The most recommended books about human migration

Who picked these books? Meet our 30 experts.

30 authors created a book list connected to human migration, and here are their favorite human migration books.
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What type of human migration book?


New Diasporas

By Nicholas Van Hear,

Book cover of New Diasporas: The Mass Exodus, Dispersal and Regrouping of Migrant Communities

Robin Cohen Author Of Global Diasporas: An Introduction

From the list on diasporas, being away but connected to home.

Who am I?

I was born in South Africa. My mother was a daughter of Polish immigrants, while my father was a first-generation Jewish Lithuanian (a ‘Litvak’). I emigrated at 20 and have spent much of my life in Europe, with extended periods in Nigeria, the Caribbean, and back in South Africa. Being mobile and displaced is both part of my personal experience and my chosen professional career. Although I do work on other themes (like island societies, creolization, and globalization) I found myself increasingly writing on migration and diaspora.

Robin's book list on diasporas, being away but connected to home

Why did Robin love this book?

The issue of when one can call a dispersal a ‘diaspora’ has been a long-running debate between those interesting in diasporas. Displaced peoples can return, fragment, or assimilate. What factors are in play that impel any one ethnic group to cohere, link to similar communities aboard and continue to connect, emotionally and in other ways, to their place of origin? This is a tough question to answer and Van Hear has a brave try in answering it. He has undertaken field research in Africa and Sri Lanka and his command of the sources and comparisons is impressive. Of course, there are many refugee flows that post-date this book, but it nonetheless stands as a first crack at addressing the issue of diasporic formation.

By Nicholas Van Hear,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Charts the connections between migrations crises and the formation and demise transnational communities, looking at 10 contemporary migration crises aroun the world. Examines factors that are accelerating and constraining the growt of transnational communities, and provides a perspective on the soc

A Great and Noble Scheme

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

A.J.B. Johnston Author Of Into the Wind: A Novel of Acadian Resilience

From the list on Acadian Deportation.

Who am I?

I have no French or Acadian ancestors—as far as I know—yet the majority of my 21 books (history and fiction) explore different aspects of French colonial or Acadian history. Childhood visits to historic sites like the Port-Royal Habitation, Grand-Pré, Louisbourg and Fort Anne must have planted the seeds for the historian and writer I would become. Then again, working for years as an historian at the Fortress of Louisbourg definitely helped. France made me a chevalier of its Ordre des Palmes académiques for my body of work.

A.J.B.'s book list on Acadian Deportation

Why did A.J.B. love 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.

By John Mack Faragher,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Great and Noble Scheme as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1755, New England troops embarked on a "great and noble scheme" to expel 18,000 French-speaking Acadians ("the neutral French") from Nova Scotia, killing thousands, separating innumerable families, and driving many into forests where they waged a desperate guerrilla resistance. The right of neutrality; to live in peace from the imperial wars waged between France and England; had been one of the founding values of Acadia; its settlers traded and intermarried freely with native Mikmaq Indians and English Protestants alike. But the Acadians' refusal to swear unconditional allegiance to the British Crown in the mid-eighteenth century gave New Englanders, who…

The Apache Diaspora

By Paul Conrad,

Book cover of The Apache Diaspora: Four Centuries of Displacement and Survival

Sarah Deutsch Author Of Making a Modern U.S. West: The Contested Terrain of a Region and Its Borders, 1898-1940

From the list on reimagining our mythic American West and its cast.

Who am I?

At some point I decided that if I was going to teach US history, I better have a good sense of what the place looked like. So I drove across the country—and then back again—and then again, and then once more, each time at a different latitude. I drove through North Dakota and South Dakota, Montana and Idaho, Nebraska and Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas, up and down California, Oregon and Washington, and on and on. I got addicted to seeing the landscape in all its amazing variety and vastness, and seeing the landscape made the histories come alive. 

Sarah's book list on reimagining our mythic American West and its cast

Why did Sarah love this book?

When we think of slavery in American History, we mostly think of African Americans enslaved by white settlers. Paul Conrad tells a different story. Focusing on the Apache and through the often poignant stories of particular Apache women and men over the course of four centuries, he details their experience as shifting webs of alliance led to their enslavement by the Spanish and the Mexicans on the North American mainland and Cuba, and imprisoned and held in unfreedom by the United States through the 1880s, and yet still holding onto their identity as a distinct people with a distinct culture.

