The most recommended books on cultural assimilation

Who picked these books? Meet our 15 experts.

15 authors created a book list connected to cultural assimilation, and here are their favorite cultural assimilation books.
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What type of cultural assimilation book?


Across the Shaman's River

By Daniel Lee Henry,

Book cover of Across the Shaman's River: John Muir, the Tlingit Stronghold, and the Opening of the North

Kim Heacox Author Of John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire: How a Visionary and the Glaciers of Alaska Changed America

From the list on John Muir.

Who am I?

Kim Heacox has written 15 books, five of them published by National Geographic. He has twice won the National Outdoor Book Award (for his memoir, The Only Kayak, and his novel, Jimmy Bluefeather), and twice won the Lowell Thomas Award for excellence in travel journalism. He’s featured on Ken Burns’ film, The National Parks, America's Best Idea, and he’s spoken about John Muir on Public Radio International’s Living on Earth. He lives in Gustavus, Alaska (next to Glacier Bay Nat’l Park), a small town of 500 people reachable only by boat or plane.

Kim's book list on John Muir

Why did Kim love this book?

In the fall of 1879, when John Muir arrived among Alaska’s Chilkat Tlingits, he charmed them with his stories but also unwittingly acted as an agent of Manifest Destiny and opened the floodgates of the Klondike Gold Rush. This is an important story of first contact and fresh perspectives, thoroughly researched and compellingly told. There’s no other book like it.

By Daniel Lee Henry,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Across the Shaman's River as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Across the Shaman's River is the story of one of Alaska's last Native American strongholds, a Tlingit community closed off for a century until a fateful encounter between a shaman, a preacher, and John Muir. Tucked in the corner of Southeast Alaska, the Tlingits had successfully warded off the Anglo influences that had swept into other corners of the territory. This tribe was viewed by European and American outsiders as the last wild tribe and a frustrating impediment to access. Missionaries and prospectors alike had widely failed to bring the Tlingit into their power. Yet, when John Muir arrived in…

The Price of Whiteness

By Eric L. Goldstein,

Book cover of The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity

Andrew Ridker Author Of Hope

From the list on Jewish life in America.

Who am I?

As an American, a Jew, and a novelist—though not necessarily in that order—I’ve always been interested in Jewish-American literature, and the Jewish-American experience in general. What was it like for the first Jews in America? What accounted for their success? What were the costs of assimilation? And where are they—we—headed? These books are a great starting point for anyone looking for answers to these questions. But be warned: in keeping with the Jewish tradition, they often answer those questions with more questions. Not, to quote the Jewish sage Jerry Seinfeld, that there’s anything wrong with that.

Andrew's book list on Jewish life in America

Why did Andrew love this book?

In The Price of Whiteness, historian Eric L. Goldstein documents the uneasy shift in Jewish-American identity throughout American history.

Are Jews a religion or a race or something else entirely? How did Ashkenazi Jews come to be seen as white? Goldstein addresses these questions and others in his rigorously researched book, which touches on topics like Black-Jewish relations, and features a surprisingly profound analysis of Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song.”

By Eric L. Goldstein,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

What has it meant to be Jewish in a nation preoccupied with the categories of black and white? "The Price of Whiteness" documents the uneasy place Jews have held in America's racial culture since the late nineteenth century. This book traces Jews' often tumultuous encounter with race from the 1870's through World War II, when they became vested as part of America's white mainstream and abandoned the practice of describing themselves in racial terms. American Jewish history is often told as a story of quick and successful adaptation, but Goldstein demonstrates how the process of identifying as white Americans was…

The Namesake

By Jhumpa Lahiri,

Book cover of The Namesake

Christine Kindberg Author Of The Means That Make Us Strangers

From the list on the third-culture kid experience.

Who am I?

I’m a second-generation TCK. I was born in Peru and grew up in Chile and Panama, as well as the US. My YA novel, The Means That Make Us Strangers, explores some of my own experience moving crossculturally as a teenager.

Christine's book list on the third-culture kid experience

Why did Christine love this book?

This beautifully written story centers around an immigrant family, but TCKs will find they have a lot in common with Gogol, an Indian American with a Russian name, who tries to define his cultural identity in opposition to his parents'. This book beautifully expressed something important for me, and discussing the movie with my brother and my parents provided a rich opportunity to process our own experiences.

