The best books about Jamaica

2 authors have picked their favorite books about Jamaica and why they recommend each book.

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Witnessing Slavery

By Sarah Thomas,

Book cover of Witnessing Slavery: Art and Travel in the Age of Abolition

In this lavishly illustrated book, primarily about art in Jamaica but with nods to New South Wales and Britain, Sarah Thomas connects the plantation and urban world of Jamaica to the discipline of art history, giving careful analyses of painters like James Hakewill who painted scenes of plantation life designed to normalise and make more Arcadian a landscape that in fact was marked more by violence than by contentment. It speaks vividly to the silences that surround slavery on the island.

Witnessing Slavery

By Sarah Thomas,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A timely and original look at the role of the eyewitness account in the representation of slavery in British and European art

Gathering together over 160 paintings, watercolors, drawings, and prints, this book offers an unprecedented examination of the shifting iconography of slavery in British and European art between 1760 and 1840. In addition to considering how the work of artists such as Agostino Brunias, James Hakewill, and Augustus Earle responded to abolitionist politics, Sarah Thomas examines the importance of the eyewitness account in endowing visual representations of transatlantic slavery with veracity. "Being there," indeed, became significant not only because…

Who am I?

Trevor Burnard is Wilberforce Professor of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull and author of four books and many articles on eighteenth-century Jamaica. He has recently reviewed 34 books just published on Jamaica in “`Wi Lickle but Wi Tallawah’: Writing Jamaica into the Atlantic World, 1655-1834 Reviews in American History 49 (2021), 168-86.


I wrote...

Jamaica in the Age of Revolution

By Trevor Burnard,

Book cover of Jamaica in the Age of Revolution

What is my book about?

Between the start of the Seven Years' War in 1756 and the onset of the French Revolution in 1789, Jamaica was the richest and most important colony in British America. White Jamaican slaveowners presided over a highly productive economic system, a precursor to the modern factory in its management of labor, its harvesting of resources, and its scale of capital investment and ouput. Planters, supported by a dynamic merchant class in Kingston, created a plantation system in which short-term profit maximization was the main aim. Their slave system worked because the planters who ran it were extremely powerful.

In Jamaica in the Age of Revolution, Trevor Burnard analyzes the men and women who gained so much from the labor of enslaved people in Jamaica to expose the ways in which power was wielded in a period when the powerful were unconstrained by custom, law, or, for the most part, public approbation or disapproval. Burnard finds that the unremitting war by the powerful against the poor and powerless, evident in the day-to-day struggles slaves had with masters, is a crucial context for grasping what enslaved people had to endure.

Limbo

By Esther Figueroa,

Book cover of Limbo: A Novel about Jamaica

Who thought the devastation of the environment in the interest of mining and development would be a funny, lyrical love story? For Flora Smith, scientist and head of a small environmental NGO, her native Jamaica is filled with family, lovers, friends, and enemies. She is deeply connected to her surroundings and finds ways to immerse herself in the landscape, wildlife, human relationships, and embodied pleasure when all else fails. 

Limbo

By Esther Figueroa,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Flora Smith, Jamaican scientist and head of tiny NGO Environment Now, dedicates her life to getting Jamaicans to care about the natural environment. At the opening of Limbo, Flora is confronted by the nagging reality of not having enough money to keep her organization afloat. When sand is stolen from a resort development owned by a wealthy donor, she becomes embroiled in corrupt politics, dirty money, and a murder. In Jamaica, the land of "No problem, mon," everything is known but off the record. Can Flora get anyone to be held accountable? Can she find solutions for any of Jamaica's…

Who am I?

I have been doing research in the Caribbean for twenty-five years. The region is diverse and magnificent. Caribbean people have sought creative solutions for racial inequality, climate and sustainability, media literacy and information, women’s and family issues. The transnational connections with the US are complex and wide-ranging, and knowing more about this region is an urgent matter. My own work has focused on race and social science, mobility and inequality, and sound and media, all as ways of grappling with colonial legacies and their impact on the daily lives of people who live in this region. 


