The most recommended John Brown books

Who picked these books? Meet our 3 experts.

3 authors created a book list connected to John Brown, and here are their favorite John Brown books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Book cover of Fire from the Midst of You: A Religious Life of John Brown

David S. Reynolds Author Of John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights

From my list on John Brown the abolitionist.

Why am I passionate about this?

David S. Reynolds is a Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author or editor of 16 books, on subjects that include John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman Andrew Jackson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the literary and popular culture of the American Renaissance. He is the winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Lincoln Prize, the Abraham Lincoln Book Prize, the Ambassador Book Award, the Christian Gauss Award, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

David's book list on John Brown the abolitionist

David S. Reynolds Why did David love this book?

John Brown was a devout Calvinist who believed that God had chosen him to fight against slavery. In this stimulating book, Decaro provides us with the first full-scale religious biography of Brown, placing him in the context of nineteenth-century revivals and religiously inspired abolitionists. Decaro also explores Brown’s closeness to African Americans and his debt to Black militants such as David Walker, Denmark Vesey, and Henry Highland Garnet.

By Louis A. Decaro Jr.,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fire from the Midst of You as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Reveals a complex new portrait of John Brown, radical abolitionist and leader of the 1859 raid on Harper's Ferry
John Brown is usually remembered as a terrorist whose unbridled hatred of slavery drove him to the ill-fated raid on Harper's Ferry, Virginia, in 1859. Tried and executed for seizing the arsenal and attempting to spur a liberation movement among the slaves, Brown was the ultimate cause celebre for a country on the brink of civil war.
"Fire from the Midst of You" situates Brown within the religious and social context of a nation steeped in racism, showing his roots in…


Book cover of Cloudsplitter

Michael C. White Author Of Soul Catcher

From my list on slavery from both sides.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m the author of seven novels, including Soul Catcher, a Booksense and Historical Novels Review selection; A Brother’s Blood, which was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book and an Edgar Award Finalist; The Blind Side of the Heart, A Dream of Wolves, and The Garden of Martyrs, a Connecticut Book Award finalist and made into an opera. My historical novel Beautiful Assassin won the 2011 Connecticut Book Award for Fiction. I’ve also published a collection of his short stories, Marked Men, in addition to over 50 short stories in national journals.  I was the founding editor of two magazines, American Fiction and Dogwood, as well as the founder and former director of Fairfield University's MFA Creative Writing Program. I’ve just completed a new historical novel set during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Michael's book list on slavery from both sides

Michael C. White Why did Michael love this book?

What makes this immense novel (768 pages) so engrossing is that we get a very inside view of the great (or demonic—depending on your perspective) figure of John Brown. Told by his son Owen, the novel gives us both a panoramic view of Brown, his vision of slavery, his tumultuous times, and his quest to eradicate slavery by any means, as well as a very intimate portrait of the myth of John Brown as opposed to man and father.  

By Russell Banks,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Owen Brown is the last surviving son of America's most famous political terrorist, John Brown, who in 1859 raided the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, intending to galvanise the Southern slaves into rebellion. Now Owen tells John's story. This incredible novel recreates pre-Civil War America, when slavery was tearing the country apart, and tells of one man's passage from abolitionist to guerrilla fighter and, finally, martyr. Cloudsplitter is a dazzling, suspenseful, heartbreaking story filled with both intimate scenes of domestic life and chilling violence.


Book cover of Exit Planning: The Definitive Guide

John F. Dini Author Of Your Exit Map: Navigating the Boomer Bust

From my list on business owners planning a transition.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been a coach to business owners for the last 25 years, with a concentration on exit planning for the last twelve. During that time I have personally worked with over 500 owners. I’ve written 4 books on the subject, two of which were award winners. I’ve seen so many owners who built excellent businesses, but are stymied by how to leave them without deserting their employees and customers. Almost two-thirds of business owners over 60 years old have no plan for the transition of their businesses. I am on a mission to fix that.

John's book list on business owners planning a transition

John F. Dini Why did John love this book?

John Brown is the Founder of the Business Enterprise Institute (BEI,) the organization that grants the Certified Exit Planner (CExP)designation. This is, without a doubt, the most comprehensive book on the options, strengths, and pitfalls of exiting your business. It is, however, pretty dry for the average owner, and is much more useful as a reference work for professional advisors.

By John H. Brown,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Leaving your business is the most significant financial transaction of your life, and nothing has greater financial and emotional consequences. The future quality of your life depends upon how well you manage your exit process.

The Definitive Guide lays out the steps you must take to achieve all of your dreams and aspirations as you exit your business. Author John Brown shares the stories, tested process and exit planning roadmap that is the compilation of wisdom from hundreds of exit planning advisors across North America. These advisors, and John Brown’s company, BEI, create thousands of owner exit plans every year.…


Book cover of John Brown

David S. Reynolds Author Of John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights

From my list on John Brown the abolitionist.

Why am I passionate about this?

David S. Reynolds is a Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author or editor of 16 books, on subjects that include John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman Andrew Jackson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the literary and popular culture of the American Renaissance. He is the winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Lincoln Prize, the Abraham Lincoln Book Prize, the Ambassador Book Award, the Christian Gauss Award, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

David's book list on John Brown the abolitionist

David S. Reynolds Why did David love this book?

