The most recommended books about plantations

Who picked these books? Meet our 40 experts.

40 authors created a book list connected to plantations, and here are their favorite plantation books.
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What type of plantation book?



By Valerie Martin,

Book cover of Property

David Wright Faladé Author Of Black Cloud Rising

From the list on complicated Black-white relations.

Who am I?

For me, the American story is about “mixedness”—about the ways in which people of various backgrounds and beliefs have come together, oftentimes despite themselves, to make up our modern racial stew. It has been true since the Founding and is all the more so now, even as we, as a society, continue to want to resist it. These novels achieve what I aspire to in my own writing: the white characters are as complex as the Black ones. And in their struggles to make sense of the world, they all reveal the complexity and contradictions of American identity.

David's book list on complicated Black-white relations

Why did David love this book?

A thin, little book and a true masterpiece!

Narrated by Manon Gaudet, the mistress of an 1830s plantation outside New Orleans, the novel forced me to adopt the perspective of a person who is both oppressed, as a woman in the 19th century, and oppressor, as a slave-owner, who is keenly observant and stunningly blind. Manon’s body-servant, Sarah, has given birth to a deaf wild-child who Manon cannot ignore, given his striking resemblance to her own husband. Manon, who is obsessed with Sarah too, is incapable of recognizing her as someone being victimized by her husband. She only sees a rival.

I teach Property in my classes. My students hate Manon. They also love the book!

By Valerie Martin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Property is Valerie Martin's powerful, startling novel set in America's deep South in the early nineteenth century: a story of freedom, both political and personal. Manon Gaudet is unhappily married to the owner of a Louisiana sugar plantation. She misses her family and longs for the vibrant lifestyle of her native New Orleans. The tension revolves around Sarah, a slave girl given to Manon as a wedding present from her aunt, whose young son Walter is living proof of where Manon's husband's inclinations lie. This private drama is played out against a brooding atmosphere of slave unrest and bloody uprisings.

The Farming of Bones

By Edwidge Danticat,

Book cover of The Farming of Bones

Michele Wucker Author Of Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola

From the list on understanding the Dominican Republic.

Who am I?

A summer with relatives in Belgium—a country divided by language and culture—inspired me to travel to Santo Domingo in 1988 to learn Spanish and study the fraught dynamics of two countries speaking different languages but sharing an island. My time in the Dominican Republic and Haiti inspired a lifelong exploration of complex issues using many lenses and stories. Today I write mainly about risk, drawing on psychology, culture, policy, and economics. The third book, The Gray Rhino, calls for a fresh look at obvious, looming threats. My fourth book, You Are What You Riskexplores risk perceptions and attitudes using a comparative, socio-cultural lens like the one I used in Why the Cocks Fight.

Michele's book list on understanding the Dominican Republic

Why did Michele love this book?

What I love most about Danticat’s writing—this is a very long list—is the way she evokes the inherent dignity of characters in almost unspeakably tragic situations. In this case, her subject is a pair of lovers and their community whose lives are upended by the 1937 massacre of Haitians and Dominico-Haitians living along the Dominican side of the border with Haiti. The mass killing is an inflection point in the two nations’ shared history, which individual human stories are essential to understanding.

By Edwidge Danticat,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

It is 1937, and Amabelle Desir is a young Haitian woman working as a maid for a wealthy family in the Dominican Republic, across the border from her homeland. The Republic, under the iron rule of the Generalissimo, treats the Haitians as second-class citizens, and although Amabelle feels a strong sense of loyalty to her employers, especially since her own parents drowned crossing the river from Haiti, racial tensions are heightened when Amabelle's boss accidentally kills a Haitian in a car accident. The accident is a catalyst for a systematic round-up of Haitians, ostensibly for repatriation but in fact a…

Pau Hana

By Ronald Takaki,

Book cover of Pau Hana: Plantation Life and Labor in Hawaii

Dennis Kawaharada Author Of Local Geography: Essays on Multicultural Hawai'i

From the list on understanding contemporary multicultural Hawai‘i.

Who am I?

I lived most of my life in Hawai‘i’s multiethnic community—an amazing place, where, for the most part, people of diverse ancestries got along. The foundation of tolerance was the culture of Native Hawaiians, who lived isolated from outsiders for centuries before the nineteenth century and thus had few prejudicial ideas about others. The natives generally welcomed them and adopted their beliefs. While confrontations and violence occurred, they were limited, not long-term or widespread. Of course, outsiders brought their racial and cultural prejudices, but, today, with a high rate of intermarriages among all the ethnic groups, Hawai'i is one of the most integrated societies in the world.