I wrote...

On the Move: The Caribbean Since 1989

By Alejandra Bronfman,

Book cover of On the Move: The Caribbean Since 1989

What is my book about?

This succinct book takes a broad view of the Caribbean, using the concept of mobility to tie everything together. Mobility has made the Caribbean a modern and dynamic place for centuries, but the book focuses on the more recent past with four case studies, on Haitian emigration and transnationalism, the Jamaican drug trade, Cuban tourism, and the internet everywhere. 

Book cover of Architecture and Empire in Jamaica

Beautifully illustrated and persuasively argued, this survey of a variety of architectural forms in the eighteenth century, from merchant houses to enslaved yards to great houses shows how studying the built environment of early Jamaica gives insight into a society both rich and highly conflicted.

Architecture and Empire in Jamaica

By Louis P. Nelson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Architecture and Empire in Jamaica as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Through Creole houses and merchant stores to sugar fields and boiling houses, Jamaica played a leading role in the formation of both the early modern Atlantic world and the British Empire. Architecture and Empire in Jamaica offers the first scholarly analysis of Jamaican architecture in the long 18th century, spanning roughly from the Port Royal earthquake of 1692 to Emancipation in 1838. In this richly illustrated study, which includes hundreds of the author's own photographs and drawings, Louis P. Nelson examines surviving buildings and archival records to write a social history of architecture.

Nelson begins with an overview of the…

Who am I?

Trevor Burnard is Wilberforce Professor of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull and author of four books and many articles on eighteenth-century Jamaica. He has recently reviewed 34 books just published on Jamaica in “`Wi Lickle but Wi Tallawah’: Writing Jamaica into the Atlantic World, 1655-1834 Reviews in American History 49 (2021), 168-86.


I wrote...

Jamaica in the Age of Revolution

By Trevor Burnard,

Book cover of Jamaica in the Age of Revolution

What is my book about?

Between the start of the Seven Years' War in 1756 and the onset of the French Revolution in 1789, Jamaica was the richest and most important colony in British America. White Jamaican slaveowners presided over a highly productive economic system, a precursor to the modern factory in its management of labor, its harvesting of resources, and its scale of capital investment and ouput. Planters, supported by a dynamic merchant class in Kingston, created a plantation system in which short-term profit maximization was the main aim. Their slave system worked because the planters who ran it were extremely powerful.

In Jamaica in the Age of Revolution, Trevor Burnard analyzes the men and women who gained so much from the labor of enslaved people in Jamaica to expose the ways in which power was wielded in a period when the powerful were unconstrained by custom, law, or, for the most part, public approbation or disapproval. Burnard finds that the unremitting war by the powerful against the poor and powerless, evident in the day-to-day struggles slaves had with masters, is a crucial context for grasping what enslaved people had to endure.

Luminous Isle

By Eliot Bliss,

Book cover of Luminous Isle

Eliot Bliss was a Jamaican born Anglo-Irish woman; she was also gay. Her stance as a Creole gay writer interests me. I also think she’s largely forgotten and should be read more. I related to her return to Jamaica (depicted in this novel) and her search for her sort of childhood home—that brings the realization that she both does and doesn’t fit in. She is white, she is gay so she doesn’t fit in British society where she feels out of place because of her Creole childhood and her sexuality, and she can’t fit in Jamaica because she is white and gay. And she sees clearly now the white oppressive colonials who were her family. It is a deeply felt search for home, both geographically but also in her body.

Luminous Isle

By Eliot Bliss,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

I was born and raised in Haiti where I was known as ti-blan—little white. And when we moved to central Florida, I remember the feeling of utter sadness and despair. I felt wrenched from the place I loved. The only person I could speak creole with was the janitor at the segregated white school. The teacher yelled at me for talking with him. Since then, I have been interested in this weird problem of race in America. I am drawn to women writers and Caribbean women writers. I love books that evoke place and language and tell me a story—but also deal with the specific urgent political questions of our times. 