By Jhumpa Lahiri,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'The Namesake' is the story of a boy brought up Indian in America.

'When her grandmother learned of Ashima's pregnancy, she was particularly thrilled at the prospect of naming the family's first sahib. And so Ashima and Ashoke have agreed to put off the decision of what to name the baby until a letter comes...'

For now, the label on his hospital cot reads simply BABY BOY GANGULI. But as time passes and still no letter arrives from India, American bureaucracy takes over and demands that 'baby boy Ganguli' be given a name. In a panic, his father decides to…

Indians in the Family

By Dawn Peterson,

Book cover of Indians in the Family: Adoption and the Politics of Antebellum Expansion

Mark R. Cheathem Author Of Andrew Jackson, Southerner

From the list on explaining Andrew Jackson.

Who am I?

I became interested in Andrew Jackson as an undergraduate student who worked at his Nashville plantation, The Hermitage. Nearly thirty years later, I am still fascinated by Old Hickory. We wouldn’t be friends, and I wouldn’t vote for him, but I consider him essential to understanding the United States’ development between his ascension as a national hero during the War of 1812 and his death in 1845. That we still argue about Jackson’s role as a symbol both of patriotism and of genocide speaks to his enduring significance to the national conversation about what the United States has represented and continues to represent.  

Mark's book list on explaining Andrew Jackson

Why did Mark love this book?

When I give talks about Jackson, audience members often bring up his “adoption” of Lyncoya, a Creek Indian boy, as an argument against his racist and violent treatment of Native Americans. Peterson delves into that episode, and similar events in the lives of Jackson and men like him, to explain what elite white “adoption” of Native children actually meant and how it reflected larger national themes of acquisition and subjugation. 

By Dawn Peterson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Indians in the Family as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During his invasion of Creek Indian territory in 1813, future U.S. president Andrew Jackson discovered a Creek infant orphaned by his troops. Moved by an "unusual sympathy," Jackson sent the child to be adopted into his Tennessee plantation household. Through the stories of nearly a dozen white adopters, adopted Indian children, and their Native parents, Dawn Peterson opens a window onto the forgotten history of adoption in early nineteenth-century America. Indians in the Family shows the important role that adoption played in efforts to subdue Native peoples in the name of nation-building.

As the United States aggressively expanded into Indian…

Book cover of Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality

Daromir Rudnyckyj Author Of Beyond Debt: Islamic Experiments in Global Finance

From the list on how anthropology helps us understand the economy.

Who am I?

I'm an economic anthropologist and teach classes and conduct research in this area. Economic anthropology is different from economics in that it questions many of the things that economics takes for granted. For example, most economists assume that allocating goods through the market by buying and selling is the best way to organize human communities. Economic anthropologists have shown, in contrast, that many societies have been organized according to other exchange principles. In fact, some of the oldest communities in the world, such as Sumer and Babylon, based their economies around elaborate systems of redistribution, in which every citizen was guaranteed food shares.

Daromir's book list on how anthropology helps us understand the economy

Why did Daromir love this book?

We often think of national identity as fixed: one is either Canadian or American, British or Chinese, Australian or Indian. 

The Olympic games come along and people pick up a flag to which they apparently belong. In contrast, Ong shows how economic globalization—the integration of production systems, financial activities, and labour markets across national borders—has created a situation in which national belonging is far from fixed and is instead flexible.

She documents, on the one hand, how individuals strategically obtain citizenship from more than one country and use citizenship for goals both personal and economic. On the other hand, she also documents how nation-states are using flexible definitions of citizenship to foster their own ambitions for economic growth.  

By Aihwa Ong,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Few recent phenomena have proved as emblematic of our era, and as little understood, as globalization. Are nation-states being transformed by globalization into a single globalized economy? Do global cultural forces herald a postnational millennium? Tying ethnography to structural analysis, Flexible Citizenship explores such questions with a focus on the links between the cultural logics of human action and on economic and political processes within the Asia-Pacific, including the impact of these forces on women and family life.
Explaining how intensified travel, communications, and mass media have created a transnational Chinese public, Aihwa Ong argues that previous studies have mistakenly…

Five Little Indians

By Michelle Good,

Book cover of Five Little Indians

E.M. Spencer Author Of Freedom Reins

From the list on Canadian historical fiction with strong females.

Who am I?

