The best books about the West Indies

9 authors have picked their favorite books about the West Indies and why they recommend each book.

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If the Irish Ran the World

By Donald Harman Akenson,

Book cover of If the Irish Ran the World: Montserrat, 1630-1730

This book tells the story of the Irish migrants who settled on the island of Montserrat from the early seventeenth century to the mid-eighteenth century. Through a masterful combination of different sources, Akenson reconstructs the colonial world of the Irish, and their ambitions to become rulers and no longer ruled within the lucrative and unruly context of the Caribbean.


Who am I?

This is and will remain the example of historical research made by one of the leading authorities in the field of Atlantic history. Elliott’s book set the agenda by investigating and assessing the complex array of causes and consequences which brought England and Spain to have an ever-lasting cultural, economic, political, and religious influence on the history of North America and Latin America.  


I wrote...

Making, Breaking and Remaking the Irish Missionary Network: Ireland, Rome and the West Indies in the Seventeenth Century

By Matteo Binasco,

Book cover of Making, Breaking and Remaking the Irish Missionary Network: Ireland, Rome and the West Indies in the Seventeenth Century

What is my book about?

This book is the first to document the links which were developed between the Irish clerical community in Rome, Ireland, and the Irish migrants in the West Indies. Binasco vividly reconstructs the key figures, the perils, the efforts, and the pitfalls to connect the epicenter of global Catholicism with the far and troubled Ireland and West Indies of the seventeenth century. 

Sugar Barons

By Matthew Parker,

Book cover of Sugar Barons

For perhaps 200 years after 1650, sugar became such a valuable commodity it became known as “white gold.” This book gives the broad and sweeping history of the conflicts over control of the sugar trade, the slave trade, and the wealth that ultimately led to the Industrial Revolution. It also provides intimate details of the families whose fortunes depended on sugar.


Who am I?

Nancy Blanton is an American author of Irish descent. A former journalist, she’s written four award-winning novels rooted in 17th century Irish history. Her first novel, Sharavogue, takes place in the lawless West Indies on the island of Montserrat, where the protagonist struggles to survive the slavery, disease, kindness, and brutality of an Irish-owned sugar plantation.


I wrote...

Sharavogue: A Novel of Ireland and the West Indies

By Nancy Blanton,

Book cover of Sharavogue: A Novel of Ireland and the West Indies

What is my book about?

It is December of 1649 as England’s uncrowned king, Oliver Cromwell, leads his new model army across Ireland to crush a violent rebellion. As the relentless cavalry approaches, Elvy Burke knows she will not give up easily. When Cromwell cruelly beheads a village boy, Elvy vows to destroy him. After escaping from his soldiers, she aligns with a Scottish outlaw whose schemes send them headlong into a tumultuous journey across the sea to the West Indies, where she learns to survive under impossible conditions and discovers the depth of her own strengths and emotions. Sharavogue is the compelling story of one girl’s journey and unwavering belief in destiny.

Wide Sargasso Sea

By Jean Rhys,

Book cover of Wide Sargasso Sea

Bertha, the murderous maniac in the attic, scared me out of my skin the first time I read Jane Eyre. Not the most promising subject for a sympathetic imaginary biography, you might think; but Jean Rhys draws on her own Creole youth to create a past for the madwoman, the charming but doomed child Antoinette, who grows into a beautiful young bride. Her exotic and magical island setting glows with lush abundance, but from the first there is a sense of foreboding. Her marriage fails, and the innocent, touching young woman is torn from her adored island, losing her love, her sanity, and even her real name. An extraordinary, perverse, and brilliantly original reinvention.


Who am I?

My passion is the craft of writing—solving the fascinating problems involved in expressing an idea; vocabulary, word order, register, and on and on. I thrive on literary translation, and spent two years translating Moliere’s plays into English verse. I also collaborate with my translator husband, Nicolas Pasternak Slater, on Pasternak, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Turgenev. When the idea of writing as Mr. Darcy came to me, I could not resist the lure of writing in Georgian English, but became so absorbed in my narrative that the style almost wrote itself. My professional career was as a university lecturer in French literature (I have written academic books on my favourite French writers, Proust, La Fontaine, and others).


I wrote...

