The most recommended books about the Underground Railroad

Who picked these books? Meet our 29 experts.

29 authors created a book list connected to the Underground Railroad, and here are their favorite Underground Railroad books.
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What type of Underground Railroad book?



By Ted Chiang,

Book cover of Exhalation

Tom Mustill Author Of How to Speak Whale: The Power and Wonder of Listening to Animals

From the list on escaping into worlds of animal wonder.

Who am I?

I was first a biologist, working with endangered species. Then I switched and spent fifteen years making nature documentaries with people like Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough. Then a humpback whale breached onto me when I was kayaking, this led to a life-changing adventure culminating in my becoming involved in efforts to use AI to translate the communications of whales! I wrote about this for my first book. My great passion was always reading and in becoming a writer I get to go deeper and more playfully into my favorite parts of filmmaking – following heroic and fascinating people on their adventures, reading hundreds of complicated scientific papers, and finding ways to connect these.

Tom's book list on escaping into worlds of animal wonder

Why did Tom love this book?

I'm recommending this entire lovely collection of stories for the one called "The Great Silence". It is told from the perspective of an endangered parrot discussing the Arecibo telescope.

It was written as an installation to be played on the telescope. It's a short story but also an astonishingly punchy compressed non-fiction primer on animal communication, but most importantly it will make you cry and you will read it again and again and again.

By Ted Chiang,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Exhalation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Lean, relentless, and incandescent.' Colson Whitehead, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys

This much-anticipated second collection of stories is signature Ted Chiang, full of revelatory ideas and deeply sympathetic characters. In 'The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate,' a portal through time forces a fabric seller in ancient Baghdad to grapple with past mistakes and the temptation of second chances. In the epistolary 'Exhalation,' an alien scientist makes a shocking discovery with ramifications not just for his own people, but for all of reality. And in 'The Lifecycle of Software Objects,' a woman cares for…

Before She Was Harriet

By Lesa Cline-Ransome, James E. Ransome (illustrator),

Book cover of Before She Was Harriet

Aimee Bissonette Author Of Headstrong Hallie!: The Story of Hallie Morse Daggett, the First Female Fire Guard

From the list on brave and extraordinary women.

Who am I?

I am drawn to stories of women who display a fighting spirit, faith in themselves, and the drive to help others. Perhaps this is due to growing up during the women’s rights movement. So many women paved the way for me. Perhaps it was my upbringing. I was raised with six siblings - three brothers and three sisters – and my parents never thought that my sisters and I couldn’t do something just because we were girls. Combine these experiences with the fact that I love history and you can see why I love these stories. Now I get to write and share stories like these with young readers. Lucky me!

Aimee's book list on brave and extraordinary women

Why did Aimee love this book?

Did I save the best for last? I may have (although I recommend all of these books). This book appeals to me on so many levels. First, it tells the story of an important woman of history who was dauntless in her mission to help others to safety and freedom. Second, the dreamy, lyrical narrative is so different from how so many picture book biographies are written, yet incredibly effective. Third, the art is amazing – especially in its depiction of Harriet as an old woman when her strength was still so evident. And fourth, the story is told in reverse chronology. What a great decision! I use this book often when I teach about nonfiction picture book writing because of this creative approach. Hands down. I love this book.

By Lesa Cline-Ransome, James E. Ransome (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Before She Was Harriet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An evocative poem and stunning watercolors come together to honor an American heroine in a Coretta Scott King Honor and Christopher Award-winning picture book.

We know her today as Harriet Tubman, but in her lifetime she was called by many names. As General Tubman she was a Union spy. As Moses she led hundreds to freedom on the Underground Railroad. As Minty she was a slave whose spirit could not be broken. As Araminta she was a young girl whose father showed her the stars and the first steps on the path to freedom.

This lush, lyrical biography in verse…

Book cover of We Hope for Better Things

Irene Hannon Author Of Labyrinth of Lies

From the list on character-rich reads without sex or swearing.

Who am I?

