The most recommended Black history books

Who picked these books? Meet our 403 experts.

403 authors created a book list connected to Black history, and here are their favorite Black history books.
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Book cover of Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation

Aaron Shkuda Author Of The Lofts of SoHo: Gentrification, Art, and Industry in New York, 1950-1980

From my list on books that capture the creative energy of New York’s art scene.

Why am I passionate about this?

I spent my childhood in New York and my early adulthood in Chicago, which inspired my fascination with the histories of cities and how we can analyze their built environments to understand the culture, politics, and economy of these vital but complicated places. I wrote my first book about New York’s SoHo neighborhood to better understand how some former disinvested industrial areas became wealthy and gentrified and how artists became known as critical actors in the contemporary city. Since then, I’ve focused the bulk of my teaching and research on urban history. This list includes my favorite fiction and non-fiction titles about New York’s dynamic art scene. Enjoy!

Aaron's book list on books that capture the creative energy of New York’s art scene

Aaron Shkuda Why did Aaron love this book?

The most famous chapter of the renowned book on New York history, Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, outlines how the Cross-Bronx Expressway gutted once thriving Bronx neighborhoods. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop shows how the global cultural phenomenon of hip-hop arose in the same borough two decades later.

Chang takes readers through public housing recreation rooms, South Bronx streets, and elevated subway lines where a group of musicians, visual artists, and dancers changed world culture. I especially love how the book illuminates how a specific place and time period made possible the development of this now ubiquitous artistic genre.

By Jeff Chang,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Can't Stop Won't Stop as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A history of hip-hop cites its origins in the post-civil rights Bronx and Jamaica, drawing on interviews with performers, activists, gang members, DJs, and others to document how the movement has influenced politics and culture.

Book cover of The Secret History Of Black Punk: Record Zero

Audrey Golden Author Of I Thought I Heard You Speak: Women at Factory Records

From my list on revealing untold stories in music.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been thinking about and researching obscured narratives for a long time, now. As a lawyer, I learned about how systems and structures marginalize and hide important voices because of overt discrimination and implicit biases, and I took that knowledge with me while I earned a PhD in literary studies. I’ve learned — and am still learning! — that if we want to remedy exclusions from cultural histories, we’ve got to learn to think about what voices are missing and why. I hope reading my book and those recommended here will give you a chance to learn with me. Let’s change the ways we think about so-called “definitive” histories of music. 

Audrey's book list on revealing untold stories in music

Audrey Golden Why did Audrey love this book?

This is an essential history for anyone interested in the story of punk, and for anyone who loves comics or graphic novels!

Not only does the book convey untold stories of Black artists in punk, post-punk, new wave, and more, but it tells those stories through incredibly drawn images. Yes, it’s a comic book! It also pushes back against the idea that “punk” is centered around a specific period or sound, highlighting crucial artists like Sister Rosetta Tharpe alongside Black women of the original UK punk scene like the fabulous Poly Styrene.

You’ll be making yourself a playlist and buying this book as a gift for readers of all ages in your life. 

Book cover of Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South

Matthew J. Clavin Author Of Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War: The Promise and Peril of a Second Haitian Revolution

From my list on slave resistance and revolts.

Why am I passionate about this?

I long ago decided that I could contribute to the struggle for the freedom and equality of all people by becoming a historian. My fascination with the history of race has led me on a quest to illuminate the extraordinary efforts of enslaved people and their allies to challenge White supremacy and destroy the institution of slavery. My newest book, Symbols of Freedom: Slavery and Resistance Before the Civil War, examines the role that revolutionary nationalism played in inspiring slave and antislavery resistance.

Matthew's book list on slave resistance and revolts

Matthew J. Clavin Why did Matthew love this book?

It is hard to think of any book of comparable size that packs a more powerful punch. In less than 150 pages, Camp reveals how in the antebellum South enslaved women resisted their oppression in ways that were both visible and invisible. By challenging slave owners’ control and conception of space, they carved out a “rival geography” where they, along with their friends and families, enjoyed a modicum of freedom despite longstanding and widespread oppression. Camp’s description of late-night plantation frolics, stolen dresses, and the interior walls of slave cabins redefines slave resistance in a way that highlights the efforts of enslaved women to improve the lives of themselves and their loved ones in the face of almost insurmountable odds. 

