The best books about colonization

Many authors have picked their favorite books about colonization and why they recommend each book.

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The Australian Frontier Wars

By John Connor,

Book cover of The Australian Frontier Wars: 1788-1838

Remarkable accounts from nineteenth-century newspapers, letters, and diaries reveal that most Australian colonists realized that their invasion of the vast continent whose fringes they inhabited was not unfolding peacefully. Warfare broke out between the white invaders and Aboriginal peoples as the frontier shifted further from the coastline, and it was not until 1870 that the last of the British soldiers left the Australian colonies. Shockingly, over time many descendants of the British chose to forget about Australia’s frontier wars and even denied that frontier conflict had ever taken place. John Connor’s book provides significant insights into the militarized Australian frontier from the time of first settlement in the late eighteenth century through until the late 1830s. It’s an important reminder about the struggles that took place as First Nations people contested the incursion of the British into what became Australia. Connor writes back clearly and concisely against notions of the…

Who am I?

Kristyn Harman is an award-winning researcher who successfully completed doctoral research investigating the circumstances in which at least ninety Australian Aboriginal men were transported as convicts within the Australian colonies following their involvement in Australia’s frontier wars. She has published extensively on historical topics, and currently lectures in History at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Australia. Having lived in both countries, Kristyn is fascinated by the different understandings that New Zealanders and Australians have of their nation’s respective pasts. She is particularly intrigued, if not perturbed, by the way in which most New Zealanders acknowledge their nation’s frontier wars, while many Australians choose to deny the wars fought on their country’s soil.

I wrote...

Aboriginal Convicts: Australian, Khoisan and Maori Exiles

By Kristyn Harman,

Book cover of Aboriginal Convicts: Australian, Khoisan and Maori Exiles

What is my book about?

Many people have heard about the tens of thousands of English and Irish convicts transported to the Australian penal colonies. Far fewer are aware that Australian Aboriginal men and Māori from New Zealand were also transported to, and within, these penal colonies. This book reveals for the first time how warriors were arrested and taken into custody following their involvement in the frontier wars fought across Australasia (Australia and New Zealand) between the British colonists and First Nations people, and also following frontier conflict at the Cape colony. Rather than being treated as prisoners of war, these warriors’ militant actions against the invaders were criminalised. After standing trial, a few were hanged. Others were sentenced to transportation. Most Aboriginal convicts died in custody. Very few survived to return home.

Land of Tears

By Robert Harms,

Book cover of Land of Tears: The Exploration and Exploitation of Equatorial Africa

Harms catches you up in the grand sweep of African history with two convergent tours d’horizon, both the better known European exploration of the African west coast (and early European incursions into the continent from there), and the eastern, Arabian incursions, with a good discussion of where the twain did meet.

Who am I?

My only expertise is my enthusiasm for African travel. I’ve visited twenty countries, Morocco to Madagascar, the Great Lakes to the Skeleton Coast, for (I hope) my next book. You can read about a few of my African adventures, like crossing Lake Malawi, hurrying through Namibia, sailing to St. Helena Island, and witnessing the mass wildebeest migration, in my other books. Experiencing African culture, nature and wildlife is the most fun I’ve ever had, anytime, anywhere. By all means, if you can, go!

I wrote...

Out There: Thirty Essays on Travel

By Bill Murray,

Book cover of Out There: Thirty Essays on Travel

What is my book about?

Out There is a collection of essays from my monthly travel column at 3QuarksDaily, a survey of the world in easily digestible bits. With reporting from Anguilla, Ascension Island, Borneo, Côte d’Ivoire, East Africa, Estonia, Greenland, Iowa, Karelia, Lapland, Latvia, Masaai Mara, Medieval Europe, the Mekong Delta, Namibia, Nazi Europe, Nepal, Pandemic America, Papua New Guinea, Pass Control, Rapa Nui, Russia, St. Helena Island, Svalbard, Tanzania, Tibet, Ukraine, and Zambia.

It is “as remarkable for its gentle wit as for the quiet sharpness of its commentary. Romps, revelations, and ride-it-out gut-checks, come hell or high water. Vivid, enlightening, worthwhile. Un-put-downable armchair travel.”

The Creole Archipelago

By Tessa Murphy,

Book cover of The Creole Archipelago: Race and Borders in the Colonial Caribbean (Early American Studies)

This new book realizes much of my wish to see histories of the Caribbean take seriously its importance as a site of diverse groups and unexpected exchanges. The Creole Archipelago focuses on five little-studied islands—Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Tobago. Tessa Murphy reveals an interconnected maritime world, shaped by the use of canoes that allowed mobility free of the prevailing winds. Alongside consideration of the space itself and movement within it, Murphy explores the region’s diversity, its indigenous peoples, African, and Europeans of various stripes. She gives special attention to the indigenous peoples whose traditions, presence, and legacy determined much about these islands. In this watery borderland—a region within the larger Caribbean—interisland, intercolonial, and interimperial interactions were everyday occurrences.

