthplace. His father is seriously ill; she fears he is dying. Godwin finds his country, once a post-colonial success story, descending into a vortex of violence and racial hatred.

His father recovers, but over the next few years Godwin travels regularly between his family life in Manhattan and the increasing chaos of Zimbabwe, with its rampant inflation and land seizures making famine a very real prospect. It is against this backdrop that Godwin discovers a fifty-year-old family secret, one which…


Book cover of Desert Flower

Martin Fletcher Author Of Promised Land: A Novel of Israel

From my list on the refugee experience.

Why am I passionate about this?

In my work as a news reporter and war correspondent, I met people on the worst day of their lives. I always wondered: What now? How will they get on with life? My own parents faced that dreadful dilemma. Penniless refugees, their families murdered in the Holocaust, unemployed in London, how on earth did they find the strength to carry on? One day at a time, they just did what they had to do. That is the subject of my fiction, always trying to answer that existential question: How do we live with trauma, and still find love and happiness?

Martin's book list on the refugee experience

Martin Fletcher Why did Martin love this book?

It isn’t the best-written book but Waris Dirie’s account of her escape from Somalia, her life as a domestic servant in London, her marriages of convenience, and her ultimate triumph in New York’s world of fashion, haunted me for years.

A frank, intimate account of a beautiful woman’s escape from a nomadic tribal life of female abuse to scaling the heights of western fashion modeling.

By Waris Dirie, Cathleen Miller,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Waris Dirie (the name means desert flower) lives a double life - by day she is a famous model and UN spokeswoman on women's rights in Africa, at night she dreams of her native Somalia. Waris, one of 12 children, was born into a traditional family of desert nomads in East Africa. She remembers her early childhood as carefree- racing camels and moving on with her family to the next grazing spot - until it came her turn to meet the old woman who administered the ancient custom imposed on most Somalian girls: circumcision. Waris suffered this torture when she…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in London, the Cold War, and Jamaica?

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