By Paul Conrad,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Across four centuries, Apache (Nde) peoples in the North American West confronted enslavement and forced migration schemes intended to exploit, subjugate, or eliminate them. While many Indigenous groups in the Americas lived through similar histories, Apaches were especially affected owing to their mobility, resistance, and proximity to multiple imperial powers. Spanish, Comanche, Mexican, and American efforts scattered thousands of Apaches across the continent and into the Caribbean and deeply impacted Apache groups that managed to remain in the Southwest.
Based on archival research in Spain, Mexico, and the United States, as well Apache oral histories, The Apache Diaspora brings to…

Across Atlantic Ice

By Dennis J. Stanford, Bruce A. Bradley,

Book cover of Across Atlantic Ice: The Origin of America's Clovis Culture

Paulette F.C. Steeves Author Of The Indigenous Paleolithic of the Western Hemisphere

From the list on archaeology and the peopling of the Americas.

Who am I?

As an Indigenous person, I have a lived experience of the negative impacts of an erased history on all people. Students I teach are shocked to hear that Indigenous people have been in the Americas for over 60,000 years. The violence against archaeologists publishing on older than Clovis sites in the Americas is intense; that got me asking why? I sought the truth about the evidence for Pleistocene age archaeology sites in the Americas. Global human migrations attest to the fact that humans have been migrating great distances for over 2 million years. Reclaiming and rewriting Indigenous history is one path of many, leading to healing and reconciliation. 

Paulette's book list on archaeology and the peopling of the Americas

Why did Paulette love this book?

Dennis Stanford one of the Clovis first police, changed his mind about the Clovis first hypothesis after carrying out excavations along the mid-Atlantic coast of North America. This book provides an informed view of pre-Clovis sites, paleo climates, and the possibilities for human migrations between the eastern and western hemispheres via the Atlantic. Evidence for human migrations between the eastern hemisphere known today as Southern France and the Western Hemisphere known today as the Americas during the Pleistocene are supported through rigorous research and possible linkages between stone tools known as Solutrean technologies found in both areas.

By Dennis J. Stanford, Bruce A. Bradley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Who were the first humans to inhabit North America? According to the now familiar story, mammal hunters entered the continent some 12,000 years ago via a land bridge that spanned the Bering Sea. Distinctive stone tools belonging to the Clovis culture established the presence of these early New World people. But are the Clovis tools Asian in origin? Drawing from original archaeological analysis, paleoclimatic research, and genetic studies, noted archaeologists Dennis J. Stanford and Bruce A. Bradley challenge the old narrative and, in the process, counter traditional - and often subjective - approaches to archaeological testing for historical relatedness. The…

The Warmth of Other Suns

By Isabel Wilkerson,

Book cover of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

Richard Paul Author Of We Could Not Fail: The First African Americans in the Space Program

From the list on race and racism in America during the time of the space program.

Who am I?

I am a long-time public radio documentary producer who now creates podcasts and conducts research for Smithsonian traveling exhibitions. After producing five documentaries on various sociological aspects of the space program, I was named the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Verville Fellow in Space History in 2014. My 2010 documentary Race and the Space Race (narrated by Mae Jemison) was the first full-length exploration of the nexus between civil rights and the space program, and the Fellowship allowed me to expand the story into a book. 

Richard's book list on race and racism in America during the time of the space program

Why did Richard love this book?

I wrote my book because I heard a talk. Glen Asner of the Pentagon Historical Office spoke at a 2006 conference on the Societal Impact of Spaceflight. There, he championed the use of social history to interpret that impact.

Social history was once derided as “pots and pans” history, he said. Instead, it should be harnessed to tell the story of NASA employees who used “their equal status within a federal institution to reshape local institutions and conceptions of race.” The Warmth of Other Suns unlocked the way to do that for me. It takes the stories of the millions who travelled north during The Great Migration and finds ways to personalize them.

This book was a lodestar for me, as I labored to do something similar. 

