The most recommended books about immigrants

Who picked these books? Meet our 209 experts.

209 authors created a book list connected to immigrants, and here are their favorite immigrant books.
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Book cover of Kid Quixotes: A Group of Students, Their Teacher, and the One-Room School Where Everything Is Possible

Judith Simon Prager Author Of What the Dolphin Said: On the Future of Humankind

From Judith's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Idealistic International Lecturer

Judith's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Judith Simon Prager Why did Judith love this book?

One of the most inspirational books ever, as Stephen Haff pulls off a miracle in the little one-room, after-school free meet up, where mixed-heritage kids of all different ages and reading levels (some zero) flock to write their stories, read them, and be heard.

As an instructor, myself, I was dazzled by the generous, ingenious ways he let the kids lead, with brilliant hints and mountains of belief in them, engaging them so they mirrored his love of reading, his joy in sharing. I was impressed as they helped each other read and translate Don Quixote from old Spanish (teaching him, sometimes), create a bilingual touring musical show, and become family.

It felt so much greater than a “feel-good” book, rising to heights that included one hundred professional writers coming in to participate humbly. Salman Rushdie said, “Cervantes would be proud.” This book fills my heart with joy.

By Stephen Haff,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"In my years of experience as a writer and as a college professor, I have never seen anything like this: the love for language, the passion for discussion, clarity of mind, and humility of heart. Stephen Haff invents impossible projects and makes them possible."
-Valeria Luiselli, author of Lost Children Archive

The unlikely, inspiring true story of a one-room school where children of undocumented immigrants and their teacher discover their voices and speak truth to power.

Still Waters in a Storm is an after-school program held in a small room in Bushwick, Brooklyn; it is a place for kids to…

Book cover of Homeland Elegies

Julie Sedivy Author Of Memory Speaks: On Losing and Reclaiming Language and Self

From my list on immigration and identity.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a language scientist and a writer, but most of all, a person who is smitten with language in all its forms. No doubt my fascination was shaped by my early itinerant life as a child immigrant between Czechoslovakia to Canada, with exposure to numerous languages along the way. I earned a PhD in linguistics and taught linguistics and psychology at Brown University and later, the University of Calgary, but I now spend most of my time writing for non-academic readers, integrating my scientific understanding of language with a love for its aesthetic possibilities.

Julie's book list on immigration and identity

Julie Sedivy Why did Julie love this book?

This book calls itself a novel, but it is deeply intertwined with the author’s own life and experiences as a second-generation immigrant from Pakistan. The chapters often read more like incisive personal essays than segments advancing the plot of a conventional novel, as the author grapples with the economic obsessions and spiritual poverty of contemporary American culture, the experience of everyday racism and the rage it provokes, and the feelings of alienation that many immigrants feel from both their country of origin and their adopted home. 

The central preoccupation of the book is the difficulty of living as a complete, nuanced, self-contradictory individual in a world that forces you to choose—between cultures in conflict with each other, between absolutist world views that permit no ambivalence, between economic success and authenticity. It is a tension that may be especially pronounced in an immigrant’s life, but one that entraps everyone and results…

By Ayad Akhtar,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This "beautiful novel . . . has echoes of The Great Gatsby": an immigrant father and his son search for belonging—in post-Trump America, and with each other (Dwight Garner, New York Times).

One of the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year 
One of Barack Obama's Favorite Books of 2020
A Best Book of 2020 * Entertainment Weekly * Washington Post * O Magazine * New York Times Book Review * Publishers Weekly * NPR * The Economist * Shelf Awareness * Library Journal * St. Louis Post-Dispatch * Slate
Finalist for the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medal for…

Book cover of O Pioneers!

Eleanor Wilton Author Of Agnes Merriweather

From my list on classics featuring exceptional female protagonists.

Why am I passionate about this?

I first read and fell in love with Jane Austen's novels at the age of thirteen, and thus began a lifelong enthusiasm for nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century literature. Though I studied English Literature and Art History at university, I embarked on a professional career working in an entirely unrelated field. I never lost my childhood desire to write fiction. Inspiration came, as it will, unexpectedly. I sat down one day in the grand Reading Room of the New York Public Library, pad and pen in hand, and began to write. I happened to be suffering a spell of insomnia at the time, and before I knew it, I had a draft of my first novel.

Eleanor's book list on classics featuring exceptional female protagonists

Eleanor Wilton Why did Eleanor love this book?

