The most recommended books about West Africa

Who picked these books? Meet our 26 experts.

26 authors created a book list connected to West Africa, and here are their favorite West Africa books.
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What type of West Africa book?


Anansi the Spider

By Gerald McDermott,

Book cover of Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti

Kwame Nyong'o Author Of A Tasty Maandazi

From the list on what life is like in Africa for children.

Who am I?

As a Kenyan/American raised in both countries, I noticed growing up that there was very little creative content about Africa. Whilst in Kenya, I experienced much joy and fun in the culture and felt that other people in other parts of the world would also enjoy it. Loving reading, drawing, comics, and movies, I felt it would be useful to create such content about Africa. I was very fortunate to study arts at an undergraduate and graduate level in the US. This formal training, combined with extensive travel around Africa and the diaspora, has informed my sense of book and film creation and appreciation. I hope you enjoy this book list that I’ve curated!

Kwame's book list on what life is like in Africa for children

Why did Kwame love this book?

Anansi the Spider is one of the classic African stories that inspired me to go into storytelling as a career. Reading this book, and watching its animated counterpart as a child, totally enthralled me. The combination of the bright, bold colours and graphical aesthetic, with the mystique of the folklore felt just like magic to me. The fable told here comes off as profound yet funny and quirky. This book is a must for anyone interested in fables and African folklore in particular.

By Gerald McDermott,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Anansi, one of the great folk heroes of the world, is saved from a terrible fate by his six sons in this traditional tale from West Africa.


By Clive Cussler,

Book cover of Sahara

Graham Smith Author Of The Flood

From the list on where the weather is a character and a foe.

Who am I?

I am a novelist with a passion for reading and it is this which I feel qualifies me to speak on this topic. My reading is eclectic across the crime/mystery genre and there’s nothing I love more than a book that sucks me right into the same world its characters inhabit, something all five of my choices did. As a novelist I appreciate the way these novels all use the weather conditions to add an extra layer of threat to the protagonists and it’s something I’ve always wanted to emulate.

Graham's book list on where the weather is a character and a foe

Why did Graham love this book?

One of Cussler’s earlier novels featuring Dirk Pitt, Cussler sends his erstwhile hero deep into a desert landscape where he throws all manner of problems at them.

As Pitt and co battle to survive the harsh conditions, they are tested to the limit as they must not only escape the arid landscape, but do in time to foil a dastardly plot. While perhaps not as much of a literary heavyweight as some of the other authors mentioned on this list, Cussler is brilliant at writing a rollicking good yarn.

By Clive Cussler,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The eleventh classic Dirk Pitt novel, where the adventurer is drawn to a secret in the burning African desert, which could destroy all life in the world's seas.


Deep in the African desert, Dirk Pitt discovers that a top secret scientific installation is leaking a lethal chemical into the rivers, threatening to kill thousands of people - and to destroy all life in the world's seas.

To warn the world of the catastrophe, Pitt must escape capture and death at the hands of a ruthless West African dictator and French industrialist, and undertake a…

Master of Poisons

By Andrea Hairston,

Book cover of Master of Poisons

Jess Barber Author Of Reckoning 2

From the list on climate disaster.

Who am I?

I'm a speculative fiction writer who often works within the genre of "climate fiction." I grew up in southern Appalachia; my hometown is a lovely place, surrounded by the beauty and wildness of the Smoky Mountains. It also happens to be centered around a chemical company where a large portion of the town works, including my father and, for a brief time, myself. I've been fascinated with the dichotomy of nature and industry for a long time, and have spent years exploring these themes in my own work.

Jess' book list on climate disaster

Why did Jess love this book?

My favorite fantasy books are always ones that use the lens of genre to help us better understand the world we live in, and Master of Poisons accomplishes this with bells on. An epic fantasy set in a world where climate disaster looms, Master of Poisons draws from Hairston's extensive research and experience in West African, African-American, and Indigenous cultures to weave a rich narrative tapestry that casts an unflinching eye on sources of evil and cruelty, while still always finding a way to offer hope.