Private Diary of Mr. Darcy

By Maya Slater,

Book cover of Private Diary of Mr. Darcy

What is my book about?

At a lunch party one day, someone asked: what novel would you love to write? I found myself answering, Mr. Darcy’s Diary. Round the table everyone laughed, me included. But the idea, so casually mentioned, wouldn’t leave me. What is going on in Darcy’s head? Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is Elizabeth’s story. Darcy is mostly absent, so I felt free to explore. I was soon making surprising discoveries: the wicked Lord Byron was his closest school friend; rejected by Elizabeth, he proposed to a different girl. And what about the terrible hidden scandal surrounding Wickham? And there was more: I found I was telling a new story, which runs parallel to Pride and Prejudice, only to veer away again on its own, much crazier, journey.

The History of Mary Prince

By Mary Prince,

Book cover of The History of Mary Prince

A landmark work by virtue of being the first book by a black woman to be published in Britain, this is a powerfully harrowing account of Mary’s own life as a slave in the Caribbean. Though only short, it supplies valuable testimony on the gruesome British exploitation of enslaved people over the centuries, and the many cruelties inflicted upon Mary personally by her brutal ‘owners’. Should be required reading for all those who think of the British Empire with nostalgia.


Who am I?

I’m a historian of empire, with a particular interest in the British Empire, colonial violence, and the ways in which imperialism is shown and talked about in popular culture. I studied at Oxford University, and having lived in and travelled around much of the Middle East, South Asia and Africa, I am always trying to understand a bit more if I can… but reading is best for that… My first book was The Khyber Pass.


I wrote...

Blood and Bronze: The British Empire and the Sack of Benin

By Paddy Docherty,

Book cover of Blood and Bronze: The British Empire and the Sack of Benin

What is my book about?

The famous Benin Bronzes are among the most prized possessions of the British Museum. Celebrated for their great beauty, they embody the history, myth, and artistry of the ancient Kingdom of Benin, once the most powerful in West Africa and now part of Nigeria. But despite their renown, little has been written about the brutal act of imperial violence through which the Bronzes were plundered. This incisive new history tells that neglected story: the 1897 British invasion of Benin.

Diving into the archives, Blood and Bronze sets the assault on Benin in its late Victorian context. As Britain faced new commercial and strategic pressures on its power elsewhere, it ruthlessly expanded its rule in West Africa. Revealing both the extent of African resistance and previously concealed British outrages, this is a definitive account of the conquest and destruction of Benin. 

The Crogan Adventures

By Chris Schweizer,

Book cover of The Crogan Adventures: Catfoot's Vengeance

This is the first book in what was conceived of as a series about various members of the (fictional) Crogan family and their adventures throughout different periods in history. This initial volume starts with a West Indies pirate adventure featuring “Catfoot” Crogan, who’s forced to join a pirate crew and winds up making a mortal enemy of another member of the crew. The series unfortunately seems to have stopped with only three books, but this first one is well worth reading on its own. Note that this book was initially published in black and white as Crogan’s Vengeance. 


Who am I?

I grew up and have often lived around water and ships—Norfolk, VA, Aiea, Hawaii, Savannah, Georgia—and I’ve always had a fascination with things nautical. As a cartoonist, I’m of course always on the lookout for comics that overlap with this interest. Curiously, these sorts of stories seem to be few and far between in the U.S. but more of a genre staple in Europe—France in particular. I tried to highlight here not just books that I particularly like, but books that are representative of the breadth and depth that the comics medium can offer in art style, tone, and intended audience. I hope you enjoy some of these as much as I have!  


I wrote...

Oyster War

By Ben Towle,

Book cover of Oyster War

What is my book about?

In the coastal town of Blood's Haven, the economy runs on oysters. Oyster farming is one of the most lucrative professions, but also the most dangerous. Not just from the unforgiving ocean and its watery depths—there are also oyster pirates to worry about! Commander Davidson Bulloch and his motley crew are tasked with capturing these ne'er-do-wells—but they don't know that Treacher Fink, the pirates' leader, possesses a magical artifact that can call forth a legendary spirit with the power to control the sea and everything in it!