First published in 1909, this succinct biography by a leading Black author and reformer spearheaded a tradition of appreciative commentary on Brown by African Americans. Brushing aside longstanding critiques of John Brown as a fiend, a fanatic, and a traitor, Du Bois explores the depth of Brown’s antislavery commitment and his willingness to sacrifice his own life in order to bring about the emancipation of Amerca’s 4 million enslaved people. Du Bois makes the memorable generalization: “John Brown was right.”

By W.E.B. Du Bois,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A moving cultural biography of abolitionist martyr John Brown, by one of the most important African-American intellectuals of the twentieth century.

In the history of slavery and its legacy, John Brown looms large as a hero whose deeds partly precipitated the Civil War. As Frederick Douglass wrote: "When John Brown stretched forth his arm ... the clash of arms was at hand." DuBois's biography brings Brown stirringly to life and is a neglected classic.


Book cover of The Good Lord Bird: A Novel

Kathleen Stone Author Of They Called Us Girls: Stories of Female Ambition from Suffrage to Mad Men

From Kathleen's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Lawyer Mother

Kathleen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Kathleen Stone Why did Kathleen love this book?

At first, I was hesitant to read this book because the set-up sounded preposterous – a Black boy disguised as a girl called Onion travels with abolitionist John Brown from Kansas to Harper’s Ferry. Yet, however improbable the protagonist may be, author James McBride explores real history through Onion’s eyes.

The story starts in Kansas when abolitionists and pro-slavery factions are battling over the territory’s future. (Kansas is not yet a state.) It ends in Harper’s Ferry with Brown’s raid on the armory, an event that helped spark the Civil War.

Some of the action does feel exaggerated or even nonfactual in parts, but the story also reflects much of what happened. I recently visited both Kansas and Harper’s Ferry, and the book brought the places alive for me. 

By James McBride,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Now a Showtime limited series starring Ethan Hawke and Daveed Diggs

Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction

From the bestselling author of The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, Deacon King Kong (an Oprah Book Club pick) and The Color of Water comes the story of a young boy born a slave who joins John Brown’s antislavery crusade—and who must pass as a girl to survive.

Henry Shackleford is a young slave living in the Kansas Territory in 1856--a battleground between anti- and pro-slavery forces--when legendary abolitionist John Brown arrives. When an argument between Brown and Henry's master turns…


Book cover of Patriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of America

David S. Reynolds Author Of John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights

From my list on John Brown the abolitionist.

Why am I passionate about this?

David S. Reynolds is a Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author or editor of 16 books, on subjects that include John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman Andrew Jackson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the literary and popular culture of the American Renaissance. He is the winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Lincoln Prize, the Abraham Lincoln Book Prize, the Ambassador Book Award, the Christian Gauss Award, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

David's book list on John Brown the abolitionist

David S. Reynolds Why did David love this book?

Engagingly written, this book humanizes John Brown by portraying him as a man “of deep, varied, and sometime conflicting capacities.” Carton describes Brown’s family, business failures, friendships, and deep Calvinistic faith. By fledging out the human picture, Carton challenges simple categorizations of Brown as bipolar, obsessive-compulsive, or criminally insane. Carton places Brown against the background of debates over politics, slavery, and racial issues.

By Evan Carton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

With a combination of scrupulous original research, new perspective, and a sensitive historical imagination, Patriotic Treason vividly recreates the world in which John Brown and his compatriots lived as well as the biography of John Brown and the history of the events leading up to the Civil War. Evan Carton narrates the dramatic life of the first U.S. citizen committed to absolute racial equality. In defiance of the culture around him, Brown lived, worked, ate, and fought alongside African Americans. Inspired by the Declaration of Independence and the Golden Rule, he collaborated with black leaders such as Frederick Douglass, Martin…


Book cover of The Tribunal: Responses to John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid

David S. Reynolds Author Of John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights

From my list on John Brown the abolitionist.

Why am I passionate about this?

David S. Reynolds is a Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author or editor of 16 books, on subjects that include John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman Andrew Jackson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the literary and popular culture of the American Renaissance. He is the winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Lincoln Prize, the Abraham Lincoln Book Prize, the Ambassador Book Award, the Christian Gauss Award, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

David's book list on John Brown the abolitionist

David S. Reynolds Why did David love this book?

This skillfully edited anthology of contemporary responses to Brown lets us experience firsthand the controversies surrounding Brown during his lifetime. Reprinted in this volume are dozens of 19th-century writings--letters, speeches, articles, poems, diary entries--that demonstrate just how central John Brown was to the cultural and political life of his time. Included in the book are writings about Brown by some of the century's most notable people: Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Henry Ward Beecher, Jefferson Davis, Herman Melville, Stephen Douglas, Louisa May Alcott, Victor Hugo, and Karl Marx, to name a few.

By John Stauffer (editor), Zoe Trodd (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When John Brown led twenty-one men in an attack on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, he envisioned a biblical uprising of millions of armed bondsmen, thus ridding the nation of the scourge of slavery. The insurrection did not happen, and Brown and the other surviving raiders were quickly captured and executed. This landmark anthology, which collects contemporary speeches, letters, newspaper articles, journals, poems, and songs, demonstrates that Brown's actions nonetheless altered the course of American history.

John Stauffer and Zoe Trodd have assembled an impressive and wide-ranging collection of responses to Brown's raid: Brown's own…