It is impossible to separate Cather’s heroine Alexandra Bergson from the Nebraska prairie she farms.

Alexandra’s character mirrors the land she, as the eldest child, inherited from her father and which she devotes her life to working. When other families give up, sell off, and move on, she doggedly remains through harsh winters and, against all likelihood, prospers as an unmarried woman managing a vast expanse of land.

Like the land, she remains both knowable and unknowable, at once harsh and majestic.

Possessing an external manner that is reticent, internally hers is an indomitable spirit. She is among the most inimitable of women to have ever appeared in print.

By Willa Sibert Cather,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked O Pioneers! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At the turn of the twentieth century. When their father dies young, exhausted by the failure of his attempts at agriculture, it is left to the visionary Alexandra to guide the family to prosperity and safeguard the fortune of her brothers. Strong-willed and fiercely independent, she succeeds against all odds, but only at the cost of her own fulfilment as a woman. Central to the novel's action is the Nebraskan landscape it describes, by turns unyielding and fruitful, bitter and ecstatic.O Pioneers! joins Cather's My Antonia in Everyman's Library.

Book cover of The Coffin Ship: Life and Death at Sea During the Great Irish Famine

Kevin Kenny Author Of Making Sense of the Molly Maguires

From my list on Irish immigration to the United States.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am interested in immigration for both personal and professional reasons. A native of Dublin, Ireland, I did my undergraduate work in Edinburgh, Scotland, completed my graduate degree in New York City, moved to Austin, Texas for my first academic job and to Boston for my second job, and then returned to New City York to take up my current position at NYU, where I teach US immigration history and run Glucksman Ireland House, an interdisciplinary center devoted to the study of Irish history and culture. The key themes in my work—migration and diaspora—have been as central to my life journey as to my research and teaching.

Kevin's book list on Irish immigration to the United States

Kevin Kenny Why did Kevin love this book?

The “coffin ship” is a haunting metaphor for the catastrophe that struck Ireland in the 1840s and 1850s, when more than 1 million people died of starvation and disease and another 2 million people emigrated.

In this deeply researched and beautifully written book, Cian McMahon accomplishes two main goals. First, he disentangles the myth of the “coffin ship” from the reality. Shipboard mortality, he finds, was generally low, yet on some fully one-quarter of the passengers perishing in the worst cases.

Second, McMahon fills in a huge gap in emigration history—which usually explains why people leave home and then takes up the story again when they arrive in America—by showing how emigrants grappled with life and death on board ships and built community in the process.

By Cian T. McMahon,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Honorable Mention, Theodore Saloutos Book Award, given by the Immigration and Ethnic History Society
A vivid, new portrait of Irish migration through the letters and diaries of those who fled their homeland during the Great Famine
The standard story of the exodus during Ireland's Great Famine is one of tired cliches, half-truths, and dry statistics. In The Coffin Ship, a groundbreaking work of transnational history, Cian T. McMahon offers a vibrant, fresh perspective on an oft-ignored but vital component of the migration experience: the journey itself.
Between 1845 and 1855, over two million people fled Ireland to escape the Great…

Book cover of Stand Up, Yumi Chung!

Erin Yun Author Of Pippa Park Raises Her Game

From my list on middle school fiction featuring delicious food.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a children’s book writer from Frisco, Texas. I’ve published two middle grade chapter books, Pippa Park Raises Her Game and Pippa Park Crush at First Sight. I’ve always been captivated by novels that make me hungry; you can blame formative children’s books like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie or Stone Soup for that. That’s why today I’m sharing my top 5 favorite middle grade books that have a foodie twist. Some of them revolve entirely around food; others simply offer a notable scene. Either way, I hope you’ll find them as delectable as I do!

Erin's book list on middle school fiction featuring delicious food

Erin Yun Why did Erin love this book?

This isn’t a book about food. Instead, it’s about middle grader Yumi Chung, who, in a case of mistaken identity, stumbles upon the opportunity to join a comedy camp taught by her favorite YouTuber.

Even so, I included it on this list because not only does Yumi’s family own a Korean barbeque restaurant, but the other kids at school even call her “Yu-MEAT” because of it. Comedy plus cooking? No wonder I had to include this gem!

By Jessica Kim,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Stand Up, Yumi Chung! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

One lie snowballs into a full-blown double life in this irresistible story about an aspiring stand-up comedian.

