41 books directly related to colonies 📚

All 41 colony books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire

By Roger Crowley,

Book cover of Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire

Why this book?

Crowley employs all of his storytelling skill to recreate the saga of the Portuguese eruption into the Indian Ocean to form the first East-West seaborne empire. British exploits in Asia are better known among English-language readers, but it was tiny Portugal that launched the era of European imperialism in Asia, and this book packs in the imperious characters and their intrepid (and violent) deeds that reshaped the world.


Dance on the Volcano

By Marie Vieux-Chauvet,

Book cover of Dance on the Volcano

Why this book?

Chauvet is another of the all-time great Haitian novelist, best known for her Amour, Colère, Folie, which depicted the horrors of the Duvalier regime--- obliquely and somewhat allegorically, but sharply enough that the book was banned and most copies destroyed—it did not become generally available until after the author’s death. La Danse sur le Volcan, a historical novel, is equally powerful and gives a wonderfully complete and complex view of all the complications of race, class, and culture that existed in Haiti while still a French sugar colony, on the eve of Revolution.


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

By J.H. Elliott,

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

Why this book?

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. 


Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference

By Jane Burbank, Frederick Cooper,

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

Why this book?

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 that empires were better at dealing with “difference” than nations; but one thing is sure: when you put this book down, you will never think about empires in the same way.


A Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story of the Expulsion of the French Acadians from Their American Homeland

By John Mack Faragher,

Book cover of A Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story of the Expulsion of the French Acadians from Their American Homeland

Why this book?

Faragher’s book created quite a stir when it came out in 2005, especially among Acadians. For here was an author who had no Acadian roots who saw the tragedy of the Acadian Deportation from the perspective of their ancestors. The history recounted in the book provides rich details on how and why in 1755 troops from New England sought to carry out their "great and noble scheme" of expelling 18,000 French-speaking Acadians ("the neutral French") from Nova Scotia. The removals would last eight years with thousands of Acadians forcibly relocated, a large number died, families often separated, and others going into hiding in forests. Faragher tells the story with a strong, highly readable narrative.


Blood and Diamonds: Germany's Imperial Ambitions in Africa

By Steven Press,

Book cover of Blood and Diamonds: Germany's Imperial Ambitions in Africa

Why this book?

A brand-new gripping, revealing history of German colonialism, focused on the brutal diamond trade in Southwest Africa on the eve of World War I. With pellucid prose, Press tells how the Germans cordoned off a so-called “forbidden zone,” behind which rapacious explorers, colonial authorities, miners, and businessmen carted off these precious, if largely useless rocks, for which there was a huge, artificially created demand, especially in the United States.


The Wretched of the Earth

By Frantz Fanon,

Book cover of The Wretched of the Earth

Why this book?

This book develops the revolutionary African socialist humanism of Frantz Fanon, who was influenced by Hegel, Sartre, the Negritude School, and above all, Marx. Published in 1961, the year so many new nations were being born in Africa, Fanon’s book did not dismiss tout court the European humanist tradition. He said that the Europeans had not practiced it – whether under Nazism or in the colonies – but predicted that the emerging Third World would be able to do so: “This new humanity cannot do otherwise than define a new humanism both for itself and for others.” This was, to be sure, a humanism drawing from European revolutionary and democratic traditions, but at the same time it was a “new humanism.” As a theoretician of the newly forming Third World, Fanon also distanced himself from the Soviet bloc and its authoritarian and dehumanizing form of industrial “development,” not only mentioning the Hungarian revolution of 1956, but also writing of the new Africa: “The pretext of catching up must not be used to push man around, to tear him away from himself or his privacy, to break and kill him.” This was nothing short of a socialist humanist third way, an alternative to both Western style capitalism and Eastern statist communism.


Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean, 1570-1640

By David Wheat,

Book cover of Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean, 1570-1640

Why this book?

David Wheat integrates Africa and Africans into the history of the Spanish Caribbean. Before I read this book, I knew that the Spanish relied more on native laborers than on Africans initially, and that their policies limited migration from Spain to Castilians of Roman Catholic heritage. Yet Wheat reveals how diverse and complex the early Spanish islands became, with Spanish from other regions not to mention Portuguese, Africans, and conversos (Catholics of Jewish heritage) intermixed with the approved migrants and the long-time indigenous residents.


American Baroque: Pearls and the Nature of Empire, 1492-1700

By Molly A. Warsh,

Book cover of American Baroque: Pearls and the Nature of Empire, 1492-1700

Why this book?