By Andrea Hairston,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“This is a prayer hymn, a battle cry, a love song, a legendary call and response bonfire talisman tale. This is medicine for a broken world." —Daniel José Older

Named a Best of 2020 Pick for Kirkus Review's Best Books of 2020

Award-winning author Andrea Hairston weaves together African folktales and postcolonial literature into unforgettable fantasy in Master of Poisons

The world is changing. Poison desert eats good farmland. Once-sweet water turns foul. The wind blows sand and sadness across the Empire. To get caught in a storm is death. To live and do nothing is death. There is magic…

Born in Blackness

By Howard W. French,

Book cover of Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War

Noel Keough Author Of Sustainability Matters: Prospects for a Just Transition in Calgary, Canada’s Petro-City

From the list on myth demonstrating why sustainability matters.

Who am I?

Injustice has always motivated my research and activism. I have always been fascinated by nature and by the complexity of cities. For 25 years I have pursued these passions through the lens of sustainability. In 1996, I co-founded the not-for-profit Sustainable Calgary Society. My extensive work and travel in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, have given me a healthy skepticism of the West’s dominant cultural myths of superiority and benevolence and a keen awareness of the injustice of the global economic order. My book selections shed light on these myths and suggest alternative stories of where we come from, who we are, and who we might become. 

Noel's book list on myth demonstrating why sustainability matters

Why did Noel love this book?

In these times of Black Lives Matter, emboldened white-supremicists, and with European dominance descendant, Born into Blackness is a revelatory and blunt dose of historical reality. I was not fully aware of the centrality of the slave economy in Europe’s rise to global dominance. Most importantly, I was ignorant of the level of cultural, political, and economic sophistication of the African nations when the Portuguese first explored the west coast of Africa. I had some understanding of the Haitian revolution and its manifestation of the enlightenment ideals, but this book opened my eyes to the historical ripples of the revolution: the Louisiana purchase, ceding much of present-day Southern US from Napoleon’s France; the sale and forced-march of thousands of slaves into the cotton-growing south, fueling an economic take-off that made the US an imperial power.

By Howard W. French,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In a sweeping narrative that traverses 600 years, one that eloquently weaves precise historical detail with poignant personal reportage, Pulitzer Prize finalist Howard W. French retells the story of medieval and emerging Africa, demonstrating how the economic ascendancy of Europe, the anchoring of democracy in America and the fulfillment of so-called Enlightenment ideals all grew out of Europe's dehumanising engagement with the "darkest" continent.

Born in Blackness dramatically retrieves the lives of major African historical figures whose stories have been repeatedly etiolated and erased over centuries, from unimaginably rich medieval African emperors who traded with Asia; to Kongo sovereigns who…

Undercurrents of Power

By Kevin Dawson,

Book cover of Undercurrents of Power: Aquatic Culture in the African Diaspora

Helen M. Rozwadowski Author Of Vast Expanses: A History of the Oceans

From the list on human's relationships with the underwater world.

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated with the ocean starting when I was a kid growing up on the Great Lakes. While I sailed and swam in Lake Erie’s freshwater, I dreamed of and read about oceans. My career as a historian and writer has been dedicated to exploring the human relationship with the ocean, especially the underwater realm so often left out of maritime history and literature. My greatest joy is that other historians have joined my quest. The books I’ve selected include some I used as sources in writing ocean history and others by historians who are themselves plumbing the ocean’s depths. 

Helen's book list on human's relationships with the underwater world

Why did Helen love this book?

This important and revealing book conveys the untold history of West Africans and their relationship with the ocean, including the underwater realm, from before New World slavery and extending around the Atlantic as enslaved African swimmers and divers carried their skills and the culture associated with them in the African diaspora. Kevin Dawson’s story is not only fascinating but also firmly discredits the false and insidious belief that Blacks are naturally poor swimmers and demonstrates instead the long and proud traditions of West African knowledge and use of the undersea.

By Kevin Dawson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Long before the rise of New World slavery, West Africans were adept swimmers, divers, canoe makers, and canoeists. They lived along riverbanks, near lakes, or close to the ocean. In those waterways, they became proficient in diverse maritime skills, while incorporating water and aquatics into spiritual understandings of the world. Transported to the Americas, slaves carried with them these West African skills and cultural values. Indeed, according to Kevin Dawson's examination of water culture in the African diaspora, the aquatic abilities of people of African descent often surpassed those of Europeans and their descendants from the age of discovery until…

Book cover of Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean, 1570-1640

Juan José Ponce Vázquez Author Of Islanders and Empire: Smuggling and Political Defiance in Hispaniola, 1580–1690

From the list on the Spanish Caribbean in the early colonial period.

