A Black History Month Reading List

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To honor Black History Month, we have assembled a collection of works highlighting the lives of Black individuals and the history of African American communities across centuries of struggle and achievement. These books unpack racial biases; explore the persistence of barriers facing Black Americans; rediscover forgotten leaders and movements central to civil rights progress; examine ongoing issues of identity, inequality, and justice through art and theory; and much more. As Black authors bring their rigor, creativity, and lived experiences to expose neglected narratives and advocate for change, this expansive body of literature teaches, empowers, and inspires.

Enjoy an exclusive 30% off on these print and e-books throughout February. Use code BLACKHISTORY30 at checkout on our website.

From The University of Chicago Press

Freeman’s Challenge: The Murder That Shook America’s Original Prison for Profit

By Robin Bernstein

“Rigorously researched and powerfully told, Freeman’s Challenge reimagines a life shaped in the crucible of America’s first great industrial prison. Along the way, Bernstein shines a light on the foundations of the system that ensnares so many thousands of lives today. This is a story about race and violence, but it is no less about land, labor, and money on a massive scale. Read this book if you want to understand the real history of crime and punishment in the United States.”—Caleb Smith, editor of The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict

The Black Tax: 150 Years of Theft, Exploitation, and Dispossession in America 

By Andrew W. Kahrl

“It is impossible to overstate the significance of The Black Tax. It is quite clearly one of the most important books of our time, bringing out into the open the shocking story of how the tax system has functioned in the past and continues today to be a key generator of racial injustice and inequality.”—George Lipsitz, author of The Possessive Investment in Whiteness

The Black Ceiling: How Race Still Matters in the Elite Workplace 

By Kevin Woodson

“The Black Ceiling is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding barriers to success for Black professionals working at predominantly White firms in law, consulting, and finance. Woodson shows how racial discomfort sometimes shadows Black professionals’ experiences, through social alienation and stigma anxiety. In doing so, Woodson goes beyond explanations that rely solely on instances of racial discrimination to explain how social, cultural, and psychological processes also shape work experiences. Woodson also identifies the route to more positive experiences at work for Black professionals. The book is a compelling read and is sure to become an instant classic!”—Natasha Warikoo, author of Race at the Top: Asian Americans and Whites in Pursuit of the American Dream in Suburban Schools

Sound Experiments: The Music of the AACM 

By Paul Steinbeck

“Musical analysis dominates the text, but Steinbeck’s thoughtful writing makes the descriptions work on several levels: for a student, or anyone interested in learning about how the music works; for a non-musician who may breeze past the score excerpts but dig into the plain-speak breakdowns; or the attentive fan who can relate the structures discussed to stage dynamics they have witnessed.”—New York City Jazz Record

Black Scare / Red Scare: Theorizing Capitalist Racism in the United States 

By Charisse Burden-Stelly

“Burden-Stelly is one of our most brilliant radical thinkers and scholars. In Black Scare / Red Scare she recounts, reassesses, and reframes the historical relationship between white supremacy and anti-communism. In light of growing racist authoritarian movements today, the book could not be more timely. Powerful and powerfully relevant.”—Barbara Ransby, historian, activist, and author of the award-winning Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement

In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863 

By Leslie M. Harris

“A splendid addition to historical writing about blacks in the North and, more generally, the institution of slavery itself. Well crafted and assiduously researched, In the Shadow of Slavery sparkles with fresh insights about what it meant to be an African New Yorker during more than two centuries of the city’s turbulent history.”—Shane White, author of Stories of Freedom in Black New York

Metaracial: Hegel, Antiblackness, and Political Identity 

By Rei Terada

“Behind the ‘subject slave,’ universally human by virtue of the dialectic, there is a second slave hiding, the Black slave. Deconstructing this trope in Hegel, Terada reveals the philosophical sources of an embarrassing paradox—antiblack antiracism—which continuously affects political radicalism. An elucidation which is demanding but also fascinating and hugely clarifying!”—Étienne Balibar, author of Citizen Subject: Foundations for Philosophical Anthropology

Banking on Slavery: Financing Southern Expansion in the Antebellum United States 

By Sharon Ann Murphy

“In a pathbreaking account of the way Americans financed slavery, Murphy connects the vast sweep of that tragedy to the banking that made it possible. Detail by dollar detail, she exposes the structures that transmuted enslaved people into assets and collateral, building white wealth all the while. A powerful–and chilling–book.”—Christine Desan, author of Making Money: Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism

Black in White Space: The Enduring Impact of Color in Everyday Life 

By Elijah Anderson

“Black in White Space is an elegantly composed, brilliant, and intimate look at how Black people are seen in and navigate through predominantly white spaces. This will be an extremely useful text—particularly as we grapple with what diversity means in its substance as an aspiration.”—Imani Perry, Princeton University

Black Paper: Writing in a Dark Time 

By Teju Cole

“A collection of essays that bursts with unrestrained humanity. . . . Cole’s eighth book is technically excellent, and more importantly, it blazes a wholesome style to living and being alive. It holds many truths, some conflicting, because this is what humanity is.”—Open Country

A Thousand Steps to Parliament: Constructing Electable Women in Mongolia

By Manduhai Buyandelger

“A Thousand Steps to Parliament is exemplary of political anthropology at its best. Using fine-grained ethnography, detailed historiography, and compelling prose, Buyandelger demonstrates the ways in which elections are so much more than technical exercises. The result is a wholly original and completely convincing analysis of electoral politics and the making of women’s electable selves. Buyandelger gifts us a set of concepts and methods for understanding postsocialist democracy that couldn’t be more timely.”—Jessica Greenberg, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Undesirable: Passionate Mobility and Women’s Defiance of French Colonial Policing, 1919–1952 

By Jennifer Anne Boittin

“Innovative and engrossing, Undesirable contains cutting-edge scholarship on sex and gender in the French Empire. Boittin provides a vivid and powerful set of images of white and Indigenous women’s encounters with the French state, showing how women engaged the colonial bureaucracy, police, and judiciary.”—Leora Auslander, University of Chicago

The Education of Betsey Stockton: An Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom 

By Gregory Nobles

“At last, Betsey Stockton receives the full biography she deserves. Working with the scant records of Stockton’s life, and brilliantly situating her experiences amidst broader social and political debates, Nobles reveals Stockton as a woman of bravery and persistence, intellect and faith. Long a figure of local renown, she here claims her place in the broader story of remarkable women who emerged from enslavement to become civic leaders who reshaped Black community life.”—Martha A. Sandweiss, founding director of The Princeton & Slavery Project

Phenomenal Blackness: Black Power, Philosophy, and Theory 

Mark Christian Thompson

“Mark Christian Thompson’s Phenomenal Blackness: Black Power, Philosophy, and Theory is a powerful exploration of the development of a critical literary theory that is able to properly theorize Blackness in the middle decades of the twentieth century.”—Critical Inquiry

Being Somebody and Black Besides: An Untold Memoir of Midcentury Black Life 

By George B. Nesbitt (Edited by Prexy Nesbitt and Zeb Larson; With Forewords by Imani Perry and St. Clair Drake)

“This is a searing portrait of an ordinary, yet extraordinary, middle-class Black man forced to endure the indignity of having to fight for fair play from people far less ‘civilized’ than he. A keen observer of the ‘ways of white folks,’ Nesbitt was a brilliant, sarcastic, insightful analyst of the color line, even as he willed himself to believe in his country and its ideals. This memoir reminds us how much we owe the early fighters for civil rights, who endured so many insults and injuries as they fought to widen opportunities for Black people and dismantle northern style Jim Crow. Nesbitt’s accounts of racism are unforgettable in their detail, anger, sheer absurdity, and casual cruelty.”—Martha Biondi, Northwestern University

The Blues Dream of Billy Boy Arnold

By Billy Boy Arnold with Kim Field

“A lively, illuminating memoir. . . Arnold’s heartfelt, honest, insider’s view of Chicago blues from the 1940s onward will be essential to anyone interested in blues and the origins of rock and roll.”—Library Journal

No Longer Outsiders: Black and Latino Interest Group Advocacy on Capitol Hill 

By Michael D. Minta

“Beautifully written and eloquently argued, No Longer Outsiders demonstrates that, contrary to accepted wisdom about minority representation in Congress, the relationship between advocacy organizations and congressional members is the key to each other’s success. The book is a must-read for any student of Congress, minority representation, or race and politics.”—Lisa García Bedolla, University of California, Berkeley

African American Political Thought: A Collected History 

Edited by Melvin L. Rogers and Jack Turner

“African American Political Thought should become an instant classic. So much to mine here. So many lines of inquiry to follow. Rogers and Turner have masterfully curated a collection of essays that will guide the field of African American political thought for generations. The study of American political thought will never be the same.”—Eddie S. Glaude Jr., Princeton University

