The three dozen titles listed here illuminate the subject of racism in a variety of ways. Both nonfiction and fiction works are included. Make no mistake: these are all good books about racism, and I read and reviewed them all on this site. Racism is America’s original sin. Its origins lie in Europeans’ first explorations of the New World in the late 15th century. But in some cases racism is not the primary subject or the dominant theme. In every book, however, racism is integral to the story.
I’m listing first the five top books about racism reviewed on this site. The other titles follow. In both sections, books are listed in alphabetical order by the authors’ last names.
The 5 top books about racism reviewed here
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie—Race, without blinders on
Viewed through the eyes of a Nigerian immigrant, American racism is puzzling as well as painful. Anyone who has traveled more than casually in Africa is well aware that the continent teems with diversity. Lumping all Black Africans or African-Americans together as one “race” is worse than folly. It’s fully as self-defeating as US history has proven.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander—Reexamining mass incarceration in America
Mass incarceration has inflicted a terrible price on the United States. A product of the “War on Drugs” launched in the Reagan Administration and expanded under Bill Clinton, the indiscriminate jailing of black and brown Americans over typically minor drug offenses has hollowed out communities across the country and caused untold suffering.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates—A brilliant analysis of racism today
Growing up Black can be a challenging experience anywhere in the United States today. But life in big-city ghettoes like Baltimore’s is particularly difficult. In this memoir, framed as a letter to his young son, one of the country’s leading essayists reflects on the experience.
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi—Racism still kills
What we view in the US today as racism has for the most part gone underground, its outward and most violent expressions widely discouraged. But if racism is more polite today than under slavery and Jim Crow, it is little less pervasive. Racism is deeply embedded in the infrastructure of American society—what so many call “structural” or “institutional racism”—and it cannot be successfully addressed without uprooting the legal and political basis on which it rests. Lynching is an artifact of the past, but racism still kills, shortening the lives of Black and Brown people not just through occasional official violence but on a large scale through inequities in healthcare, housing, criminal justice, and tax policy. That’s the central message of historian Ibram Kendi’s groundbreaking book, How to Be an Antiracist.
A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes by Adam Rutherford—Debunking the popular myths about genetics
For decades, scientists have been telling us that race is a social construct, not a genetic phenomenon. Recent advances in genetic science have yielded the tools to prove the truth of this assertion. In this survey of what our genes can and cannot tell us about ourselves, a geneticist rests his case on the latest findings.
18 other good books about racism reviewed here: novels
The Mandela Plot by Kenneth Bonert—A novel about the anti-apartheid struggle
The Whites by Richard Price, writing as Harry Brandt—Cops out of control
Cadillac Jukebox (Dave Robicheaux #9) by James Lee Burke—The master of Louisiana noir
The Parable of the Sower (Parable #1 of 2) by Octavia E. Butler—A superb dystopian novel
The Parable of the Talents (Parable #2 of 2) by Octavia E. Butler—Classic science fiction with a timely message
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan—A haunting coming-of-age story about slavery and science in the 19th century
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich—Louise Erdrich on Indian cultural genocide
Sycamore Row by John Grisham—The belated sequel to John Grisham’s breakthrough first novel
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi—African Roots through African eyes
Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke—A compelling tale of murder, race, and family secrets
A Burning by Megha Majumdar—Terrorism, corruption, and Hindu nationalism in India today
A Treacherous Paradise by Henning Mankell—Race relations in colonial Africa through the eyes of a Swedish novelist
Deacon King Kong by James McBride—Unforgettable characters in this delightful new novel
Charcoal Joe (Easy Rawlins #14) by Walter Mosley—Everybody’s favorite African-American detective
There There by Tommy Orange—A bestselling new novel casts a bright light on urban Indian life
The Strivers’ Row Spy (Renaissance #1) by Jason Overstreet—African-American history comes to life in this engaging spy novel
A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton—A powerful family drama about living with Jim Crow and the War on Drugs
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson—An African-American spy in the maelstrom of Cold War rivalry in Africa
14 other good books about racism reviewed here: nonfiction
One Person No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy by Carol Anderson—Voter suppression, gerrymandering, and voter ID laws brilliantly explained
Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin III—Berkeley in 1969: Black Panthers, the FBI, and the Vietnam War
The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War by James Bradley—Teddy Roosevelt and the dark side of American foreign policy
The Black Calhouns: From Civil War to Civil Rights with One African American Family by Gail Lumet Buckley—Living the African-American experience
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond—Does the profit motive cause homelessness?
The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero by Timothy Egan—The Irish: the “Muslim immigrants” of the nineteenth century
Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy—How to make black lives matter to police
Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable—Malcolm X, reconsidered in the context of his time
Taxing the Poor: Doing Damage to the Truly Disadvantaged by Katherine S. Newman and Rourke L. O’Brien—Poverty in America: why the poor get poorer
Becoming by Michelle Obama—The Michelle Obama memoir is an extraordinary story
Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese-American Internment in World War II by Richard Reeves—The shameful story of Japanese-American Internment in WWII
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot—The dark side of medical history
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson—A searing look at America’s broken criminal justice system
Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History by Steven J. Zipperstein—In a prelude to the Holocaust, the Kishinev pogrom shocked the world
For further reading
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