Long before I earned a degree in psychology, I was fascinated by human relationships and motivations. Since reading novels is an excellent way to delve into the minds of a variety of people, the library became my second home. I well remember my first binge-read—Nancy Drew. I devoured the entire series sitting under a catalpa tree in my grandfather’s backyard. So it’s probably not surprising that I’m now the author of 60+ novels in the romantic suspense and contemporary romance genres—none of which include sex, swear words, or gratuitous violence. Because as suspense superstar Mary Higgins Clark once said, you don’t need any of those to tell a compelling story. 

Irene's book list on character-rich reads without sex or swearing

Why did Irene love this book?

A powerful, riveting, and unputdownable tale of three women from different eras (Civil War to present) that frames the issue of race relations within the context of family relationships, making the subject immensely relatable and deeply touching. Bartels spins this masterful tale with a deft touch and a caring heart to create a stunning debut. Because the characters were so vivid and the emotions so real, this book opened my eyes in new ways to an issue that remains a hot button in today’s society.

By Erin Bartels,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We Hope for Better Things as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A 2020 Michigan Notable Book
2020 WFWA Star Award Winner
2019 Christy Award finalist


"In this powerful first novel . . . Bartels successfully weaves American history into a deeply moving story of heartbreak, long-held secrets, and the bonds of family."--Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"A forbidden interracial marriage, an escaped slave, an expectant mother waiting for her Union soldier to return--all of these stories are deftly told by Bartels, as she explores the hard realities of racism and its many faces during various eras of American history. . . .Compelling characters make this winning debut also appealing for fans…

Re-Understanding Media

By Sarah Sharma (editor), Rianka Singh (editor),

Book cover of Re-Understanding Media: Feminist Extensions of Marshall McLuhan

William J. Buxton Author Of Harold Innis on Peter Pond: Biography, Cultural Memory, and the Continental Fur Trade

From the list on Marshall McLuhan.

Who am I?

William J. Buxton is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Communication Studies and Senior Fellow, Centre for Sensory Studies, at Concordia University Montreal, Qc, Canada. He is also professeur associé au Département d’information et de communication de l’Université Laval, Québec City, Québec, Canada. He has edited and co-edited five books related to the life and works of the Canadian political economist and media theorist, Harold Adams Innis.

William's book list on Marshall McLuhan

Why did William love this book?

Using McLuhan’s classic Understanding Media as a point of reference, the editors have assembled an impressive collection of essays that succeed in critically extending his ideas into a range of new directions. These include the biases of contemporary urban planning, transport (from a race perspective), gendered domestic and office space, and Black feminist activism. While remaining true to the exploratory spirit of McLuhan’s “probes,” the essays demonstrate both the shortcomings and potentialities of his body of work.

By Sarah Sharma (editor), Rianka Singh (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Re-Understanding Media as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The contributors to Re-Understanding Media advance a feminist version of Marshall McLuhan's key text, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, repurposing his insight that "the medium is the message" for feminist ends. They argue that while McLuhan's theory provides a falsely universalizing conception of the technological as a structuring form of power, feminist critics can take it up to show how technologies alter and determine the social experiences of race, gender, class, and sexuality. This volume showcases essays, experimental writings, and interviews from media studies scholars, artists, activists, and those who work with and create technology. Among other topics, the…

The Underground Railroad

By Colson Whitehead,

Book cover of The Underground Railroad

Ciera Horton McElroy Author Of Atomic Family

From the list on historical fiction featuring strong women.

Who am I?

I may be only 27, but I’ve spent years researching the Cold War. Mostly because it’s very personal to me…my grandfather was a scientist at a top-secret hydrogen bomb plant in the 1960s. I began researching to understand his work and how it affected my family. I didn’t expect to become so consumed by the sixties. The more I learned about the nuclear arms race and the protests that were led, largely, by women, the more I felt convinced that there was a story here. I’m passionate about the often untold stories of resistance—resilience—endurance. Especially women’s stories. I hope you enjoy these books as much as I do! 

Ciera's book list on historical fiction featuring strong women

Why did Ciera love this book?

I am including The Underground Railroad as it’s both historical fiction and magical realism—a beautiful surrealist imagining of Civil War history. This inventive novel follows Cora, who is enslaved on a plantation in Georgia. When Cora hears of the underground railroad, she plots her escape—but in this book, the railroad is more than a secret network. It is a real, physical, underground train. Cora must fight for her life and her freedom on a harrowing journey north, evading the slave hunter Ridgeway as he seeks to track her down. Cora’s strength and independence make her a character that will stick with you.