Who am I?

I was born and raised in Sevilla, Spain, a city with profound ties to Spain’s colonial past in the Americas. Since college I've been fascinated by colonial history. Being a little contrarian, while most Latin American colonial scholars I knew focused on Mexico and Peru (the richest Spanish colonies in the so-called “New World”) I decided to focus my attention on their polar opposite: less prosperous colonies (from the perspective of the crown anyway), island societies, and places that were relegated to the margins. I love learning about the men and women in these colonial societies and trying to tell their stories to the best of my abilities.

Juan's book list on the Spanish Caribbean in the early colonial period

Why did Juan love this book?

A multiple award-winning book that has given new wings to the field of early Caribbean history. Wheat’s insightful book forces to reckon with the extraordinarily close links between the Spanish Caribbean and the African slave trade in which Portuguese merchants played a crucial role. Even though local and peninsular Spaniards ruled, Afrodescendant men and women did most of the labor, cultivated most of the land, defended the colonies against other European powers, and constituted an overwhelming majority of the population, both enslaved and free. The early Spanish colonization of the region started a pattern of profound African cultural influence in the Caribbean that endures until today.

By David Wheat,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean, 1570-1640 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This work resituates the Spanish Caribbean as an extension of the Luso-African Atlantic world from the late sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century, when the union of the Spanish and Portuguese crowns facilitated a surge in the transatlantic slave trade. After the catastrophic decline of Amerindian populations on the islands, two major African provenance zones, first Upper Guinea and then Angola, contributed forced migrant populations with distinct experiences to the Caribbean. They played a dynamic role in the social formation of early Spanish colonial society in the fortified port cities of Cartagena de Indias, Havana, Santo Domingo, and Panama City and…

One Plastic Bag

By Miranda Paul, Elizabeth Zunon (illustrator),

Book cover of One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia

Patricia Newman Author Of A River's Gifts: The Mighty Elwha River Reborn

From the list on conservation that give readers hope.

Who am I?

I write nonfiction books for children and teens that focus on current environmental stories. But environmental headlines are usually gloomy and filled with foreboding, so, I prefer to focus on stories that involve individuals identifying an environmental problem and working to develop a solution – hence this list of happy conservation stories. The stories in this list – and many others are the antidote to the headlines. They are the hope. They show human ingenuity at its most creative, most flexible, and most caring. Happy conservation stories empower kids, teens, and adults to care about the role they play in nature and unite them in action. 

Patricia's book list on conservation that give readers hope

Why did Patricia love this book?

I love stories of positive change. They give me hope that humans can see themselves as part of nature rather than apart from it.

One Plastic Bag is special because it focuses on how one person addressed the problem of plastic pollution and instituted change with small steps that created a big impact. If we are to coexist with nature, we must realize each of us have something to contribute.

By Miranda Paul, Elizabeth Zunon (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The inspiring true story of how one African woman began a movement to recycle the plastic bags that were polluting her community.

Plastic bags are cheap and easy to use. But what happens when a bag breaks or is no longer needed? In Njau, Gambia, people simply dropped the bags and went on their way. One plastic bag became two. Then ten. Then a hundred.

The bags accumulated in ugly heaps alongside roads. Water pooled in them, bringing mosquitoes and disease. Some bags were burned, leaving behind a terrible smell. Some were buried, but they strangled gardens. They killed livestock…

The Healers

By Ayi Kwei Armah,

Book cover of The Healers

Onyeka Nubia Author Of Blackamoores: Africans in Tudor England, Their Presence, Status and Origins

From the list on history books about everyone and for everyone.

Who am I?

Dr. Onyeka Nubia is a pioneering and internationally recognised historian, writer, and presenter. He is reinventing our perceptions of diversity, the Renaissance, and British history. Onyeka is the leading historian on the status and origins of Africans in pre-colonial England from antiquity to 1603. He has helped academia and the general public to entirely new perspectives on otherness, colonialism, imperialism, and World Wars I and II. He has written over fifty articles on Englishness, Britishness, and historical method and they have appeared in the most popular UK historical magazines and periodicals including History Today and BBC History Magazine. Onyeka has been a consultant and presenter for several television programmes on BBC.

Onyeka's book list on history books about everyone and for everyone

Why did Onyeka love this book?