I wrote...

Ruth and the Green Book

By Calvin Alexander Ramsey, Gwen Strauss, Floyd Cooper (illustrator)

Book cover of Ruth and the Green Book

What is my book about?

The story of the journey of a family traveling from Chicago to Alabama by car. "It was a BIG day at our house when Daddy drove up in our very own automobile—a 1952 Buick!... I was so excited to travel across the country!" Ruth's family encounters many of the obstacles that existed, from whites-only restrooms in gas stations to whites-only hotels: "It seemed like there were White Only' signs everywhere outside of our Chicago neighborhood." The Negro Motorist Green Book comes to the rescue, listing resources for black motorists in every state, and Ruth and her family make their way from safe haven to safe haven until they reach Alabama.

All Over Again

By A-dziko Simba Gegele,

Book cover of All Over Again

This has often been recommended for boys (including by me) but, since there is no such thing as exclusively boy books and girl books, I’m calling this a good book period – with a highly entertaining and deeply endearing adolescent-ish boy, surrounded by a robust cast of supporting characters, at its center. More vignettes than plot, it is rooted in character and voice – in this case, the rare and highly effective use of the second voice. Tonally, it’s a callback to the adventures of boyhood captured in Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and the mostly harmless incorrigibility of the boy protagonist as he moves between home, school, and community (the community, in this case, being rural Jamaica), getting into trouble and growing up. It’s the heart and humour for me!

All Over Again

By A-dziko Simba Gegele,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

All Over Again is a hilarious and enchanting coming of age story as a young boy goes through the trials and joys and puberty, battles with his 6-year-old sister who is the bane of his existences, worries about disappointing his mother and understanding his father. He has to learn to get around the town's bully while moving beyond know-it-all Kenny. The story is energetically told and has an enchanting narrative style that pulls you into it immediately. Growing up is hard. You know this. And when your mother has X-ray eyes and dances like a wobbling bag of water? When…

Who am I?

I am an Antiguan-Barbudan writer. When I was a teen, there weren’t a lot of books from my world. So, I was excited when the Burt Award for teen/young adult Caribbean literature was announced. While that prize ran its course after five years, it left a library of great books in this genre, including my own Musical Youth which placed second in the inaugural year of the prize. I have since served as a judge of the Caribbean prize and mentor for the Africa-leg. I love that this series of books tap into different genres and styles in demonstrating the dynamism of modern Caribbean literature. For more on me, my books, and my take on books, visit my website.


I wrote...

Musical Youth

By Joanne C. Hillhouse,

Book cover of Musical Youth

What is my book about?

Musical Youth follows Zahara, Shaka, and their mixed group of friends over a summer of music, creativity, personal discovery, and love in Antigua. It has been a CODE Burt Award finalist for teen/young adult Caribbean literature; and a Kirkus Book of the Year, and top teen and romance indie. It received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, and has variously been described as a “must-read”, “compelling”, “beautifully crafted”, and “un-put-downable” by readers and critics alike.

While tackling themes like colourism and family secrets, it also manages to be joyful. Per Caribbean Beat magazine, its strength is in “never shying away from the truth about our problems, while simultaneously celebrating the hard-won historical joys of our freedom – as citizens and music makers alike.”  

How to Love a Jamaican

By Alexia Arthurs,

Book cover of How to Love a Jamaican: Stories

I simply love these bracingly contemporary stories of Black Jamaican women who span the gamut from self-absorbed teenagers to Rihanna-inspired celebrities and overtaxed elders. These narratives take place both in JA and the USA and weave together elements of our twenty-first-century Black diaspora. Each of Arthurs’ stories sings in its own way, with exquisitely rendered details and moments of moral clarity. I love that these stories chronicle such a wide variety of Black women’s lives in such depth and detail. 