By Colson Whitehead,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Underground Railroad as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?



'Whitehead is on a roll: the reviews have been sublime' Guardian

'Luminous, furious, wildly inventive' Observer

'Hands down one of the best, if not the best, book I've read this year' Stylist

'Dazzling' New York Review of Books

Praised by Barack Obama and an Oprah Book Club Pick, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead won the National Book Award 2016 and the…

Friday Black

By Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah,

Book cover of Friday Black

Steven Sherrill Author Of The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break

From the list on short stories to send your mind into the sublime.

Who am I?

Most of my public success has been as a novelist. My MFA, from the Iowa Writers Workshop, is in poetry. When I grow up, I want to be a short story writer. The dirty truth is, though, I’ve been making trouble with stories since I was a kid. During my first attempt in 10th grade, I wrote a story that got me suspended for two weeks. No explanation. No guidance. Just a conference between my parents, teachers, and principal (I wasn’t present), and they came out and banished me. I dropped out of school shortly after. I reckon that experience, both shameful and delicious, shaped my life and love of narrative.

Steven's book list on short stories to send your mind into the sublime

Why did Steven love this book?

Such a rule breaker. A complete disregard for the laws of nature. That can’t happen! I shouldn’t feel so for those characters! And yet, and yet! The characters that people these pages are real and convincing. Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah takes us in and out of realities. His world is dark sibling to our everyday world, but even his most flawed characters resonate with dignity, and through skillful well-crafted revelation, the reader comes to understand why these characters struggle—often against societal forces larger/older/engrained—and even when his characters make bad decisions (lord knows a misbehaving character is what good fiction is about) a glimmer of the potential for human goodness is exposed. This a contemporary voice, fierce and fresh, and worth paying attention to.

By Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Friday Black as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The instant New York Times bestseller
'An unbelievable debut' New York Times

Racism, but "managed" through virtual reality

Black Friday, except you die in a bargain-crazed throng

Happiness, but pharmacological

Love, despite everything

A Publisher's Weekly Most Anticipated Book for Fall 2018

Friday Black tackles urgent instances of racism and cultural unrest, and explores the many ways we fight for humanity in an unforgiving world. In the first, unforgettable story of this collection, The Finkelstein Five, Adjei-Brenyah gives us an unstinting reckoning of the brutal prejudice of the US justice system. In Zimmer Land we see a far-too-easy-to-believe imagining of…

General Harriet Tubman

By Earl Conrad,

Book cover of General Harriet Tubman

Artika Tyner Author Of The Untold Story of John P. Parker: Underground Railroad Conductor

From the list on champions for racial justice.

Who am I?

I’m a civil rights attorney, author, and lifelong educator. My work has focused on addressing racial disparities in education and criminal justice. I worked on the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice and created restorative justice programs in schools. As a leadership scholar, I read books on remarkable sheroes and heroes. This provides me with keen insights into the leadership characteristics of changemakers while developing the tools to better understand how to build and sustain social change.

Artika's book list on champions for racial justice

Why did Artika love this book?

General Harriet Tubman provides an in-depth look at Tubman’s leadership legacy.

You discover her passion for justice and commitment to ensuring freedom for all. Most publications on Tubman focus on her role in the Underground Railroad. Her courage and tenacity helped many to break free from the bondage of slavery. This is only one dimension of her life. She was also a spy for the Union Army.

In addition, she helped to organize a community in Canada for hundreds who had escaped from slavery and reclaimed their liberty.

By Earl Conrad,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked General Harriet Tubman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Written by Earl Conrad and originally published by Carter G. Woodson and the The Associated Publishers in 1943 and 1990, General Harriet Tubman is a well-researched and documented biography.  It draws on the accounts of Tubman's living relatives and others with expert knowledge of the period in which she lived.  Perhaps, for this reason, in his Acknowledgements for the first edition, Conrad likened the book to Tubman herself:  "Scores of people have contributed to the information, the understanding, and diverse other assistance that has been necessary in effecting this complete life of Harriet Tubman.  I could not possibly call it…

The Noble Hustle

By Colson Whitehead,

Book cover of The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky and Death

Jonathan Grotenstein Author Of Ship It Holla Ballas! How a Bunch of 19-Year-Old College Dropouts Used the Internet to Become Poker's Loudest, Craziest, and Richest Crew

From the list on high-stakes poker for people who hate math.