If there is one book you read on: colonialism, pre-colonial West Africa, and African traditional religions, let it be this one. The Healers is fiction, but it reads like a storybook-documentary, with moments of tragedy, horror, and despair unfolding on every page. Above all Armah shows, that Africans had civilizations and culture and that they were capable of resisting European hegemony. This book is a fluid, poetic and masterful classic.   

By Ayi Kwei Armah,

Why should I read it?

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

The American South

By Charles Reagan Wilson,

Book cover of The American South: A Very Short Introduction

Mike Bunn Author Of Fourteenth Colony: The Forgotten Story of the Gulf South During America's Revolutionary Era

From Mike's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Historian Writer Reader Traveler Educator

Mike's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Mike love this book?

I love the economy of words. Say what you mean, say it clearly, and say it concisely to have the most impact.

Charles Reagan Wilson’s “very short introduction” to the American South checks all those boxes but manages to present a panorama of regional history stretching back for centuries in a slim 126 pages. The book is printed in a small format so diminutive that it could almost fit in one’s pocket. But readers should not be fooled by the size of the publication.

It is packed with information about the cultural, social, political, and economic history of the distinctive region that is its focus and a surprisingly thorough and comprehensive overview of the region’s past. A great introduction, indeed. 

By Charles Reagan Wilson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The American South is a distinctive place with a dramatic history, and has significance beyond its regional context in the twenty first century. The American South: A Very Short Introduction explores the history of the South as a cultural crossroads, a meeting place between western Europe and West Africa. The South's beginnings illuminate the expansion of Europe into the New World, creating a colonial slave society that distinguished it from other parts of
the United States but fostered commonalities with other colonial societies. The Civil War and civil rights movement transformed the South in differing ways and remain a part…

Origins of a Creole

By Bart Jacobs,

Book cover of Origins of a Creole: The History of Papiamentu and Its African Ties

Jeroen Dewulf Author Of From the Kingdom of Kongo to Congo Square: Kongo Dances and the Origins of the Mardi Gras Indians

From the list on Atlantic cultural history.

Who am I?

I am a philologist with a passion for Atlantic cultural history. What started with a research project on the African-American Pinkster tradition and the African community in seventeenth-century Dutch Manhattan led me to New Orleans’ Congo Square and has meanwhile expanded to the African Atlantic islands, the Caribbean, and Latin America. With fluency in several foreign languages, I have tried to demonstrate in my publications that we can achieve a better understanding of Black cultural and religious identity formation in the Americas by adopting a multilingual and Atlantic perspective. 

Jeroen's book list on Atlantic cultural history

Why did Jeroen love this book?

This book studies Atlantic cultural history from the perspective of language, with a focus on Curaçao. A unique characteristic of this small Caribbean island is that its colonial rulers spoke Dutch, whereas the Black population used an Afro-Iberian creole called Papiamentu as its lingua franca. Jacob’s study embarks on an intriguing quest for the origins of this language, tracing it back to Portuguese-based creoles from the Cape Verde Islands and the nearby African West Coast. It argues that this seventeenth-century Portuguese-based creole later underwent significant Spanish influence and thereby constitutes a case of “reduplicated language contact.”

By Bart Jacobs,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This study embarks on the intriguing quest for the origins of the Caribbean creole language Papiamentu. In the literature on the issue, widely diverging hypotheses have been advanced, but scholars have not come close to a consensus. The present study casts new and long-lasting light on the issue, putting forward compelling interdisciplinary evidence that Papiamentu is genetically related to the Portuguese-based creoles of the Cape Verde Islands, Guinea-Bissau, and Casamance (Senegal). Following the trans-Atlantic transfer of native speakers to Curacao in the latter half of the 17th century, the Portuguese-based proto-variety underwent a far-reaching process of relexification towards Spanish, affecting…

Chasing Empire Across the Sea

By Kenneth J. Banks,

Book cover of Chasing Empire Across the Sea: Communications and the State in the French Atlantic, 1713-1763

Pernille Røge Author Of Economistes and the Reinvention of Empire: France in the Americas and Africa, C.1750-1802

From the list on France and Its eighteenth-century colonial empire.

Who am I?

I have been interested in the study of the early modern French colonial empire since my undergraduate years in Paris. As a Dane studying history in the French capital, I was struck by the strong presence of both Caribbean and African cultures in my local neighborhood, but I also noted the fraught colonial legacies that continued to condition the lives of many of its inhabitants. My book is an effort to grapple with a particularly transformative moment in the history of France’s imperial past and to reflect on the ways in which it conditioned later periods. The five books I recommended here brought home to me important aspects of this history in ways that insist on the reciprocal influences among France and its former colonies.