Molly Warsh’s American Baroque perhaps best captures my point about the Caribbean as a global space. The book follows pearls harvested off the coast of Venezuela from the beds that produced them, through the enslaved divers who harvested them, the imperial officials who taxed them, the merchants who traded them, all the way to the consumers who valued them. It is a commodity history—a sort of history that often features the Caribbean region prominently—while at the same time offering a rich evocation of the many cultural aspects of the pearl’s role. Laborers who secreted pearls on their person to gain some of the wealth they produced and artisans who created lavish objects featuring pearls are as important to this account as the wealthy and powerful who displayed them in portraits of this era. 


Cannibal Encounters: Europeans and Island Caribs, 1492-1763

By Philip P. Boucher,

Book cover of Cannibal Encounters: Europeans and Island Caribs, 1492-1763

Why this book?

Boucher contributes to our understanding of two aspects of Caribbean history, the activities of French colonizers and the history of the Carib (or Kalinago) native peoples of the eastern Caribbean. Although Cannibal Encounters addresses imperial policies and warfare (in line with an older scholarship), it also reveals the importance of the indigenous peoples to the early interactions in the Caribbean basin. In particular, the rivalries between the French and the English played out in the context of confrontations, alliances, and betrayals involving the Kalinago.


The Vandemonian War

By Nick Brodie,

Book cover of The Vandemonian War

Why this book?

Van Diemen’s Land is the former name for the island at the bottom of Australia now called Tasmania. The British who invaded the island changed the colony’s name after the place became infamous. Not only was it home to the British Empire’s most feared convict stations, but it also had a fearsome reputation as the location of one of the most brutal genocides in the Empire’s history. Nick Brodie draws on extensive, yet previously ignored, archival documents to refute the long-standing myth that the Vandemonian War was fought between hapless convict shepherds at the far reaches of the island colony and the island’s Aboriginal inhabitants. He demonstrates instead how this significant conflict was an orchestrated campaign in which the Lieutenant-Governor of the colony used military and para-military forces to prosecute his war against Aboriginal people. Ultimately, the British won the Vandemonian War and then purposefully covered up the military nature of their victory.


Chasing Empire Across the Sea: Communications and the State in the French Atlantic, 1713-1763

By Kenneth J. Banks,

Book cover of Chasing Empire Across the Sea: Communications and the State in the French Atlantic, 1713-1763

Why this book?

Chasing Empire Across the Sea is a multi-sited study of French colonial empire-building in the Atlantic World. Focusing on the colonial administrations in Quebec, New Orleans, and Martinique, the book’s emphasis on the fragility of colonial-metropolitan communication and the challenges this posed to French imperial sovereignty reminds readers of the vulnerability of early modern European empires. It also allows for a better understanding of the political structures and geographies that conditioned the French colonial enterprise.


Archipelago of Justice: Law in France's Early Modern Empire

By Laurie M. Wood,

Book cover of Archipelago of Justice: Law in France's Early Modern Empire

Why this book?

Archipelago of Justice is a compelling study of the role of law in building a legal infrastructure for the early modern French colonial empire. Paying attention to the colonial councils in the Atlantic colonies of Martinique and Guadeloupe and the colonies of Île de France (today Mauritius) and Île Bourbon (today Réunion) in the Indian Ocean, Wood posits the centrality of French law in connecting scattered French colonial possessions into a unified imperial whole. Global in focus, it is one of the few books that have decidedly surpassed the tendency to write French colonial histories within a single oceanic framework. 


Progressive New World: How Settler Colonialism and Transpacific Exchange Shaped American Reform

By Marilyn Lake,

Book cover of Progressive New World: How Settler Colonialism and Transpacific Exchange Shaped American Reform

Why this book?

Australia, like Canada, the United States, and New Zealand, was settled as a White Man’s land, where the inequities and corruption of the Old World would be replaced by the egalitarianism and democratic commitments of New World progressivism. But there was no place for Indigenous peoples who were deemed backward and primitive. Lake explores the links between American and Australasian reformers at the turn-of-the-twentieth-century and the way they combined racial self-confidence with a commitment to forging an ideal social order. Lake shows that race and reform were mutually supportive as Progressivism became the political logic of settler colonialism.


Outsourcing Empire: How Company-States Made the Modern World

By Andrew Phillips, J.C. Sharman,

Book cover of Outsourcing Empire: How Company-States Made the Modern World

Why this book?

