The most recommended books about slavery in the United States

Who picked these books? Meet our 39 experts.

39 authors created a book list connected to slavery in the United States, and here are their favorite slavery in the United States books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

What type of slavery in the United States book?


Book cover of Flesh And Gold (Lyhhrt Trilogy)

Massimo Marino Author Of The Law

From my list on the rise and fall of Galactic Empires.

Why am I passionate about this?

My dad was a subscriber of “Astounding Stories." If you know the magazine, it is famous not only because it featured the giants of science fiction genre, but also for its colorful and imaginative covers. I didn’t have the right to read those stories until later, when dad thought I could understand them, but I loved the covers and imagined myself stories which started from them or used the scenes as inspiration for a short story which I wrote for myself. The science fiction bug wormed into my brain at that time. Then, I just devoured every novel which landed at home and kept writing. 

Massimo's book list on the rise and fall of Galactic Empires

Massimo Marino Why did Massimo love this book?

By now, it should be clear I like trilogies, reading and writing them. The Lyhhrt Trilogy is a perfect example of incredible imagination and wordsmith talent. As in some of my writings, there is palpable lyrical style and a dense compositional approach to a story that explores the awful and worming guts that must be, de facto, the only way any vast empire can form, emboweled and ejected into reality. The Galactic Federation here is a hostage of the nobility or despicable evilness of those carrying authority in the governing organization: game of thrones anyone? The spine of the story, as in The Law, is of a GalFed Judge who realizes cruelty and slavery are the crude reality in an empire focused on satisfying the same base urges that humanity spends so much energy on today. A well envisioned complicated and messy universe, the way it should be.

By Phyllis Gotlieb,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Flesh And Gold (Lyhhrt Trilogy) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A mature alien woman judge sees an amphibious human female, obviously a slave, displayed in a tank in front of a sex palace. And so a murderous plot of interstellar proportions, involving many races and planets, galactic corporations, explosive sex and horrible slavery is revealed.

Book cover of Flight and Rebellion: Slave Resistance in Eighteenth-Century Virginia

Marc Dollinger Author Of Black Power, Jewish Politics: Reinventing the Alliance in the 1960s

From my list on social justice.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve devoted my academic career and personal life to the limits and possibilities of white liberal approaches to civil rights reform. Trained in U.S. history and published in American Jewish history, I look closely at how ethnic groups and religious minorities interact with their racial and gender status to create a sometimes-surprising perspective on both history and our current day. At times powerful and at other times powerless, Jews (and other white ethnics) navigate a complex course in civil rights advocacy.

Marc's book list on social justice

Marc Dollinger Why did Marc love this book?

A classic, this book was one of the first to challenge prevailing white attitudes about the assimilation and acculturation of Africans and African Americans to life under slavery. Mullin describes how greater levels of assimilation translated into more effective means of protest.

Book cover of The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery

David Livingstone Smith Author Of Making Monsters: The Uncanny Power of Dehumanization

From my list on dehumanization and the impact of this phenomenon.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have an international reputation as an expert on dehumanization. I have researched this subject for the past fifteen years, and have written three books and many articles, and given many talks on it, including a presentation at the 2012 G20 economic summit. I believe that dehumanization is an extremely important phenomenon to understand, because it fuels the worst atrocities that human beings inflict upon one another. If phrases like "never again" have any real meaning, we need to seriously investigate the processes, including dehumanization, that make such horrific actions possible.

David's book list on dehumanization and the impact of this phenomenon

David Livingstone Smith Why did David love this book?

To properly understand dehumanization—which represents human beings as subhuman creatures—it is important to recognize our less-than-humane relations with other animals.  In this compact, vividly-written book, Marjorie Spiegel powerfully juxtaposes the oppressive and cruel treatment of enslaved people with the terrible treatment of nonhuman animals. The book is largely concerned with the dehumanization of enslaved Africans and their descendants, but it is also pertinent to other episodes of racial dehumanization.