On the outside, Yumi Chung suffers from #shygirlproblems, a perm-gone-wrong, and kids calling her "Yu-MEAT" because she smells like her family's Korean barbecue restaurant. On the inside, Yumi is ready for her Netflix stand-up special. Her notebook is filled with mortifying memories that she's reworked into comedy gold. All she needs is a stage and courage.

Instead of spending the summer studying her favorite YouTube comedians, Yumi is enrolled in test-prep tutoring to qualify for a private school scholarship, which will help in…

Book cover of My Name Is Tani... and I Believe in Miracles: The Amazing True Story of One Boy's Journey from Refugee to Chess Champion

Alysa Wishingrad Author Of The Verdigris Pawn

From my list on for chess lovers.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love games; board games, card games, head games*; any kind of situation in which employing strategy is the only way forward. And yet, I’m not a big game player—aside from word games. I’m also endlessly fascinated by the mechanisms of power and how societies arrange themselves. The marriage between writing and understanding politics (in the traditional, not the partisan sense) is my true north. Writing a book in which a chess-like game provides the foundation felt inevitable for me, for what game better explores the dynamics of power and strategy? *I don’t play head games, but I do find manipulation fascinating fodder for writing.

Alysa's book list on for chess lovers

Alysa Wishingrad Why did Alysa love this book?

My Name is Tani... is the inspiring story of an 8-year-old Nigerian immigrant who, after playing chess for only one year, went on the win the NYS Chess Championship. But it’s also a story about family, faith, resilience, and the very real power of kindness. The Adewumi family lived prosperously in Nigeria, until they were targeted by the terrorist organization Boko Harem. After fleeing to America their lives were categorically changed, and they wound up living in a homeless shelter. Yet they were never going to be defeated. Tani’s journey of learning, and quickly mastering, chess is one part of this story, yet the very real truth that “Talent is universal, opportunity is not,” provides the beating heart, highlighting as it does the vast inequities in our society. 

By Tanitoluwa Adewumi, Kayode Adewumi, Oluwatoyin Adewumi

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Name Is Tani... and I Believe in Miracles as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

A true story of sacrificing everything for family, living with nothing but hope, then sharing generously all they received to discover the greatest riches of all.

Tani Adewumi didn't know what Boko Haram was or why they had threatened his family. All he knew was that when his parents told the family was going to America, Tani thought it was the start of a great adventure rather than an escape. In truth, his family's journey to the United States was nothing short of miraculous-and the miracles were just beginning.

Tani's father, Kayode, became a dishwasher and Uber driver while Tani's…

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

Jannis Panagiotidis Author Of The Unchosen Ones: Diaspora, Nation, and Migration in Israel and Germany

From my list on the history of German, Jewish, and Eastern European migration.

Why am I passionate about this?

My passion for the topic of migration was kind of overdetermined, given that my grandparents were refugees, my father is an immigrant, and I have been on the move quite a bit myself. It might not have been a conscious choice to study something so close to home, but the more I think about it, the less likely it seems that this was all a coincidence. This personal dimension might also explain my choice of books, which all combine scholarly-analytics with deeply human perspectives on the topic of migration.

Jannis' book list on the history of German, Jewish, and Eastern European migration

Jannis Panagiotidis Why did Jannis love this book?

Migration from Eastern Europe has played a defining role in US history and in the history of the region itself. It is all the more surprising that there was no comprehensive book on this “great departure” of tens of millions of people since the end of the 19th century until Tara Zahra wrote this magnificent monograph.

It covers more than a century of emigration, immigration, and return migration across the Atlantic, straddling the end of empires, wars, expulsion, the Cold War, and the end of communism in 1989. It always combines micro- and macro-levels, weaving individual stories in with great narratives of a "long twentieth century."

By Tara Zahra,

Why should I read it?

2 authors 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…

Book cover of Murphy's Law

Carmen Radtke Author Of The Case of the Missing Bride

From my list on mysteries set on ships and trains.

Why am I passionate about this?

After years dedicated to the hard facts of a newspaper reporter’s life, including a sting covering the police beat, Carmen Radtke has changed her focus to fiction. She’s been fascinated by both history and mystery as long as she can remember and stays dedicated to the truth behind the lie, and the joys of in-depth research. As a repeated emigrant, she is enthralled by voyages into the unknown and the courage (or madness) that takes.

Carmen's book list on mysteries set on ships and trains

Carmen Radtke Why did Carmen love this book?