Who am I?

As the kid of tournament bridge and Scrabble players, I’ve been hooked on games my whole life. None more so than poker, which has helped me make a living both at the tables and as a writer. I’m currently working on a TV adaptation of Ship It Holla Ballas!  

Jonathan's book list on high-stakes poker for people who hate math

Why did Jonathan love this book?

In a self-conscious effort to re-enact Positively Fifth Street’s reimagining of the writer’s journey, Grantland Magazine assigned Colson Whitehead to cover the 2011 World Series in exchange for the $10,000 entry fee. He falls short of matching McManus’ success on the felt, but that’s not really the point: the meat is in the interaction between the poker and Whitehead’s struggle with depression. Which might be unbearable in the hands of anyone other than Colson Whitehead, maybe the best there is at crafting sentences that will make you laugh and wince at the same time.

By Colson Whitehead,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys • “Whitehead proves a brilliant sociologist of the poker world.” —The Boston Globe

In 2011, Grantland magazine gave bestselling novelist Colson Whitehead $10,000 to play at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. It was the assignment of a lifetime, except for one hitch—he’d never played in a casino tournament before. With just six weeks to train, our humble narrator took the Greyhound to Atlantic City to learn the ways of high-stakes Texas Hold’em.

Poker culture, he discovered, is marked by joy, heartbreak, and grizzled…


By Noah Gordon,

Book cover of Shaman

Rose Osterman Kleidon Author Of 1836: Year of Escape

From the list on immigration in the 1800s.

Who am I?

By chance, I was entrusted with rare historical documents about the immigrant generations in our family, which inspired this novel and grounded it in reality. Who wouldn’t wonder why they came? Besides, I have always been fascinated by pre-modern times and how steam power changed everything and dragged us along, kicking and screaming. And, even though they arrived in America in 1836, I grew up on the farm where they lived, so I heard tales of their amazing journey. It may be 186 years on, but it’s time to tell their story, which, it turns out, is a story for us all.  

Rose's book list on immigration in the 1800s

Why did Rose love this book?

Winner of the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for historical fiction, Shaman immerses readers in post-Revolution America of the 1830s, when Illinois was on a frontier defined by the Mississippi River. The characters include a doctor who fled from political turmoil in Scotland, members of the Sauk Indian tribe, runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad, and xenophobic Know-Nothings, a stew of intensifying forces that will lead to Civil War. The novel’s historical accuracy enhances it, and intertwined stories of two doctors, father and son, shine a light on a fascinating era.

By Noah Gordon,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Robert Jeremy Cole, the legendary doctor and hero of THE PHYSICIAN, left an enduring legacy. From the eleventh century on, the eldest son in each generation of the Cole family has borne the same first name and middle initial and many of these men have followed the medical profession. A few have been blessed with their ancestor's diagnostic skill and the 'sixth sense' they call The Gift, the ability to know instinctively when death is impending.
The tragedy of Rob J.'s life is the deafness of his son, Robert Jefferson Cole, who is called Shaman by everyone who knows him.…


By Carol Boston Weatherford, Kadir Nelson (illustrator),

Book cover of Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom

Artika Tyner Author Of The Untold Story of John P. Parker: Underground Railroad Conductor

From the list on champions for racial justice.

Who am I?

I’m a civil rights attorney, author, and lifelong educator. My work has focused on addressing racial disparities in education and criminal justice. I worked on the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice and created restorative justice programs in schools. As a leadership scholar, I read books on remarkable sheroes and heroes. This provides me with keen insights into the leadership characteristics of changemakers while developing the tools to better understand how to build and sustain social change.

Artika's book list on champions for racial justice

Why did Artika love this book?

Moses was her name because she was determined to see her people set free.