Dennis' book list on understanding contemporary multicultural Hawai‘i

Why did Dennis love this book?

Pau Hana is a concise overview of the immigration of workers from around the Pacific and the world, which created Hawai‘i's multiethnic community in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The immigrants were recruited by the Hawaiian Monarchy and white sugar planters as laborers for their highly profitable plantations. Workers arrived from China, Portugal, Japan, Puerto Rico, Korea, the Philippines, and even Norway, and settled in the islands. Takaki details the work they did, the camp housing, the abuses and retaliation, the opium and alcohol, the gambling and prostitution, and the worker strikes that eventually resulted in better wages and working conditions.

By Ronald Takaki,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

1983: by Ronald Takaki- Life on the plantation from 1835-1920.

The Kitchen House

By Kathleen Grissom,

Book cover of The Kitchen House

Diane C. McPhail Author Of The Abolitionist's Daughter

From the list on little-known Civil War era history.

Who am I?

Diane C. McPhail is the award-winning author of The Abolitionist’s Daughter, her debut novel based on family history and little-known impediments to Southern Abolitionism and anti-slavery. Her yet-to-be-titled second novel, a historical 1900 Chicago & New Orleans psychological mystery, is due for release in the spring of 2022. As an experienced therapist, Diane has a passionate interest in the complex, sometimes conflicting, qualities of character and culture, and how those intricacies complicate the plot. Diane holds an M.F.A., M.A., and Doctor of Ministry.

Diane's book list on little-known Civil War era history

Why did Diane love this book?

In this bestseller, Grissom offers an intricate view of little-known history. I am intrigued by stories that open a window onto aspects of life in history that, for one reason or another, are unfamiliar. Grissom’s story of an Irish indentured servant struggling to bridge the gap between race and class is just such a revelation. These issues remain timeless and powerful.

By Kathleen Grissom,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Kathleen Grissom, New York Times bestselling author of the highly anticipated Glory Over Everything, established herself as a remarkable new talent with The Kitchen House, now a contemporary classic. In this gripping novel, a dark secret threatens to expose the best and worst in everyone tied to the estate at a thriving plantation in Virginia in the decades before the Civil War.

Orphaned during her passage from Ireland, young, white Lavinia arrives on the steps of the kitchen house and is placed, as an indentured servant, under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate slave daughter. Lavinia learns to cook,…

A Hard Fight for We

By Leslie A. Schwalm,

Book cover of A Hard Fight for We: Women's Transition from Slavery to Freedom in South Carolina

Lee Ann Timreck Author Of Pieces of Freedom: The Emancipation Sculptures of Edmonia Lewis and Meta Warrick Fuller

From the list on the activism of African American women.

Who am I?

I'm fascinated with material culture – studying the things we make and use – and what they tell us about our history. My particular passion is for nineteenth-century Black material culture, often the only tangible history of enslaved and newly-emancipated Black lives. The books on my list educated me of the historical realities for African Americans, from emancipation to Jim Crow – providing critical context for deciphering the stories embedded in historical artifacts. Overall, the gendered (and harrowing) history these books provide on the contributions of African-American women to civil rights and social justice should be required reading for everyone. 

Lee's book list on the activism of African American women

Why did Lee love this book?

“Slave women’s transition to freedom, while deeply desired, prayed for, and actively pursued, was a treacherous and ambiguous process.” With these words, Leslie Schwalm goes on to detail the activist role Black women played in securing emancipation and shaping a different future for themselves and their families, from slavery to freedom. 

Schwalm uses oral narratives to capture their experiences before, during, and after the Civil War, and examines how social, racial, and political realities influenced the lives of Black women. This book is a must read on how African American women continuously challenged the barriers to free labor, family autonomy, and legal rights, in their quest to “define and defend freedom”.

By Leslie A. Schwalm,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Hard Fight for We as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

African-American women fought for their freedom with courage and vigor during and after the Civil War. Leslie Schwalm explores the vital roles of enslaved and formerly enslaved women on the rice plantations of lowcountry South Carolina, both in antebellum plantation life and in the wartime collapse of slavery. From there, she chronicles their efforts as freedwomen to recover from the impact of the war while redefining their lives and labor.

