The most recommended books about tobacco

Who picked these books? Meet our 21 experts.

21 authors created a book list connected to tobacco, and here are their favorite tobacco books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

What type of tobacco book?


Book cover of The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge

Craig Fehrman Author Of Author in Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote

From my list on written by American presidents.

Why am I passionate about this?

Craig Fehrman spent ten years writing Author in Chief, his book on presidents and the books they wrote. When readers would learn about his research, they'd always ask -- "Are any of them worth reading?" The answer turned out to be a definitive yes! Presidential books have won elections, redefined careers, and shaped America's place in the world. It's easy to eye-roll at modern political volumes, but for most of American history, books have been our popular culture -- and presidential books have changed our nation. Here are a few of the books that will reward readers today. 

Craig's book list on written by American presidents

Craig Fehrman Why did Craig love this book?

This book is the forgotten classic of presidential writing—a blockbuster in its own time and a model for how modern political memoirs could be better. Coolidge was a stunningly good writer. (The New York Times called him “the most literary man who has occupied the White House since 1865.”) In his autobiography, he included many memorable stories, including one about his son, Calvin Jr., and his summer job picking tobacco. “If my father was president,” one of the laborers told him, “I would not work in a tobacco field.” “If my father were your father,” Calvin Jr. replied, “you would.” Yet the most memorable passage comes later, when the president describes Calvin Jr.’s shocking death. “In his suffering,” the most powerful man in the world wrote, “he was asking me to make him well. I could not.”

By Calvin Coolidge,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Amity Shlaes reclaimed a misunderstood president with her bestselling biography Coolidge. Now she presents an expanded and annotated edition of that president's masterful memoir.

The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge is as unjustly neglected as Calvin Coolidge himself. The man caricatured as 'Silent Cal' was a gifted writer. The New York Times called him 'the most literary man who has occupied the White House since 1865.' One biographer wrote that Coolidge's autobiography 'displays a literary grace that is lacking in most such books by former presidents.'

The Coolidge who emerges in these pages is a model of character, principle, and humility…

Book cover of The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night

Catherine Ann Cullen Author Of The Song of Brigid’s Cloak

From my list on children’s stories with a song connection.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a poet, children’s writer, and songwriter from Drogheda, Ireland. Ballads were always part of my family life. My favourite uncle, Gerry Cullen, is a song collector and singer who was central to the revival of folk singing in Drogheda. It was only when I embarked on a Creative Writing PhD in 2015 that I fully recognised the influence of ballads on my work. This has brought me deeper into ballad studies and I have just begun a postdoctoral fellowship at University College Dublin to reclaim lost street poets and tenement balladeers of 19th-century Ireland. For me, the ballad is a peerless narrative form: compact, rhyming, rhythmic, and memorable.  

Catherine's book list on children’s stories with a song connection

Catherine Ann Cullen Why did Catherine love this book?

In 1961, American illustrator Peter Spier won a Caldecott Honor for his version of this ancient song, and in 2014 he revisited his book, turning the black and white illustrations into glorious colour. As a scholar of ballads, I’m thrilled by their persistent popularity. The first evidence of “The Fox” is in a manuscript in the British Library from the second half of the fifteenth century, with its chorus—“Pax vobis, quoth the fox, for I am going to the town.” It’s clearly the same song, just missing the ‘o’ after town. What’s the attraction? Besides Spier’s shimmering double spreads of Americana, there’s tight storytelling with great visual details, a tune, a chorus, and a hero’s journey with a happy ending—for Fox and his family, at least! 

By Peter Spier,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 3, 4, 5, and 6.

What is this book about?

This Caldecott Honor book from beloved illustrator Peter Spier is a spirited take on a classic American folk song.

"[Spier's] finely detailed, action-packed New England autumn vistas are almost startlingly beautiful."—The New York Times 
Over fifty years after he won a Caldecott Honor for The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night, legendary illustrator Peter Spier went back to this time-honored favorite in 2014 to paint the half of the book that was originally printed in black and white. In this glowing, restored vision of Spier’s beloved classic, follow the wily fox as he roams a sleepy New England town…

Book cover of The Gospel Truth

Glen Huser Author Of Firebird

From my list on historical fiction featuring journeys.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a child, I was an avid reader and particularly fell in love with historical fiction. My favourite corner for reading was on top of the woodbox by my grandmother’s cookstove. Warm and cozy, I delved into such books as Geoffrey Trease’s Cue for Treason and Jack Schaeffer’s Shane. How wonderful to land for a few hours in the world of Shakespeare’s London or the grasslands of the frontier west. When I worked as a children’s librarian and then began writing books myself, this early love has remained with me—so it factored into the books I chose for schools—and some of the novels I wrote such as The Runaway and Firebird.