Drawing upon the biblical Moses, the book outlines the parallels between the lives of Moses (who led his people to the Promised Land) and Harriet Tubman (who was guided to freedom by the North Star). This book provides children with the inspiration to serve as leaders. They recognize that they too can combine faith and freedom to make a difference in the world.

By Carol Boston Weatherford, Kadir Nelson (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A Caldecott Honor Book
A Coretta Scott King Award Winner

From a highly acclaimed author and bestselling artist comes a resounding, reverent tribute to Harriet Tubman, the woman who earned the name Moses for her heroic role in the Underground Railroad.
I set the North Star in the heavens and I mean for you to be free...

Born into slavery, Harriet Tubman hears these words from God one summer night and decides to leave her husband and family behind and escape. Taking with her only her faith, she must creep through woods with hounds at her feet, sleep for days…

Book cover of The Search for the Underground Railroad in Upstate New York

Jonathan T. Jefferson Author Of Echoes from the Farm

From the list on rural life in upstate New York.

Who am I?

Born in 1969 as the seventh of eight children to two Harlem-raised parents, I benefited from both the inner-city life of Queens, New York and childhood summers spent on a farm in rural upstate New York. Academic, professional, and physical accomplishments have punctuated my life. An adventurer by nature, I became the first African American to hike to the top of every mountain in the northeast US over 4,000' (115 of them) by September of 2000. At that time, less than 400 people had accomplished this feat; whereas thousands have scaled Mount Everest. My home city’s iconic landmarks create a psychological veil that blinds people to the vast open spaces that dominate New York State. 

Jonathan's book list on rural life in upstate New York

Why did Jonathan love this book?

This well-researched book presents a balanced account of the true heroism performed by escaped slaves, church abolishionists, anti-slavery societies, and vigilance committees to free their fellow citizens. Myths related to tunnels, quilts, and yard statues are explained, as well as the legendary contributions of John Brown and Harriet Tubman. My life’s travels have unknowingly placed me on the path of the underground railroad countless times. From shopping with my family as a child in Ogdensburg where African Americans crossed the St. Lawrence River into Canada to have owned properties in Essex, Clinton, and Franklin Counties along the trails to liberation.  

By Tom Calarco,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Search for the Underground Railroad in Upstate New York as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A historian investigates evidence for the existence of the Underground Railroad in upstate New York.

Because of its clandestine nature, much of the history of the Underground Railroad remains shrouded in secrecy—so much so that some historians have even doubted its importance. After decades of research, Tom Calarco recounts his experiences compiling evidence to give credence to the legend’s oral history in upstate New York.

As the Civil War loomed and politicians from the North and South debated the fate of slavery, brave New Yorkers risked their lives to help fugitive slaves escape bondage. Whites and Blacks alike worked together…

72 Hour Hold

By Bebe Moore Campbell,

Book cover of 72 Hour Hold

Bobi Gentry Goodwin Author Of Revelation: A Novel

From the list on getting your heart, mind, and spirit inspired.

Who am I?

I’ve been a reader since childhood and books have simply become a part of my life’s tapestry. They have comforted me in times of stress. They have provided me with ripples of joy. And simply kept me up almost all night. The books that I have recommended underscore the changing cultures of the human condition all centered around three universal themes, faith, mental illness, and family. When drafting my first novel I dived into simply capturing aspects of the human condition. As a mental health clinician I see the many tides of life and how the human condition has many times been couched within family dynamics. 

Bobi's book list on getting your heart, mind, and spirit inspired

Why did Bobi love this book?

This novel changed the way I looked a mental illness. Campbell was a tremendous author and her prose is clearly highlighted in this heart-wrenching novel about how mental illness not only impacts the sufferer but ricochets and touches everyone around them. 72 Hour Hold is an important timeless work that helps to uncover what many have suspected or even known about what their family members fight behaviorally and in the shadows of their minds. Depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety are real and so are the families they impact. What families experience and what we openly discuss are sometimes two separate realities. Pick up this book and see why Campbell attempts to pull the covers off of mental illness and discover just why mental health matters. As a mental health clinician and author sometimes seeing what the issue looks like can dive deeper that any label. 