I am a Canadian who enjoys travelling and reading historical fiction from around the world. Having had the privilege of living in a variety of areas in Canada from coast to coast since childhood, I can recall listening to the stories of past generations and exploring the locations where some of these events took place. With a passion for Canada’s beauty and the history of its people, I like to research, explore, and incorporate these passions into my own stories.

E.M.'s book list on Canadian historical fiction with strong females

Why did E.M. love this book?

This is a story of children torn from their homes and forced to live in the horrific conditions of residential schools. Imprisoned and away from the love and protection of families and communities, many were abused for years by people whose words may have preached God’s love but whose actions demonstrated darker intentions. A few children managed to escape while many others were carelessly released to the unforgiving streets of east Vancouver where some managed to navigate their way through life while others succumbed to the demons that haunted them.

Having personally seen the impact this has had on people in my community, including family members, I feel that the characters may be fiction, but the story is a very real example of a shameful time in Canadian history where the effects continue through generations.

By Michelle Good,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Five Little Indians as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER: Canada Reads 2022

WINNER: Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction

WINNER: Amazon First Novel Award

WINNER: Kobo Emerging Author Prize 

Finalist: Scotiabank Giller Prize

Finalist: Atwood Gibson Writers Trust Prize

Finalist: BC & Yukon Book Prize

Shortlist: Indigenous Voices Awards

National Bestseller; A Globe and Mail Top 100 Book of the Year; A CBC Best Book of the Year; An Apple Best Book of the Year; A Kobo Best Book of the Year; An Indigo Best Book of the Year

Taken from their families when they are very small and sent to a remote, church-run residential school, Kenny, Lucy,…

Native Speaker

By Chang-Rae Lee,

Book cover of Native Speaker

Don Lee Author Of The Partition

From the list on by now-established Korean American authors.

Who am I?

A Korean American author myself, I published my first book in 2001, and in the ensuing years I’ve been heartened by the number of Korean Americans who have made a splash with their debut novels, as these five writers did. All five have ventured outside of what I’ve called the ethnic literature box, going far beyond the traditional stories expected from Asian Americans. They established a trend that is happily growing. 

Don's book list on by now-established Korean American authors

Why did Don love this book?

I feel Chang-Rae Lee broke out of the mold of Asian American books that always dealt with immigration or stories set in Old Asia. A young man, Henry Park, is hired to infiltrate the campaign of a Korean American running for mayor in New York City. Yes, this delves into the issues of assimilation and alienation, but the novel is about so much more. It’s lyrical and poignant and universal in its explorations of familial and marital love. 

By Chang-Rae Lee,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The debut novel from critically-acclaimed and New York Times–bestselling author of On Such a Full Sea and My Year Abroad.

In Native Speaker, author Chang-rae Lee introduces readers to Henry Park. Park has spent his entire life trying to become a true American—a native speaker. But even as the essence of his adopted country continues to elude him, his Korean heritage seems to drift further and further away.

Park's harsh Korean upbringing has taught him to hide his emotions, to remember everything he learns, and most of all to feel an overwhelming sense of alienation. In other words, it has…

Making Refuge

By Catherine Besteman,

Book cover of Making Refuge: Somali Bantu Refugees and Lewiston, Maine

Nell Gabiam Author Of The Politics of Suffering: Syria's Palestinian Refugee Camps

From the list on refugees in or from the Middle East.

Who am I?

I developed an interest in the Middle East after taking a class on the Peoples and Cultures of the Middle East and North Africa as an undergraduate student. I later lived and worked in Kuwait for two years and traveled extensively across the Middle East, including to Syria, a country whose hospitality, history, and cultural richness left an indelible impression on me. During subsequent travel to Syria, I became acquainted with the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, in Damascus. This camp, which physically blended into its surroundings while retaining its Palestinian-ness, ignited my desire to better understand Palestinian refugee identity and the political claims at the heart of this identity. 

Nell's book list on refugees in or from the Middle East

Why did Nell love this book?

Making Refuge focuses on Somali Bantu refugees who were resettled in the town of Lewiston, Maine in the early 2000s. These refugees had been the focus of Besteman’s earlier research in Somalia in the 1980s. About a decade after Somalia plunged into civil war, Somali Bantus were being resettled in the United States, enabling Besteman to physically reconnect with them. One of the strengths of this book is that it provides rich historical context, giving the reader an overview of the different stages of the refugee experience: the events leading to war and displacement, life in refugee camps in Kenya, and resettlement in the United States.