By Isabel Wilkerson,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The Warmth of Other Suns as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • In this beautifully written masterwork, the Pulitzer Prize–winnner and bestselling author of Caste chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life.

From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official…

Book cover of Vaka Moana, Voyages of the Ancestors: The Discovery and Settlement of the Pacific

Christina Thompson Author Of Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia

From the list on Polynesian history.

Who am I?

A dual citizen of Australia and the US, Christina Thompson has traveled extensively in the Pacific, including through most of the archipelagoes in Polynesia. She is the author of two books about Polynesia: a memoir of her marriage to a Māori man called Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All and a history of the ancient voyagers of the Pacific called Sea People. She edits the literary journal Harvard Review and teaches in the writing program at Harvard University Extension. 

Christina's book list on Polynesian history

Why did Christina love this book?

This handsome coffee table book with short, topical essays by Ben Finney, Geoffrey Irwin, Sam Low, and others is focused on Polynesian voyaging. Richly illustrated with paintings, photographs, and maps, it brings together the major threads: oral traditions, canoe design, navigational methods, theories of settlement. Most of the content can be found elsewhere, but the presentation is impressive; if you wanted just one book to browse through, this would be a fun one to have.

By Professor K. R. Howe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Vaka Moana, Voyages of the Ancestors as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The discovery and settlement of the islands of the Pacific is the last and greatest story of human migration. The daring explorers who crossed the vast ocean that covers a third of the earth’s surface were the world’s first deepsea sailors and navigators. Thousands of years before any other peoples left the sight of land, they were venturing across unknown seas to settle far-flung islands.

This richly illustrated account of Pacific voyaging, past and present, examines the very latest findings from world authorities. These fascinating insights are interwoven with superb photographs, artifacts, maps, and diagrams, which together tell a story…

Book cover of The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People

Tyler Mcmahon Author Of One Potato

From the list on the science of food.

Who am I?

I’m a novelist and a teacher of writing. My books are fueled by curiosity above all else. I have no expertise in science, so I stand in wonder at complicated systems that remain mostly hidden to me. My interest in food is similarly recreational. I’m married to a great chef and cookbook author, so I’ve learned a lot by osmosis. But when I think back on the process of writing One Potato, I have to give a lot of credit to my students. They seem to be part of a generation that’s genuinely passionate about eating in healthy, equitable, and sustainable ways. Much of my book was sparked by conversations in the classroom.

Tyler's book list on the science of food

Why did Tyler love this book?

There’s a minor thread in my novel about the Irish Potato Famine, and this book was a major resource. It was sobering to learn that there was enough food to feed the Irish peasantry, but it was not distributed according to need. (Much of it was exported.) Worse still, it was a cultural moment in which the wealthy found ways to absolve themselves of the poverty of their neighbors. But I was most shocked to learn about the scientific implications. Essentially, the potato variety that failed was a monoculture. And the solution to the blight involved returning to the Andes, with its vast genetic diversity, and finding a resistant strain. 

By John Kelly,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

It started in 1845 and lasted six years. Before it was over, more than one million men, women, and children starved to death and another million fled the country. Measured in terms of mortality, the Great Irish Potato Famine was one of the worst disasters in the nineteenth century - it claimed twice as many lives as the American Civil War. A perfect storm of bacterial infection, political greed, and religious intolerance sparked this catastrophe. But even more extraordinary than its scope were its political underpinnings, and "The Graves Are Walking" provides fresh material and analysis on the role that…

The Great Departure

By Tara Zahra,

Book cover of The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World

Ori Yehudai Author Of Leaving Zion: Jewish Emigration from Palestine and Israel after World War II

From the list on modern Jewish migration and displacement.

Who am I?

I am a historian at The Ohio State University. When I started my academic studies in Israel, I was initially interested in European history and only later began focusing on Jewish and Israeli history. I’m not exactly sure what attracted me to this career, but it’s probably the desire to better understand my own society and identity. I enjoy studying migration because it has played such an important role in Israeli and Jewish history, and even in my own life as an “academic wanderer.” Migration also provides a fascinating perspective on the links between large-scale historical events and the lives of individuals, and on the relationships between physical place, movement, and identity. 

Ori's book list on modern Jewish migration and displacement

Why did Ori love this book?

