The best books about Tennessee

15 authors have picked their favorite books about Tennessee and why they recommend each book.

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Tennessee Frontiers

By John R. Finger,

Book cover of Tennessee Frontiers: Three Regions in Transition

This book not only provides a chapter on the State of Franklin era (1780s) but several leading up to it, beginning with a survey of eastern Tennessee topography, its native peoples, and the earliest encroaching exploration and settlement of Europeans. Several more chapters of the region’s history follow the information on the failed statehood attempt. Along the way the author captures the spirit of the various people groups who called this region home, detailing many individuals such as Attakullakulla, Nancy Ward, Daniel Boone, John Sevier, Davy Crockett, Andrew Jackson, and John Ross, among others.

Who am I?

Lori Benton is an award-winning, multi-published author of historical novels set during 18th century North America. Her literary passion is bringing little-known historical events to life through the eyes of those who lived it, particularly those set along the Appalachian frontier, where European and Native American cultural and world views collided. Her second published historical novel, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, is set against the backdrop of the State of Franklin conflict, in which a young woman and a frontiersman flee across the mountains of North Carolina to keep her free of an unwanted marriage, just as tensions over who is destined to govern the Overmountain settlers erupts into violence.

I wrote...

The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn

By Lori Benton,

Book cover of The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn

What is my book about?

In an act of brave defiance, Tamsen Littlejohn escapes the life her harsh stepfather has forced upon her. Forsaking security and an arranged marriage, she enlists frontiersman Jesse Bird to guide her to the Watauga settlement in western North Carolina. But shedding her old life doesn't come without cost. As the two cross a vast mountain wilderness, Tamsen faces hardships that test the limits of her faith and endurance.

The American Plague

By Molly Caldwell Crosby,

Book cover of The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic That Shaped Our History

Yellow fever, like many feared diseases, conjures up an image of faraway, steamy rain forests. At one time, yellow fever really was found there. But the disease—and the mosquito that carries it—didn't stay there. I was surprised to learn how prominent and feared yellow fever was in early Colonial America and that it persisted in the United States through the early 20th Century. Crosby provides background on the disease from Africa, its path to the Americas, and routine epidemics in New Orleans, but the book's primary focus is the account of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878 that decimated Memphis, Tennessee, and other towns along the Mississippi River.  I liked this book for filling in the blanks in my awareness and understanding of this American plague. 

Who am I?

I am not a historian. I am a retired entomologist with a love for history. My first real experience with history was as a child, reading about Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic adventure on the Endurance—a story I must have re-read 50 times. I have come to recognize that much of the history I learned growing up was either incomplete or was just plain wrong. I am drawn to the arcane aspects of historical events, or that illustrate history from a different angle—which is shown in my list of books. The Silken Thread tells about the history that occurred because of, or was impacted by, just five insects.

I wrote...

The Silken Thread: Five Insects and Their Impacts on Human History

By Robert N. Wiedenmann, J. Ray Fisher,

Book cover of The Silken Thread: Five Insects and Their Impacts on Human History

What is my book about?

The Silken Thread shows how five insects—just five—have impacted human history. This is not a science book; it is a history book. These five insects have caused sharp turns in history in ways that are usually ignored or unknown. Everyone knows about the plague, and that it was caused by rats and fleas. Except it wasn't that simple. They did not completely play the roles that we learned—or taught in our classes. And that is just one example. All five insects intersected with humans in multiple ways, and our telling of their tales reminds us that it really is the little things that run the world.

This Promise of Change

By JoAnn Allen Boyce, Debbie Levy,

Book cover of This Promise of Change: One Girl's Story in the Fight for School Equality

A collaborative book written in verse by award-winning Debbie Levy and JoAnn Allen Boyce who was one of twelve African American students who desegregated Clinton High School in eastern Tennessee in 1956. Brown vs. Board of Education ruled to integrate schools in 1954, but integration didn’t happen easily or quickly. We tend to know more about the Little Rock Nine of 1957 because national journalists published what became iconic photos of the tense struggle of courageous Black teenagers breaking through white hostility to attend a white high school. The earlier event in Tennessee was equally fraught (but less photographed). To have Boyce’s memory of events and her ability to articulate her feelings and Levy’s lyrical bent makes this an enlightening read.

Who am I?

Patricia Hruby Powell’s former careers include dancer/choreographer, storyteller, and librarian. She is the author of the YA documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia which is on ALA, NCTE, Indie Pics, and Kirkus ‘best books lists’. From a young age, her parents instilled in her a social conscience and a will to try to right injustice. She attempts to do this, in part, by writing books that might shine a light on injustice, for young readers, such that they will care and perhaps become activists—for whatever impassions them. Her books have earned Sibert, Boston Globe-Horn Book, International Bologna/Ragazzi, Parent’s Choice Honors among others.