Freedwomen asserted their own ideas of what freedom meant and insisted on important changes in the work they performed both for white employers and in their own homes. As Schwalm…

The Bondwoman's Narrative

By Hannah Crafts,

Book cover of The Bondwoman's Narrative

Bettye Kearse Author Of The Other Madisons: The Lost History of a President's Black Family

From the list on notable enslaved women.

Who am I?

According to the eight generations of my family’s oral historians, I am a descendant of an enslaved cook and her enslaver, and half-brother, President James Madison. I am also a writer and a retired pediatrician. My essays, personal narrative, and commentaries have appeared in the Boston Herald, River Teeth, TIME, and the New York Times Magazine.

Bettye's book list on notable enslaved women

Why did Bettye love this book?

Though not published until 2002, after Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. purchased and authenticated the manuscript, the autobiographical novel The Bondwoman's Narrative by Hannah Crafts is widely considered the first book known to have been written by a fugitive enslaved woman. Crafts was the author’s pseudonym, and the novel, estimated to have been written in 1858, parallels the life of Hannah Bond, a woman who is documented to have escaped enslavement on a North Carolina plantation and who, like the novel’s protagonist, eventually settled in New Jersey. The preface and introduction of the published book read like a mystery adventure as Professor Gates reveals his multifaceted strategies to identify the real-life author and the real-life characters of her book.

By Hannah Crafts,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Possibly the first novel written by a black woman slave, this work is both a historically important literary event and a gripping autobiographical story in its own right.

When her master is betrothed to a woman who conceals a tragic secret, Hannah Crafts, a young slave on a wealthy North Carolina plantation, runs away in a bid for her freedom up North. Pursued by slave hunters, imprisoned by a mysterious and cruel captor, held by sympathetic strangers, and forced to serve a demanding new mistress, she finally makes her way to freedom in New Jersey. Her compelling story provides a…

The Widow of the South

By Robert Hicks,

Book cover of The Widow of the South

Carolyn P. Schriber Author Of Damned Yankee

From the list on what historians don’t tell you on the American Civil War.

Who am I?

I’ve experimented with many careers during my adult life. I’ve been a nanny, high school Latin teacher, noontime talk-show hostess, computer instructor, college history professor, and president of a four-state charitable organization. But nothing has so occupied my passion as exploring and writing stories about America’s Civil War. Becoming an author was a career choice I made after I retired at the age of 65. I began with a small collection of letters written by my great uncle shortly before his death on a Civil War battlefield. My continuing inspiration comes from the enthusiasm of my readers who want to learn more than their history books offer. 

Carolyn's book list on what historians don’t tell you on the American Civil War

Why did Carolyn love this book?

Beyond the usual five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—a sixth stage of heavy responsibility may develop when someone dies in the service of a great cause. As the Battle of Franklin played out in the yard of her Carnton Plantation, Carrie MccGavock felt that sense of obligation to the 9000 soldiers who died in that battle. It is in that sense that Carrie called herself the “Widow of the South.” She disinterred over 1000 anonymous bodies, identified them, reburied them in her own cemetery, and sought to give their families a sense of closure. This moving novel, based on a true story, reminds us that the Civil War was more than maps and casualty statistics. It is a story of heartbreak and devotion.

By Robert Hicks,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Widow of the South as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Tennessee, 1864. On a late autumn day, near a little town called Franklin, 10,000 men will soon lie dead or dying in a battle that will change many lives for ever. None will be more changed than Carrie McGavock, who finds her home taken over by the Confederate army and turned into a field hospital. Taking charge, she finds the courage to face up to the horrors around her and, in doing so, finds a cause.

Out on the battlefield, a tired young Southern soldier drops his guns and charges forward into Yankee territory, holding only the flag of his…


By Jewell Parker Rhodes,

Book cover of Sugar

Melissa Hart Author Of Avenging the Owl

From the list on total family meltdowns.

Who am I?

As a kid, I read constantly. After my beloved mother left my abusive father and came out as a lesbian, a homophobic judge took me and my siblings--one of whom has Down syndrome--away from her. Reading was an escape. I loved weekends when I could leave my father’s house near Los Angeles and visit my mother who had a backyard full of trees and gardens. My parents argued constantly but as long as I could grow plants and observe birds, I was okay. Eventually, I moved to Oregon and volunteered to care for owls. I wrote Avenging the Owl to show that in the middle of family meltdowns, kids can turn to the natural world for comfort and inspiration.