Pernille's book list on France and Its eighteenth-century colonial empire

Why did Pernille love this book?

Chasing Empire Across the Sea is a multi-sited study of French colonial empire-building in the Atlantic World. Focusing on the colonial administrations in Quebec, New Orleans, and Martinique, the book’s emphasis on the fragility of colonial-metropolitan communication and the challenges this posed to French imperial sovereignty reminds readers of the vulnerability of early modern European empires. It also allows for a better understanding of the political structures and geographies that conditioned the French colonial enterprise.

By Kenneth J. Banks,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Chasing Empire Across the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Banks defines and applies the concept of communications in a far broader context than previous historical studies of communication, encompassing a range of human activity from sailing routes, to mapping, to presses, to building roads and bridges. He employs a comparative analysis of early modern French imperialism, integrating three types of overseas possessions usually considered separately - the settlement colony (New France), the tropical monoculture colony (the French Windward Islands), and the early Enlightenment planned colony (Louisiana) - offering a work of synthesis that unites the historiographies and insights from three formerly separate historical literatures. Banks challenges the very notion…


By Chibundu Onuzo,

Book cover of Sankofa

Stephen D. Senturia Author Of A Different Purpose: A Martin Quint Novel

From Stephen's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Engineering professor Happily retired Teller of academic tales Entrepreneur Clarinetist

Stephen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Stephen love this book?

This is an unusual “roots” book: Anna, a mixed-race child in England, discovers, after her mother’s death, a journal from her African father, whom she never knew. Library research reveals that he had been president of a small West African country known as “the Crocodile” and was alleged to have been involved in the murder of student activists. She bites, and I, as a reader, bit, too.

Anna goes to Africa to find, meet with, and reconcile with a father she never knew. He is a complex, occasionally scary, occasionally warm man, and we are drawn along her pathway of discovery.

In the end, we are still unsure. Is her decision about whether to remain in Africa hers or her father’s?

By Chibundu Onuzo,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


“A beautiful exploration of the often complex parameters of freedom, prejudice, and individual sense of self. Chibundu Onuzo has written a captivating story about a mixed-race British woman who goes in search of the West African father she never knew . . . [A] beautiful book about a woman brave enough to discover her true identity.” —Reese Witherspoon

“Onuzo’s sneakily breezy, highly entertaining novel leaves the reader rethinking familiar narratives of colonization, inheritance and liberation.” —The New York Times Book Review

Named a Best Book of the…

Book cover of Walking Each Other Home Again: A young Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger, 1960's, and her return 30 years later

Christine Herbert Author Of The Color of the Elephant

From the list on serving in the Peace Corps.

Who am I?

I am a returned U.S. Peace Corps volunteer who served as a community health worker and educator in Zambia from 2004-2006. My highly-anticipated debut memoir, The Color of the Elephant: Memoir of a Muzungu, a Zola Award finalist, releases January 2022. As an avid reader of adventurous, fish-out-of-water tales, I’ve read dozens of memoirs by fellow Peace Corps volunteers who’ve served all around the world from the 1960s to the present day. These are my top picks based on literary merit, engaging storytelling, and pure heart.

Christine's book list on serving in the Peace Corps

Why did Christine love this book?

Truly a “two for the price of one” read! This tale begins in the early days of the Peace Corps, where newlyweds Laurie and Rich are assigned volunteer posts in Niger (pronounced nee-zher), Laurie as a public health worker, and Rich on an agricultural assignment at a peanut cooperative. Packed with lively prose and riveting tales of close calls, humorous misunderstandings, finding one’s feet, discovering meaning in the midst of suffering, and the bewildering feeling of displacement upon arriving back in the States, the first half of the story encompasses all the earmarks of a “classic” Peace Corps experience.

