The most recommended folk music books

Who picked these books? Meet our 54 experts.

54 authors created a book list connected to folk music, and here are their favorite folk music books.
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Book cover of The Mermaid Bride and Other Orkney Folk Tales

Janis Mackay Author Of The Wee Seal

From my list on evoking the sea and shore.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have lived by the sea in the far north of Scotland, where I wrote The Wee Seal, and several other sea and seal themed books. I now live in Edinburgh by the sea and swim daily. I am also a storyteller with a keen interest in myth, and how myth impacts our lives. The recommendations I have given a nod to myth and their place in our life, and the sea, and how, at least in Britain, it is rarely that far away. A little wild, in a world that can feel, sometimes, too tame.

Janis' book list on evoking the sea and shore

Janis Mackay Why did Janis love this book?

I love this book because it takes me to the far north (where I used to live).

It takes me back to the wide skies, jagged cliffs, pounding waves, miles of rough open land, and seals gazing at you from every bay and cove. I love reading old traditional tales because, as a writer, they feed me, and give me ideas for new stories.

Book cover of Rythm Oil: A Journey Through The Music Of The American South

Franz Douskey Author Of Sinatra and Me: The Very Good Years

From my list on the roots of social change through popular music.

Why am I passionate about this?

More has been accomplished by music to wake us up that any marches, speeches, injustice, and/or wealth. In the beginning, music and its many forms I followed were an accident. Now I see that music is vital for social expression, intimacy, solitude. The walls in my writing room are covered with photos, CDs, 78s, and most certainly live recordings and books. I feel sorry for the soul(s) who will have to pick through this history when I’ve gone to that Upper Room.

Franz's book list on the roots of social change through popular music

Franz Douskey Why did Franz love this book?

Yes, the title is spelled correctly. I’ve known Stanley Booth from our days in Memphis. He has written about The Rolling Stones, B. B. King, Al Green, and Keith Richards. Keith wrote that “The interesting thing about music to me is that music has always seemed streaks ahead of any other Art form or any other form of social expression.” It has never been said any better.

Stanley Booth’s Rythm Oil contains studies of numerous, forgotten musicians and singers. It is a study of remote history. Stanley Booth doesn’t write with ink. He writes with grit.

By Stanley Booth,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A collection of 20 essays centred on Memphis, Tennessee, and comprising a fusion of fact, essays and fiction in which the author describes his encounters with major figures of American blues and soul music. Stanley Booth also wrote "The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones".


Book cover of Sweating Tears with Fat White Family

Zoë Howe Author Of Barbed Wire Kisses: The Jesus and Mary Chain Story

From my list on music biographies written by women.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a music biographer, and whenever I’ve hinted that the world of rock biography is a bit of a boys’ club, someone will bark names of famous female musicians who’ve written autobiographies at me. All brilliant, but biography is a different animal. It demands sensitivity, trust, intuition, empathy: the writer is presenting the story of another, wooing a publisher, balancing multiple perspectives, being a detective, asking strange questions, penetrating the skin, probing often forgotten places. Female music writers frequently face assumptions ranging from the dismissive to the salacious before being neatly sidelined, but this is changing – slowly.  I wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate some rare queens of the art here.

Zoë's book list on music biographies written by women

Zoë Howe Why did Zoë love this book?

I love to see different takes on music biography: shifts away from conventional formats are a happy place for me. Stripe, inspired by the 90s series Star Test (which I was obsessed with too) takes on the notorious Fat White Family, presenting them in all of their demonic rock ‘n’ roll depravity through exclusive interview material. Cradduck’s folklorically inspired illustrations in the Rough Trade edition complement the text with grotesque perfection.