Who am I?

I am a historian of the early English Atlantic who began studying New England but soon turned to the Atlantic more generally and the Caribbean in particular. All the aspects of 17th century Atlantic history that most intrigue me played out in the Caribbean. A fascinating and complicated place, the West Indies—although claimed by the Spanish as their exclusive purview—became diverse, witness to a variety of interactions. I’m particularly interested in works that allow us to see these changes in the period when the region was a global meeting place undergoing vast shifts. Much excellent scholarship explores the later era of sugar and slaves, of major imperial wars, of movements for independence and emancipation. What interests me most is the period before that, when the region was being transformed into a crucible of global transformation.

I wrote...

English Conquest of Jamaica: Oliver Cromwell's Bid for Empire

By Carla Gardina Pestana,

Book cover of English Conquest of Jamaica: Oliver Cromwell's Bid for Empire

What is my book about?

In 1655, England attempted to conquer Spanish America. Believing that Spain was weak and that the African and Native residents of its American lands longed to be liberated from Spanish oppression, the English expected to conquer vast lands. They failed in this ambitious agenda for many reasons, not the least because of the unrealistic nature of their expectations.

This book chronicles those expectations, the preparations that went into the campaign, its humiliating failure on the poorly defended island of Hispaniola, and its limited but nonetheless significant results. Jamaica, taken as a place where the demoralized and sickly force could regroup, proved difficult to conquer; it was five years before the Spanish residents ended their resistance to the English invasion. Despite an inauspicious beginning, Jamaica emerged as Britain’s most valuable colony. 

Tropical Freedom

By Ikuko Asaka,

Book cover of Tropical Freedom: Climate, Settler Colonialism, and Black Exclusion in the Age of Emancipation

This is transnational scholarship at its best. Asaka tells the story of how the history of emancipation in Canada and the United States is intertwined into the history of efforts to exile freed people to tropical climates around the world where they could be used to create a monopoly over indigenous lands. This is a tale of hemispheric proportions, taking the reader from North America to the Caribbean and the East Coast of Africa, but of global importance – telling as it does the history of the racialization of freedom in the Age of Empire. Just as important, and told here in arresting fashion, are the ways in which black activists contested and remade those spaces.

Who am I?

I am a historian of the United States' global pasts. What excites me most in both research and teaching is approaching familiar topics from unconventional angles whether through unfamiliar objects or comparative perspectives. To do so I have approached the US past from the perspective of its emigrants and the global history of gold rushes, and am doing so now in two projects: one on the ice trade and another on the United States’ imperial relationship with Africa between the Diamond Rush of 1867 and the First World War. I currently teach at the University of Oxford where I am a Fellow in History at St Peter’s College.

I wrote...

Made in Britain: Nation and Emigration in Nineteenth-Century America

By Stephen Tuffnell,

Book cover of Made in Britain: Nation and Emigration in Nineteenth-Century America

What is my book about?

The United States was made in Britain. For over a hundred years following independence, a diverse and lively crowd of emigrant Americans left the United States for Britain. From Liverpool and London, they produced Atlantic capitalism and managed transfers of goods, culture, and capital that were integral to US nation-building. In British social clubs, emigrants forged relationships with elite Britons that were essential not only to tranquil transatlantic connections, but also to fighting southern slavery. As the United States descended into Civil War, emigrant Americans decisively shaped the Atlantic-wide battle for public opinion. 

Blending the histories of foreign relations, capitalism, nation-formation, and transnational connection, Stephen Tuffnell compellingly demonstrates that the United States’ struggle toward independent nationhood was entangled at every step with the world’s most powerful empire of the time. With deep research and vivid detail, Made in Britain uncovers this hidden story and presents a bold new perspective on nineteenth-century trans-Atlantic relations.


By David Hill,

Book cover of 1788: The Brutal Truth of the First Fleet: The Biggest Single Overseas Migration the World Had Ever Seen

David Hill’s research is incredible and results in a mind-blowing account of how not only convicts, but their guards and sailors, would colonise Australia, enduring the most brutal hardships. The transportation is described, and it is a miracle that anyone ever reached the destination in the leaky, unseaworthy ships. The enterprise was poorly-planned and underfunded, resulting in appalling suffering.

With such a shocking start, it is a wonder that Australia ever developed into the wonderful, successful country that it is now.

Who am I?

I’m Victoria Twead, the New York Times bestselling author of Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools and the Old Fools series. However, after living in a remote mountain village in Spain for eleven years, and owning probably the most dangerous cockerel in Europe, we migrated to Australia to watch our new granddaughters thrive amongst kangaroos and koalas. We love Australia, it is our home now. Another joyous life-chapter has begun.

I wrote...