I wrote...

Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case

By Patricia Hruby Powell, Shadra Strickland (illustrator),

Book cover of Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case

What is my book about?

From acclaimed author Patricia Hruby Powell comes the story of a landmark civil rights case, told in spare and gorgeous verse. In 1955, in Caroline County, Virginia, amidst segregation and prejudice, injustice and cruelty, two teenagers fell in love. Their life together broke the law, but their determination would change it. Richard and Mildred Loving were at the heart of a Supreme Court case that legalized marriage between races, and a story of the devoted couple who faced discrimination, fought it, and won.

The Woman's Hour

By Elaine Weiss,

Book cover of The Woman's Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote

This recent book tells the dramatic story of Tennessee’s ratification of the 19th Amendment. Thirty-six states were required for ratification, and by July 1920 it all came down to Tennessee. The fate of women’s suffrage, decades of struggle, hung in the balance. I love how Weiss brings the context, characters, and events in the drama to life. She vividly portrays the public proceedings and plotting behind-the-scenes for a victory that almost didn’t happen and can’t be taken for granted. Yet, in terms of race, it was a hollow victory. Weiss shows how the suffrage debate in Tennessee, a former slave state, inextricably interrelated with Black voting rights. 

As antisuffragists played the race card—women’s suffrage endangered racial disenfranchisement—white suffragists responded with their own version: white women outnumbered and could outvote African Americans, plus racial disenfranchisement would remain. Betrayed by the “suffrage sisterhood,” Black suffragists fought on.

Who am I?

After growing up in California, earning a PhD in Wisconsin, and having a stint as an academic in Colorado, I now teach United States history in beautiful Aotearoa New Zealand. I write books on 20th century U.S. politics, social movements, and popular culture. Along the way, I have found important political content, interactions, and struggle in unlikely spots, from community organizing to Hollywood gossip. In all my work, I find Americans drawing upon the ideological and material resources available to them—whether radicalism, conservatism, and liberalism, or social movements and popular culture—to construct and contest the meanings of citizenship.  

I wrote...

"Let Us Vote!" Youth Voting Rights and the 26th Amendment

By Jennifer Frost,

Book cover of "Let Us Vote!" Youth Voting Rights and the 26th Amendment

What is my book about?

"Let Us Vote!" tells the story of the multifaceted endeavor to achieve youth voting rights in the United States. Over a thirty-year period starting during World War II, Americans, old and young, Democrat and Republican, in politics and culture, built a movement for the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 1971 was the last time that the United States significantly expanded voting rights, enfranchising tens of millions of young Americans since. 2021 marks the fiftieth anniversary of this historic achievement and comes at a time when voting rights are under threat.

By remembering how and why the 26th Amendment came about and recognizing the citizens and campaigns that led the way, I hope my book can contribute to protecting our democracy today.

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville

By Pat Zietlow Miller, Frank Morrison (illustrator),

Book cover of The Quickest Kid in Clarksville

This is another book about Wilma Rudolph, but this one focuses on how Wilma inspired two young girls in Clarksville, Tennessee, Wilma’s birthplace. Alta is The Quickest Kid in Clarksville, but worries about Charmaine, the new girl with brand-new, “stripes down the sides” shoes. The author’s writing is fast-paced with a rhythm to it, perfect for a running book about winning, losing, and friendship. Yes, friendship, as when Wilma Rudolph arrives for a parade to celebrate her Olympic wins, the girls finally agree to carry Alta's big banner to the parade in a relay race like Wilma won at the Olympics.

Who am I?

I’m a multi-award-winning picture book author of many types of books, from The Pumpkin Runner to Badger’s Perfect Garden. I’ve always been a reader more than an athlete, but throughout my life, I’ve enjoyed running - running down a dusty Kansas backroad, running to the pasture to call in the cows, running to the stream to climb a cottonwood. When I reached my sixties, I finally decided it was time to run a half-marathon. Partway through the race, I broke my foot! But I persevered. When I crossed the finish line, I felt a little like Joshua Summerhayes in The Pumpkin Runner.

I wrote...

The Pumpkin Runner

By Marsha Diane Arnold, Brad Sneed (illustrator),

Book cover of The Pumpkin Runner

What is my book about?

The Pumpkin Runner is the story of a man who ran for the joy of it. It is based on the real-life adventures of a 61-year-old Australian farmer who, amidst ridicule, entered an ultra-marathon from Sydney to Melbourne. 