The Great Departure demonstrates how Jewish migration can be better understood against the backdrop of a larger migration story – in this case, that of the approximately 55 million Europeans who moved to the Americas between the mid-19th and the mid-20th centuries. Tara Zahra’s study of this mass movement also reveals the importance of investigating not only the arrival of migrants to their new destinations but also the policies and debates surrounding departure from and even return to the old country. This wide-ranging book combines moving stories of individuals and families with discussions of big ideas concerning freedom, nationalism, and global economic dynamics, while also challenging the common image of America as a paradise for immigrants. 

By Tara Zahra,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Between 1846 and 1940, more than 50 million Europeans moved to the Americas, irrevocably changing both their new lands and the ones they left behind. Their immigration fostered an idea of the "land of the free" and yet more than a third returned home again. In a ground-breaking study, Tara Zahra explores the deeper story of this movement of people.

As villages emptied, some blamed traffickers in human labour. Others saw opportunity: to seed colonies like the Polish community in Argentina or to reshape their populations by encouraging the emigration of minorities. These precedents would shape the Holocaust, the closing…

White Flight

By Kevin M. Kruse,

Book cover of White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism

Kyle Burke Author Of Revolutionaries for the Right: Anticommunist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare in the Cold War

From the list on the history of American conservatism.

Who am I?

I’m a professor of modern US and global history at Hartwick College in upstate New York. I have been reading and researching the history of conservative and right-wing movements in the United States and the wider world for almost two decades. My first book, Revolutionaries for the Right: Anticommunist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare in the Cold War, was published by University of North Carolina Press in 2018. My articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in Jacobin, Diplomatic History, Terrorism and Political Science, H-War, and H-Diplo. I’m currently at work on two projects: a history of the transatlantic white power movement and a film documentary about the short-lived white supremacist nation of Rhodesia and its contemporary legacies.

Kyle's book list on the history of American conservatism

Why did Kyle love this book?

The rise of the right was in many ways a southern phenomenon as the Old South transformed into the Sun Belt. White Flight explores how white supremacy and fears over desegregation propelled the conservative movement in Atlanta and on the national stage. As federal initiatives spelled the end for segregation in the 1950s and 1960s, southern whites managed to preserve racial discrimination through more subtle avenues. Whites fled Atlanta’s urban core for its suburbs where they reformed the world of white supremacy, giving birth to new causes such as tax revolts, tuition vouchers, and the privatization of public services.

By Kevin M. Kruse,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

During the civil rights era, Atlanta thought of itself as "The City Too Busy to Hate," a rare place in the South where the races lived and thrived together. Over the course of the 1960s and 1970s, however, so many whites fled the city for the suburbs that Atlanta earned a new nickname: "The City Too Busy Moving to Hate." In this reappraisal of racial politics in modern America, Kevin Kruse explains the causes and consequences of "white flight" in Atlanta and elsewhere. Seeking to understand segregationists on their own terms, White Flight moves past simple stereotypes to explore the…

The Two Milpas of Chan Kom

By Alicia Re Cruz,

Book cover of The Two Milpas of Chan Kom: Scenarios of a Maya Village Life

Gabriela Vargas-Cetina Author Of Beautiful Politics of Music: Trova in Yucatan, Mexico

From the list on falling in love with Yucatan’s ethnography.

Who am I?

I grew up in Valladolid, a semi-rural city of Yucatan. My parents loved the history and archaeology of the Yucatan peninsula, which not long ago was a single cultural and linguistic entity. I grew up dreaming of becoming an archaeologist. With time, I became fascinated with people and sociality within and beyond Yucatan, so I became an anthropologist. I trained as an anthropologist in Mexico and Canada, and have done research in Canada, Italy, Mexico, and Spain. I live and work in Yucatan, as a professor of anthropology. Good ethnographies are what anthropology is about, and those I write about here are some of the best.

Gabriela's book list on falling in love with Yucatan’s ethnography

Why did Gabriela love this book?

This book is many things: A wonderful ethnography, a tribute to the Mexican and foreign ethnographers who preceded Re Cruz’s in the area, a call to ethnographers for writing creativity, and, glowingly, a show of respect for local people, their agency, and their understandings of the world.