By Stephanie M. H. Camp,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Recent scholarship on slavery has explored the lives of enslaved people beyond the watchful eye of their masters. Building on this work and the study of space, social relations, gender, and power in the Old South, Stephanie Camp examines the everyday containment and movement of enslaved men and, especially, enslaved women. In her investigation of the movement of bodies, objects, and information, Camp extends our recognition of slave resistance into new arenas and reveals an important and hidden culture of opposition. Camp discusses the multiple dimensions to acts of resistance that might otherwise appear to be little more than fits…

Book cover of The Birth of Black America: The First African Americans and the Pursuit of Freedom at Jamestown

Seth Mallios Author Of The Deadly Politics of Giving: Exchange and Violence at Ajacan, Roanoke, and Jamestown

From my list on alternate perspectives on Jamestown.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was Site Supervisor at the Jamestown Rediscovery Project in the late 1990s and early 2000s. My fondness for the people involved with the archaeological excavations is only rivaled by my love for the subject matter that involves the collision of cultures as Chesapeake Algonquians, Spanish Jesuits, and English colonists first encountered one another during the 16th and 17th centuries. Though I have been fortunate to write many books, my first book was on Jamestown, and this topic will always hold a special place in my scholarly heart (there is such a thing, I swear!).

Seth's book list on alternate perspectives on Jamestown

Seth Mallios Why did Seth love this book?

Few individuals, even students of history, are aware of the significance of Jamestown in the legacy of American slavery. Tim Hashaw’s The Birth of Black America: The First African Americans and the Pursuit of Freedom at Jamestown provides an important alternative narrative for the birth of English America, focusing on the sixty Africans that arrived in the Chesapeake in 1619, instead of traditional exaltation of the original colonists at 1607 James Fort.

By Tim Hashaw,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The voyage that shaped early America was neither that of the Susan Constant in 1607 nor the Mayflower in 1620. Absolutely vital to the formation of English-speaking America was the voyage made by some sixty Africans stolen from a Spanish slave ship and brought to the young struggling colony of Jamestown in 1619. It was an act of colonial piracy that angered King James I of England, causing him to carve up the Virginia Company's monopoly for virtually all of North America. It was an infusion of brave and competent souls who were essential to Jamestown's survival and success. And…

Book cover of Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation

Sylviane A. Diouf Author Of Slavery's Exiles: The Story of the American Maroons

From my list on runaways and Maroons in the Americas.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a social historian of the African Diaspora. I am passionate about writing stories that have never been told. The stories I uncover detail the lives, struggles, and resistance of enslaved people. I am interested in and have written about such overlooked topics as African resistance to the transatlantic slave trade; Maroons in the American South; the experience of African Muslims enslaved throughout the Americas; and the lives of the people deported on the Clotilda, the last slave ship to the US. Much still needs to be unearthed to help form a more comprehensive history of the people who, in countless and remarkable ways, fought against their subjugation.

Sylviane's book list on runaways and Maroons in the Americas

Sylviane A. Diouf Why did Sylviane love this book?

I thoroughly enjoyed this exhaustive study of American runaways that uses a wide variety of often ignored archival material.

This great book details the reasons, the places, the profiles, the strategies, and the objectives of some of the tens of thousands of people who, each year, left the plantations behind. They included Free Blacks who had been kidnapped and managed to get away.

There is quasi nothing on Maroons but, to my delight, Franklin and Schweninger show that contrary to popular belief, most runaways did not attempt to go North but remained in the South, close to their families, or in nearby cities and towns, another county, or another state. 

By John Hope Franklin, Loren Schweninger,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From John Hope Franklin, America's foremost African American historian, comes this groundbreaking analysis of slave resistance and escape. A sweeping panorama of plantation life before the Civil War, this book reveals that slaves frequently rebelled against their masters and ran away from their plantations whenever they could.
For generations, important aspects about slave life on the plantations of the American South have remained shrouded. Historians thought, for instance, that slaves were generally pliant and resigned to their roles as human chattel, and that racial violence on the plantation was an aberration. In this precedent setting book, John Hope Franklin and…

Book cover of The Buffalo Soldier Tragedy of 1877

Sarah Bird Author Of Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen

From my list on Buffalo Soldiers.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up, I dreamed of being Margaret Mead. When I realized that Margaret already had that job, I turned my anthropologist’s eye for the defining details of language, dress, and customs to fiction. I love to tell the untold tales--especially about women--who are thrust into difficult, sometimes impossible, circumstances and triumph with the help of humor, friends, perseverance, and their own inspiring ingenuity. In my eleven bestselling novels, I have been able to do this well enough that I was nominated for the International Dublin Literary Prize and in 2021 was honored with the Paul Re Peace Award for Cultural Advocacy for promoting empathy through my work.