The story is a combination of fact and fiction told in the style of a tall tale. Inspired by Cliff Young, the story is fictionalized with the likable character, Joshua Summerhayes. Both had a generous, humble spirit and knew how to persevere. The author gave Joshua a dog to run along with him – spunky Yellow Dog. Everyone believed it was pumpkins that gave Joshua the energy to run, but readers learn that it was much more than that.

The Wolfman

By Nicholas Pekearo,

Book cover of The Wolfman

An interesting twist on a vigilante story that makes you wonder if all monsters are really bad. Marlow Higgins is a Vietnam vet who eventually settles down in a small town only to have his solitude disturbed by a serial killer. The killer didn’t anticipate a werewolf joining the hunt and things go from bad to worse.

Who am I?

I am a freelance anatomy educator, artist, author, mother, and dog owner. I like to fill my time by engaging the public with science, meeting them where they are and exploring their boundaries. If they are interested in zombies, or flying unicorns then let's start there and mix fantasy and reality to make them think.

I wrote...

The Lama Drama 2019 (The 3rd Sphere)

By Janet Philp,

Book cover of The Lama Drama 2019 (The 3rd Sphere)

What is my book about?

My book intertwines reality and fantasy in a genre I like to call ‘what if’ or ‘I wonder’ (I think it is officially urban fantasy). I take the reality of every day and add a twist; what if it were like this, with the hope that the readers will ask ‘I wonder.’

The story starts when Jayne dies and realises that not everyone on earth is as full of life as she thought and maybe in the fight between good and evil it's not obvious who is on which side.

Child of God

By Cormac McCarthy,

Book cover of Child of God

When I worked for a daily newspaper, I covered the trial of serial killer Richard Biegenwald. Unlike a lot of serial killers, who tend to be loners, Biegenwald was married. He seemed fairly normal, except for his habit of occasionally killing people and burying them in his mother’s backyard. Serial killers, people who don’t kill in self-defense, or to protect someone from harm, but just because they like killing, have always fascinated me. Sitting in court, twenty feet from a real, live serial killer, was intensely interesting and not a little creepy.

Having covered the trial of a serial killer, I was intrigued by what would make someone do that. The serial killer in Child of God is a loner who’s lost his home and who constantly tries, and fails, to connect with other people. His struggles are as poignant as his deeds are gruesome. 

Who am I?

I’m a lifelong New Jerseyan married to a man whose family comes from Georgia. It gave me an opportunity to observe the white, Southern, upper-class weltanschauung, up close. To hear them talk, you’d think the Civil War had ended just a few days earlier, and if the Yankees had only respected states’ rights, none of that mess would have happened. My book is about a dysfunctional Georgia family who has far too much money than is good for them. Hijinks ensue.

I wrote...

White Oaks

By Jill Hand,

Book cover of White Oaks

What is my book about?

It’s hellishly hot and humid in South Georgia, down by the Florida state line. Things have a way of steaming down there, including tempers, and decades-long grudges. The Trapnells are world-class grudge-holders. Fabulously rich and more than a little crazy, patriarch Blanton Trapnell is a law unto himself, ruling over the town of Cobbs like a medieval king. When Blanton expresses the desire to kill someone with his bare hands as a ninetieth birthday present, his children get busy to make it appear to happen, without anyone getting hurt. Disaster befalls them when Blanton’s birthday present goes horribly, hilariously wrong.

Going Down Jericho Road

By Michael K. Honey,

Book cover of Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King's Last Campaign

When I read this book, I knew plenty about Martin Luther King’s ties to the labor movement. What I did not knowand what it took Honey twenty years to piece together—was an understanding of the 1,200 workers whose desperate straits and courageous creative nonviolence called King to Memphis in 1968. Honey uncovers the small triumphs hidden from view if we only look at the large tragedy of King’s assassination. Sanitation workers fought for safer working conditions, adequate wages, and trade union recognition from a city administration that literally treated them like garbage. A labor dispute transformed into a nonviolent community revolt. I remain in awe of the book’s richly textured portraits, among them Reverend Ralph Jackson, a peaceful protester brutalized by police, who forged a "campaign to end police brutality and improve housing, jobs, wages, and education across the city."

Who am I?

Growing up middle-class, white, progressive, and repeatedly exposed to the mediated crises and movements of the Sixties left me with a lifelong challenge of making sense of the American dilemma. My road was long and winding–a year in Barcelona as Spain struggled to emerge from autocracy; years organizing for the nuclear freeze and against apartheid; study under academics puzzling through the possibilities of nonviolent and democratic politics. My efforts culminated in the publication of a volume that won the Organization of American Historians Liberty Legacy Award, for the “best book by a historian on the civil rights struggle from the beginnings of the nation to the present.”

I wrote...

