Top Books on Black History

Presented by Booklist

A Long Time Coming book cover

A Long Time Coming: The Inspiring, Combative 2008 Campaign and the Historic Election of Barack Obama
by Evan Thomas

Since 1984, Newsweek has been renowned for its vivid, in-depth special election coverage of the ordeal of running for the presidency. A year before the election, Newsweek assigns reporters to get inside the campaigns of the Republican and Democratic candidates. Newsweek promises not to publish any information until after the votes are cast, and in exchange, the reporters receive remarkable access. They travel with the candidates, are there at crucial turning points and confidential meetings, and uncover stories not covered in day-to-day reporting.

In this book, a compelling narrative by Evan Thomas, Newsweek shares the inside stories from one of the most exciting elections in recent history, illuminating the personalities and events that influenced the outcome, and taking stock of the key players and key issues for the new administration. This will be an absorbing read for anyone interested in American politics.

Mongrel Nation book cover

Mongrel Nation: The America Begotten by Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings
by Clarence Walker

The debate over the affair between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings rarely rises above the question of "Did they or didn't they?" But lost in the argument over the existence of such a relationship are equally urgent questions about a history that is more complex, both sexually and culturally, than most of us realize. Mongrel Nation seeks to uncover this complexity, as well as the reasons it is so often obscured.

Clarence Walker contends that the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings must be seen not in isolation but in the broader context of interracial affairs within the plantation complex. Viewed from this perspective, the relationship was not unusual or aberrant but was fairly typical. For many, this is a disturbing realization, because it forces us to abandon the idea of American exceptionalism and re-examine slavery in America as part of a long, global history of slaveholders frequently crossing the color line.

Post Black book cover

Post Black: How a New Generation Is Redefining African American Identity
by Ytasha Womack

As a young journalist covering black life at large, author Ytasha L. Womack was caught unaware when she found herself straddling black culture's rarely acknowledged generation gaps and cultural divides. Traditional images show blacks unified culturally, politically, and socially, united by race at venues such as churches and community meetings. But in the "post black" era, even though individuals define themselves first as black, they do not necessarily define themselves by tradition as much as by personal interests, points of view, and lifestyle.

In "Post Black: How a New Generation Is Redefining African American Identity," Womack takes a fresh look at dynamics shaping the lives of contemporary African Americans.

Although grateful to generations that have paved the way, many cannot relate to the rhetoric of pundits who speak as ambassadors of black life any more than they see themselves in exaggerated hip-hop images. Combining interviews, opinions of experts, and extensive research, "Post Black" will open the eyes of some, validate the lives of others, and provide a realistic picture of the expanding community.

Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne book cover

Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne
by James Gavin

At long last, the first serious biography of entertainment legend Lena Horne – the celebrated star of film, stage, and music who became one of the first African-American icons.

From the Cotton Club's glory days and the back lots of Hollywood's biggest studios to the glitzy but bigoted hotels of Las Vegas's heyday, this behind-the-scenes look at an American icon is as much a story of the limits of the American dream as it is a masterful, ground-breaking biography.

Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson book cover

Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson
by Wil Haygood

From the author of the critically acclaimed "In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr.," comes another illuminating socio-historical narrative of the twentieth century, this one spun around one of the most iconic figures of the fight game, Sugar Ray Robinson.

Continuing to set himself apart as one of our canniest cultural historians, Wil Haygood grounds the spectacular story of Robinson's rise to greatness within the context of the fighter's life and times. Born Walker Smith, Jr., in 1921, Robinson had an early childhood marked by the seething racial tensions and explosive race riots that infected the Midwest throughout the twenties and thirties. After his mother moved him and his sisters to the relative safety of Harlem, he came of age in the vibrant post-Renaissance years. It was there that – encouraged to box by his mother, who wanted him off the streets – he soon became a rising star, cutting an electrifying, glamorous figure, riding around town in his famous pink Cadillac. Beyond the celebrity, though, Robinson would emerge as a powerful, often controversial black symbol in a rapidly changing America. Haygood also weaves in the stories of Langston Hughes, Lena Horne, and Miles Davis, whose lives not only intersected with Robinson's but also contribute richly to the scope and soul of the book.

Up from History: The Life of Booker T. Washington book cover

Up from History: The Life of Booker T. Washington
by Robert Norrell

Since the 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr., has personified black leadership with his use of direct action protests against white authority. A century ago, in the era of Jim Crow, Booker T. Washington pursued a different strategy to lift his people. In this compelling biography, Norrell reveals how conditions in the segregated South led Washington to call for a less contentious path to freedom and equality. He urged black people to acquire economic independence and to develop the moral character that would ultimately gain them full citizenship. Although widely accepted as the most realistic way to integrate blacks into American life during his time, Washington's strategy has been disparaged since the 1960s.

The first full-length biography of Booker T. in a generation, "Up from History" recreates the broad contexts in which Washington worked: He struggled against white bigots who hated his economic ambitions for blacks, African-American intellectuals like W. E. B. Du Bois who resented his huge influence, and such inconstant allies as Theodore Roosevelt. Norrell details the positive power of Washington's vision, one that invoked hope and optimism to overcome past exploitation and present discrimination. Indeed, his ideas have since inspired peoples across the Third World that there are many ways to struggle for equality and justice. "Up from History" reinstates this extraordinary historical figure to the pantheon of black leaders, illuminating not only his mission and achievement but also, poignantly, the man himself.

Little Richard: The Birth of Rock 'n' Roll book cover

Little Richard: The Birth of Rock 'n' Roll
by David Kirby

This book is a concise, evocative, and thoroughly researched study of one of the great rock'n'roll pioneers.

 

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