Melissa's book list on total family meltdowns

Why did Melissa love this book?

Wow, I love this book. I read it out loud with my daughter when she was in seventh grade. It’s the story of a 10-year-old girl, Sugar, who works on a plantation with other Black laborers post-Civil War. She’s an orphan, witnessing first-hand the white plantation owner and his family in the midst of a total meltdown brought on by fear and greed. It’s an effective juxtaposition set against Sugar’s supportive and loving community which widens to include Chinese immigrants who arrive to help in the fields. At first, the Black and Chinese laborers regard each other with skepticism, but because of Sugar’s hope and optimism and kindness, they join forces. It’s a powerful historical novel that has stayed with me for years. 

By Jewell Parker Rhodes,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Ten-year-old Sugar lives on the River Road sugar plantation along the banks of the Mississippi. Slavery is over, but laboring in the fields all day doesn't make her feel very free. Thankfully, Sugar has a knack for finding her own fun, especially when she joins forces with forbidden friend Billy, the white plantation owner's son.

Sugar has always yearned to learn more about the world, and she sees her chance when Chinese workers are brought in to help harvest the cane. The older River Road folks feel threatened, but Sugar is fascinated. As she befriends young Beau and elder Master…

Book cover of Teatime for the Firefly

Janet MacLeod Trotter Author Of The Emerald Affair

From the list on the British in India.

Who am I?

As a historical novelist, my passion is world history and the story of my own family. Having survived the First World War, my Scottish grandfather went to India as a forester and my granny followed him out there; they married in Lahore. I was fascinated by their stories of trekking and camping in the remote Himalayas. They lived through momentous times: world war, Indian Independence and Partition. Grandfather Bob stayed on to work for the new country of Pakistan. Long after they’d died, I discovered their letters, diaries, and cine films from that era – a treasure-trove for a novelist! – which have helped enrich my novels set during the British Raj.

Janet's book list on the British in India

Why did Janet love this book?

Set in 1940s India in the lead up to Independence, the backdrop is the rarely written about North-East India. The protagonists; Layla, (well-educated and independently-minded) and Manik (a free-thinker with a sense of adventure) are an unusual couple for the core romance but his work takes them to the remote tea plantations of Assam. I have written about the tea gardens in my India Tea Series, but largely from a British and Anglo-Indian point of view. Patel’s vivid depiction of this way of life is informed by her own upbringing, as the daughter of tea planters. It’s rich in detail with wonderful descriptions of Assam and keen observations of the British managers and Indian workers. As it builds towards Partition, the drama and tension are brilliantly evoked through Layla’s eyes.

By Shona Patel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For fans of Alka Joshi’s The Henna Artist, comes a compelling love story set against a culture grounded in tradition, about to be changed forever in the onslaught of WWII.

My name is Layla and I was born under an unlucky star. For a young girl growing up in India, this is bad news. But everything began to change for me one spring day in 1943, when three unconnected incidents, like tiny droplets on a lily leaf, tipped and rolled into one. It was that tiny shift in the cosmos, I believe, that tipped us together—me and Manik Deb.


Working Cures

By Sharla M. Fett,

Book cover of Working Cures: Healing, Health, and Power on Southern Slave Plantations

Janet Farrell Brodie Author Of Contraception and Abortion in Nineteenth-Century America

From the list on American women’s lives in the American Revolution.

Who am I?

I have loved these five books for many years. I used them often in college history classes and students always loved them, too. We learn much about women’s lives and hearts (and, of course, about men’s) from each book. They bring into vivid detail women’s hard work---domestic labor and paid work---but the books also vividly illuminate the joys, pleasures, and griefs in women’s lives--sickness and healing, children, sexuality, love, and loss. We see deeply into the lives of slaves, into the lives of the working poor, as well as of the middling classes during decades of enormous change. These books cover true events and real people, based on letters and diaries and traceable events.

Janet's book list on American women’s lives in the American Revolution

Why did Janet love this book?

Slaves brought deep knowledge of healing cures and medicines from Africa and that knowledge remained and circulated, helping “to heal the body and preserve the soul” as they endured slavery. Slaves held a “relational view” of sickness and health, focusing on the broader slave community and its health rather than the wellness or illness of the individual. This book in no way romanticizes slave healing as aiding an idealized communal harmony. Fett never lets us forget that slaves always faced conflict and struggle, especially since slaveholders intervened constantly in matters of health. Here, though, we gain a deep and powerful—and painful—understanding of certain kinds of relations on plantations, particularly male and female slaves’ work of curing and healing, and the uses of “conjuring,” “working roots,” divination, and “the clandestine practices of antebellum hoodoo.” Interpreting medical beliefs and practices, Fett illuminates broader social struggles over power.

