The best books about African Americans

95 authors have picked their favorite books about African Americans and why they recommend each book. Soon, you will be able to filter this list by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to discover books.

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Book cover of Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers

Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers

By Joseph T. Glatthaar,

Why this book?

The decision to recruit Black soldiers made an enormous difference in the war and in politics. Black recruits to the U.S. Army equaled all the northern men lost in the first two years of fighting and proved themselves on many battlefields. Their sacrifice also made an irrefutable case for Black rights. Joseph Glatthaar’s book admirably tells the story of these soldiers and their white officers.

From the list:

The best books on politics and race in the Civil War era

Book cover of Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War: An Oral History

Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War: An Oral History

By Wallace Terry,

Why this book?

This was the first collection of oral histories that I ever read from the Vietnam War. Reading history done this way, with the men speaking for themselves, opened a new world for me. It allowed me to understand that it is only by talking to and with our veterans that the true depth of the combat experience can be delved. Terror, camaraderie, death, honor, humor, compassion, and boredom – the full human story of Vietnam and war is on display in Bloods. And it was this book that taught me to be an oral historian. 

On top of that,…

From the list:

The best books about the Vietnam War from different POVs

Book cover of Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880

Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880

By W.E.B. Du Bois,

Why this book?

Black Reconstruction places the struggle for African American equality at the center of American democracy. Written a century ago, it remains among the best books - not just on the period after the Civil War when the end of US slavery made the ideals of US democracy potentially realizable - but on the founding of the nation. Generations of scholars have followed the pioneering path that W.E.B. Du Bois forged documenting the ways in which the “failure” of Reconstruction was in fact the failure of the state to intervene when groups of white Americans violently excluded Black Americans from the…

From the list:

The best books on how African Americans shaped democracy in America

Book cover of The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half

By Brit Bennett,

Why this book?

This is one of the most unusual and memorable books about sisters I’ve ever read. It’s the story of Black twins, Desiree and Stella, who are separated in early adulthood in the 1950s, one returning to her hometown in the South after escaping an abusive marriage, the other passing as White in the White world she’s chosen to inhabit. The choices Desiree and Stella make that cause their paths to diverge haunt the sisters, each in her own way. But what never changes is the deep bond that exists between them even in absentia. I loved this book. Read it,…

From the list:

The best books about sisters that make you want to call your sister

Book cover of Passing

Passing

By Nella Larsen,

Why this book?

Although Clare Kendry and Irene Redfield are only old childhood friends, their relationship has intense sister vibes. Each woman’s mix of jealousy and curiosity about the other’s life, the latent homoerotic desire that serves as an undercurrent for so much of the rising action, a suspected affair, and the explosive ending to Clare’s ruse all illustrate the kind of sibling rivalry I love to explore in my critical as well as my creative work. Not to mention, one of my favorite literary flexes of all time occurs near the end when Irene’s plucky friend Felise has to check a white…

From the list:

The best novellas written by Black people about Black people

Book cover of Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom

Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom

By Heather Andrea Williams,

Why this book?

Williams is another beautiful writer and what I love most about this book is it dispels the very harmful myths about Black intelligence during and after slavery. The author shares the many ways that enslaved Africans taught each other to read even though reading or teaching a Black person to read was illegal in all of the southern states. Reading, storytelling, and passing on knowledge across generations is part of the African American tradition and Williams captures all of this and more in this beautiful book.

From the list:

The best books on the history of African American education

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