How to Love a Jamaican

By Alexia Arthurs,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked How to Love a Jamaican as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'In this thrilling debut collection Alexia Arthurs is all too easy to love.' - Zadie Smith

Tenderness and cruelty, loyalty and betrayal, ambition and regret - these are the tensions at the heart of Alexia Arthurs' debut book about Jamaican immigrants and their families back home. Some stories ask big questions about the things that define a person, others explode small moments of deep significance and lasting effect. Sweeping from close-knit island communities to the streets of New York City, How to Love a Jamaican offers a portrait of a nation, a people, and a way of life.

Vibrant, lyrical…


Who am I?

Besides having come of age while Black, I’ve published two coming-of-age novels about Black adolescents. Even before I became a writer, or an adult, I had had a particular interest in coming-of-age narratives. From Walter Dean Myers’ Harlem-located Young Adult novels to Toni Morrison’s Sula and James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, I’ve always been attracted to such stories. However, what the book list offered here does is map a reading series for what I see as an exciting intellectual formation for a Black reader.


I wrote...

The Confession of Copeland Cane

By Keenan Norris,

Book cover of The Confession of Copeland Cane

What is my book about?

Copeland Cane V, the child who fell outta Colored People Time and into America, is a fugitive. He’s also just a regular teenager coming up in a terrifying near future East Oakland, California. A slightly eccentric, flip-phone-loving kid with analog tendencies and a sideline hustling sneakers, the boundaries of Copeland’s life are demarcated from the jump by urban toxicity, an educational apparatus with confounding intentions, and a police state that has merged with media conglomerates―the highly-rated Insurgency Alert Desk that surveils and harasses his neighborhood in the name of anti-terrorism.

Winner of the 2022 Northern California Book Award in Fiction, The Confession of Copeland Cane introduces us to a prescient and contemporary voice, one whose take on coming of age in America becomes a startling reflection of our present moment.

Contested Bodies

By Sasha Turner,

Book cover of Contested Bodies: Pregnancy, Childrearing, and Slavery in Jamaica

Slavery was brutal in eighteenth-century Jamaica, mostly due to how hard enslaved people were worked as sugar workers. That hard work had massive consequences for enslaved women’s fertility. Early abolitionists used the inability of enslaved populations to naturally reproduce as an indictment of the plantation system. Planters, belatedly, tried to institute policies that helped pregnant women but their desire for profit usually overwhelmed their concern for maternal comfort. It meant that enslaved women themselves took the lead in forcing planters and officials to do something to make pregnancy endurable and infant mortality less extreme than before abolitionism began.

Contested Bodies

By Sasha Turner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

It is often thought that slaveholders only began to show an interest in female slaves' reproductive health after the British government banned the importation of Africans into its West Indian colonies in 1807. However, as Sasha Turner shows in this illuminating study, for almost thirty years before the slave trade ended, Jamaican slaveholders and doctors adjusted slave women's labor, discipline, and health care to increase birth rates and ensure that infants lived to become adult workers. Although slaves' interests in healthy pregnancies and babies aligned with those of their masters, enslaved mothers, healers, family, and community members distrusted their owners'…


Who am I?

Trevor Burnard is Wilberforce Professor of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull and author of four books and many articles on eighteenth-century Jamaica. He has recently reviewed 34 books just published on Jamaica in “`Wi Lickle but Wi Tallawah’: Writing Jamaica into the Atlantic World, 1655-1834 Reviews in American History 49 (2021), 168-86.


I wrote...

Jamaica in the Age of Revolution

By Trevor Burnard,

Book cover of Jamaica in the Age of Revolution

What is my book about?

Between the start of the Seven Years' War in 1756 and the onset of the French Revolution in 1789, Jamaica was the richest and most important colony in British America. White Jamaican slaveowners presided over a highly productive economic system, a precursor to the modern factory in its management of labor, its harvesting of resources, and its scale of capital investment and ouput. Planters, supported by a dynamic merchant class in Kingston, created a plantation system in which short-term profit maximization was the main aim. Their slave system worked because the planters who ran it were extremely powerful.