After 30 years, Laurie—now remarried, mother of grown children, and retired from an active career in liberal politics—travels back to Niger to reconnect with loved ones. Despite the chafing between this American woman’s independent spirit and the restrictive patriarchal Muslim society, along with the inevitable modernization of the humble agrarian…

By Laurie Oman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Walking Each Other Home Again as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this delightful and insightful memoir of a mid-century American girl coming of age as a new bride in a remote village in Niger, West Africa, Laurie Oman generously shares a unique place and time that will live on in readers' hearts forever. We are right there with her as she fumbles and faux pas her way into the role of a valued member of the community as a health educator, unprepared emergency midwife, and ultimately trusted friend. So deep were the bonds from her two-year Peace Corps stay in the 1960s, that thirty years later she was invited to…

Book cover of In Pursuit of Disobedient Women: A Memoir of Love, Rebellion, and Family, Far Away

Karen Sherman Author Of Brick by Brick: Building Hope and Opportunity for Women Survivors Everywhere

From the list on women driving change around the world.

Who am I?

I’ve been driven to help advance women and girls around the world for years, shining a light on their stories of resilience and strength, even in the most dire of circumstances. My thirty-plus-year career in global development has introduced me to hundreds of inspirational women who are changing their own lives, investing in their families, and building their communities. I am a woman for women because of them. The recommended authors are inspirational women in their own right who have used their writing to amplify the voices of other women. I hope you enjoy these books and can identify with the personal stories found in their pages. 

Karen's book list on women driving change around the world

Why did Karen love this book?

Dionne’s book speaks to me on such a personal level. The story follows her journey of uprooting her family to West Africa and shares the stories of the women she meets along the way, navigating extraordinary circumstances and hardship. I, too, did this.

In 2012, my three sons and I landed in Kigali, Rwanda, where we lived for a year. Having experienced firsthand the resiliency and tenacity of women, such as those Dionne encountered, I can’t recommend In Pursuit of Disobedient Women enough to learn more about the challenges and triumphs for women across Africa.

By Dionne Searcey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In Pursuit of Disobedient Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When a reporter for The New York Times uproots her family to move to West Africa, she manages her new role as breadwinner while finding women cleverly navigating extraordinary circumstances in a forgotten place for much of the Western world.
“A story you will not soon forget.”—Kathryn Bigelow, Academy Award–winning director of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty

In 2015, Dionne Searcey was covering the economy for The New York Times, living in Brooklyn with her husband and three young children. Saddled with the demands of a dual-career household and motherhood in an urban setting, her life was in…


By Annie Gottlieb, Barbara Sher,

Book cover of Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want

Chris Guillebeau Author Of Gonzo Capitalism: How to Make Money in an Economy That Hates You

From the list on thinking differently and live unconventionally.

Who am I?

I'm a curious writer and compulsive traveler. My lifelong goal is to communicate the message “You don’t have to live your life the way others expect.” From 2002-2015 I went to every country in the world, chronicling the journey on my blog The Art of Non-Conformity. At first I thought the blog would be just about travel, but along the way I began meeting lots of people interested in living unconventionally. Ever since, I've been writing books, hosting events, and avoiding traditional employment by any means necessary. 

Chris' book list on thinking differently and live unconventionally

Why did Chris love this book?

It's no exaggeration to say this book changed my life. I read it when I was briefly home in the US during a four-year stint as an aid worker in West Africa. It caused me to think deeply about the next stage of life, which involved going to every country and eventually starting a blog that became a whole new career.

If you've read any other "life design" books in the past two decades, one way or another the authors were influenced by Barbara Sher. Go back to where it started!

By Annie Gottlieb, Barbara Sher,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Cindy Fox was a waitress. Now she’s a pilot. Peter Johnson was a truck driver. Now he’s a dairy farmer. Tina Forbes was a struggling artist. Now she’s a successful one. Alan Rizzo was an editor. Now he’s a bookstore owner.

What they have in common—and what you can share—are Barbara Sher’s effective strategies for making real changes in your life. This human, practical program puts your vague yearnings and dreams to work for you—with concrete results. You’ll learn how to

• Discover your strengths and skills
• Turn your fears and negative feelings into positive tools
• Diagram the…

Journey without Maps

By Graham Greene,

Book cover of Journey without Maps

Faith and Martin Sternstein Author Of Ten African-American Presidents

From the list on the history of Liberia, America’s stepchild.

Who are we?

Faith “Zanweah” Sternstein grew up in Tappita, Nimba County, Liberia. Her heritage and cultural background is that of the Dan (Gio) ethnic group, where her lineage comes directly through Chiefs Tarpeh, Snagon, and Vonleh. She met her future husband, Martin Sternstein, when he served as Fulbright Professor at the University of Liberia. While much has been written about Liberia, there has been little serious research into the lives of the early presidents, and we much enjoyed filling in this gap. We subscribe to the African proverb: Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.