By Sharla M. Fett,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Exploring the charged topic of black health under slavery, Sharla Fett reveals how herbalism, conjuring, midwifery, and other African American healing practices became arts of resistance in the antebellum South. Fett shows how enslaved men and women drew on African and Caribbean precedents to develop a view of health and healing that was distinctly at odds with slaveholders' property concerns. While white slaveowners narrowly defined slave health in terms of ""soundness"" for labor, slaves embraced a relational view of health that was intimately tied to religion and community. African American healing practices thus not only restored the body but also…

The Yellow Wife

By Sadeqa Johnson,

Book cover of The Yellow Wife

Julie Cantrell Author Of Into the Free

From the list on breaking cycles of family dysfunction.

Who am I?

Since reading To Kill a Mockingbird in my high school literature class, I’ve been drawn to coming-of-age tales about brave young girls who stand up and speak truth against oppressive systems. Scout was one of my childhood heroes. Along with spunky female characters like Pippi Longstocking, Anne of Green Gables, and Ramona Quimby. As I became a novelist, these feisty female voices resurfaced, and I began writing stories about female protagonists who find their own way in the world, even when the world does everything in its power to stop them.  

Julie's book list on breaking cycles of family dysfunction

Why did Julie love this book?

This book will break your heart a million ways, but you’ll still want your friends to read it. Phelby Brown is a teenage girl navigating the complicated world of cross-generational slavery. But just when she thinks she’s figured it all out, she’s put up against an especially cruel “Jailer” on the Devil’s Half Acre in Virginia, where the enslaved people are tortured and sold every day. How will she outsmart this dangerous man and turn the tables on this mad, mad world? Readers will be hooked from page one and cheering for Phelby every step of the way (even between their own tears).

By Sadeqa Johnson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Yellow Wife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Best Book of the Year by NPR and Christian Science Monitor

Called “wholly engrossing” by New York Times bestselling author Kathleen Grissom, this “fully immersive” (Lisa Wingate, #1 bestselling author of Before We Were Yours) story follows an enslaved woman forced to barter love and freedom while living in the most infamous slave jail in Virginia.

Born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia, Pheby Delores Brown has lived a relatively sheltered life. Shielded by her mother’s position as the estate’s medicine woman and cherished by the Master’s sister, she is set apart from the others on the plantation,…

The Cutting Season

By Attica Locke,

Book cover of The Cutting Season

Rashad Harrison Author Of Our Man in the Dark

From the list on thrillers and mysteries inhabited by history.

Who am I?

I read history to better understand myself, others, and the world around me; I write historical fiction to share what I have learned. At New York University, I was the Jacob K. Javits Fellow in fiction. In addition to Our Man in the Dark, I am the author of The Abduction of Smith and Smith, one of Huffington Post's 25 Necessary Books By Black Authors (2015), and Huffington Post's 50 Amazing Books By Black Authors from the Past Five Years (2019).

Rashad's book list on thrillers and mysteries inhabited by history

Why did Rashad love this book?

Caren Gray, the manager of a historic plantation, learns the body of a migrant worker has been discovered on the grounds. Searching for answers, she stumbles upon another crime that occurred over a century ago in the era of slavery and may hold the key to unlocking revelations in the present. Locke does a fantastic job of balancing the two timelines for great effect. History can haunt us, but this book leaves you with the eerie feeling of being surveilled by the past.

By Attica Locke,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

By the prize-winning author of Heaven My Home, a taut crime novel perfect for reading groups.

Bury your bodies deep and your secrets deeper.

Just after dawn, Caren inspects the grounds of Belle Vie, the historic plantation house she manages. Back at her office, the gardener calls to tell her she missed something. Something terrible. At a distance, she didn't see. A young woman lying face down in a shallow grave, her throat cut clean.

So there will be police, asking questions. The family who own Belle Vie will have to be told. There's a school group on the way…

The Known World

By Edward P. Jones,

Book cover of The Known World

Xolani Kacela Author Of Stop Anxiety In Its Tracks

From the list on a deep understanding of human nature.

Who am I?