By Marjorie Spiegel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Considered a seminal book in the fields of Bioethics and Human-Animal
Studies, and a classic in the field of humane thought, Marjorie
Spiegel's The Dreaded Comparison makes a significant contribution to
our efforts to understand the roots of individual and societal
violence, tying current cultural practices to the legacy of human
bondage, and introducing new and diverse audiences to the history of
slavery and institutionalized racism in the United States.

Spanning history, psychology, and current events-- and ground-breaking
for its thesis which presents the first in-depth exploration of the
similarities between the violence humans have wrought against other
humans, and…

Book cover of Slavery and Society at Rome

Jerry Toner Author Of The Roman Guide to Slave Management: A Treatise by Nobleman Marcus Sidonius Falx

From my list on Roman slavery.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm the Director of Studies in Classics at Churchill College, Cambridge University. My research looks at Roman cultural history, with a focus on history "from below," meaning that I'm most interested in ordinary Romans, slaves and the poor. There have been thirty-five translations of my books into sixteen languages. I come from a modest background and was the first in my family to go to university. I found moving up the social ladder a bewildering and sometimes terrifying experience. Classics back then was still an elite subject, dominated by people from wealthy backgrounds. My research interests have always reflected my fascination with those at the bottom of the social ladder.

Jerry's book list on Roman slavery

Jerry Toner Why did Jerry love this book?

Imagine slaves and we generally think of the workers on the cash-crop plantations of the British Caribbean or the southern states of antebellum America. Roman slavery was in many ways a more complicated institution and owning slaves was as much about status as it was about economic exploitation. Bradley's excellent book goes into tremendous detail but always manages to do so with amazing clarity. Definitely the best introduction to a difficult other world.

By Keith Bradley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book, first published in 1994, is concerned with discovering what it was like to be a slave in the classical Roman world, and with revealing the impact the institution of slavery made on Roman society at large. It shows how and in what sense Rome was a slave society through much of its history, considers how the Romans procured their slaves, discusses the work roles slaves fulfilled and the material conditions under which they spent their lives, investigates how slaves responded to and resisted slavery, and reveals how slavery, as an institution, became more and more oppressive over time…

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

Nicholas Hudson Author Of A Political Biography of Samuel Johnson

From my list on why the Enlightenment is the beginning of the modern world.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a teacher and writer, I am a passionate believer in the ideals of the Enlightenment. In my understanding of these ideals, they include a belief in reason and honest inquiry in the service of humanity. More and more we need these ideals against bigotry, self-delusion, greed, and cruelty. The books recommended here are among those that helped to inspire me with continued faith in the progress of the human species and our responsibility to help each other and the world we live in.

Nicholas' book list on why the Enlightenment is the beginning of the modern world

Nicholas Hudson Why did Nicholas love this book?

I was on the Guggenheim committee that awarded The Reaper’s Garden the prize for the best book on the eighteenth century in 2010.

The eighteenth century marked the climax of the slave trade and the plantation system in European colonies in the Americas and elsewhere. Brown’s book brings the plantation world of eighteenth-century Jamaica alive like no other that I have read.

This was a world filled with death, not only the mortality of the African slaves but just as commonly of the white plantation owners and their families who seldom lasted two years before dying of tropical diseases. Funerals became competing sites for display between blacks and whites.

The funerals of black people became such powerful vehicles of protest and cultural identity that the plantation owners tried to repress them. Brown’s book stands out in my mind as a powerful study of the evils of slavery and morbid culture…

By Vincent Brown,

Why should I read it?

2 authors 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…

Book cover of The Prophets

Jeffrey Richards Author Of We Are Only Ghosts

From my list on LGBT+ novels that haunt me (in a good way).

Why am I passionate about this?