Dear Fran, Love Dulcie: Life and Death in the Hills and Hollows of Bygone Australia

By Victoria Twead,

Book cover of Dear Fran, Love Dulcie: Life and Death in the Hills and Hollows of Bygone Australia

What is my book about?

Imagine a true story that unfolds in the harshness of Australia’s outback, beginning in 1957 and spanning decades. Imagine Dulcie’s battle to keep her family and animals alive in spite of bushfires, floods, cyclones, droughts, dingo attacks and terrible accidents.

The story of Dulcie Clarke, a simple pineapple farmer’s wife, has so many twists and turns that it will leave you gasping.

Th Scramble for Africa

By Thomas Pakenham,

Book cover of Th Scramble for Africa: The White Man's Conquest of the African Continent from 1876 to 1912

The Scramble for Africa: The White Man's Conquest of the African Continent from 1876 to 1912 is a comprehensive history of the colonization of African territory by European powers between 1876 to 1912 known as the Scramble for Africa.

I am an African. I was born and raised in Africa. When I read about the horrors of the colonization of the continent I live on, I simply could not believe what I was reading. It took a lot more reading and research before I fully understood the implications and impact of this colonization. This led me to understand the place of wildlife in the early history of colonization and the evolution of a wildlife ethic.

Colonial powers viewed Africa as their sole domain for domination of its people and exploitation of its resources for the benefit of the colonial power and no benefit at all to the colony. Humans and…

Who am I?

I am a veterinarian who has worked extensively with African Wildlife in the heart of the African bush. I have also met African Sangoma’s, witch doctors. I have made a study of African mysticism and Ancestral communications and have participated in African mystic rituals, including the cleansing ritual called smudging or burning of herbs and utilizing the smoke for spiritual cleansing. In my books, I fuse my knowledge of African wildlife, African customs and rituals, and my innate ability to tell a good story and have brought forth the Jamie James series. They are quintessential African Adventures taking place in the heart of the African bush.

I wrote...

The Curse of the Ancestors, with Jamie James

By Roy Aronson,

Book cover of The Curse of the Ancestors, with Jamie James

What is my book about?

Jamie James is 15. His parents have been divorced since he was five and he has not heard from his father since the divorce. Suddenly he receives a communication from him, beseeching him to come and visit because their lives are in danger. His father lives in Nelspruit, the wildlife capital of Southern Africa. He travels there and discovers that there is a death curse on his family and his father, who turns fifty in a few weeks is about to die. Jamie undergoes a mystical transformation to lift the curse. Can Jamie and his friends lift the curse in time to save his father. Join them in a race against time to change the fate of his family that is two hundred years in the making?

The Making of Europe

By Robert Bartlett,

Book cover of The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization, and Cultural Change, 950-1350

This captivating book, with its broad vision, puts the crusades in context in a way that no other has done. Bartlett’s magisterial overview of the expansion of Latin Christendom remains the most engaging work on how conquest, migration, and religion transformed and laid the foundations for the Europe we know today. Erudite, scholarly, and packed with detail, but also accessible and enjoyable, his thematic approach pulls together examples from diverse regions to make a compelling (and at times controversial) case for how a shared European culture was created as the bounds of Christendom were pushed in all directions. It’s an essential introduction to medieval Europe’s frontier societies–several of which were shaped by crusading.

Who am I?

I was born in London, but growing up in a Polish family ensured that I was well aware of the history of the Teutonic Order. As a post-doctoral researcher in Cambridge, I was fortunate enough to gain access to archaeological material from the magnificent castle at Malbork in north Poland, the Order’s medieval headquarters. That moment really spurred my interest in the Northern Crusades, after which I spent a decade working across the eastern Baltic. I’ve also had the opportunity to excavate medieval frontier sites at both ends of the Mediterranean. As an archaeologist, I always found the lived experiences of these societies far more interesting than the traditional military histories written about them.

I wrote...

The Archaeology of the Prussian Crusade: Holy War and Colonisation

By Aleksander Pluskowski,

Book cover of The Archaeology of the Prussian Crusade: Holy War and Colonisation

What is my book about?

The Archaeology of the Prussian Crusade, now in its second edition, explores the artefacts, buildings, settlements, and landscapes of the crusades against the Prussian tribes in the 13th century, and the resulting hybrid society created by the Teutonic Order which endured into the 16th century. This remains the first synthetic work on this topic in any language and is intended as a comprehensive introduction to the medieval archaeology of northern Poland, the Russian Kaliningrad Oblast, and western Lithuania. It considers pre-Crusade culture, then the castles, towns, and countryside of the Teutonic Order’s theocratic state, the proliferation of Christianity, the impact of the Reformation, and concludes with how the monuments of medieval Prussia were reimagined in the modern world, particularly within the context of Polish culture.