I have a passion for helping people realize they are only limited by their imagination. By dreaming wildly and acting on one’s dreams, a person can achieve highly unlikely outcomes. People are born to be free and pursue the things in life that make them happy and fulfilled. However, people need education, training, and mentoring. I am driven to do each of these to help others live fulfilling and purposeful lives. My expertise arises from my formal training and applied life lessons acquired from modeling highly-gifted teachers and friends.

Xolani's book list on a deep understanding of human nature

Why did Xolani love this book?

This book is so special in its depiction of human beings striving for survival.

It is the only book that shows African American as slaveholders. The charm is the clarity with which Jones writes. His gift is the ability to say complex things simply. He made me strive to be a better writer. His story helped me feel deeply in ways I had not previously known I could feel.

By Edward P. Jones,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Known World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Masterful, Pulitzer-prize winning literary epic about the painful and complex realities of slave life on a Southern plantation. An utterly original exploration of race, trust and the cruel truths of human nature, this is a landmark in modern American literature.

Henry Townsend, a black farmer, boot maker, and former slave, becomes proprietor of his own plantation - as well as his own slaves. When he dies, his widow, Caldonia, succumbs to profound grief, and things begin to fall apart: slaves take to escaping under the cover of night, and families who had once found love beneath the weight of slavery…

How the Word Is Passed

By Clint Smith,

Book cover of How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America

Emily Midorikawa Author Of Out of the Shadows: Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice

From Emily's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Reader Mother Teacher Enthusiastic dancer

Emily's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Emily love this book?

Clint Smith takes on a huge subject in this book—part memoir, part record of slavery in the United States and beyond. How the Word is Passed is structured around a series of visits Smith makes to sites associated with enslaved people and those who exploited them.

At each place he visits, he delves into its harrowing past, writes of his encounters with people he meets there, and notes his personal responses. The results are enlightening, intimate, and moving.

Smith questions the versions of history that many of his readers will have been taught and asks them to think critically about how we can do things better. I also used How the Word is Passed in classes I taught university students. It was an excellent book for a group discussion.

By Clint Smith,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked How the Word Is Passed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'A beautifully readable reminder of how much of our urgent, collective history resounds in places all around us that have been hidden in plain sight.' Afua Hirsch, author of Brit(ish)

Beginning in his hometown of New Orleans, Clint Smith leads the reader on an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks - those that are honest about the past and those that are not - which offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in…

Book cover of Making Ireland British, 1580-1650

Matteo Binasco Author Of Making, Breaking and Remaking the Irish Missionary Network: Ireland, Rome and the West Indies in the Seventeenth Century

From the list on to understand early-modern period Atlantic world.

Who am I?

This is and will remain the example of historical research made by one of the leading authorities in the field of Atlantic history. Elliott’s book set the agenda by investigating and assessing the complex array of causes and consequences which brought England and Spain to have an ever-lasting cultural, economic, political, and religious influence on the history of North America and Latin America.  

Matteo's book list on to understand early-modern period Atlantic world

Why did Matteo love this book?

This book is the best analysis written by the forerunner of Atlantic history in Ireland. Based on an astonishing amount of literary and historical sources, it is an outstanding insight into the complex and lengthy process of English colonization of Ireland set within the broader Atlantic and European context. 

By Nicholas Canny,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Making Ireland British, 1580-1650 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the first comprehensive study of all the plantations that were attempted in Ireland during the years 1580-1650. It examines the arguments advanced by successive political figures for a plantation policy, and the responses which this policy elicited from different segments of the population in Ireland.

The book opens with an analysis of the complete works of Edmund Spenser who was the most articulate ideologue for plantation. The author argues that all subsequent advocates of plantation, ranging from King James VI and I, to Strafford, to Oliver Cromwell, were guided by Spenser's opinions, and that discrepancies between plantation in…

Absalom, Absalom!

By William Faulkner,

Book cover of Absalom, Absalom!

Ed Protzel Author Of The Lies That Bind

From the list on defying stereotypes to reveal powerful themes.

Who am I?

Being a member of two historically oppressed minority groups, Jewish and Cherokee, I like to explore themes of prejudice and injustice in all my writing, even using humor, irony, or satire to tell the tale. I love guiding the reader along on a character’s journey, the joys and pains inflicted by an often unjust world. There’s nothing more satisfying than to hear a reader say: “I learned something new.” No wonder I chose to study English literature and creative writing as my undergraduate and graduate school majors. I live in St. Louis, Missouri, and am working on my fifth novel.

Ed's book list on defying stereotypes to reveal powerful themes

Why did Ed love this book?

This is about as powerful a novel as 20th Century America produced, and hit me like a ton of bricks. The book may be tough sledding at first—I was so enamored with Faulkner's brilliant language, I had to read Chapter One twice to understand it. But when you are finished with the novel's heavy drama and profound themes, you are satisfied. In this novel, each chapter has its own distinctive first-person narrator, each with his/her own unique, often-conflicting point of view. The book's gorgeous language thrilled me, while carving out each narrator's personality and character. The story's tension built until it exploded, leaving me with deep understanding of the human condition. I've read Absalom, Absalom! many times and always gain something fresh. 

By William Faulkner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This postbellum Greek tragedy is the perfect introduction to Faulkner's elaborate descriptive syntax.

Quentin Compson and Shreve, his Harvard roommate, are obsessed with the tragic rise and fall of Thomas Sutpen. As a poor white boy, Sutpen was turned away from a plantation owner's mansion by a black butler. From then on, he was determined to force his way into the upper echelons of Southern society. His relentless will ensures his ambitions are soon realised; land, marriage, children, his own troop to fight in the Civil War... but Sutpen returns from the conflict to find his estate in ruins and…

Book cover of The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640-1661

Geoffrey Parker Author Of Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century

From the list on the 17th Century.

Who am I?

I teach history at The Ohio State University. This project began when I listened in 1976 to a radio broadcast in which Jack Eddy, a solar physicist, speculated that a notable absence of sunspots in the period 1645-1715 contributed to the “Little Ice Age”: the longest and most severe episode of global cooling recorded in the last 12,000 years. The Little Ice Age coincided with a wave of wars and revolution around the Northern Hemisphere, from the overthrow of the Ming dynasty in China to the beheading of Charles I in England. I spent the next 35 years exploring how the connections between natural and human events created a fatal synergy that produced human mortality on a scale seldom seen before – and never since.

Geoffrey's book list on the 17th Century

Why did Geoffrey love this book?

Between 1640 and 1660, England, Scotland, and Ireland experienced civil war, invasion, religious radicalism, parliamentary rule, and the restoration of the monarchy. None of that will surprise historians of Britain, but they may not realize the impact of these events on Britain’s new colonies across the Atlantic. Some of them remained loyal to the king until his victorious opponents sent the first major Transatlantic expeditionary force to subdue them. 

Pestana shows how war and rebellion in Britain increased both the proportion of unfree labourers and ethnic diversity in the colonies. Neglected by London, several of them developed trade networks; some entered the slave trade. By 1660, the English Atlantic had become religiously polarized, economically interconnected, socially exploitative, and ideologically unstable.

By Carla Gardina Pestana,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640-1661 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Between 1640 and 1660, England, Scotland, and Ireland faced civil war, invasion, religious radicalism, parliamentary rule, and the restoration of the monarchy. Carla Gardina Pestana offers a sweeping history that systematically connects these cataclysmic events and the development of the infant plantations from Newfoundland to Surinam.

By 1660, the English Atlantic emerged as religiously polarized, economically interconnected, socially exploitative, and ideologically anxious about its liberties. War increased both the proportion of unfree laborers and ethnic diversity in the settlements. Neglected by London, the colonies quickly developed trade networks, especially from seafaring New England, and entered the slave trade. Barbadian planters…

Island Beneath the Sea

By Isabel Allende,

Book cover of Island Beneath the Sea

Jada Benn Torres and  Gabriel A. Torres Colón Author Of Genetic Ancestry: Our Stories, Our Pasts

From the list on what happens when biology and culture collide.

Who are we?

We met as “baby anthropologists” in graduate school and have stuck together ever since. With Jada’s training in genetic anthropology and Gabriel’s training in cultural anthropology, we’ve accompanied each other to our various field sites throughout the Caribbean, Spain, and the US Midwest. Aside from our book, each of us has authored many peer-reviewed publications, including an award-winning article in the journal Human Biology. Though we both have our own independent research agendas, our interests overlap on several topics including genetic ancestry. Our different anthropological training and our mutual love for our discipline always makes for interesting perspectives on a variety of topics.

Jada's book list on what happens when biology and culture collide

Why did Jada love this book?

This recommendation is a work of fiction. Overall, Allende is an incredible storyteller whose characters seem so real that by the end of the book, you feel like you know them in the same way you know family or an old friend. Island Beneath the Sea, set in 18th - 19th century Haiti then in New Orleans, is a story that illustrates the beautiful messes we create in our lives through those that we love and those that we hate. Drawing on the chaos of American slavery and the Haitian Revolution, Allende’s book draws on themes related to slavery, politics, history, and family drama all of which illustrate what can happen when cultural values (i.e. social constructions of race) are attached to specific bodies (i.e. Black and White women).

By Isabel Allende,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the sugar plantations of Saint-Domingue to the lavish parlors of New Orleans at the turn of the 19th century, Isabel Allende's latest novel tells the story of a mulatta woman, a slave and concubine, determined to take control of her own destiny in a society where that would seem impossible.

Born a slave on the island of Saint-Domingue - now known as Haiti -Tete is the product of violent union between an African mother she never knew and one of the white sailors who brought her into bondage.

When twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the island in 1770, it's…

Book cover of The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: An African American Heritage Book

Patrick Bixby Author Of License to Travel: A Cultural History of the Passport

From the list on memoirs about lives on the move.

Who am I?

I’ve been putting my passport to good use for the last thirty years or so. Few things make me happier than showing up in an unfamiliar place – whether a village in Ecuador, a town in Ireland, or a city in Ghana – and trying to become familiar with the people, the customs, the food, all of it. But I suppose what I love most is a good story. During those three decades, I’ve also become a Professor of English at Arizona State University, where my research has increasingly focused on how artists and ideas move across geographical and cultural boundaries. In my latest book, License to Travel, these various interests come together. 

Patrick's book list on memoirs about lives on the move

Why did Patrick love this book?

This book moves me whenever I open it, no matter the chapter, no matter the page.

It presents the harrowing tale of Douglass’s flight from slavery as a young man with a degree of urgency and detail that is not found in his other writings.

But it is the account of his travels through Europe and North Africa as a man of almost seventy, finally free to pursue his lifelong wanderlust, that is perhaps most poignant: “I had strange dreams of travel even in my boyhood days,” he writes. “I thought I should some day see many of the famous places of which I heard men speak, and of which I read even while a slave.”

In between Paris and the pyramids, Douglass repeatedly compares what he sees in the Old World with what he knows so well, and often so painfully, of American ideals, values, and aspirations.

By Frederick Douglass,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This richly illustrated edition of this classic American autobiography sheds new light on Douglass's famous text for a new generation of readers.

Famous orator and former slave Frederick Douglass published his third and last autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, in 1881. No longer in danger as an escaped slave, it goes into greater detail and encompasses Douglass's entire life, from his early years living with his grandmother in Maryland to the events during and after the Civil War, including his meetings with presidents and dignitaries and his deep involvement with the burgeoning suffragist movement. His account reveals what…


By Sandra Brown,

Book cover of Envy

Kayla Perrin Author Of We'll Never Tell

From the list on surprise suspense twists.

Who am I?

I’m absolutely passionate about suspense stories, especially ones with killer twists. Maybe it’s all the crime shows I watch, but the motives for crimes are so wide and varied, and I love when the unexpected is explored in fiction. I’m also intrigued by stories about missing people and the myriad of reasons behind why they go missing–especially when things aren’t always what they seem. Whether it’s the missing who return years later or hints of them suddenly appear, I can’t help but get wrapped up in a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat guessing what might happen next! I try for great twists in my novels.

Kayla's book list on surprise suspense twists

Why did Kayla love this book?

I don’t even remember everything about this book, except that this was the book that made me an instant Sandra Brown fan. In Envy, a NY book editor is riveted by the tale of an unsolicited manuscript and begins working with the author…only to learn along the way that this story reveals a long-concealed crime. I’ve read it twice, years apart, and I’m due for another reading. It’s that good. Explosive is the only way to describe this suspenseful story with an amazing twist at the end! One of my absolute favs!

By Sandra Brown,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this explosive New York Times bestselling thriller, a New York City-based book editor travels to a Southern island to meet a mysterious author -- but she's about to uncover a shocking truth about a carefully concealed crime.
Maris Matherly-Reed is a renowned New York book editor, the daughter of a publisher and the wife of a bestselling author. It's rare for an unsolicited manuscript to pique her interest, but a new submission with blockbuster potential inspires her to search for the book's elusive author.
On an obscure island off the Georgia coast, amidst the ruins of an eerie cotton…