By Adelle Stripe, Lisa Cradduck,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sweating Tears with Fat White Family as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A revealing examination of the dysfunctional songwriting partnership at the heart of one of Britain’s most unpredictable and controversial contemporary rock ’n’ roll bands, Sweating Tears with Fat White Family  features candid interviews by author Adelle Stripe with Fat White Family singer Lias Saoudi and guitarist Saul Adamczewski. From childhood traumas to adult squalor and critical success, it is a tale of bitterness, humour, excess, cruelty, and the vile affections that bind this exceptional pairing on their continued Orphean descent into the underworld.
This exclusive edition features demonic engravings by printmaker Lisa Cradduck, inspired by Berber folklore and the grotesque…


Book cover of Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews With Former Slaves

Jeff Matthews Author Of One Must Tell the Bees: Abraham Lincoln and the Final Education of Sherlock Holmes

From my list on the Civil War without all the battlefield stuff.

Why am I passionate about this?

My twin passions are the fictional stories of Sherlock Holmes, and American history as told on the battlefields of the Civil War—and I have long thought that we make history boring, focusing on battles and dates, and not on the individuals who made it happen (Lincoln above all). So why not shake it up? In One Must Tell the Bees, the rational but very fictional Sherlock Holmes brings to life the accomplishments of the shrewd, incisive but very real Abraham Lincoln in a way that I hope adds to our understanding of Lincoln’s accomplishments, even as our country struggles to reassess the meaning of that portion of our history.

Jeff's book list on the Civil War without all the battlefield stuff

Jeff Matthews Why did Jeff love this book?

In the 1930’s some very forward-thinking person at the Work Projects Administration got the idea to interview former slaves and record their stories before it was too late, and their stories had been lost.

The result was some 2,300 interviews with men and women who had been enslaved across many states (not just the South). The interviews are generally brief but always unvarnished and compelling.

The resulting record of their lives and experiences will leave a mark on anyone who reads them. And you should read them.

By Work Projects Administration,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.

This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work.

Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public. To ensure a quality reading experience, this work has been…


Book cover of First Time Ever: A Memoir

Bonnie Morris Author Of The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture

From my list on women in rock, folk, and blues.

Why am I passionate about this?

My expertise as a scholar of the women’s music movement spans 40 years--ever since I attended my first concert and music festival in 1981. A lecturer at UC-Berkeley, I’m the author of 19 books on women’s history, and published the first book on women’s music festivals, Eden Built By Eves, in 1999 (now out of print.) More recently I’ve organized exhibits on the women’s music movement for the Library of Congress, co-authored The Feminist Revolution (which made Oprah’s list), and I’m now the archivist and historian for Olivia Records.

Bonnie's book list on women in rock, folk, and blues

Bonnie Morris Why did Bonnie love this book?

Not everyone who loves and admires this folk musician, the half-sister of Pete Seeger and a longtime collector of English folk ballads, knows her as the songwriter behind Roberta Flack’s hit “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face;” hence the title. The quirky style of this real page-turner provides fantastic stories of folk heritage, song collecting, love, child-rearing, radio performance activism, encounters with English Travelers, travels to China, and life growing up as a daughter of the ethnomusicologist Charles Seeger.

By Peggy Seeger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked First Time Ever as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A SUNDAY TIMES AND TELEGRAPH BOOK OF THE YEAR
SHORTLISTED FOR THE PENDERYN MUSIC BOOK PRIZE
THE BOOKSELLER'S Most Picked Book in General Non-Fiction Round Ups of 2017

Peggy Seeger is one of folk music's most influential artists and songwriters. Born in New York City in 1935, she enjoyed a childhood steeped in music and left-wing politics - they remain her lifeblood. After college, she travelled to Russia and China - against US advice - before arriving in London, where she met the man with whom she would raise three children and share the next thirty-three years: Ewan MacColl. Together,…


Book cover of Folk

Elisabeth Sharp McKetta Author Of She Never Told Me about the Ocean

From my list on fairy tales for adults.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an American author and writing teacher both at Harvard and Oxford’s online programs. I've mostly written poetry and nonfiction, then in 2021 I published my first novel, She Never Told Me about the Ocean. I started writing the book when my daughter was born as a way to explore the complicated feelings and fears that suddenly washed over me. The book—like a daughter—outgrew my plans and expectations for it. It became, unexpectedly, a mythology of mothers and daughters. For two decades I've studied fairy tales and myths. Fairy tales deal in fears and the stories we tell ourselves to feel safe—which is why I read them and use them in my writing.