The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself

By Mary Prince,

Book cover of The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself

We all know that slavery was practised by many empires through world history, but it is rare to find the voice and life experience of someone who was enslaved. Literary scholar Moira Ferguson has edited and republished the memoir of Mary Prince, who was born into slavery in Bermuda but escaped in 1828 when her owners took her to London. Mary Prince found refuge with anti-slavery reformers, who wrote down and published her account of her life. I find it a searing account of how enslaved people were torn from their own families and loved ones, and the brutality of their lives in the Caribbean. Be warned: the sexual assault, violence, and cruelty are shocking. But if you want to know about slavery, this book will tell you.


Who am I?

I’ve been teaching university courses on gender and colonialism for about thirty years. I find students engage with the stories of the daily lived reality of women and men in the past. The books on my list are ones I have assigned at universities in two different countries. It’s so powerful to read someone’s own story from centuries ago, in their own words, like that of Mary Prince. While I love to recommend fiction to history students, I’ve always been fussy about only assigning novels set in a time period and context that the author knew first-hand. It makes these stories—like Heart of Darkness, Burmese Days, and Coonardoo—truly historical evidence. 


I wrote...

Gender and Empire

By Angela Woollacott,

Book cover of Gender and Empire

What is my book about?

Through key episodes across a broad range of British Empire history, Angela Woollacott examines how gender ideologies and practices made the daily lives of women and men, structuring imperial politics and culture. 

Fiction and other vivid primary sources present the actual voices of historical subjects. The book covers topics and debates in imperial and colonial history, from slavery and indentured labour, to militarism, warfare, and domestic service. Colonial subjects and imperial officials moved around the world. Yet hierarchical conceptions of gender and race shaped British colonialism from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, with very real consequences. Woollacott draws on decades of scholarship, providing fresh insights and interpretation. Authoritative and approachable, this is essential reading for students of world history, imperial history, and gender relations.

Sugar and Slaves

By Richard S. Dunn,

Book cover of Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713

My copy is loaded with underlines, dogears, and stickies to signify the wealth of information provided, particularly on the West Indies slave trade. From the geography of the islands to architecture, planting schedules, clothing fabrics, political corruption, and the slave market, Dunn covers everything in an interesting and illuminating way.


Who am I?

Nancy Blanton is an American author of Irish descent. A former journalist, she’s written four award-winning novels rooted in 17th century Irish history. Her first novel, Sharavogue, takes place in the lawless West Indies on the island of Montserrat, where the protagonist struggles to survive the slavery, disease, kindness, and brutality of an Irish-owned sugar plantation.


I wrote...

Sharavogue: A Novel of Ireland and the West Indies

By Nancy Blanton,

Book cover of Sharavogue: A Novel of Ireland and the West Indies

What is my book about?

It is December of 1649 as England’s uncrowned king, Oliver Cromwell, leads his new model army across Ireland to crush a violent rebellion. As the relentless cavalry approaches, Elvy Burke knows she will not give up easily. When Cromwell cruelly beheads a village boy, Elvy vows to destroy him. After escaping from his soldiers, she aligns with a Scottish outlaw whose schemes send them headlong into a tumultuous journey across the sea to the West Indies, where she learns to survive under impossible conditions and discovers the depth of her own strengths and emotions. Sharavogue is the compelling story of one girl’s journey and unwavering belief in destiny.

Beyond a Boundary

By C.L.R. James,

Book cover of Beyond a Boundary

The greatest of all sporting books which are not really about sport. An inspiration for me, a brilliant, mesmerising study of west Indian cricket, politics, history, and colonialism. It contains the immortal line, "What do they know of cricket that only cricket know?" This book taught me how important sport is, how you can only understand it if you understand the context, and how historians have so often overlooked all this. 


Who am I?

I am a historian and journalist. I lived in Italy for over twenty years, immersing myself in the culture of that country—in every form. I decided to write Calcio after becoming aware of the centrality of football to Italian culture and politics, and around the time of the rise of a football entrepreneur to political power—Silvio Berlusconi. The book took me three years, led me to visit numerous cities, stadiums, and regions, and interview dozens of journalists, experts, and players. It was a love letter and a warning—dedicated to ‘my father who loves football, and my son, who hates it.'


I wrote...