Glen's book list on historical fiction featuring journeys

Glen Huser Why did Glen love this book?

This verse novel primarily sets the stage for a crucial journey Phoebe, a sixteen-year-old slave, living on a Virginia tobacco plantation in 1858, decides to make that will take her north to freedom. I like to write poetry myself and have favourites among verse novels that have proliferated in recent years. This is one of them. The poetry here is beautifully-crafted and underlines the power of language Phoebe has discovered, having taught herself to read. Pignat alternates viewpoints as she presents a cast of characters that includes a Canadian doctor posing as a birdwatcher who helps slaves escape. Bird imagery is a motif throughout the book—so apt in detailing a flight to a new world.

By Caroline Pignat,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Gospel Truth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 13, 14, 15, and 16.

What is this book about?

Award-winning author Caroline Pignat’s new historical novel recreates the world of a Virginia tobacco plantation in 1858. Through the different points of view of slaves, their masters and a visiting bird-watcher the world of the plantation comes to live in this verse novel. Phoebe belongs to Master Duncan and works in the plantation kitchen. She sees how the other slaves are treated – the beatings and whippings, the disappearances. She hasn’t seen her mother since Master Duncan sold her ten years ago. But Pheobe is trying to learn words and how to read and when she is asked to show…

Book cover of Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Climate Change

Steve Vigdor Author Of Signatures of the Artist: The Vital Imperfections That Make Our Universe Habitable

From my list on science that should inform public policy.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been passionate about science as a way of learning how nature works and approaching truth since I was a pre-teen. After five decades of basic research, teaching, and management in physics, I can distinguish good science from pseudoscience even beyond my own areas of expertise. I am greatly disturbed by attempts to undermine science in public policy-making when its findings conflict with ideology, religious beliefs, or business bottom lines. My passion project, via my blog, is to explain to teachers and the public the underlying science and the flaws in science denial across a wide range of topics at the interface with public policy. 

Steve's book list on science that should inform public policy

Steve Vigdor Why did Steve love this book?

I love this book because its exposé makes me indignant about a handful of rogue scientists who created an industry of science denial in the service of polluting industries and political ideology. They amplified their voices by setting up dozens of “astroturf think tanks” around the U.S. to reinforce their flawed arguments opposing regulation of companies contributing to the dangers of tobacco smoke, acid rain, ozone layer depletion, and climate change.

I see their playbook to sow doubts about well-established science at work today in all sorts of politically motivated science denial and the spread of viral misinformation. 

By Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Merchants of Doubt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The U.S. scientific community has long led the world in research on such areas as public health, environmental science, and issues affecting quality of life. Our scientists have produced landmark studies on the dangers of DDT, tobacco smoke, acid rain, and global warming. But at the same time, a small yet potent subset of this community leads the world in vehement denial of these dangers. Merchants of Doubt tells the story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific…

Book cover of Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov

Ruth Schwertfeger Author Of A Nazi Camp Near Danzig: Perspectives on Shame and on the Holocaust from Stutthof

From my list on authors shaped by education in medicine.

Why am I passionate about this?

I find that one of the advantages of having worked as a professor (now Emerita ) of German at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, is that it helped me gain perspective. When I study literature–especially in languages other than English–I am forced to step outside of my everyday world to identify the motif and leitmotif of the author. I am proposing that the medical training of these five authors helped them do the same: to dig below the surface to find other structures and root causes and to present their findings and unique diagnoses.  

Ruth's book list on authors shaped by education in medicine

Ruth Schwertfeger Why did Ruth love this book?

I recommend these short stories for both younger and older readers. In the latter case, they may well be re-reads and if so, they are essential reading in that they lead the reader to reevaluate past aspirations and ambitions. Chekhov’s medical training is immediately apparent in his uncanny ability to dissect both personal and societal issues. 

Though the diagnosis is frequently abrupt and unexpected, the treatment is less obvious. For example, in Gooseberries, written in 1898 as part of a trilogy, the reader is left with no doubt about the diagnosis of the social pretentiousness and even cruelty of the central character, but the possibility that happiness is elusive lingers like the pervasive smell of tobacco on the armchair. These stories are a must-read by the fireside on a rainy night, with the wind howling outside.  