The “company-states” of the book’s title include the East India companies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and their peers in other regions, like the Hudson’s Bay Company. These corporations enjoyed many of the powers of states: they hired troops, armed ships, waged war, and signed treaties with foreign rulers. Some came to govern empires. The authors explain how these hybrid geopolitical actors—part capitalist businesses, part polities—came to acquire a key role in global politics, and why they subsequently lost it. Modern multinationals can be geopolitical actors too, we imagine, but Phillips and Sharman show how different the capitalist order of the past was from the world we live in today.


Learning Empire: Globalization and the German Quest for World Status, 1875-1919

By Erik Grimmer-Solem,

Book cover of Learning Empire: Globalization and the German Quest for World Status, 1875-1919

Why this book?

I appreciate books that challenge my preconceptions. Grimmer-Solem does that by insisting that we understand German Weltpolitik before WWI not as an aberrant or markedly aggressive outlook, but as a normal response to the pressures and opportunities of turn-of-the-century world politics. The German search for colonies, spheres of influence, and a large navy were comparable to other nations—notably the United States. Such policies are unsurprising in a world where globalization has made developed nations dependent on intercontinental trade but where possibilities for future commerce and investment seemed to be closed off by the imperial scrambles of the late nineteenth century, notably Britain’s vast acquisitions in Africa, and by muscular US assertions of the Monroe doctrine.


Brokers of Empire: Japanese Settler Colonialism in Korea, 1876-1945

By Jun Uchida,

Book cover of Brokers of Empire: Japanese Settler Colonialism in Korea, 1876-1945

Why this book?

This is a masterful study of settler colonialism in Korea. Jun Uchida focuses on ordinary Japanese settlers, from petty merchants and traders to educators, journalists, carpetbaggers, and political adventurers who made a new home in the Korean peninsula between 1876 and 1945. These settlers were Uchida’s “brokers of empire.” The “brokers” cooperated with the state while pursuing colonial projects of their own, and helped shape Japan’s empire in Korea. Uchida has a meticulous eye for detail and highlights evolving dynamics between settlers, Koreans, the colonial government in Korea, and the Japanese metropole. This is a long book, but I simply couldn’t put it down—it left me wanting more. 


Nation-Empire: Ideology and Rural Youth Mobilization in Japan and Its Colonies

By Sayaka Chatani,

Book cover of Nation-Empire: Ideology and Rural Youth Mobilization in Japan and Its Colonies

Why this book?

Sayaka Chatani begins with a simple question. Why did tens of thousands of young men from across the empire in the 1930s and 1940s enthusiastically embrace Japanese nationalism and volunteer for service in the Japanese military? She finds the answer in village youth associations, which served as a vehicle for youth mobilization in rural Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. Her most original argument is that ideological campaigns mattered less than the social mobility and the chance for empowerment that youth associations offered. More strikingly, assimilation was not limited to the colonies. Japanese youths in Tohoku, Chatani shows, were “Japanized” in similar ways to those in Korea and Taiwan. This is an innovative and imaginative book. I cannot praise it highly enough.  


The Blood of the Colony: Wine and the Rise and Fall of French Algeria

By Owen White,

Book cover of The Blood of the Colony: Wine and the Rise and Fall of French Algeria

Why this book?

Owen White’s excellent book has given Algerian wine the place it deserves in the wine history of both Algeria and France. Wine production, introduced to Algeria by French settlers in the late 1800s, was an anomaly because the majority Muslim population of the colony did not drink. But it became essential to the French wine industry because it was commonly blended with the then-anemic wines of southern France to make wines with colour and strength. Even so, many French wine producers regarded Algeria as a rival and there was a constant tension between producers who needed Algerian wine and those who resented it. It was resolved when Algeria won independence from France and the wine industry there went into steep decline. 


Africa as a Living Laboratory: Empire, Development, and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge, 1870-1950

By Helen Tilley,

Book cover of Africa as a Living Laboratory: Empire, Development, and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge, 1870-1950

Why this book?

Africa as a Living Laboratory is a far-reaching study of the thorny relationship between imperialism and the role of scientific expertise—environmental, medical, racial, and anthropological—in the colonization of British Africa. A key source for Helen Tilley’s analysis is the African Research Survey, a project undertaken in the 1930s to explore how modern science was being applied to African problems. This project both embraced and recommended an interdisciplinary approach to research on Africa that, Tilley argues, underscored the heterogeneity of African environments and the interrelations among the problems being studied. While the aim of British colonialists was unquestionably to transform and modernize Africa, their efforts, Tilley contends, were often unexpectedly subverted by scientific concerns with the local and vernacular to the understanding of imperial history, colonial development, and the role science played in both.