I fell in love with this series and its intrepid heroine Molly Murphy on page one. A young, penniless woman who has to rely on her own wits to make her way to America at the end of the 19th century, and a sea voyage that ends well enough until she becomes a murder suspect as soon as she arrives in Ellis Island - this impeccably researched historical mystery has all the ingredients I could want. It’s a satisfying mystery and a scathing social commentary, the tone of voice is clever and funny, and I didn’t just want to follow Molly on every step of her journey, I wanted to be her. 

By Rhys Bowen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Rhys Bowen, author of the much-loved Constable Evans mysteries, takes on the vibrant world of turn-of-the-century Ellis Island and New York in her newest series. With delightful humour and meticulous research Bowen transports readers to the gritty underworld that swallowed new immigrants who dreamed of a better life, and gives us the unforgettable heroine Molly Murphy, a resourceful Irish woman who lives by her own set of laws...

Book cover of Dancing with Strangers: Europeans and Australians at First Contact

Dane Kennedy Author Of Mungo Park's Ghost: The Haunted Hubris of British Explorers in Nineteenth-Century Africa

From my list on exploration and cross-cultural encounters.

Why am I passionate about this?

My interest in exploration and cross-cultural encounters is rooted in the experience of travel itself, which rests on the disorienting appeal of unfamiliar places and peoples. Exploration was also conducted for more practical reasons; sponsoring agencies sought to open up new markets, access new resources, and gain other material benefits. What interests me about the subject, then, is both its experiential and its instrumental dimensions. What doesn’t interest me is the myth of the explorer as a romantic hero, which was invented mainly to distract from these grubbier aspects of exploration.  

Dane's book list on exploration and cross-cultural encounters

Dane Kennedy Why did Dane love this book?

Clendinnen’s book is a pleasure to read because it personalizes the first encounter between explorers and indigenous peoples, causing me to care about the two parties and sympathize with the challenges they faced.

Clendinnen tells the story of the first British fleet to arrive in New South Wales, Australia, and the subsequent efforts by Britons and Aborigines to comprehend one another and find grounds of mutual interest. Perhaps her greatest achievement is to provide real insight into the views and aims of the Aborigines, even though they, unlike the British, left no first-hand record of this seminal event. 

By humanizing both parties, Clendinnen made me more emotionally invested in this encounter’s tragic outcome.  

By Inga Clendinnen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In January 1788 the First Fleet arrived in New South Wales and a thousand British men and women encountered the people who would be their new neighbors. Dancing with Strangers tells the story of what happened between the first British settlers of Australia and the people they found living there. This 2005 book offers a reading of the earliest written sources, the reports, letters, and journals of the first British settlers in Australia. It reconstructs the difficult path to friendship and conciliation pursued by Arthur Phillip and the local leader 'Bennelong' (Baneelon); and then traces the painful destruction of that…

Book cover of Funny in Farsi

Danny Ramadan Author Of Crooked Teeth: A Queer Syrian Refugee Memoir

From my list on memoirs written refugees and immigrants.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have gone through the refugee experience, and it has shaped me. I grew up queer in Syria, became a man in Egypt, a refugee in Lebanon, then an author in Canada. At the expense of romanticizing something so deeply painful, I do believe that the experience has made me a better man. It matured me, offered me a deep connection with others within my community, and built an unmatched appreciation of my culture of home back in Syria and my culture of diaspora here in Canada. As a fiction writer, I am obsessed with writing queer stories about immigration. 

Danny's book list on memoirs written refugees and immigrants

Danny Ramadan Why did Danny love this book?

I laughed out loud way too many times at this book. The thing that attracted me the most about it was that it allowed a complex narrative to be brought forward on its pages.

The writer is not only able to bring truths to the page but also make it accessible, light, and humorous. I was enhanced by this book, and I keep recommending it to friends and family. 

By Firoozeh Dumas,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Funny in Farsi as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMESBESTSELLER • Finalist for the PEN/USA Award in Creative Nonfiction, the Thurber Prize for American Humor, and the Audie Award in Biography/Memoir

This Random House Reader’s Circle edition includes a reading group guide and a conversation between Firoozeh Dumas and Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner!

“Remarkable . . . told with wry humor shorn of sentimentality . . . In the end, what sticks with the reader is an exuberant immigrant embrace of America.”—San Francisco Chronicle

In 1972, when she was seven, Firoozeh Dumas and her family moved from Iran to Southern California, arriving with no…