By Anton Chekhov, Richard Pevear (translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, the highly acclaimed translators of War and Peace, Doctor Zhivago, and Anna Karenina, which was an Oprah Book Club pick and million-copy bestseller, bring their unmatched talents to The Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov, a collection of thirty of Chekhov’s best tales from the major periods of his creative life.
Considered the greatest short story writer, Anton Chekhov changed the genre itself with his spare, impressionistic depictions of Russian life and the human condition. From characteristically brief, evocative early pieces such as “The Huntsman” and the tour de force “A Boring Story,” to his best-known…

Book cover of Thank You for Smoking

Anthony J. Nownes Author Of Interest Groups in American Politics: Pressure and Power

From my list on lobbying and advocacy in the United States.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was attracted to the study of interest groups for two main reasons. First, not too many scholars study interest groups and lobbying. This means I might have something to contribute. Second, interest groups are fascinating. Almost every interest you can think of has an interest group trying to affect (or retard) change. Every year, for example, I get to regale my students with stories about little-known interest groups such as the American Frozen Food Institute, the Pink Pistols (a pro-gun LGBTQ group), the California Prune Board, and Declassify UAP (an anti-UFO secrecy group). Talking and learning about interest groups is fun. 

Anthony's book list on lobbying and advocacy in the United States

Anthony J. Nownes Why did Anthony love this book?

I recommend this book because it is about lobbying and it is funny. “Lobbying” and “funny” are not usually words you see in the same sentence. I am pretty cynical, but not as cynical as the author of this book.

Our protagonist, Nick Naylor, is a tobacco lobbyist with no shame and a lot of money. His opponents, including a self-righteous anti-tobacco senator from Vermont, are not much better than Naylor, obsessed as they are with attention and power. Most lobbyists are not like Nick Naylor. But some are.

The book skewers platitudes about “freedom” and “personal choice,” which are familiar lobbyist tropes.

By Christopher Buckley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Thank You for Smoking as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nobody blows smoke like Nick Naylor. He’s a spokesman for the Academy of Tobacco Studies–in other words, a flack for cigarette companies, paid to promote their product on talk and news shows. The problem? He’s so good at his job, so effortlessly unethical, that he’s become a target for both anti-tobacco terrorists and for the FBI. In a country where half the people want to outlaw pleasure and the other want to sell you a disease, what will become of the original Puff Daddy?

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Book cover of The Business of Captivity: Elmira and Its Civil War Prison

Derek D. Maxfield Author Of Hellmira: The Union’s Most Infamous Civil War Prison Camp - Elmira, NY

From my list on Civil War P.O.W. camps.

Why am I passionate about this?

The Civil War has been a passion of mine since I was seven years old. This was inflamed by a professor I met at SUNY Cortland—Ellis Johnson, who first told me of the POW camp at Elmira, New York. Even though I grew up just thirty miles from Elmira I was astounded at this revelation. Later I learned that I had a third great-grandfather—William B. Reese—who served in the Veterans Reserve Corps after being wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg and was assigned to the garrison in Elmira, where he may have stood guard over the very prison his great grandson would write about.

Derek's book list on Civil War P.O.W. camps

Derek D. Maxfield Why did Derek love this book?

The definitive work on the Elmira POW Camp, Michael Gray’s book is a captivating account of life inside the pen on the Chemung River. Especially valuable is Gray’s account of Elmira’s management by the post commanders, commandants, Commissary General of Prisoners and its supervision by the War Department. It is a web of intrigue and even conspiracy. Another important aspect of this path-breaking book is the micro-economy that was created by the prisoners, who kept themselves busy by catching and selling rats, making jewelry, and other ornaments, and fostering a marketplace where tobacco was the primary medium of exchange.

By Michael P. Gray,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of the many controversial issues to emerge from the Civil War was the treatment of prisoners of war. At two stockades, the Confederate prison at Andersonville, Georgia, and the Union prison at Elmira, New York, suffering was acute and mortality was high.

During its single year of existence, more money was expended on the Elmira prison than in any of the other Union Stockades. Even with this record spending, a more ignominious figure was attached to Elmira: of the more than 12,000 Confederates imprisoned there, nearly 3,000 die while in captivity - the highest rate among all the Northern…

Book cover of The Sensational Past: How the Enlightenment Changed the Way We Use Our Senses

Ai Hisano Author Of Visualizing Taste: How Business Changed the Look of What You Eat

From my list on a new understanding of your sensory experience.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a historian of the senses. When I first traveled to the United States, I was fascinated and overwhelmed by the smell and sound of the streets entirely different from my hometown in Japan. Since then, every time I go abroad, I enjoy various sensory experiences in each country. The first thing I always notice is the smell of the airport which is different from country to country. We all have the senses, but we sense things differently—and these differences are cultural. I wondered if they are also historical. That was the beginning of my inquiry into how our sensory experience has been constructed and changed over time.

Ai's book list on a new understanding of your sensory experience

Ai Hisano Why did Ai love this book?

The Enlightenment is often associated with intellectual changes. But the book sheds a new light on this “Age of Reason” by showing how emotions and feelings played a crucial role in this intellectually and sensorially dynamic period. Purnell tells this change by providing many interesting, and funny, episodes. My favorite, among others, is the seventeenth-century vogue for perfumes made of the excretions of the civet cat or the musk deer, and it was only in the mid-eighteenth century that floral scents became popular. This shift had to do with people’s ideas about health, cleanliness, and naturalness that changed over time. You will learn how and why people in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries thought about the senses, how they experience their sensory world, and how our sensory experience came about over the course of a few hundred years.