Chan Kom, as Re Cruz reminds us, has been an ethnographic laboratory since the first decades of the 20th century. Re Cruz chose to structure her book following the script of a local play performed by high school students. For anthropology students this is a good example of an engaging ethnography.

For historians of the recent past this is a record of the cultural impact that the emergence of Cancun had on Yucatecan rural life.

By Alicia Re Cruz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Two Milpas of Chan Kom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An ethnographic account of Chan Kom, a contemporary Maya community in Yucatan, Mexico that focuses on the social schism within the community resulting from an accelerated process of migration to Cancun, a major tourist center.

Book cover of By Steppe, Desert, and Ocean: The Birth of Eurasia

Tomek Jankowski Author Of Eastern Europe! Everything You Need to Know About the History (and More) of a Region that Shaped Our World and Still Does

From the list on understanding your Eastern European Grandma.

Who am I?

I was born into a family with an Eastern European heritage, and lived and studied in the region for some years – including during the period of the collapse of the communist regimes. I am comfortable in Polish and Hungarian, and more vaguely functional in Russian and German – with Bulgarian a distant last. My undergraduate degree in history included an Eastern European specialization (including a paper co-administered between American and Hungarian institutions), and my graduate degree in economics included a focus on emerging economies. In my “day job” as a business analyst, I deal frequently with the business landscape in the region. I am married to a Pole, and have family in Poland.    

Tomek's book list on understanding your Eastern European Grandma

Why did Tomek love this book?

Barry Cunliffe is a celebrated British archaeologist who specializes in both Europe’s and Britain’s origins.

Admittedly, Barry gets into the weeds a bit which can be challenging for those just looking for an introduction, but what he does better than most is connect the dots that bind Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa together.

Most histories of Europe pretend that Europe is an island, separate from Asia and everything else, as if it developed in a vacuum – but Barry reminds us that Charlemagne and Columbus are only part of the full European story.

Barry is a great place to start to understand the Eastern European, Asian, and Middle Eastern side of your British or Irish heritage – and yes, they are connected in some very direct ways.  

By Barry Cunliffe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked By Steppe, Desert, and Ocean as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

By Steppe, Desert, and Ocean is nothing less than the story of how humans first started building the globalized world we know today. Set on a huge continental stage, from Europe to China, it is a tale covering over 10,000 years, from the origins of farming around 9000 BC to the expansion of the Mongols in the thirteenth century AD.

An unashamedly 'big history', it charts the development of European, Near Eastern, and Chinese civilizations and the growing links between them by way of the Indian Ocean, the silk Roads, and the great steppe corridor (which crucially allowed horse riders…

Sea People

By Christina Thompson,

Book cover of Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia

Ann Göth Author Of Volcanic Adventures in Tonga: Species Conservation on Tin Can Island

From the list on sweeping you to remote islands in the South Pacific.

Who am I?

I am an Australian writer with a passion for all books about the South Pacific. Thirty years ago, I embarked on a two-year mission to the Kingdom of Tonga, and soon after, my job as a naturalist on cruise ships took me to many beautiful, fascinating, and often very remote island nations in that region. Nowadays, my jobs as a writer, scientist, high school teacher, and mother leave little room to navigate to that beautiful part of the world, but I continue to read whatever seems even slightly related to the South Pacific Theme. I hope you enjoy the books on this list as much as I have!

Ann's book list on sweeping you to remote islands in the South Pacific

Why did Ann love this book?

Having lived with Polynesian people on remote islands for 17 months, I always wondered where they originally came from and how their fascinating culture evolved.

This book enlightened me as it beautifully describes how the earliest Polynesians reached these far-away islands with amazing seafarer skills but no written tradition or metal tools at hand. I came across this book when it won the 2020 Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award for nonfiction and can only agree that it is very well-researched and written in an easy-to-understand way. 

By Christina Thompson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A blend of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel and Simon Winchester's Pacific, a thrilling intellectual detective story that looks deep into the past to uncover who first settled the islands of the remote Pacific, where they came from, how they got there, and how we know.