Sarah's book list on Buffalo Soldiers

Sarah Bird Why did Sarah love this book?

I based one of the most riveting portions of Daughter on Carlson’s meticulously-researched account of what one newspaper called the “Staked Plains Horror.” And horror it was.  In the middle of a dangerously dry summer, forty Buffalo Soldiers led by white officers set off on a routine scouting expedition. Several days later three Black troopers returned to report that all the men of Troop A were missing and presumed dead.

Eventually, all but four of the party made it back to Fort Concho with tales of having survived by drinking the blood of their dead horses and their own urine. Carlson’s careful examination of the records of the court-martial trials that followed reveal what a large role the officers’ bigotry and ineptitude played in triggering this catastrophe.

By Paul H. Carlson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Buffalo Soldier Tragedy of 1877 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the middle of the arid summer of 1877, a drought year in West Texas, a troop of some forty buffalo soldiers (African American cavalry led by white officers) struck out into the Llano Estacado from Double Lakes, south of modern Lubbock, pursuing a band of Kwahada Comanches who had been raiding homesteads and hunting parties. A group of twenty-two buffalo hunters accompanied the soldiers as guides and allies.

Several days later three black soldiers rode into Fort Concho at modern San Angelo and reported that the men and officers of Troop A were missing and presumed dead from thirst.…

Book cover of South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War

Ann Marie Jackson Author Of The Broken Hummingbird

From my list on Americans learning to live in Mexico.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am fascinated by the places where cultures intersect and the means by which they do so. I am an American lucky to live in gorgeous San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and previously in Hirakata, Japan; Shanghai, China; Suva, Fiji; and Oxford, England. Each move entailed a challenging but rewarding effort to absorb a new set of unwritten societal rules. A great way to grow is to immerse yourself in the unknown and have things you took for granted about how the world works suddenly come into question. Another is to learn from those who have gone before us, so I am delighted to share these wonderful books with you.

Ann's book list on Americans learning to live in Mexico

Ann Marie Jackson Why did Ann love this book?

South to Freedom tells the relatively unknown story of Americans who moved to Mexico for the most existential of reasons: to flee slavery in the 1840s-1850s.

Although Mexico has its own history of slavery, it abolished that evil earlier than the United States did, and this book provides accounts of Mexican officials and ordinary citizens risking their lives to protect fugitive slaves from pursuing slaveholders.

Southern states believed that annexing Texas and invading Mexico would ensure slavery's continuation, but as Baumgartner shows, those actions were instead among the proximate causes of the Civil War. Baumgartner’s important book enhances the sanitized version of Civil War history I learned in school and sheds light on this noble aspect of Mexican history.

By Alice L. Baumgartner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A "gripping and poignant" (Wall Street Journal) account of the coming of the American Civil War, showing the crucial role of slaves who escaped to Mexico

The Underground Railroad to the North promised salvation to many American slaves before the Civil War. But thousands of people in the south-central United States escaped slavery not by heading north but by crossing the southern border into Mexico, where slavery was abolished in 1837.

In South to Freedom, prize-winning historian Alice L. Baumgartner tells the story of why Mexico abolished slavery and how its increasingly radical antislavery policies fueled the sectional crisis in…

Book cover of Women in the World of Frederick Douglass

Laurence Fenton Author Of Frederick Douglass in Ireland

From my list on the life of Frederick Douglass.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a writer and editor living in Cork, Ireland. I have a PhD in history from University College Cork and am the author of four books, including two on the African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass. I have been fascinated by Douglass ever since I discovered he travelled through Ireland as a young man, a tour that coincided with the onset of the Great Irish Famine. Douglass will also appear in the book I am currently writing, ‘Freedom’s Exiles’: The Poets, Plotters and Rebels and Who Found Refuge in Victorian Britain.

Laurence's book list on the life of Frederick Douglass

Laurence Fenton Why did Laurence love this book?