Making Refuge is also one of the few books that gives ethnographic insight into the refugee resettlement process in the United States. Through its focus on the challenges faced by resettled Somali Bantus, who are Black and Muslim, it questions the assumptions underlying the…

By Catherine Besteman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

How do people whose entire way of life has been destroyed and who witnessed horrible abuses against loved ones construct a new future? How do people who have survived the ravages of war and displacement rebuild their lives in a new country when their world has totally changed? In Making Refuge Catherine Besteman follows the trajectory of Somali Bantus from their homes in Somalia before the onset in 1991 of Somalia's civil war, to their displacement to Kenyan refugee camps, to their relocation in cities across the United States, to their settlement in the struggling former mill town of Lewiston,…

Sally in Three Worlds

By Virginia Kerns,

Book cover of Sally in Three Worlds: An Indian Captive in the House of Brigham Young

Zeese Papanikolas Author Of An American Cakewalk: Ten Syncopators of the Modern World

From the list on about borders you haven’t read.

Who am I?

Growing up in Salt Lake City in the 1950s I was very soon aware that I was living in a world of borders, some permeable and negotiable, and some almost impossible to cross. It was a city of Mormons and a city of those who weren’t; a city of immigrants like my grandparents, and about whom my mother wrote (and wrote well); and a Jim Crow town where Black men and women couldn’t get into the ballroom to hear Duke Ellington play. Finally, it was a city haunted by its Indian past in a state keeping living Indians in its many bleak government reservations. What to make of those borders has been a life-long effort.

Zeese's book list on about borders you haven’t read

Why did Zeese love this book?

Sally is the moving account of the true story of a captive Indian girl who lived in the house of Brigham Young as a servant and cook, a “wild” woman who had been “tamed” by her civilized captors. When she had almost forgotten her own language Sally was sent off to a Mormon village as the wife of a Pahvant Ute chief in order to “civilize” the local surrounding Indians. Sally’s story asks us what these seemingly simple words “wild” and “tame” really mean, and to think about what they can hide.

By Virginia Kerns,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sally in Three Worlds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this remarkable and deeply felt book, Virginia Kerns uncovers the singular and forgotten life of a young Indian woman who was captured in 1847 in what was then Mexican territory. Sold to a settler, a son-in-law of Brigham Young, the woman spent the next thirty years as a servant to Young's family. Sally, as they called her, lived in the shadows, largely unseen. She was later remembered as a 'wild' woman made 'tame' who happily shed her past to enter a new and better life in civilization.

Drawing from a broad range of primary sources, Kerns retrieves Sally from…

How to be Orange

By Gregory Scott Shapiro, Floor de Goede,

Book cover of How to be Orange

Diane Lemieux Author Of Culture Smart! Canada

From the list on understanding the locals.

Who am I?

I was born in Quebec, have lived in eleven countries, and speak four languages. In my 20+ years as an author and journalist, my goal has always been to create bridges between cultures and to tell stories that enable individuals to better understand each other. For me, a trip to a new country, no matter how short or long, is incomplete unless I’ve had the chance to meet locals.

Diane's book list on understanding the locals

Why did Diane love this book?

This is a guidebook on Dutch culture written by a long-time American resident of the Netherlands.

It is a quirky, funny book that, unlike many books that attempt to describe another culture, makes explicit the personal bias of the author.

This is clearly Greg Shapiro’s take on the Dutch, and his keen eye and sense of humour make this a great read for short- and long-term visitors.

I’ve married into the Dutch culture and chuckled my way through the book.

By Gregory Scott Shapiro, Floor de Goede,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Gregory Shapiro – the American Netherlander – brings you a must-have alternative to the Dutch assimilation course. What is the true Dutch identity? Shapiro shares his hilariously clumsy assimilation into Dutch culture and blasts some well-known stereotypes along the way. The book includes questions from the real Dutch Assimilation Exam, whose logic Shapiro delightfully dissects to reveal the Dutch identity they’d rather you didn’t know. How to Be Orange includes a photo essay of the most awkward Dutch product names and is illustrated by award-winning cartoonist Floor de Goede.

How to Be Orange makes you redefine the Holland you thought…