For more than a millennium, Polynesians have occupied the remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, a vast triangle stretching from Hawaii to New Zealand to Easter Island. Until the arrival of European explorers they were the only people to have ever lived there. Both the most closely related and the most widely dispersed…

The Promised Land

By Nicholas Lemann,

Book cover of The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America

David G. Nicholls Author Of Conjuring the Folk: Forms of Modernity in African America

From the list on understanding the Great Black Migration.

Who am I?

I'm a lifelong reader and wanted to study literature from an early age. I grew up in Indianapolis, one of the cities reshaped by the Great Black Migration. I went to graduate school at the University of Chicago and found myself once again in the urban Midwest. My research for Conjuring the Folk led me to discover a trove of short stories by George Wylie Henderson, a Black writer from Alabama who migrated to Harlem. I edited the stories and published them as Harlem Calling: The Collected Stories of George Wylie Henderson. I'm a contributor to African American Review, the Journal of Modern Literature, and the Encyclopedia of the Great Black Migration

David's book list on understanding the Great Black Migration

Why did David love this book?

The Promised Land is written in an engaging, eloquent style that makes it an excellent introduction to the history of the Great Black Migration. A noted journalist, Lemann interviewed dozens of migrants and their descendants to create a richly textured story of their experiences. Layered onto this story is description and analysis of the political contexts for the migration, including the civil rights movement and the Great Society programs. He follows a group of Black Americans from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago and, in some cases, back. He shows how the migration affected not just the migrants themselves, but America as a whole, for it shifted race relations from a regional to a national problem. Chicagoans like me will enjoy its wealth of local detail.

By Nicholas Lemann,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A New York Times bestseller, the groundbreaking authoritative history of the migration of African-Americans from the rural South to the urban North. A definitive book on American history, The Promised Land is also essential reading for educators and policymakers at both national and local levels.

Book cover of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

Asale Angel-Ajani Author Of A Country You Can Leave

From the list on badass mothers.

Who am I?

The first time I learned that I was raised by a “bad” mother was when I was in the first grade. The teachers complained that my mother hadn’t shown up for parent-teacher conferences and never could get me to school on time. But I knew what they did not, that my mother worked a lot and was raising kids all her own and yet still had time to take us to the library to read books that were well beyond the ones at school. Because of my highly iterant life raised by a bookish and neglectful mother, I have always been interested in the relationship between children and their less-than-perfect mothers.

Asale's book list on badass mothers

Why did Asale love this book?

This book takes the idea of “badass” to another level of meaning and measure.

Here, Hattie is a mother of twelve children of various stories and in some ways, a stand-in for all mothers who made the migration north from the deep south of the United States. She’s tough but loving and endures the kind of struggles that would knock many people down.

It’s a book that keeps you turning the pages. 

By Ayana Mathis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


'I can't remember when I read anything that moved me quite this way, besides the work of Toni Morrison.' Oprah Winfrey

'Mathis traces the fates of Hattie's 12 children and grandchildren over the course of the 20th century . . . [it] is remarkable.' Sunday Times

'Ms. Mathis has a gift for imbuing her characters' stories with an epic dimension that recalls Toni Morrison's writing.' New York Times

Fifteen years old and blazing with the hope of a better life, Hattie Shepherd fled the horror of the American South on a dawn train bound for Philadelphia.…

Searching for Zion

By Emily Raboteau,

Book cover of Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora

Joan Steinau Lester Author Of Loving before Loving: A Marriage in Black and White

From the list on biracial marriage/families with fascinating angles.

Who am I?

Sixty-one years ago I, a young white woman, married a Black man and together we had two children. Raising them (and then watching my biracial children grow to maturity) started my career, professionally and personally, as an anti-racism activist and scholar. They also caused me to question “race”: how did this myth come to be accepted as reality? How could people who were segregated as Negro, as my children were called in the 1960s, have come out of my body, called “white”? As a writer and avid reader, I am fascinated by every aspect of “racial identity.” 

Joan's book list on biracial marriage/families with fascinating angles

Why did Joan love this book?

A memoir by a young biracial woman who travels to Israel, Jamaica, Ethiopia, Ghana, and the U.S. South, searching for her own identity. 