I came of age in Oklahoma as a gay youth in the late 1970s and early 1980s, keeping myself hidden out of safety and shame. Once I was old enough to leave my small-minded town and be myself, I crashed headlong into the oncoming AIDS epidemic. It set me on a path to understanding the world and my place in it as a homosexual. I turned to reading about the lives and histories of those who came before me, to learn about their deaths and survivals in what could be an ugly, brutal world. These works continue to draw me, haunt me, and inspire me to share my story through my writing. 

Jeffrey's book list on LGBT+ novels that haunt me (in a good way)

Jeffrey Richards Why did Jeffrey love this book?

This is one of those novels I read as a writer, and I thought I should just pack it in because I’ll never be able to write anything so gloriously beautiful, heartbreaking, and perfect.

While Robert Jones, Jr. meticulously creates an atmosphere of the harsh realities of slavery–stretching from the shores of Africa to the cotton fields of Mississippi–he brings us up above all that ugliness, all that inhumanity by offering a transcendental love story between two of the slaves, Samuel and Isaiah.

Even though the harshness, so realized that it made my stomach turn while reading the story, is so visceral and painful, it is the love story that not only infuses itself throughout the plantation–from the slave quarters to the main house–that supersedes all and wends its way into your skin, your heart, your soul. This novel is an achievement beyond anything I expected.

By Robert Jones, Jr.,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


'This visionary and deeply evocative debut carves a radiant love story out of the bleakest of landscapes.' Waterstones - Best Books to Look Out For in 2021

'An Outstanding novel' Guardian
'A lyrical, poetic novel' Independent
'Epic in its scale' Marlon James, author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf
'A rare marvel' Ocean Vuong, author of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
'Magisterial' Courttia Newland, author of A River Called Time
'A spellbinding debut' COSMO
'Ambitious and intense' Vanity Fair

In this blinding debut, Robert Jones Jr. blends the lyricism of Toni Morrison with the vivid prose…

Book cover of Suck on the Marrow

DeMisty D. Bellinger Author Of Peculiar Heritage

From my list on poetry inspired by history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I care about social justice, equality, and history, as well as beauty and art. As an African-American woman who was raised working class and who understands how history informs the present, I have fallen in love with the depiction of history in poetry and prose. Not all of my writing has something to do with race or gender or class, but all of my writing is about justice in some way. I want to get to the good of people.

DeMisty's book list on poetry inspired by history

DeMisty D. Bellinger Why did DeMisty love this book?

It’s a beautiful book, from the cover to the notes. It’s a neo-slave narrative that follows various enslaved, then freed people. Through this book, I learned how poetry collections can be explorations of history based on fact.

Like any good collection, reading one poem compels you forward, but each poem can stand on its own. She is a master of form. For instance, her persona poetry is powerful. The first poem in the book, “The Trapper’s Boast,” devoid of empathy, shows the business of slavery from an undesirable point of view. 

But what is moving is the ability to fall in love and to care even in the worst conditions, as well as the will to live and strive towards freedom in spite of any threats.

I started writing neo-slave narrative poems about a woman escaping slavery. I imagined that the poems I was writing, like Suck on the Marrow…

By Camille T. Dungy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Suck on the Marrow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

**Winner of the American Book Award

**Silver Medalist for the California Book Award

Suck on the Marrow is a historical narrative, revolving around six main characters and set in mid-19th century Virginia and Philadelphia. The book traces the experiences of fugitive slaves, kidnapped Northern-born blacks, and free people of color, exploring the interdependence between plantation life and life in Northern and Southern American towns and illuminating the connections between the successes and difficulties of a wide range of Americans, free and slave, black and white, Northern and Southern. This neo-slave narrative treats the truths of lives touched by slavery with…

Book cover of Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson Author Of The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem's Greatest Bookstore

From my list on children’s books about freedom.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a former children’s librarian who writes books for children and young adults. I love history, especially black history. We didn’t get much in school when I was a child, so I’ve been catching up on some of what I missed. I am particularly drawn to under-told stories about people who deserve more recognition for their contributions. I’m proud that some of those people are members of my own family.