Faith's book list on the history of Liberia, America’s stepchild

Why did Faith love this book?

We have divergent views on Greene’s travelog. Before first venturing forth to Liberia, Martin read Greene’s book for some appreciation of the undeveloped regions of the country. Faith, a native Liberian, read the book and found Greene’s naivety somewhat amusing.

In 1935 Greene embarked on a four-week, 350-mile trek through the Liberian hinterland. He had sharp eyes and was a master storyteller. With wit, compassion, and insight, he described a part of Liberia seemingly untouched by Western civilization.

While he overly dwelled on what he perceives as negatives, still an unconquered spirit of the indigenes manages to shine forth.

By Graham Greene,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Journey without Maps as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

His mind crowded with vivid images of Africa, Graham Greene set off in 1935 to discover Liberia, a remote and unfamiliar republic founded for released slaves. Now with a new introduction by Paul Theroux, Journey Without Maps is the spellbinding record of Greene's journey. Crossing the red-clay terrain from Sierra Leone to the coast of Grand Bassa with a chain of porters, he came to know one of the few areas of Africa untouched by colonization. Western civilization had not yet impinged on either the human psyche or the social structure, and neither poverty, disease, nor hunger seemed able to…

Kingdom of Souls

By Rena Barron,

Book cover of Kingdom of Souls

Tephra Miriam Author Of The Sparkle Riot Crew and the Kid From Star Quad 9

From the list on igniting your inner magic and creativity.

Who am I?

I'm an author, thought leader, activist, dreamer, and entrepreneur with a passion for change. I believe that creativity and imagination can lift anyone from where they are and usher them into destiny. Stories are a core part of human evolution, which means that stories have the power to change us inside and out. Growing up, I didn't see myself represented in the books and stories around me. I'm passionate about writing fantasy, sci-fi, whimsical tales, and historical action fiction because I believe that by telling our stories, we can help those who have limited opportunities see the world of possibilities and inspire them to dream and create their own magic in this world. 

Tephra's book list on igniting your inner magic and creativity

Why did Tephra love this book?

The world-building in Rena Barron's brilliant tale of African magic, bloodlines, and religion is exceptional. Far from a light and fluffy read, this novel addresses some very serious topics wrapped in hope and the pursuit of good. It is action-filled with twists and turns around every corner. This book will grab you and pull you in with its thrilling mystery and challenge you with its themes of darkness, secrets, and betrayal. Her despair, as well as her sincere quest for truth and redemption, won my heart.

By Rena Barron,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Explosive fantasy set in a West African world of magic and legend, where one girl must sacrifice her life, year by year, to gain the power necessary to live up to the expectations of the mother she has never been good enough for.

Perfect for fans of Sarah J Maas, Tomi Adeyemi and Black Panther

There's magic in her blood.

Arrah is a young woman from a long line of the most powerful witch doctors in the land. But she fails at magic, fails to call upon the ancestors and can't even cast the simplest curse.

Shame and disappointment dog…

The Power to Name

By Stephanie Newell,

Book cover of The Power to Name: A History of Anonymity in Colonial West Africa

Joel Cabrita Author Of Written Out: The Silencing of Regina Gelana Twala

From the list on literary women you’ve never heard of.

Who am I?

I’m a historian of Southern Africa who is fascinated by questions of visibility and invisibility. I love probing beneath the surface of the past. For example, why is this person famous and renowned, but that person isn’t? To me, recognition and reputation are interesting to scrutinize as social categories in their own right, rather than as factual statements. I’ve written two books focusing on the history of religious expression in Southern Africa, and my most recent book is a biography of the forgotten South African writer and politician Regina Gelana Twala. 

Joel's book list on literary women you’ve never heard of

Why did Joel love this book?

This study of West African writers who used pseudonyms has prompted me to think about the importance of anonymity for female writers throughout the ages.

Newell looks at Ghanaian authors of the early twentieth century who used a range of pseudonyms, often for quite playful and experimental reasons.

Some of these writers were, of course, women, and they found that a pseudonym gave them increased respectability. But the pseudonym could be a double-edged sword.

A pen name was a useful cloak of anonymity allowing a woman to write.