The pleasure in the memoir comes from her journey. She is a good storyteller and takes us inside her often uncomfortable encounters with folks she has romanticized as being the “real” Black folks. Raboteau discovers, after searching for ten years all over the world, that rather like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, her true home lies within. 

One of the things I loved about the book was her well-told conversations and visits with people in countries I knew little about. The book was the winner of American Book Award.

By Emily Raboteau,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A decade in the making, Emily Raboteau’s Searching for Zion takes readers around the world on an unexpected adventure of faith. Both one woman’s quest for a place to call “home” and an investigation into a people’s search for the Promised Land, this landmark work of creative nonfiction is a trenchant inquiry into contemporary and historical ethnic displacement.
At the age of twenty-three, award-winning writer Emily Raboteau traveled to Israel to visit her childhood best friend. While her friend appeared to have found a place to belong, Raboteau could not yet say the same for herself. As a biracial woman…

South Side Girls

By Marcia Chatelain, Marcia Chatelain,

Book cover of South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration

Mark Whitaker Author Of Smoketown: The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance

From the list on the great Black migration.

Who am I?

For more than thirty years, I worked as journalist covering the biggest news stories of the day—at Newsweek magazine (where I became the publication’s first African-American top editor), then as a news executive at NBC News and CNN. Now, I keep a hand in that world as a judge of several prestigious journalism awards while taking a longer view in my own work as a contributor for CBS Sunday Morning, Washington Post book reviewer, and author of narrative non-fiction books with a focus on key personalities and turning points in Black History.

Mark's book list on the great Black migration

Why did Mark love this book?

Mining contemporaneous news accounts, personal letters and diaries, and dozens of in-depth interviews, scholar Marcia Chatelain explores the impact that the Great Migration had on a generation of young Black Chicago women, who coped with coming of age in the urban North while shouldering the expectations and aspirations of their uprooted parents. Anyone new to Chatelain’s work should also check out her next and equally original book, Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America, a study of the deeply mixed legacy of McDonald’s restaurants in Black neighborhoods that won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for History.

By Marcia Chatelain, Marcia Chatelain,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In South Side Girls Marcia Chatelain recasts Chicago's Great Migration through the lens of black girls. Focusing on the years between 1910 and 1940, when Chicago's black population quintupled, Chatelain describes how Chicago's black social scientists, urban reformers, journalists and activists formulated a vulnerable image of urban black girlhood that needed protecting. She argues that the construction and meaning of black girlhood shifted in response to major economic, social, and cultural changes and crises, and that it reflected parents' and community leaders' anxieties about urbanization and its meaning for racial progress. Girls shouldered much of the burden of black aspiration,…

Ecological Imperialism

By Alfred W. Crosby,

Book cover of Ecological Imperialism

Andrea L. Smalley Author Of Wild by Nature: North American Animals Confront Colonization

From the list on early America’s beastly nature.

Who am I?

When I was young, I read Bambi…and it made me want to go hunting. Perhaps I missed the point. But at the time, I thought Bambi’s exploits sounded much like the animal yarns my dad brought home from his autumnal hunting trips. Both fascinated me. I loved the idea of getting a glimpse into a secret world where animals starred in their own stories and people were, at most, part of the scenery. As an environmental historian, I’ve tried to wring those kinds of stories out of historical documents that are much more suited for telling us about human actions and desires.

Andrea's book list on early America’s beastly nature

Why did Andrea love this book?

I cut my environmental historian’s teeth on Ecological imperialism. While not entirely about animals, Crosby’s book was the first to suggest to me how nonhuman creatures could influence human history. This is an environmental history classic by the author who coined the now widely used term “the Columbian Exchange.” In Ecological Imperialism, Crosby expands upon this concept to argue that European colonizing successes were due in large part to the introduction Old World animals, plants, and diseases to the Americas and elsewhere. Colonists reshaped the environment, creating ecological “Neo-Europes” in the New World. What I took away from this book was the novel notion that animals could be active colonizers themselves. I learned that animals could be responsible for changing the landscape and carrying foreign cultures into new lands. 