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz,

Book cover of An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

An Indigenous People’s History of the United States does exactly what the title says—it tells the history of the territory that became the United States from the perspective of various and different indigenous communities since before the arrival of Europeans. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz tackles a difficult task—writing about a wide array of people for an audience interested in learning a more expansive and inclusive account of the United States. In the process, she creates an expansive yet nuanced view of historical trends impacting indigenous peoples across North America, and therefore is a good starting point for understanding the topic.

Who are we?

Paul Spickard wrote the first edition of Almost All Aliens. He invited Francisco Beltrán and Laura Hooton, who worked under Dr. Spickard at UC Santa Barbara, to co-author the second edition after working as research assistants and providing suggestions for the second edition. We are all historians of race, ethnicity, immigration, colonialism, and identity, and in our other works and teaching we each think about these topics in different ways. We did the same for this list—this is a list of five books that talk about topics that are important to Almost All Aliens and approaches that have been influential in how we think about the topic.  

We wrote...

Almost All Aliens: Immigration, Race, and Colonialism in American History and Identity

By Paul Spickard, Francisco Beltrán, and Laura Hooton,

Book cover of Almost All Aliens: Immigration, Race, and Colonialism in American History and Identity

What is our book about?

Almost All Aliens discusses ethnic identity and race from 1600 to the first two decades of the twenty-first century. The focus is on how immigration in the United States is and was multicultural, racialized, and deeply rooted in colonialism. Moving away from the European migrant-centered melting-pot model of immigrant assimilation, the book examines the lives of those who crossed the Atlantic, Pacific, Caribbean, and North American Borderlands, and their experiences navigating different racial and ethnic structures in the United States. 

Empires of the Atlantic World

By J.H. Elliott,

Book cover of Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830

This is and will remain the example of historical research made by one of the leading authorities in the field of Atlantic history. Elliott’s book set the agenda by investigating and assessing the complex array of causes and consequences which brought England and Spain to have an ever-lasting cultural, economic, political, and religious influence on the history of North America and Latin America. 

Who am I?

This is and will remain the example of historical research made by one of the leading authorities in the field of Atlantic history. Elliott’s book set the agenda by investigating and assessing the complex array of causes and consequences which brought England and Spain to have an ever-lasting cultural, economic, political, and religious influence on the history of North America and Latin America.  

I wrote...

Making, Breaking and Remaking the Irish Missionary Network: Ireland, Rome and the West Indies in the Seventeenth Century

By Matteo Binasco,

Book cover of Making, Breaking and Remaking the Irish Missionary Network: Ireland, Rome and the West Indies in the Seventeenth Century

What is my book about?

This book is the first to document the links which were developed between the Irish clerical community in Rome, Ireland, and the Irish migrants in the West Indies. Binasco vividly reconstructs the key figures, the perils, the efforts, and the pitfalls to connect the epicenter of global Catholicism with the far and troubled Ireland and West Indies of the seventeenth century. 

Empires in World History

By Jane Burbank, Frederick Cooper,

Book cover of Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference

Empires or nation-states? Which do you prefer? Most of us have assumed that the endpoint in world history is the nation-state. Empires are somehow relics of the past, you know, ‘bad’ things associated with the Europeans in the 19th century or only something the Americans would dare to do today. In this tour de force, Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper demolish this idea by showing us that empires have always been and are still a part of our world. Burbank and Cooper don’t start their story in ‘1492’ with the usual European suspects; they open with the Romans and the Chinese in the 3nd century BC and then move forward to the present. It’s an eye-opening read as the authors invite us to think of what makes empires tick, whether then or now, in Europe, Asia, the Middle East or the Americas. One can disagree with their argument…

Who am I?

Christopher Goscha first fell in love with world history while reading Fernand Braudel's La Méditerranée in graduate school in France and doing research for his PhD in Southeast Asia. He is currently a professor of international relations at the Université du Québec à Montréal where he teaches world history and publishes on the wars for Vietnam in a global context. He does this most recently in his forthcoming book entitled The Road to Dien Bien Phu: A History of the First Vietnam War.

I wrote...

The Road to Dien Bien Phu: A History of the First War for Vietnam

By Christopher Goscha,

Book cover of The Road to Dien Bien Phu: A History of the First War for Vietnam

What is my book about?

On May 7, 1954, when the bullets stopped and the air stilled in Dien Bien Phu, there was no doubt that Vietnam could fight a mighty colonial power and win. After nearly a decade of struggle, a nation forged in the crucible of war had achieved a victory undreamed of by any other national liberation movement. The Road to Dien Bien Phu tells the story of how Ho Chi Minh turned a ragtag guerilla army into a modern fighting force capable of bringing down the formidable French army.

Panoramic in scope, The Road to Dien Bien Phu transforms our understanding of this conflict and the one the United States would later enter, and sheds new light on communist warfare and statecraft in East Asia today.

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