The best books about the South (USA) 📚

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

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Book cover of Life of Pi

Life of Pi

By Yann Martel

Why this book?

This book grabbed my interest and never let go. A young boy, Pi Patel, survives 227 days after a shipwreck while stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger. Talk about an adventure! But as with the other adventure stories I have chosen, his outward adventure brings about inward transformation. Even before, the young Pi had an intense spiritual interest (a young boy who dared to be both Hindu and Christian!) But with his trek across a vast ocean, he even more intensely explores himself and the nature of his spirituality. Some find the book hard…

From the list:

The best adventure stories which also explore the self

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Book cover of Lie Down in Darkness

Lie Down in Darkness

By William Styron

Why this book?

I’ve read it twice, and I can only stand back in wonder at how a person could create such a magnificent work of art (his first novel) at age 26. For richness of character development, philosophical weight, and power of language, this is one for the ages. Though the subject matter is heavy, it’s not a difficult read. Yet there are passages where you’ll want to slow down and take in the music of the words.

From the list:

The best non-Faulkner books from the American South

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Book cover of Vengeance and Justice: Crime and Punishment in the Nineteenth-Century American South

Vengeance and Justice: Crime and Punishment in the Nineteenth-Century American South

By Edward L. Ayers

Why this book?

This is a classic, pioneering study of the major elements of southern crime and punishment at a time that saw the formation of the fundamental patterns of class and race—and how they shaped the South’s criminal justice system.  Ayers studies the inner workings of the police, prison, and judicial systems, and the nature of crime, while at the same time adeptly linking the antebellum with the post-bellum criminal justice system. 

From the list:

The best books on crime and punishment in the Antebellum South

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Book cover of Culture Of Honor: The Psychology Of Violence In The South

Culture Of Honor: The Psychology Of Violence In The South

By Richard E. Nisbett, Dov Cohen

Why this book?

Studying the Appalachian feuds, I started wondering if this level of violence were normal human behavior. This book assured me that the feud region during those years had a homicide rate more than ten times the national homicide rate today. A newspaper at the time labeled the area “The Corsica of America.” The authors explain that many Europeans who settled in the Appalachians were from the British borderlands. Both locations hosted herding economies and produced herders who prided themselves on possessing the strength, cunning, and violence to protect their livestock and fend off potential rustlers. Stolen hogs, horses, and cattle…
From the list:

The best books about the Hatfield–McCoy feud

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Book cover of All the King's Men

All the King's Men

By Robert Penn Warren

Why this book?

At my first paid reporting job, one college summer for the Lake Charles (La.) American Press, a veteran reporter told me that if I wanted to cover politics, in Louisiana or anywhere else, I had to read Penn Warren’s novel, a classic based on Huey Long’s life. I got a copy – and was hooked from the opening, when Sugar Boy, the boss’s chauffeur and gunsel, whipped their Cadillac around an oncoming gasoline truck and stuttered, “The b-b-b-b-bas-tud . . .” Penn Warren, a poet, brought to life the realpolitik and machine politics I’d studied. He showed me, through…

From the list:

The best books on political bosses

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Book cover of The Burden of Southern History

The Burden of Southern History

By C. Vann Woodward

Why this book?

C. Vann Woodward easily ranks as the greatest historian of the American South to date, and his pre-eminence in the field was already established when this volume of his essays first appeared in 1960. Woodward's masterful sense of irony permeates this collection, in which he offers original alternative perspectives on the South's experience both within and apart from the nation's experience. The essays themselves were also marked by a literary grace rarely found in historical writing of any era. Though Flannery O'Connor was hardly given to praising southern writers not named Faulkner, after devouring the collection, she reported to a…
From the list:

The best books that "tell about the South"

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