But it also means that the true identities of these female writers are hard to discern. In other words, women writers’ frequent use of the pseudonym has rendered them both visible and invisible. 

By Stephanie Newell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

* Finalist for the African Studies Association's 2014 Melville J. Herskovits Award for best book in African Studies Between the 1880s and the 1940s, the region known as British West Africa became a dynamic zone of literary creativity and textual experimentation. African-owned newspapers offered local writers numerous opportunities to contribute material for publication, and editors repeatedly defined the press as a vehicle to host public debates rather than simply as an organ to disseminate news or editorial ideology. Literate locals responded with great zeal, and in increasing numbers as the twentieth century progressed, they sent in letters, articles, fiction, and…

Book cover of Sweet Water and Bitter: The Ships That Stopped the Slave Trade

Lona Manning Author Of A Contrary Wind

From the list on Regency England beyond balls and bonnets.

Who am I?

I’m a writer of Jane Austen-inspired fiction who fell down a research rabbit hole and perhaps I’ll never climb out. Dr. Johnson said, “The greatest part of a writer's time is spent in reading… a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” The five books I’m recommending offer a window into the long 18th century, the era of the Enlightenment, and the dawn of the industrial revolution. In these books I’ve met philosophers, romantics, and reformers who brought literacy to the underclass and emancipation to the enslaved. These books have helped me place the characters of my novels within a fascinating, consequential period of history. 

Lona's book list on Regency England beyond balls and bonnets

Why did Lona love this book?

While doing research on the British campaign to end the slave trade, I read many books, but no book transported me to the decks of the slave ships and to the rugged coast of Africa like Sweet Water and Bitter. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade is placed in its historical, military, and economic context, but Siân Rees also shows the human side of the story. On every page, there is another amazing/shocking/heartbreaking/inspiring vignette. You meet the sailors and missionaries who fought to smother the slave trade, often at the cost of their lives. The hopes and hardships of life in Africa are expressed by emancipated slaves, naval officers, and ordinary seamen. Rees' prose is clear and even-handed. My paperback copy is bristling with little post-it notes.

By Siân Rees,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Sweet Water and Bitter is the extraordinary sequel to Britain's abolition of the slave trade in 1807. The last legal British slave ship left Africa that year, but other countries and illegal slavers continued to trade. When the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815, British diplomats negotiated anti-slave-trade treaties and a 'Preventive Squadron' was formed to cruise the West African coast. In six decades, this small fleet liberated 150,000 Africans and lost 17,000 of its own men doing so. This is the tale of their exciting and arduous campaign.

It is a story of unforeseen consequences and a swashbuckling naval adventure,…

Laboring Women

By Jennifer L. Morgan,

Book cover of Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery

Katherine Paugh Author Of The Politics of Reproduction: Race, Medicine, and Fertility in the Age of Abolition

From the list on the Dobbs decision in deep historical context.

Who am I?

I am Associate Professor of Atlantic World Women’s History at the University of Oxford. The history of race, gender, and childbearing is my passion and my profession. The Dobbs decision pissed me TF off and inspired me to write this list. I hope you enjoy these books, and never stop questioning why women’s reproductive lives are controlled so minutely and why their reproductive labour is unpaid and unacknowledged.

Katherine's book list on the Dobbs decision in deep historical context

Why did Katherine love this book?

Jennifer Morgan’s history of childbearing in the Black Atlantic cracked open an entirely new field, exposing how American society has for centuries relied on Black women’s work as mothers. Her attention to the role of reproduction in the perpetuation of racial slavery in the Americas during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries exposed how European imperialism had, from its inception, relied upon pushing Black women into dual roles as labourers in the fields of new world plantations and also as labouring mothers. Morgan’s analysis of European travel literature highlights how white men’s perceptions of Black women’s bodies was shaped by these dual roles, as for example in the recurring trope that depicted African women as able to suckle infants over their shoulder whilst attending to other sorts of labour. 

By Jennifer L. Morgan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When black women were brought from Africa to the New World as slave laborers, their value was determined by their ability to work as well as their potential to bear children, who by law would become the enslaved property of the mother's master. In Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery, Jennifer L. Morgan examines for the first time how African women's labor in both senses became intertwined in the English colonies. Beginning with the ideological foundations of racial slavery in early modern Europe, Laboring Women traverses the Atlantic, exploring the social and cultural lives of women in…