Reading lists

“Everyone needs to read this book”: Bernardine Evaristo, Sara Collins and more authors on their essential anti-racism reads

We asked five Penguin authors whose work explores racism, in fiction and nonfiction, to share the books they feel are crucial to understanding – and then acting on ­– racial injustice at home and worldwide.

Bernardine Evaristo, Sara Collins and more authors share their anti-racism reads
Image: Mica Murphy/Penguin

Bernardine Evaristo on Black Like Me by John Griffin (1960) 

Black Like Me is an anti-racist classic that has sold millions of copies since it was first published. It’s the account of John Griffin, a white journalist, who passes himself off as a dark-skinned Black man in the American Deep South in order to better understand racism. And better understand it he does, when he finds himself being treated despicably simply because he now looks Black.

‘Oh, but that was the 1950s’, I hear some people protest. Look, here’s the thing: it’s only when you walk in the shoes of a Black person, especially a Black man in a majority-white country, that you will ever really understand the pernicious prevalence of racism. To quote Griffin, “They could not see me or any other black man as a human individual because they buried us under the garbage of their stereotyped view of us.”

The same applies today, which is why Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd with the complicity of three other policemen. Everyone needs to read this book.

Bernardine Evaristo is the author of the 2019 Booker Prize-winning Girl, Woman, Other.

Robin DiAngelo on Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad (2020) and The Racial Contract (1997) by Charles W. Mills

I have to pick two, because one helped me understand the bigger picture, and the other is a practical guide about how to apply that understanding. The former, for me, is The Racial Contract by Charles W. Mills, a sociologist – that book is so good. He says white supremacy is the social contract that has underwritten all other social contracts in the Western world, including democracy, socialism, capitalism, fascism. These systems are named and studied, he says, but the one we never name or study is white supremacy.

The latter is Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy workbook, because it’s a book you do, rather than read. If white people sincerely want to know what to do once they’ve read about racism and white privilege, they should work through that book; it’s active. I think all white people should get started using it.

Robin DiAngelo is the author of the international bestseller White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (2018).

Nikita Lalwani on The Nickel Boys (2019) by Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead is a writer who is interested in how hierarchies emerge, and bruise, from single, indelible words to the chilling mobilisation that is necessary for organised cruelty. The school in The Nickel Boys is a fictionalised version of a real school – Dozier School for Boys, a reform school in Florida. The gruesome horrors and abuses that take place in this book have their roots in a very real landscape of pain. Graves of schoolboys in the grounds of Dozier continue to be uncovered, with 27 more discovered as recently as 2019.

Writing The Nickel Boys must have been so difficult, but Whitehead’s cool, distilled prose makes it seem effortless ­­– a mastery, in fictional terms at least ­– over this unimaginable tale. 

Nikita Lalwani is the Booker Prize-longlisted author of 'You People' (2019).

Toby Green on How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney (1972)

Like many Black radicals of the 60s and 70s, Guyanese historian-activist Walter Rodney was assassinated for his efforts, in 1980. Before that he had written this classic text, a book which demands to be read – especially now.

Rodney provides a searing analysis of the causes of economic disempowerment in Africa, from the slave trade to the end of colonialism. He anticipates later emphasis on African and Black agency, but insists that the causes of inequality, racism, and the oppression of Africans both on the continent and in the diaspora lie in structural economic frameworks. Almost 50 years later, the book reveals, with the clarity of truth, the underlying structures enabling the George Floyd murder in the US, the disproportionate mortality from Covid-19 affecting British BAME communities and the impact on lives and livelihoods in the Global South.

Toby Green is the author of historical non-fiction book 'A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution' (2020).

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more