Elisabeth's book list on fairy tales for adults

Elisabeth Sharp McKetta Why did Elisabeth love this book?

I just discovered this book and want to teach it in every one of my classes! Folk is a series of stories about the villagers in a tiny, closed-off island filled with strange rituals and a cacophony of alliances and grudges. Her language is simply thrilling, and the fairy tales are shocking in all different ways. We hear a different perspective in each story, so the book results in a fairy tale about how small communities work and what the ‘folk’ in them must do—and believe—in order to get along.  

By Zoe Gilbert,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A captivating, magical and haunting debut novel of breathtaking imagination, from the winner of the 2014 Costa Short Story Award LONGLISTED FOR THE 2019 INTERNATIONAL DYLAN THOMAS PRIZE 'That rare thing: genuinely unique' OBSERVER 'Will win you over ... Magical' THE TIMES 'Absolutely stunning. I loved it' MADELINE MILLER, AUTHOR OF CIRCE On the remote island of Neverness, the villagers' lives are entwined with nature: its enchantments, seductions and dangers. There is May, the young fiddler who seeks her musical spirit; Madden Lightfoot, who flies with red kites; and Verlyn Webbe, born with a wing for an arm. Over the…


Book cover of Heard It in a Love Song

Jill Santopolo Author Of Everything After

From my list on love and music.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m Jill Santopolo, a novelist, editor, and mom who was born in New York and currently lives in Washington, DC. I’ve written Everything After, More Than Words, and The Light We Lost, which was the Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick in February 2018. My books have been named to The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Apple, and Indiebound bestseller lists, and have been translated into more than 35 languages. I love Instagram and rarely ever use Twitter (but you can find me there, too)--and music makes my heart sing. When I was growing up I learned to play the piano, flute, and piccolo, and I loved singing and dancing.

Jill's book list on love and music

Jill Santopolo Why did Jill love this book?

Tracey Garvis Graves’s novel about second chances and starting over is filled with so much warmth, it’s impossible not to cheer for her characters and to feel true empathy for their situations. Newly-divorced Layla discovers she had to make peace with her past to find love in her present—and music is the key to it all. 

By Tracey Garvis Graves,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Heard It in a Love Song as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Tracey Garvis Graves, the bestselling author of The Girl He Used to Know comes a love song of a story about starting over and second chances in Heard It in a Love Song.

Love doesn’t always wait until you’re ready.

Layla Hilding is thirty-five and recently divorced. Struggling to break free from the past―her glory days as the lead singer in a band and a ten-year marriage to a man who never put her first―Layla’s newly found independence feels a lot like loneliness.

Then there's Josh, the single dad whose daughter attends the elementary school where Layla teaches music.…


Book cover of Coven Working

Melusine Draco Author Of Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore

From my list on real old-fashioned witchcraft.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an Initiate of traditional British Old Craft and the Khemetic Mysteries. My own teaching methods and writing draw on historical sources supported by academic texts and current archaeological findings; endorsing Crowley’s view that all magic is an amalgam of science and art, and that magic is the outer route to the inner Mysteries. I have been a member and later Principal of the Coven of the Scales since 2000 having inherited it on the deaths of Bob and Meriem Clay-Egerton and author of some 60 fiction and non-fiction books on the subject of magic and Old Craft in order to shape the reader’s understanding of this particular tradition. 

Melusine's book list on real old-fashioned witchcraft

Melusine Draco Why did Melusine love this book?

This book explains what goes on within a traditional British Old Craft coven and what is required of its members.  It is important that folk understand what is expected of them when joining an Old Craft coven and what the fundamental differences are between the various Traditions to avoid misunderstandings.  The authors are themselves veterans of Coven of the Scales having run their own hived-off group for over twenty years.