By Bebe Moore Campbell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 72 Hour Hold as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • "A tightly woven, well-written story about mothers and daughters, highs and lows, ex-husbands and boyfriends.... Universally touching." —San Francisco Chronicle

Trina is eighteen and suffers from bi-polar disorder, making her paranoid, wild, and violent. Frightened by her own child, Keri searches for help, quickly learning that the mental health community can only offer her a seventy-two hour hold. After these three days Trina is off on her own again.

Fed up with the bureaucracy and determined to save her daughter by any means necessary, Keri signs on for an illegal intervention known as The Program,…

Embers on the Wind

By Lisa Williamson Rosenberg,

Book cover of Embers on the Wind

C.J. Washington Author Of The Intangible

From the list on the fluidity of reality.

Who am I?

My background is in computer science, specifically artificial intelligence. As a student, I was most interested in how our knowledge of the human brain could inform AI and vice versa. As such, I read as much neuroscience and psychology as I could and spent a lot of time thinking about how our minds create reality out of our senses. I always appreciate a novel that explores the fluidity of reality.

C.J.'s book list on the fluidity of reality

Why did C.J. love this book?

A routine tale told in a familiar way can be comforting and satisfying.

Embers on the Wind is a different kind of thrill altogether. The story is fresh, the characters are multifaceted, and the storytelling is original. When I picked up this novel, I knew only that it was about a purportedly haunted home that had once been part of the Underground Railroad. I had no idea what I was in for or the wild ride the author would take me on.

Each character perceives reality a bit differently, and those differences make big waves. It's best to be surprised by a novel like this, so I won't say any more than that it's thought-provoking and entertaining at once.

By Lisa Williamson Rosenberg,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Embers on the Wind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The past and the present converge in this enthralling, serpentine tale of women connected by motherhood, slavery's legacy, and histories that span centuries.

In 1850 in Massachusetts, Whittaker House stood as a stop on the Underground Railroad. It's where two freedom seekers, Little Annie and Clementine, hid and perished. Whittaker House still stands, and Little Annie and Clementine still linger, their dreams of freedom unfulfilled.

Now a fashionably distressed vacation rental in the Berkshires, Whittaker House draws seekers of another kind: Black women who only appear to be free. Among them are Dominique, a single mother following her grand-mere's stories…

The Water Dancer

By Ta-Nehisi Coates,

Book cover of The Water Dancer

Judith Reifsteck Author Of Memoried and Storied: Healing our Shared History of Racial Violence

From the list on the power of memory to heal racial trauma.

Who am I?

I love writing and teaching about topics that help me understand my life and my community better. And I love to contemplate the question - How do we come to care about the same things? As a psychotherapist I have firsthand experience in the disruption that any type of violence causes until it's repaired. One way to advocate for the vulnerable who do not have protection in their communities is to tell the story of the silent, unknown victims of lynching and other acts of racism and racial violence. Only by memorializing the stories of the victims of racial injustice can we repair the trauma and tell the true story of structural racism in America today.

Judith's book list on the power of memory to heal racial trauma

Why did Judith love this book?

This beautiful story tells the tale of Hiram Walker. Hiram is the fictional biracial slave who escapes his life of slavery on a Virginia plantation and learns to nurture his spiritual gifts to be a Moses to other Freedmen escaping the horrors of slavery.

He is the son of an enslaved woman and the white plantation owner. Such parentage was common during the era of slavery and the slave trade in the U.S. Many plantation owners enslaved, owned, tortured, beat, sold, and traded away their own children.

Through Hiram we see the mystical gifts of the African oral tradition to use memory as a tool to survive. This transmission of African culture occurs through the daily practice of song, prayer, dance, and most importantly, ancestor veneration, through stories, belief, and faith. The oppressive slave owners knew little of the power of these immutable tools.

Hiram describes the mystical power this…

By Ta-Nehisi Coates,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?



'One of the best books I have ever read in my entire life. I haven't felt this way since I first read Beloved . . .' Oprah Winfrey

Lose yourself in the stunning debut novel everyone is talking about - the unmissable historical story of injustice and redemption that resonates powerfully today

Hiram Walker is a man with a secret, and a war to win. A war for the right to life, to family, to freedom.