In Jamaica in the Age of Revolution, Trevor Burnard analyzes the men and women who gained so much from the labor of enslaved people in Jamaica to expose the ways in which power was wielded in a period when the powerful were unconstrained by custom, law, or, for the most part, public approbation or disapproval. Burnard finds that the unremitting war by the powerful against the poor and powerless, evident in the day-to-day struggles slaves had with masters, is a crucial context for grasping what enslaved people had to endure.

Harry Morgan's Way

By Dudley Pope,

Book cover of Harry Morgan's Way: The Biography Of Sir Henry Morgan 1635-1688

Henry Morgan was the scourge of the Spanish Main. Riches were brought to Europe each year by a treasure fleet of heavily armed galleons that collected loot on the coast of Panama before setting sail for the old world. Morgan captured Spain’s coastal fort of Portobelo and did what none had done before — crossed the isthmus to sack Panama City. He would later become acting Governor of Jamaica, but his exploits as a privateer, ably told by naval historian Dudley Pope, cemented his legend.

Harry Morgan's Way

By Dudley Pope,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Morgan the Pirate' is a name long associated with all the trappings of pirate living - skull and crossbones, pieces of eight, speeding ships, almost in fact 'with a yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum'. As legend has it, his was a life of high adventure, dastardly battles and more than a few gold coins thrown in, collected by underhand means of course. Yet if this legend is true, why did Charles II knight him at the height of his career and why was he given the exalted position of governor of Jamaica? In this authoritative biography, Dudley Pope lays…

Who am I?

Ryan Murdock is Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Outpost, Canada’s national travel magazine, and a weekly columnist for The Shift, an independent Maltese news portal. His feature articles have taken him across a remote stretch of Canada’s Northwest Territories on foot, into the Central Sahara in search of prehistoric rock art, and around Wales with a drug squad detective hunting for the real King Arthur.


I wrote...

Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America

By Ryan Murdock,

Book cover of Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America

What is my book about?

Vagabond Dreams explores the process of psychological and emotional change experienced by the traveller, set against the backdrop of a solo journey through Central America. No trip has the same impact of that first time you set out alone on the road. It mirrors The Hero’s Journey, but without grand heroism. This is a personal mythology, revealed by the self-imposed hardships of the road.

Pirates!

By Celia Rees,

Book cover of Pirates!

Pirates! Historical fiction for young adults and anyone who enjoys a sea story with twists and turns aplenty, this novel begins in Bristol, England in the eighteenth century. Nancy Kingston’s father is a shipowner whose money comes from sugar plantations and enslaved labor in Jamaica. A tragedy makes sixteen-year-old Nancy his heiress; her brothers send her to the West Indies to marry. But life takes a surprising turn; she and the enslaved maid Minerva, escape to become pirates in the Caribbean. If you’re looking for an absorbing, multicultural tale of girls who go in search of adventure and freedom amidst the horrors of plantation life, this is a must-read. According to the author the novel is based on a true story, which makes it even more fascinating. 

Pirates!

By Celia Rees,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the author of the bestselling and award-winning WITCH CHILD, comes another outstanding historical novel.

When two young women meet under extraordinary circumstances in the eighteenth-century West Indies, they are unified in their desire to escape their oppressive lives. The first is a slave, forced to work in a plantation mansion and subjected to terrible cruelty at the hands of the plantation manager. The second is a spirited and rebellious English girl, sent to the West Indies to marry well.

But fate ensures that one night the two young women have to save each other and run away to a…

Who am I?

I grew up in Long Beach, California and have always gravitated to port towns and saltwater. I had a summer job as a student working on the famous Hurtigruten cargo ship and traveled up and down the Norwegian coast as a dishwasher. Since then I’ve kayaked, sailed, and wandered the shores of many countries, including the Pacific Northwest, where I live now. Being Irish and Swedish myself, I wanted to make women’s history as seafarers in the cold waters of the North better known. I had a great time researching this travel book about little-known places and women skippers, fishers, and sea goddesses. 