The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity by Jill Lepore

By Jill Lepore,

Book cover of The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity by Jill Lepore

Why this book?

When I was researching my novel, I read many books on King Philip’s War, and Jill Lepore’s The Name of War is the best by far. Written in a readable prose style, and filled with detailed descriptions of events, the book riveted me from the first page. I also found myself returning to it time after time for clarification and specific information. I love the way it takes a deep dive into the origins and unfolding of the hostilities as well as looking at its long-lasting aftermath. It also includes a compelling account of Mary Rowlandson’s captivity and release as well as tracing James Printer’s activities.


Empires Without Imperialism: Anglo-American Decline and the Politics of Deflection

By Jeanne Morefield,

Book cover of Empires Without Imperialism: Anglo-American Decline and the Politics of Deflection

Why this book?

Over the past decade, there has been an enormous amount written about the “decline of global liberalism,” and particularly the so-called US-led liberal international order. Jeanne Morefield’s book Empires without Imperialism examines the nostalgia of liberal orders in comparing nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Britain and contemporary Anglo-American debates about liberalism and world politics. Morefield takes us through arguments from a diverse cast of characters including classicists like Alfred Zimmern and Donald Kagan, historians like Niall Ferguson, and political actors like Jan Smuts and Michael Ignatieff in order to understand how liberals draw on history as part of their political projects.


Reordering the World: Essays on Liberalism and Empire

By Duncan Bell,

Book cover of Reordering the World: Essays on Liberalism and Empire

Why this book?

Duncan Bell’s collection of essays, Reordering the World, analyzes Victorian (and Victorian-adjacent) liberal imaginaries of empire and world politics. Of specific interest for Bell is the central place settler colonialism had in the constitution of liberal intellectual traditions, and the complex relationship between liberalism as an ideology and liberalism as part-and-parcel of the British empire. Of particular note in this collection are the essays in part I, which I have found to be indispensable in my own grappling with the contours of liberalism as a political and intellectual tradition.


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

By Thomas Pakenham,

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

Why this book?

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 resources were mercilessly exploited. In this melee where human life was totally expendable, how could there be a place for conservation? Animals were shot for their trophy value, their hides, and their body parts. No respect was paid to them and their lives. It is only once colonial powers were shed that indigenous people viewed African wildlife as a resource to be conserved.

Reading this book gave me an understanding of how conservation ethics grew out of the ashes of an Africa burned to a cinder by colonial powers. Indigenous man makes a small fire and stands close. Colonial man makes a large fire and stands far.


Resisting Independence

By Brad A. Jones,

Book cover of Resisting Independence

Why this book?

This is probably the most comprehensive discussion of Loyalism to date. By detailing the Loyalist perspective on the growing crisis in the British empire and the ensuing American Revolution in four cities (Glasgow, Halifax, New York, and Kingston), Jones reveals the Loyalism shared in these places and shows how local issues led to new relationships with the Crown. One element integral to Loyalism was the notion of rights and liberties that British subjects enjoyed.    


Terra Nullius

By Claire G. Coleman,

Book cover of Terra Nullius

Why this book?

This is a really tricky book to write about without giving away too many of the surprises in the plot – as for much of the book you don’t even realise that you are reading an alternate history. I was convinced I was reading about the violence of colonisation in early Western Australia – until the moment I discovered that I wasn’t. Claire G. Coleman is an indigenous writer which adds a particular strength to this amazing and surprising story (sorry, no spoilers allowed!). 


The Summer Country

By Lauren Willig,

Book cover of The Summer Country

Why this book?

I love historical fiction. So lastly, for something a little different - perhaps to read while you are waiting for the cookies to come out of the oven! This novel takes place in Barbados on a colonial sugar plantation in Victorian times. The connection to my topic of cookies? Sugar, of course! I was particularly interested in learning more about the harsh truths of the history of sugar production, at the same time that I was immersed in this gripping family saga.


Tacky's Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War

By Vincent Brown,

Book cover of Tacky's Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War

Why this book?