Born into bondage on a Virginia plantation, he is also born gifted with a…

Book cover of Women in the World of Frederick Douglass

Laurence Fenton Author Of Frederick Douglass in Ireland

From the list on the life of Frederick Douglass.

Who am I?

I am a writer and editor living in Cork, Ireland. I have a PhD in history from University College Cork and am the author of four books, including two on the African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass. I have been fascinated by Douglass ever since I discovered he travelled through Ireland as a young man, a tour that coincided with the onset of the Great Irish Famine. Douglass will also appear in the book I am currently writing, ‘Freedom’s Exiles’: The Poets, Plotters and Rebels and Who Found Refuge in Victorian Britain.

Laurence's book list on the life of Frederick Douglass

Why did Laurence love this book?

A self-proclaimed ‘woman’s rights man’, Douglass was one of the few men to attend the famous Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls in New York in 1848 – the starting point of the women’s rights movement in the US. His connection to women, however, went far deeper than mere political support. Douglass, indeed, always felt more comfortable in the company of women than men, be they Black or white, family members, friends, or fellow activists. This book gives us a fuller picture of these women than ever before. It is particularly strong on Anna Murray, the free Black woman who was Douglass’s first wife. Anna played a pivotal role in Douglass’s escape from Maryland in 1838. She later spent many more years spiriting enslaved people along the Underground Railroad.  

By Leigh Fought,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women in the World of Frederick Douglass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In his extensive writings-editorials, speeches, autobiographies-Frederick Douglass revealed little about the private side of his life. His famous autobiographies were very much in the service of presenting and advocating for himself. But Douglass had a very complicated array of relationships with women: white and black, wives and lovers, mistresses-owners, and sisters and daughters. And this great man deeply needed them all at various turns in a turbulent life
that was never so linear and self-made as he often wished to portray it.

In this book, Leigh Fought aims to reveal more about the life of the famed abolitionist off the…

Book cover of A Freedom Such as Heaven Intended

Ellen Gable Author Of Julia's Gifts

From the list on military romance for learning about history.

Who am I?

One of the reasons I enjoy writing historical novels is because I’ve always loved history. I enjoy creating characters and settings based on real-life incidents. I’m also involved in genealogy and find that kind of history fascinating. Reading about incidents (or like Dragnets Joe Friday used to say, "Just the facts, ma’am,") can be dry and boring. When a reader can experience history through fictional characters, history becomes more immersive than the dry accounts of a historical event. It’s entertaining to be able to take oneself back in time to a world with few modern conveniences and fewer distractions of media. While the reader is entertained, they can also learn about history in the process.

Ellen's book list on military romance for learning about history

Why did Ellen love this book?

A Freedom Such as Heaven Intended is a wonderful book whose main character is an educated biracial slave woman who escapes the abuse of her owner by enlisting the help of conductors of the Underground Railroad. This beautiful book, part of a series of five books, gives the reader an excellent glimpse into the life of a black woman during the Civil War, so I learned a great deal about a runaway slave’s plight during the Civil War.

By Amanda Lauer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Freedom Such as Heaven Intended as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER, Catholic Inspirational Novels, 2022 CMA Book Awards
Despite her royal heritage, Alice is the third generation of women in her family to be enslaved — and the last, if she has any say in it. The only thing standing between her and freedom is a certain Confederate soldier, First Lieutenant Marshall Kent. Follow Alice and Marshall’s story as mistrust turns to trust and a sense of admiration turns to something more as they navigate life during the last year of the Civil War.

In the Upper Country

By Kai Thomas,

Book cover of In the Upper Country

Gail Nyoka Author Of Voices of the Ancestors: Stories & Lore From Ghana’s Volta Region

From Gail's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Assumption exploder Teller of tales Forest walker Kemeticist Circle dancer

Gail's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Gail love this book?

How could I not love a book where stories are found within stories? There’s a mystery here, too, one which I didn’t guess until the end of the book.

The old woman is a mystery herself. At first, she seems incomprehensible, her actions arbitrary. Then, I started to warm up to her, wishing her freedom against the odds. Here’s the forgotten history of a bond between Black and Indigenous people under colonial rule. The writing is powerful. The stories are powerful.  