I wrote...

Book cover of The Pirate Queen: In Search of Grace O'Malley and Other Legendary Women of the Sea

What is my book about?

Barbara Sjoholm explores history and myths about women and the sea while traveling around the North Atlantic, often by ship. From the west coast of Ireland where the Irish chieftain and pirate Grace O’Malley taunted the British in the 16th century to the herring lassies of Orkney to the skippers of Iceland, from mermaids to storm witches to sea goddesses, Sjoholm collects a riveting array of historical personalities and maritime legends. A personal log of travel to Ireland, the Scottish islands, the Faroes, Iceland, and the Norwegian coast, The Pirate Queen is also a book of landscapes and seascapes, and of encounters with women who make their living from the sea now. 

The Reaper's Garden

By Vincent Brown,

Book cover of The Reaper's Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery

A gripping and inventive study of death’s impact on social life in Britain’s largest, most profitable, and deadliest Caribbean slave colony: Jamaica. Brown shows how staggering mortality rates on the island, where the prospect of an early death awaited enslaved and free alike, profoundly shaped colonial culture, social relations, and spiritual practices. In Jamaica, the vital hub of Britain’s Atlantic slave empire, death was at once destructive and generative; it claimed countless lives sacrificed in the pursuit of British profits and inspired new, politically charged commemorative rituals and forms of enslaved resistance.

The Reaper’s Garden uncovers the interplay between death, wealth, and power in the British Atlantic and does so from the perspective of the African captives who not only endured but also drew power from the horrors of Atlantic slavery.

The Reaper's Garden

By Vincent Brown,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the Merle Curti Award
Winner of the James A. Rawley Prize
Winner of the Louis Gottschalk Prize
Longlisted for the Cundill Prize

"Vincent Brown makes the dead talk. With his deep learning and powerful historical imagination, he calls upon the departed to explain the living. The Reaper's Garden stretches the historical canvas and forces readers to think afresh. It is a major contribution to the history of Atlantic slavery."-Ira Berlin

From the author of Tacky's Revolt, a landmark study of life and death in colonial Jamaica at the zenith of the British slave empire.

What did people make…


Who am I?

I'm a historian of early modern Britain and the British Atlantic world who realized years ago that Britain, like the United States, hadn't yet fully acknowledged or come to terms with its involvement in the transatlantic slave trade and African slavery and its global afterlives. Although awareness of Britain's role in the African slave trade and Atlantic slavery has begun to feature more prominently in national consciousness, particularly due to the work of The Movement for Black Lives and calls for an overdue reckoning with the legacies of colonialism, slavery, and racial injustice, much work remains to be done. Using the archival record--as flawed as it may be--to piece together Britain's imperial past, confront calculated historical silences, and track the full extent of British participation in the enslavement of millions of Africans will help to ensure that the histories and voices of enslaved people and their descendants aren't distorted or forgotten by current and future generations.


I wrote...

A Dark Inheritance: Blood, Race, and Sex in Colonial Jamaica

By Brooke Newman,

Book cover of A Dark Inheritance: Blood, Race, and Sex in Colonial Jamaica

What is my book about?

A Dark Inheritance explores how colonial authorities and planters in Jamaica, Britain’s most valuable Atlantic colony by the mid-eighteenth century, used blood lineage to justify hereditary racial slavery and limited rights for free people of African descent. Based on extensive archival work, it highlights the creative ways notions of ancestry and blood enabled white colonists in Jamaica to assert and defend their privileged racial, political, and socio-economic status while simultaneously defining and redefining who was a slave and who was not, and by extension who was “white” and who was not.

At the same time, it shows how enslaved and free people of African and multiple ancestries articulated a counterargument for freedom and equality with white subjects grounded in allegiance to the British Crown and their own understandings of blood lineage.

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