The 10 Best Black Books of 2008

The 10 Best Black Books of 2008


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Black conservative Shelby Steele took a calculated risk in publishing a book predicting Obama

wouldn’t win. Oops. A bigger blunder than the Chicago Tribune’s “Dewey Elected’ headline

prematurely announcing the demise of Harry Truman in 1948. Probably already out-of-print.



The 10 Best Black Books of 2008 (Non-Fiction)

By Kam Williams 


1. Hope on a Tightrope: Words & Wisdom by Cornel West 

Hope on a Tightrope earns the #1 spot at the dawn of the new political era of Barack Obama. Why? Because in spite of the uncritical euphoria surrounding Obama’s historic accomplishment, Dr. West has the guts to call attention to the pressing plight of the least of his brethren even before the President-elect has had a chance to take office.

Plus, the iconoclastic author, in urging the incoming administration to address the concerns of the poor and underprivileged, cleverly invokes “the fierce urgency of now,” the same phrase coined by Dr. Martin Luther King and appropriated by Obama as his campaign theme. Props to Professor West for such a passionate reminder that the struggle for equality couldn’t possibly end automatically upon with the ascension of a black man to the nation’s highest office.

2. Faith under Fire: Betrayed by a Thing Called Love by LaJoyce Brookshire 

Everybody is aware of the devastating toll the escalating AIDS rate has been taking on the black community. For this reason, inner city schools all over the country ought to consider adding this memoir to their curriculum as a precautionary measure. The book revolves around author LaJoyce Brookshire’s relationship with a duplicitous brother on the down low who callously put his monogamous wife’s life at risk.

Only well into their marriage did a bell go off in her head, but by then he already had full-blown AIDS, and she was left in shock by the carousing, carelessness and sexual preferences by a partner she had incorrectly assumed to be a straight, faithful spouse. Not exactly anybody’s idea of a fairy tale romance, but a wake-up call to sisters who can’t be too careful, given the rampant spread of AIDS by convicts, intravenous drug users and brothers simply too afraid to admit they’re gay or bisexual due to the intolerant nature of a macho, inner-city culture marked by an intolerance of homosexuality.  

3. Standing Tall: A Memoir of Tragedy and Triumph by C. Vivian Stringer 

When Don Imus referred to the young women on the Rutgers University Basketball Team as “nappy headed-hos” a year ago, it deeply affected their Coach, Vivian Stringer who “couldn’t shake the feeling that I had fallen down in my responsibility to protect these girls.” What almost nobody knew is that Vivian was recovering from breast cancer at the time Imus’ indefensible remarks thrust her into the national limelight, and that her mother suffered a stroke right in the middle of the controversy.

So, