The best books about slavery 📚

Browse the best books on Slavery as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin

By Harriet Beecher Stowe

Why this book?

“So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war,” Abraham Lincoln supposedly said when he met Stowe. The quote may be apocryphal, but it points to a truth about the 1852 novel that shaped American opinions about the cruelty and injustice of slavery. The writing is a bit melodramatic for modern sensibilities, but it’s hard to beat the scene in which the escaped slave Eliza tries to carry her young son across an icy river for freedom on the other side.

From the list:

The best novels to immerse yourself in the American Civil War

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Book cover of The History of Mary Prince

The History of Mary Prince

By Mary Prince

Why this book?

A landmark work by virtue of being the first book by a black woman to be published in Britain, this is a powerfully harrowing account of Mary’s own life as a slave in the Caribbean. Though only short, it supplies valuable testimony on the gruesome British exploitation of enslaved people over the centuries, and the many cruelties inflicted upon Mary personally by her brutal ‘owners’. Should be required reading for all those who think of the British Empire with nostalgia.

From the list:

The best books on colonial wrongdoing

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Book cover of Young Frederick Douglass

Young Frederick Douglass

By Dickson J. Preston

Why this book?

An evocative account of the young Douglass and the Maryland world into which he was born. Originally published in 1980 but recently re-released, this is a beautiful book that delivers much more than the title suggests. It is also the book that finally pinpointed the correct month and year in which Douglass was born – February 1818. Those who enslaved people often kept such precious, deeply personal information away from those they enslaved - it was a sign of power, one minor manifestation of the many inquities of slavery.

From the list:

The best books on the life of Frederick Douglass

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

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

By Vincent Brown

Why this book?

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,…

From the list:

The best books on Britain and Atlantic slavery

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Book cover of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African

By Olaudah Equiano

Why this book?

Equiano’s text is part of the plethora of autobiographical narratives written by formerly enslaved persons who worked to abolish the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. In this text is all the classic themes and conventions of the genre – the quest for freedom, trauma, dislocation, etc. – but Equinao text distinguishes itself as one of the few slave narratives that provide a detailed portrayal of an enslaved person’s formative years in Africa (in this case, Igboland, modern-day Nigeria), before enslavement in the New World. The unique aspect of the text allows meditations on identity, family, and childhood…

From the list:

The best books to learn about the African experience of slavery and its afterlives

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Book cover of Lords of the Land, Lords of the Sea: Conflict and Adaptation in Early Colonial Timor, 1600-1800

Lords of the Land, Lords of the Sea: Conflict and Adaptation in Early Colonial Timor, 1600-1800

By Hans Hägerdal

Why this book?

Although broaching many more themes than slavery, this book gives us a unique insight into how local patterns of enslavement linked up with the growing colonial presence of the Dutch and Portuguese in Timor (East Indonesia). The book has been thoroughly researched by the world’s most knowledgeable scholar on this subject. For me, it is a source of inspiration for how local forms of enslavement can be studied in interaction with European colonial expansion.  

From the list:

The best books about slavery in Asia

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