Reviews of 28 good books about racism

The 28 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 AdichieRace, 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 AlexanderReexamining 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.

The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War by James BradleyTeddy Roosevelt and the dark side of American foreign policy

Racism in America today is largely directed at people of color with roots in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. But it wasn’t always so. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the most virulent racism outside the realm of Jim Crow was directed at East Asian people, principally Chinese immigrants. And this was by no means a strictly grassroots phenomenon: racism of the most vicious sort dominated policymakers in Congress, the courts, and the White House. For example, President Teddy Roosevelt was one of the most outspoken racists of his day.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi CoatesA 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.

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes by Adam RutherfordDebunking 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.

12 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

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 Treacherous Paradise by Henning Mankell — Race relations in colonial Africa through the eyes of a Swedish novelist

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

A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton — A powerful family drama about living with Jim Crow and the War on Drugs

11 other good books about racism reviewed here: nonfiction

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 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

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

You might also be interested in 10 enlightening books about poverty in America and Understanding American history through 72 books.

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