From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice

By Thomas F. Jackson,

Book cover of From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice

What is my book about?

When I joined the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project at Stanford University in the 1980s, I knew that most Americans remained ignorant of King’s sharp challenges to the Vietnam War, to urban racial segregation, and to the halfhearted federal War on Poverty. What escaped me was how much King's nonviolent opposition to racism, militarism, and economic injustice had deep historic and communal roots, in the struggles of Atlanta’s Black community with the Great Depression and his extended encounter with the Christian Social Gospel. I learned that the southern civil rights movement was also a movement for economic and political empowerment. We can learn much from his understanding of America’s unfulfilled dreams for "a radical redistribution of political and economic power" in American cities, the nation, and the world.

The Forest Unseen

By David George Haskell,

Book cover of The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature

At this book’s heart is a simple idea. Biologist and writer David George Haskell repeatedly visited a Tennessee forest over one year and reported everything he observed in a circular patch just a meter across. The circle throbs with life. Haskell zooms out—in space and time—to explain the patterns and phenomena he notices as the seasons turn. His narrative expands to take in history, philosophy, folklore and more. His little circle becomes our world. 

Before I finished the first page, I had forgotten that this was the work of a scientist. Haskell is phenomenally eloquent, blessing every page with his elegant prose. It is an enthralling, meditative read. And a reminder that simply sitting still and paying attention to nature is one of the most rewarding things we can do.

Who am I?

I am a tropical ecologist turned writer and editor focused on biodiversity, climate change, forests, and the people who depend on them. I did my doctoral research in rainforests in Borneo and Papua New Guinea and have since worked for media organizations and research institutes, and as a mentor to journalists around the world who report on environmental issues. Ecology taught me that everything is connected. Rainforests taught me that nature can leave a person awe-struck with its beauty, complexity, or sheer magnificence. I try to share my passion for these subjects through my writing.

I wrote...

Gods, Wasps and Stranglers: The Secret History and Redemptive Future of Fig Trees

By Mike Shanahan,

Book cover of Gods, Wasps and Stranglers: The Secret History and Redemptive Future of Fig Trees

What is my book about?

Gods, Wasps and Stranglers* will take you to rainforests, volcanoes, and ancient temples to discover the mind-blowing story of the strangler figs and their kin, which have shaped our world and our species in extraordinary ways. No other group of trees is more ecologically and culturally important. They sustain more species of wildlife than any other plants. They also fed our pre-human ancestors, influenced our evolution, enriched diverse cultures, and played key roles in the dawn of civilisation. Author Mike Shanahan weaves together the mythology, history, biology, and ecology of these fascinating trees, from their starring roles in every major religion to their potential to restore lost rainforests and conserve endangered species. 

*Published in the UK as Ladders to Heaven.

Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862

By O. Edward Cunningham,

Book cover of Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862

Several books have been written about the Battle of Shiloh, fought on April 6 and 7, 1862. This is no surprise, as the battle was one of the very first large-scale engagements of the war, with more than 100,000 combatants and producing 23,000 casualties. That staggering butcher’s bill stunned the nation and created a deep-rooted interest in remembering the contest. A National Cemetery was created in 1866, and Shiloh was one of the five original military parks established by Congress in 1895. The park’s interpretive thrust has shaped the outline of the traditional narrative of the battle ever since.

In the 1960s, Edward Cunningham offered a corrective to that traditional narrative, in an unpublished academic thesis. Discarding long-held, preconceived notions, Cunningham hewed closer to the primary sources to provide a deeply insightful new interpretation of the battle. Unfortunately, he never found a publisher for that thesis—until 2009. Though Cunningham had…

Who am I?

I have been fascinated by the American Civil War since I was 8 years old. I have been a serious student of the subject since my college years, where I majored in American History. I have played and designed boardgames concerning battles of the war, including a number of games on battles in the Western Theater, I have been a living historian and reenactor, and now, an author-published by both academic and popular presses. The battle of Chickamauga became a serious interest as early as 1979.

I wrote...

Maps of Chickamauga: An Atlas of the Chickamauga Campaign

By David Powell,

Book cover of Maps of Chickamauga: An Atlas of the Chickamauga Campaign

What is my book about?

Third in a new series of campaign studies that take a different approach toward military history, The Maps of Chickamauga explores this largely misunderstood battle through the use of 120 full-color maps, graphically illustrating the complex tangle of combat’s ebb and flow that makes the titanic bloodshed of Chickamauga one of the most confusing actions of the American Civil War. Track individual regiments through their engagements at fifteen to twenty-minute intervals or explore each army in motion as brigades and divisions maneuver and deploy to face the enemy. The Maps of Chickamauga allows readers to fully grasp the action at any level of interest.

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