Tacky’s Revolt, a slave uprising in Jamaica in 1760-1, is not widely known outside the Caribbean, but Brown’s book should change that situation. Written with great attention to the significance of physical spaces as well as historical sources, Tacky’s Revolt provides insights into the lived experiences of enslaved people, and in particular how some drew upon their experiences as warriors in west African societies to stage a rebellion that aimed to overthrow plantation society. It depicts both the terrifying power and the surprising fragility of white authority in an island in which at this time 9 of 10 residents were of African descent, and nearly all of those were enslaved.


The Buried Mirror: Reflections on Spain and the New World

By Carlos Fuentes,

Book cover of The Buried Mirror: Reflections on Spain and the New World

Why this book?

The great Mexican author Carlos Fuentes wrote this book as a commemorative reflection of an earlier quincentennial, that of 1492-1992. Fuentes’ book is transatlantic in scope and considers the fraught history of Hispanic heritage in the Americas. The title metaphorically employs the mirror—both of the kind fashioned from obsidian by the Aztecs and the one bringing the viewer into Diego Velázquez’s masterpiece of Spanish golden-age painting, Las Meninas—in reflecting on this mixed inheritance five centuries later. Cultural mixing, or mestizaje, defines the creation of Latin America and its millennial-deep roots in the exchange networks, migrations, political alliances, and colonialism on the part of Mesoamerican and Iberian peoples, on both sides of the Atlantic. Fuentes is a gifted writer and Buried Mirror is what first got me thinking about these historical entanglements when I read it as a college student.


The Taste of Empire: How Britain's Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World

By Lizzie Collingham,

Book cover of The Taste of Empire: How Britain's Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World

Why this book?

Collingham has written multiple books on food and the British Empire, and this one is my favorite. Stretching from 1545 to 1996, each of the twenty chapters selects a historical meal, dissecting its ingredients and manner of preparation in order to explore the imperial forces and experiences that created it. Painstakingly research, each chapter is a standalone history.


Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570-1740

By Mark G. Hanna,

Book cover of Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570-1740

Why this book?

This book is pretty recent, having been published in 2015. In my opinion, it is the best book ever written about Atlantic piracy. Hanna dissects pirates to examine who they were and why they became pirates. What is unique about this work, is that he argues that pirates were just as significant on land as they were at sea. Without pirates, there would be no rise of a British Empire in the American colonies. This book was released during the last year of my doctoral research and I probably would not have been as successful in its completion without Pirate Nests!


The Sydney Wars: Conflict in the early colony, 1788-1817

By Stephen Gapps,

Book cover of The Sydney Wars: Conflict in the early colony, 1788-1817

Why this book?

By the latter decades of the twentieth century, the so-called ‘history wars’ pitted those Australians who acknowledged the violent foundations of the Australian nation against others who denied that the frontier wars ever took place, and who advocated instead that Australians ought to celebrate the heroism of white colonists. The story of Australia’s founding as a nation starts in Sydney. It was the site of the initial encampment established by the British when they invaded a tiny area on the eastern edge of Australia in 1788, then claimed the entire east coast of the continent for the Crown. Stephen Gapps carefully analyzes a wide range of historical evidence to demonstrate how Sydney and its surrounding regions were the initial sites at which British and Aboriginal forces refined their military tactics during violent strategic encounters along the expanding frontier. These violent encounters set a pattern that played out, with local variations, over much of the remainder of the continent across the following decades.


Waves Across the South: A New History of Revolution and Empire

By Sujit Sivasundaram,

Book cover of Waves Across the South: A New History of Revolution and Empire

Why this book?

The first book to successfully show that the age of revolutions also manifested itself in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. The book also reveals how the British “neutralized” (in what the author calls an “imperial counter-revolt” of "counter-revolution") the age of revolution by coopting concepts of liberty, free trade, reason, and progress. 


The Zanzibar Chest: A Story of Life, Love, and Death in Foreign Lands

By Aidan Hartley,

Book cover of The Zanzibar Chest: A Story of Life, Love, and Death in Foreign Lands

Why this book?

If you want a book that is amazingly written, informative, and full of all that makes Africa what it is – passion, tragedy, discovery – this is writing at its best. It’s one of those books that a writer can hardly duplicate or even imitate: a one-off miracle of a thousand different stories, characters, epochs, human trajectories, all ingredients of a complex dish that a normal chef would spoil but that Hartley pulls out of the oven still as a masterpiece. Interestingly, a book that has been praised and criticized with equally strong sentiments.