A self-proclaimed ‘woman’s rights man’, Douglass was one of the few men to attend the famous Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls in New York in 1848 – the starting point of the women’s rights movement in the US. His connection to women, however, went far deeper than mere political support. Douglass, indeed, always felt more comfortable in the company of women than men, be they Black or white, family members, friends, or fellow activists. This book gives us a fuller picture of these women than ever before. It is particularly strong on Anna Murray, the free Black woman who was Douglass’s first wife. Anna played a pivotal role in Douglass’s escape from Maryland in 1838. She later spent many more years spiriting enslaved people along the Underground Railroad.  

By Leigh Fought,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women in the World of Frederick Douglass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In his extensive writings-editorials, speeches, autobiographies-Frederick Douglass revealed little about the private side of his life. His famous autobiographies were very much in the service of presenting and advocating for himself. But Douglass had a very complicated array of relationships with women: white and black, wives and lovers, mistresses-owners, and sisters and daughters. And this great man deeply needed them all at various turns in a turbulent life
that was never so linear and self-made as he often wished to portray it.

In this book, Leigh Fought aims to reveal more about the life of the famed abolitionist off the…

Book cover of Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era

Drew A. Swanson Author Of Remaking Wormsloe Plantation: The Environmental History of a Lowcountry Landscape

From my list on why American parks look the way they do.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up a farm kid and then worked as a park ranger fresh out of college. This background draws me to the history of American preservation, where so much that seems natural also has deep cultural roots. I find the American South—with its combination of irony and tragedy, beauty, and flaws—the most fascinating place on earth to study. Or maybe I’m just pulling for the home team.

Drew's book list on why American parks look the way they do

Drew A. Swanson Why did Drew love this book?

What does it mean that tourists are attracted to sites of historical enslavement? And why are ghost tours, especially tours focused on horrific stories of the abuse suffered by female slaves, so popular? Miles uses the seemingly frivolous subject of ghost tourism to explore serious issues of American memory and historical sites. Injecting herself into the story—she visits house museums and historical districts in Savannah, New Orleans, and Louisiana’s Mississippi River plantation district to explore the nation’s pathological attraction to a sordid past—she gracefully restored humanity to history’s victims with her gentle empathy.

By Tiya Miles,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tales from the Haunted South as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this book Tiya Miles explores the popular yet troubling phenomenon of ""ghost tours,"" frequently promoted and experienced at plantations, urban manor homes, and cemeteries throughout the South. As a staple of the tours, guides entertain paying customers by routinely relying on stories of enslaved black specters. But who are these ghosts? Examining popular sites and stories from these tours, Miles shows that haunted tales routinely appropriate and skew African American history to produce representations of slavery for commercial gain. ""Dark tourism"" often highlights the most sensationalist and macabre aspects of slavery, from salacious sexual ties between white masters and…

Book cover of The Black Russian

Gareth M. Winrow Author Of Whispers Across Continents: In Search of the Robinsons

From my list on social and family history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I became interested in social and family history when my Turkish friend, Ahmet Ceylan, told me amazing stories about his family. An academic by training, I used my expertise in the history of Turkey to explore the archives and uncover extraordinary details about the lives of the Robinsons. My field research took me to the wolds of Lincolnshire, the side streets of Istanbul, and the foothills of the Himalayas. I am keen to learn more about my own family, and for my next book, I am exploring the lives of people who owned/occupied the land/property where I live in Oxford, UK.

Gareth's book list on social and family history

Gareth M. Winrow Why did Gareth love this book?

This book brings to life the story of the little-known Frederick Bruce Thomas, born in 1872 to ex-slaves who had become successful farmers in Mississippi. I was amazed at how the entrepreneurial Frederick found employment in various cities across Europe before becoming a successful nightclub owner in Moscow and then in Istanbul after the Bolshevik Revolution. Well-researched and documented, the book critiques American racism and, in my opinion, offers a new and refreshing insight into the politics and society of Russia and Turkey.

By Vladimir Alexandrov,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The extraordinary story of Frederick Bruce Thomas, the son of former slaves who fled America to build a life in Tsarist Russia.

'A fascinating tale' Anne Applebaum
'Thoroughly enjoyable' Spectator
'Extraordinary and gripping' Adam Hochschild

After the brutal death of his father when he was a teenager, Frederick Thomas fled the stifling racism of the American South and headed for New York City, where he worked as a valet and trained as a singer. Through charisma and cunning, Thomas emigrated to Europe, where his acquired skills as a multilingual maitre d'hotel allowed him to travel from London to Monte Carlo…