By Carolyn Purnell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Blindfolding children from birth. Playing a piano made of live cats. Using tobacco to cure drowning. Wearing "flea"-coloured clothes. These actions seem odd to us but in the eighteenth century they made sense.

As Carolyn Purnell persuasively shows, while our bodies may not change dramatically, the way we think about the senses and put them to use has been rather different over the ages. Journeying through the past three hundred years, Purnell explores how people used their senses in ways that might shock now. Using culinary history, fashion, medicine, music and many other aspects of Enlightenment life, she demonstrates that,…

Book cover of Cigarettes and Soviets: Smoking in the USSR

Brandon M. Schechter Author Of The Stuff of Soldiers: A History of the Red Army in World War II Through Objects

From my list on books about Soviet stuff.

Why am I passionate about this?

Things have always been a window into the past for me, and from an early age I was fascinated by communism as a rejection of the world in which I was raised. Looking at how people from a very different society made and used stuff allows you to access aspects of their experience that are deeply human. As such my research has focused on how people interacted with things as a way to examine how politics, ideology, and major historical events play out on the ground – as a way of capturing individual human experience.

Brandon's book list on books about Soviet stuff

Brandon M. Schechter Why did Brandon love this book?

Starks presents us with a marvelous story of the tortured relationship between Soviet society and smoking. On the one hand, Soviet leadership was generally opposed to smoking – both for health and cultural reasons. On the other hand, smoking became associated with both masculinity and the Revolution. Like many a smoker, Soviet society just couldn’t quit, even as the effects of smoking became more and more apparent.

What I love about this book is how Starks takes something omnipresent and disposable – the cigarette – and tells the story of the Soviet Century through it, touching on such a breadth of topics as gender, labor, political, medical, economic, and cultural history. This is a book you just can’t quit.

By Tricia Starks,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the Southern Conference on Slavic Studies Book Award

Enriched by color reproductions of tobacco advertisements, packs, and anti-smoking propaganda, Cigarettes and Soviets provides a comprehensive study of the Soviet tobacco habit. Tricia Starks examines how the Soviets maintained the first mass smoking society in the world while simultaneously fighting it. The book is at once a study of Soviet tobacco deeply enmeshed in its social, political, and cultural context and an exploration of the global experience of the tobacco epidemic.

Starks examines the Soviet antipathy to tobacco yet capitulation to market; the development of innovative cessation techniques and…

Book cover of Under the Influence: The Literature of Addiction

James Brown Author Of The Los Angeles Diaries: A Memoir

From my list on addiction and recovery from someone who has been there.

Why am I passionate about this?

I took my first hit of marijuana when I was 9. I had my first drink at 12 and my first shot of heroin at 14.  My brother and sister were also alcoholics and ended up taking their own lives. I abused drugs and alcohol for over 30 years, and after many failed attempts to turn my life around, I now have 15 years of continuous sobriety. I’ve also read almost ninety books on the topic of substance abuse and have written several myself about my personal struggles to get clean and sober and stay that way.  Addiction, sadly, is a subject I know all too well.

James' book list on addiction and recovery from someone who has been there

James Brown Why did James love this book?

Using short stories, essays, and memoir selections from such authors as Poe, Tolstoy, Dorthey Parker, and Cheever, this book is an anthology of literature on addiction. Poe’s short story, “The Black Cat,” captures the madness that comes of alcoholism. Tolstoy’s essay offers sage advice about the nature of addiction. A lesser-known but standout story by Donna Steiner, “Sleeping with Alcohol,” teaches us what it’s like to be in love with an alcoholic and watching that person self-destruct. I’m a professor of English, and I used this book in a class I taught called “The Literature of Addiction,” alongside Dirk Hanson’s The Chemical Carousel as a primer for better understanding addiction before launching into stories, essays, and memoirs about it. The short stories in Under the Influence: The Literature of Addiction are entertaining as well as enlightening, and its other selections are just as informative as the books I previously mentioned.

By Rebecca Shannonhouse,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Drawing on two centuries of important literary and historical writings, Rebecca Shannonhouse has shaped a remarkable collection of works that are, in turn, tragic, compelling, hilarious, and enlightening. Together, these selections comprise a profound and truthful portrait of the life experience known as addiction.

Under the Influence offers classic selections from fiction, memoirs, and essays by authors such as Tolstoy, Cheever, Parker, and Poe. Also included are topical gems by writers who illuminate the causes, dangers, pleasures, and public perceptions surrounding people consumed by excessive use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Recent provocative works by Abraham Verghese, the Barthelme brothers,…