By Kai Thomas,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


'Fresh and propulsive . . . a testament to the power of story and a veneration of those whose tales are often forgotten' New York Times

Freedom, you can't get and bury, and keep it and keep it so it won't ever go away.
No, child.
You got to swing your freedom like a club.

In 1859, deep in the forests of Canada, an elderly woman sits behind bars. She came to Dunmore…

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt

By Deborah Hopkinson, James E. Ransome (illustrator),

Book cover of Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt

Susan Goldman Rubin Author Of The Quilts of Gee's Bend

From the list on quilting created by African American women.

Who am I?

I first saw the quilts of Gee’s Bend at the Whitney Museum in New York. I was wowed! I viewed the quilts as works of art and included some in a book I was doing, Art Against the Odds: From Slave Quilts to Prison Paintings. But I wanted to show and tell more about the quilters. Who were these women who dreamed up incredible designs and made art out of scraps despite their poverty and hard lives? Since I never quilted I had to find out how they did it, and realized that quilting not only produced covers for their families, but expressed individual creativity, and brought women together.

Susan's book list on quilting created by African American women

Why did Susan love this book?

Clara’s story is powerful and suspenseful. Written in the first person, she tells about her life as an enslaved twelve-year-old girl who has been separated from her Momma and sent from North Farm to the Home Plantation. Although this is fiction, it is based on the history of African American quilters. For Clara, quilting means drawing a map with stitches and fabric that ultimately becomes a “freedom map,” enabling her to escape with her friend, Young Jack, and find her Momma and freedom.  The warm, luminous illustrations by James Ransome bring Clara, Young Jack, and her map to life. Ransome visited a plantation in Virginia for research, and in the process he discovered enslaved ancestors. This book is a must for readers of all ages.

By Deborah Hopkinson, James E. Ransome (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An inspiring tale of creativity and determination on the Underground Railroad from Coretta Scott King Award winner James Ransome and acclaimed author Deborah Hopkinson.

Clara, a slave and seamstress on Home Plantation, dreams of freedom—not just for herself, but for her family and friends. When she overhears a conversation about the Underground Railroad, she has a flash of inspiration. Using scraps of cloth from her work in the Big House and scraps of information gathered from other slaves, she fashions a map that the master would never even recognize. . . .

From the award-winning author-illustrator team of Deborah Hopkinson…

The Underground Rail Road

By William Still,

Book cover of The Underground Rail Road

John Ernest Author Of A Nation Within a Nation: Organizing African American Communities before the Civil War

From the list on early African American community activism.

Who am I?

Good question. Why would a white guy be passionate about nineteenth-century African American community building and activism? It’s a long story, but the short version is that by the time I reached graduate school, I could no longer avoid the realization that I had been dramatically miseducated about American history, and that the key to American history—one important key, anyway—is African American history. You can’t understand what it means to be an American if you don’t know this history, and you can’t understand our own very troubled times, or how to respond to these times, how to turn frustration into action, unless you know this history. So I developed my expertise over the years. 

John's book list on early African American community activism

Why did John love this book?

If you’re interested in nineteenth-century African American activism, then you should read something by someone directly involved in that work. William Still, based in Philadelphia, was involved in a great many social-reform efforts, but he is known today primarily for his work with the Underground Railroad—an institution that was itself a blend of fact and fiction, history and legend. In this book, Still tells the story of a number of individuals who successfully escaped from enslavement, some of them with organized assistance, and others who managed on their own before reaching the networks available to them once they reached Philadelphia and Still’s network of committed antislavery workers.

Since the book is comprised primarily of these many individual stories, and with no discernible organizing principle, this can be a challenging book to read from the first page to the last. But that won’t stop you, and you might find yourself replicating…

By William Still,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Excerpt from The Underground Rail Road: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters, &C., Narrating the Hardships, Hair-Breadth Escapes and Death Struggles of the Slaves in Their Efforts for Freedom, as Related by Themselves and Others, or Witnessed by the Author

Resolved, That the Pennsylvania anti-slavery Society request him to compile and publish his personal reminiscences and experiences relating to the Underground Rail Road.

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