Calcio: A History of Italian Football

By John Foot,

Book cover of Calcio: A History of Italian Football

What is my book about?

A history of Italian football which ranges across the beauty and the ugliness of the game, and its importance for culture, politics, and history in that country. Italy cannot be understood without understanding its football. This book tells the story of triumph and tragedy, of four world cups, of geniuses and villains, of scandals and violence, of rivalries and moments of beauty and grace, and crazy fans and out-of-control ultrà. At the heart of the book are the connections between politics, money, and Italian football—from fascism to FIAT to Silvio Berlusconi and beyond. Monumental and fascinating, this book has been called ‘the bible of Italian football’.

The Lip

By Charlie Carroll,

Book cover of The Lip: a novel of the Cornwall tourists seldom see

At this time there was extensive maritime traffic between Cornwall and the West Indies. The Lip also has an affinity with my own experience, which included going on a Transatlantic Voyage, described in my own book, and a collection of poems I wrote on board.


Who am I?

The collection Little Musings, available on Amazon, covers several decades of Joy's work as poet and painter. It touches on many aspects of her life, including the loss of her mother, in Do Not Mourn Her and Loss - Double Rainbow. Her childhood was spent in Plymouth, and in A Plymouth Girl Reflects, she recalls the aftermath of the air raids. Being in close proximity to Cornwall, that area also a major theme here, especially in Newquay, Cornwall, and On Air, By Melancholy. Four of the poems, "Absent Friends," "Isle of Thanet," "At Jim's Cafe," and "Captain Ahab of Thanet" are focused on the Thanet area of East Kent, where Joy now lives.


I wrote...

The Lamorna Reach: A Cornish Saga

By Joy V. Sheridan,

Book cover of The Lamorna Reach: A Cornish Saga

What is my book about?

The Lamorna Reach presents a Zola-esque tableau of raw, elemental life in early 19th Century Cornwall. Issy, the heroine, is incredibly beautiful and talented, but these qualities do not secure her a happy, comfortable life. She is born a foundling, under the most brutal circumstances, and is fostered. Issy undergoes rape and abuse, and is pressurised into an oppressive marriage. There is a saga of mutual obsession between her and the fascinating dark and menacing Tobias Carmichael, who seduces but does not control her. There are brief glimpses of euphoria and romance. Issy is a fiercely independent spirit; true to form, she disguises herself as a man and goes on a maritime expedition. Eventually, jealousy and prejudice conspire to take her life; but her spirit lives on.

Redcoats

By Stephen Brumwell,

Book cover of Redcoats

The Seven Year’s War was much more than a few famous names and a few celebrated battles. For any who want to get into the nitty-gritty of ordinary soldiers’ lives during the Seven Years’ War—on the British side—I recommend this book. It examines the experiences of the 'redcoats' between 1755 and 1763. Brumwell wrote it for a more academic readership than Paths of Glory, but it is still very readable. It explores the British Army's distinctive society and has lots to say about the ordinary soldiers who are usually written about with vague generalities. In this study, one reads about their experiences in combat, their occasional captivity among the Indigenous peoples, the women associated with the British Army, and the fate of veteran soldiers.


Who am I?

For 23 years, I was a staff historian at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. In the decade that followed, I worked for Parks Canada on other French colonial and Acadian sites in Atlantic Canada. Along the way and since, I wrote hundreds of articles and 21 books. Some of those books have won prizes, and the government of France honored me by making me a chevalier of its Ordre des Palmes académiques.


I wrote...

Endgame 1758

By A.J.B. Johnston,

Book cover of Endgame 1758

What is my book about?

The French stronghold on Cape Breton Island, strategically situated near the entrance to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, was a major economic and military stronghold in France’s quest for empire. The dramatic military and social history of this significant fortress, seaport, and community are woven together in this gripping biography of the colony’s final decade, presented from both French and British perspectives.

Endgame 1758 is a tale of two empires in collision on the shores of mid-18th-century Atlantic Canada. The magnitude of the struggle and its uncertain outcome comes to life in this account of Louisbourg’s inhabitants and the nearly thirty thousand combatants arrayed against it. How and why the French colony ended the way it did, not just in June and July 1758, but over the decade that preceded the siege, is a little-known and compelling story.

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