By Philip Wright, Carrie West,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Coven Working explores the intricacies of the different Paths and Traditions for the benefit of those who wish to join and existing group or to set up a coven of their own.

Writing as Philip Wright and Carried West, the authors are both members of the Coven of The Scales, the magical Order formed by Bob and Meriem Clay-Egerton in the late 1980s. They have run their own coven for well over twenty years and can trace their lineage back to the turn of the last century.


Book cover of Fool's Fate

Isabel Hoving Author Of The Dream Merchant

From my list on showing that our world is a wildly different place.

Why am I passionate about this?

My favorite books all show me that reality is much, much richer and stranger than it seems. And that is exactly what makes me write myself. Already as a child, I wanted the world to be different. I longed for the other, richer realities that were, I felt, just around the corner. So I started to travel, to Senegal and beyond, and learn about other people’s life experiences. When I became a researcher of world literature, it truly came home to me how one-sided my view of the world was. Ouch. Fortunately, there is a wealth of stories out there to tell us about everything we have been blind to. 

Isabel's book list on showing that our world is a wildly different place

Isabel Hoving Why did Isabel love this book?

There is so much to love, perhaps in the first place, the bond between tragic hero Fitz and the irresistible Fool. But even more moving is that the series shows you how deeply human beings can be bonded to non-human beings. The world is so much alive that even wood harbours intelligence; and even if human beings arrogantly fail to acknowledge it, there are more magnificent intelligent creatures around than human beings. This series makes me all the more aware of the broken beauty of our own nature, and the need to take good care of it.

By Robin Hobb,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fool's Fate as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The triumphant conclusion to our three thrilling fantasy series, from the author of the bestselling Farseer and Liveship traders trilogies.

The triumphant conclusion to the tale of the Farseers, in which kingdoms must stand or fall on the beat of a dragon's wings, or a Fool's heart.

A small and sadly untried coterie - the old assassin Chade, the serving-boy Thick, Prince Dutiful, and his reluctant Skillmaster, Fitz - sail towards the distant island of Aslevjal. There they must fulfil the Narcheska's challenge to her betrothed: to lay the head of the dragon Icefyre, whom legends tell is buried there…


Book cover of My Red Blood: A Memoir of Growing Up Communist, Coming Onto the Greenwich Village Folk Scene, and Coming Out in the Feminist Movement

Bonnie Morris Author Of The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture

From my list on women in rock, folk, and blues.

Why am I passionate about this?

My expertise as a scholar of the women’s music movement spans 40 years--ever since I attended my first concert and music festival in 1981. A lecturer at UC-Berkeley, I’m the author of 19 books on women’s history, and published the first book on women’s music festivals, Eden Built By Eves, in 1999 (now out of print.) More recently I’ve organized exhibits on the women’s music movement for the Library of Congress, co-authored The Feminist Revolution (which made Oprah’s list), and I’m now the archivist and historian for Olivia Records.

Bonnie's book list on women in rock, folk, and blues

Bonnie Morris Why did Bonnie love this book?

The child of Communist parents, Alix would grow up to be one of the most profound movers and shakers of the lesbian music movement, producing the first full-length lesbian album, Lavender Jane Loves Women, in 1973. But this memoir is a series of chapters on her early years growing up in the 1950s with progressive activists and folk club life, embarking on her own career in the folk circuit, singing against the backdrop of repressive politics, and coming into the women’s movement as a married mother about to fall in love with another woman.

By Alix Dobkin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Red Blood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Women’s music legend Alix Dobkin for the first time chronicles her rise to fame as the first artist to record an openly lesbian album in 1973. Her story, however, opens much earlier in postwar New York City, where, growing up in a Communist family, she watches Jackie Robinson steal home, rubs elbows with radical Left celebrities like Paul Robeson, and comes of age under the watchful eye of the FBI. Dobkin herself joins the party at the height of the McCarthy witch hunts and offers readers a firsthand glimpse of daily life as a young person living under government surveillance.…