Remembering Emmett Till 

By Dave Tell

“A 2019 Book of the Year. . . A fine history of racism, poverty and memory in the Mississippi Delta told through the lynching of Emmett Till, a black 14-year-old from Chicago whose murder in 1955—and his mother’s determination to display his mutilated features in an open coffin—made him an early martyr of the civil-rights movement.”—The Economist

Sun Ra’s Chicago: Afrofuturism and the City 

By William Sites

​​”One of the ten best Chicago books of 2020. Plenty of books have been written about Afrofuturist pioneer Sun Ra and his Arkestra, but Sites is the first to make Chicago his co-protagonist. . . . Sites provides crucial context on how Chicago’s Afrocentrist philosophy, religion, and jazz scenes helped turn Blount into Sun Ra.”—Chicago Reader

The Lost Black Scholar: Resurrecting Allison Davis in American Social Thought 

By David A. Varel 

“Meticulous and comprehensive. . . The Lost Black Scholar is an exciting and innovative intellectual biography of Allison Davis, easily one of the most brilliant and accomplished academics of the twentieth century. . . This well-written and exquisitely researched book may be a generation late in the making, however, it compensates for the time lost. Varel’s excellent award-caliber treatise on the life and career of Allison Davis is a major contribution to the historiography on Black scholars in the academy and, because of it, Davis’ legacy will only expand. It cannot be read without profit.”—Journal of Negro Education

Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells (second edition)

By Ida B. Wells (Edited by Alfreda M. Duster; With a New Foreword by Eve L. Ewing and a New Afterword by Michelle Duster)

“It’s a classic that should be read just as often as the works of her contemporaries Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois.”—Book Riot

Murder in New Orleans: The Creation of Jim Crow Policing

By Jeffrey S. Adler

“This most interesting book is a brilliant companion to an understanding of many elements of crime and the response to crime, not simply in interwar New Orleans but also more generally in America in this period.”—The Critic

From Brandeis University Press

Black Women’s Intellectual Traditions: Speaking Their Minds

Edited by Kristin Waters and Carol B. Conaway (With a New Preface)

A new edition of a landmark work on Black women’s intellectual traditions.

From Hirmer Publishers 

Angela Davis: Seize the Time

Edited by Gerry Beegan and Donna Gustafson

“The book is both a piece of history and a piece of art.”—Pendarvis Harshaw, KQED

John Martin: Stay Hungry

Edited by Ginger Shulick Porcella and Creative Growth Art Center; With Essays by Philip March Jones and Cheryl Dunn

Images from John Martin’s collection of interpretations of found objects.

Sonya Clark: We Are Each Other

Edited by Elissa Auther, Laura Mott, and Monica Obniski; With Essays by Renée Ater, Leslie King-Hammond, and Lowery Stokes Sims

Large-scale textile works from a leading contemporary Afro-Caribbean American artist.

From Intellect Ltd 

Hip-Hop Archives: The Politics and Poetics of Knowledge Production 

Edited by Mark V. Campbell and Murray Forman

A collection of essays on archiving the history of hip-hop, featuring a range of official, unofficial, DIY, and community archives.

From Paul Holberton Publishing

Harmonia Rosales: Master Narrative 

By Patricia Lee Daigle (Edited by Rosamund Garrett; With Contributions by Efeoghene Igor Coleman, Sophia Quach McCabe, Natalie McCann, and Helen Morales)

“The first scholarly collection of Rosales’ work, the new catalog features over 20 paintings and a sculptural installation. The illustrated catalog also includes a biography of the artist and several scholarly essays exploring themes ranging from storytelling to depictions of beauty, race and diaspora.”—The Current

From Reaktion Books

Zora Neale Hurston 

By Cheryl R. Hopson

The life, work, and legacy of one of the twentieth century’s most published African American women.

From Seagull Books

Afropea: A Post-Western and Post-Racist Utopia

By Léonora Miano (Translated by Gila Walker)

Challenging conventional notions of racial and regional identity, Léonora Miano provides a fresh perspective on the complexities of self-perception.

From the University of London Press

Freedom Seekers: Escaping from Slavery in Restoration London

By Simon P. Newman

“Newman’s painstaking research and luminous interpretation reveal a community of enslaved Black people in Restoration England, yearning to escape. Evocative prose and interactive illustrations enable us to imagine their flights on the streets of London, and also to perceive the arterial network of enslavers, merchants, investors, ship captains, and printers, who devised a novel way to repossess them: the runaway slave advertisement.”—Vincent Brown, author of Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War

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