By Alfred W. Crosby,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Ecological Imperialism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

People of European descent form the bulk of the population in most of the temperate zones of the world - North America, Australia and New Zealand. The military successes of European imperialism are easy to explain; in many cases they were a matter of firearms against spears. But as Alfred W. Crosby maintains in this highly original and fascinating book, the Europeans' displacement and replacement of the native peoples in the temperate zones was more a matter of biology than of military conquest. European organisms had certain decisive advantages over their New World and Australian counterparts. The spread of European…

Saltwater Slavery

By Stephanie E. Smallwood,

Book cover of Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora

Nicholas Radburn Author Of Traders in Men: Merchants and the Transformation of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

From the list on how the Atlantic slave trade operated.

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by the Atlantic slave trade since 2007, when I first studied the business papers of a Liverpool merchant who had enslaved over a hundred thousand people. I was immediately struck by the coldness of the merchant’s accounts. I was also drawn to the ways in which the merchant’s profit-motivated decisions shaped the forced migrations and experiences of their victims. I have subsequently extended my research to examine slave traders across the vastness of the Atlantic World. I'm also interested in the ways that the slave trade’s history continues to shape the modern world, from the making of uneven patterns of global economic development to such diverse areas as the financing of popular music. 

Nicholas' book list on how the Atlantic slave trade operated

Why did Nicholas love this book?

This book really helped me to look beyond slave trading merchants’ papers to think about the lived realities of the slave trade for those merchants’ victims.

Smallwood follows enslaved people from their initial sale on the African coast, aboard the slave ships, and then through their sale and seasoning in the English Americas—a model that brilliantly exposes the multi-staged way that captive Africans were commodified within the slave trade.

Saltwater Slavery also details the experiences of enslaved people within the trade, especially the mental and physical trauma that they suffered aboard the slave ships. 

By Stephanie E. Smallwood,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Saltwater Slavery as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This bold, innovative book promises to radically alter our understanding of the Atlantic slave trade, and the depths of its horrors. Stephanie E. Smallwood offers a penetrating look at the process of enslavement from its African origins through the Middle Passage and into the American slave market.

Smallwood's story is animated by deep research and gives us a startlingly graphic experience of the slave trade from the vantage point of the slaves themselves. Ultimately, Saltwater Slavery details how African people were transformed into Atlantic commodities in the process. She begins her narrative on the shores of seventeenth-century Africa, tracing how…

Atlas of the Great Irish Famine

By John Crowley (editor), William J. Smyth (editor), Mike Murphy (editor)

Book cover of Atlas of the Great Irish Famine

Frank Parker Author Of A Purgatory of Misery: How Victorian Liberals Turned a Crisis into a Disaster

From the list on helping you understand the Irish potato famine.

Who am I?

A friend with Parkinson's Disease requested my help in his attempts to understand the famine and its impact on his ancestors in County Clare. Once I began reading the material he brought me I was impelled to discover more. I had already researched and written about an earlier period in Irish history - the Anglo-Norman invasion - and it seemed that everything that happened on both sides of the Irish Sea in the centuries that followed was instrumental in making the famine such a disaster. Our book is the result.

Frank's book list on helping you understand the Irish potato famine

Why did Frank love this book?

This product of intensive research by members of the Department of Geography at Cork University covers every aspect of the famine as experienced by the people who lived and died through it.

Lavishly illustrated with maps and facsimiles of actual documents it details everything from the design and administration of workhouses to the treatment of migrants upon arrival in Canada, the USA, and Australia. No other book provides such an eloquent and devastating narrative of the suffering experienced by Irish people during the period 1845-52.

Devoid of rhetoric, it displays the facts in easy-to-understand text and statistical analysis, enhanced with first-hand eye-witness accounts from letters and journal extracts.

By John Crowley (editor), William J. Smyth (editor), Mike Murphy (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Atlas of the Great Irish Famine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Best Reference Books of 2012 presented by Library Journal

The Great Irish Famine is the most pivotal event in modern Irish history, with implications that cannot be underestimated. Over a million people perished between 1845-1852, and well over a million others fled to other locales within Europe and America. By 1850, the Irish made up a quarter of the population in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. The 2000 US census had 41 million people claim Irish ancestry, or one in five white Americans. Atlas of the Great Irish Famine (1845-52) considers how such a near total decimation of…