Vaunda's book list on children’s books about freedom

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson Why did Vaunda love this book?

Based on actual slave documents, Ashley Bryan, through his accomplished paintings and poetry, imagines the lives of eleven men and women sold at auction in 1828. We learn the market prices of the eleven, but Bryan goes deep, showing us the true value of each unique individual. The soul and spirit of this lovely book lay in the astounding resilience, the survival of hope and dreams in the hearts and minds of these enslaved people. Amidst the ugliness of slavery, Bryan manages to leave me uplifted, even joyful — joyful about the unwavering human belief in and desire for freedom.  

By Ashley Bryan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Freedom Over Me as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 6, 7, 8, and 9.

What is this book about?

Imagine being looked up and down and being valued as less than chair. Less than an ox. Less than a dress. Maybe about the same as...a lantern.

You, an object. An object to sell.

In his gentle yet deeply powerful way, Ashley Bryan goes to the heart of how a slave is given a monetary value by the slave owner, tempering this with the one thing that CAN'T be bought or sold-dreams. Inspired by the actual will of a plantation owner that lists the worth of each and every one of his "workers", Bryan has created collages around that document,…

Book cover of The Confessions of Nat Turner

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?

A great and controversial novel—aren’t great novels always controversial?The Confessions of Nat Turner takes as its starting point the mind of a slave, Nat Turner, as he awaits his execution for leading a failed slave rebellion in 1831. Even when it was published in 1967, the novel inspired a strong backlash from the African-American community, who were upset, in part, because of the portrayal of a Black man lusting after a White woman. Written by a Southern White, the novel is a powerful story, powerfully told, one that remains as relevant today as it did when it was first published. 

By William Styron,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


In 1831 Nat Turner awaits death in a Virginia jail cell. He is a slave, a preacher, and the leader of the only effective slave revolt in the history of 'that peculiar institution'. William Styron's ambitious and stunningly accomplished novel is Turner's confession, made to his jailers under the duress of his God. Encompasses the betrayals, cruelties and humiliations that made up slavery - and that still sear the collective psyches of both races.

Book cover of Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth-Century

Christian Pinnen Author Of Complexion of Empire in Natchez: Race and Slavery in the Mississippi Borderlands

From my list on race and slavery in colonial Mississippi Valley.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian of race and slavery in the lower Mississippi Valley because the region is a fulcrum of United States history. I was always fascinated by the significance of the Mississippi River for American expansion, society, and culture. Ultimately, this region of the country is so deeply influenced by people of African descent that must be included in all histories, and I wanted to share their stories in a particular place during the colonial period. Telling these stories in places where they have commonly been less well represented is very rewarding and it opens more ways to understand the histories of places like Natchez along the Mississippi River.

Christian's book list on race and slavery in colonial Mississippi Valley

Christian Pinnen Why did Christian love this book?

Gwendolyn Hall’s Africans in Colonial Louisiana is still a foundational text when it comes to studying African people in the colonial lower Mississippi Valley. Her deep knowledge of the archives and skill in bringing the stories of enslaved Africans to live make this a wonderfully informative book. She draws deep connections between the places that Africans left and their forced new homes in Louisiana, while placing a special emphasis on how that culture turned into an African creole culture in the lower Mississippi Valley.

By Gwendolyn Midlo Hall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Africans in Colonial Louisiana as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Although a number of important studies of American slavery have explored the formation of slave cultures in the English colonies, few books have undertaken a comprehensive assessment of the development of the distinctive African-Creole culture of colonial Louisiana. This culture, based upon a separate language community with its own folklore, musical, religious and historical traditions, was created by slaves brought directly from Africa to Louisiana before 1731. It still survives as the acknowledged cultural heritage of tens of thousands of people of all races in the southern part of the state. In this work, Gwendolyn Hall studies Louisiana's Creole slave…