10 best African American history books, per Goodreads members
In addition to focusing on books on black resilience, notable memoirs, and some of the most anticipated novels by black writers, Black History Month is an opportunity to learn more about African American history and the key figures who make that story have shaped. If you’ve been curious to learn more on both lanes (and the vast space between the two), we’ve rounded up some of the best books on these topics from last year, according to members of Goodreads.
The following books highlight various aspects of African American history, from women’s suffrage and systemic inequality to the great migration and the life of Martin Luther King Jr. They were all published in the last year and ranked based on the number of women Goodreads members they have Checked or added to their “Read” lists, as well as the average ratings of the books.
- Goodreads: 4.59-star average rating, more than 33,900 reviews
Author Isabel Wilkerson explains how factors such as race and class create a hierarchy of human divisions around the world and reveals the unspoken caste system that shapes America. She examines eight pillars underlying caste systems in different civilizations and shows how caste systems affect individuals in the United States by sharing the life stories of historical figures.
- Goodreads: 4.04-star average rating, 150+ ratings
This book documents the history of the political life of African American women in America from the very beginning of the country to the passage of the Suffrage Act in 1965. Author Martha Jones discusses the work of black women such as Maria Stewart, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Fannie Lou Hamer and others and explains how their efforts played a vital role in the fight for women’s rights.
- Goodreads: 4.29-star average rating, 1,200+ ratings
Authors and historians Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross focus their book on narratives of African American women to show how they made a significant contribution to shaping the United States. The book also discusses how black women battled centuries of oppression and how readers can continue their opposition to systemic racism and sexism today.
- Goodreads: 4.20 star average rating, 750+ ratings
According to Goodreads, the Green Book was published from 1936 to 1966 and listed hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and other businesses that were safe for black travelers. This book celebrates the stories of those who put their names in the book and spoke out against segregation, and discusses the progress that remains to be made on racial relations in the United States
- Goodreads: 4.28-star average rating, 500+ ratings
This book covers the biographies of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. While the two men portrayed different ideals in their pursuit of justice, author Peniel E. Joseph shows how they inspired each other during the movement that defined them.
- Goodreads: 4.56-star average rating, 2,300+ ratings
In interviews with John Lewis and other historical accounts, author Jon Meacham tells the story of what inspired the Congressman to devote his life to improving the nation. The book also describes how Lewis held on to hope despite risking his life and facing challenges.
- Goodreads: 4.03-star average rating, 890+ ratings
In this book, author Morgan Jerkins tries to understand her ancestors’ journey through America during the Great Migration. The author also discusses the displacement of black people across America between 1916 and 1970 and how the effects of that displacement can still be seen in today’s society.
- Goodreads: 4.32-star average rating, 680+ ratings
Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Les Payne spent nearly 30 years researching the life of Malcom X to write this biography. The author’s daughter, Tamara Payne, was the book’s primary researcher, and she stepped in to complete the book after her father’s death. “The Dead Are Arising” won the 2020 National Book Award for non-fiction.
- Goodreads: 4.46-star average rating, 2,500+ reviews
Eddie S. Glaude Jr. analyzes James Baldwin’s life story, activism, and author, trying to understand the racial relations and tensions currently prevailing in America. The author looks at the lessons America can learn from its past and how it can emerge as a new country from today’s divisions.
- Goodreads: 4.25-star average rating, 300+ ratings
As with Overground Railroad, this book focuses on the Green Book and how black motorists relied on its guidance to keep them safe. Gretchen Sorin’s book also discusses how important the car has always been to African Americans, as it enabled them to escape racist society and enjoy the limited freedoms that the open road offered them.