Intercolonial Intimacies: Relinking Latin/O America to the Philippines, 1898-1964

By Paula C. Park,

Book cover of Intercolonial Intimacies: Relinking Latin/O America to the Philippines, 1898-1964

Why this book?

This book studies the anti-imperialist dialog between twentieth-century Latin American and Filipino intellectuals, writers, and diplomats who, in her view, appropriated brotherly discourses of Latinidad and Hispanidad as part of their resistance versus US imperialism. This book opened my eyes to the fact that, as late as the twentieth century, Filipino intellectuals still saw themselves as an intrinsic part of the Hispanic world and took for granted that it was beneficial for their country to keep a cultural and sociopolitical alliance with Latin America if they wanted to rid themselves of the new imperial yoke: the United States.


Dark Side of the Light: Slavery and the French Enlightenment

By Louis Sala-Molins,

Book cover of Dark Side of the Light: Slavery and the French Enlightenment

Why this book?

The philosopher and polemicist Sala-Molins fired a bow shot across Enlightenment scholarship with this book in 1992. In an era when most French scholars of the Enlightenment continued to study (and valorize) the figureheads of the era, Sala-Molins attributed the supposed silence of the philosophes regarding the horrors of chattel slavery to deep-seated racism. More polemically he called out individual thinkers such as Voltaire and Montesquieu, the latter of whom Sala-Molins memorably called a négrier or slave trader. Peu importe or little does it matter that the book itself is rife with historical inaccuracies. The Dark Side of the Light was and is a powerful cri de coeur directed at scholars of the eighteenth century, a plea for them to look more carefully at the legacies – good and bad – that we now associate with the Enlightenment. 


Everfair

By Nisi Shawl,

Book cover of Everfair

Why this book?

This book is a great example of alternate history allowing a new and better perspective on a historical period. Set in the Belgian Congo during the reign of King Leopold and the atrocities committed in his name, this book offers heart, joy, and beauty. I believe a sequel releases next year, and I am here for it.


Jamaica Ladies: Female Slaveholders and the Creation of Britain's Atlantic Empire

By Christine Walker,

Book cover of Jamaica Ladies: Female Slaveholders and the Creation of Britain's Atlantic Empire

Why this book?

We tend to think of social relationships in societies like early eighteenth-century Jamaica in male terms – masters and enslaved men. Jamaica was a very masculine place with a distinct masculine culture based around sexual access to women and a vibrant economy. But white women were also there and tended to flourish – working with the slave system rather than against it. This book is testimony to gender history and to the diversity of experiences in colonial Jamaica.


Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wetiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism

By Jack D. Forbes,

Book cover of Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wetiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism

Why this book?

Why do people harm each other and the planet? Why do the rich continue to accumulate more and more wealth, when they already have all they need? When is enough, enough?

Those questions can be answered by social psychologists, environmental economists, historians, and other academics. But Jack D. Forbes’ book is perhaps the best explanation I have ever read. Drawing on the history of the colonization of North America, Forbes (Renape/Lenape) argues that modern civilization is based around “a spiritual sickness with a physical vector.” He calls it the wetiko disease: the desire to consume other beings, with no possibility of satiation. Forbes’ exploration from his indigenous perspective is one of the most important books I’ve ever read.


Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766

By Fred Anderson,

Book cover of Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766

Why this book?

This book is indispensable reading for those who want to grasp the great sweep of events during the Seven Years’ War in North America (better known to some as the French and Indian War). Anderson’s book has a rich and vivid narrative, which is all the more remarkable because the story he presents can be complex. He begins with a skirmish in the Pennsylvania backcountry, and soon moves on to reveal the various chains of events in different parts of the continent that ended in a pivotal world conflagration. Anderson skillfully weaves together the military, economic, and political motives of the participants on all sides and demonstrates how the forces unleashed in the Seven Years’ War changed the nature of empire in North America.


Darkover Landfall

By Marion Zimmer Bradley,

Book cover of Darkover Landfall

Why this book?

I have revisited Darkover Landfall often, but it never loses its hold on my imagination. It’s the Darkover novels’ origin story, telling what happens when an interstellar colonizing starship goes off course and crash-lands on an uncharted planet. In essence, this is Science Fiction, except that the earth-like planet has fantastic creatures, some of them with paranormal powers.

The castaways include a few hard-nosed scientific professionals who expect to lead many industrious generalists who plan to colonize a new world. All must recognize that the technology that brought them to Darkover will not sustain them unless they adapt, learn, and unlearn. It’s a story to make us wonder what we really need from our planet and each other.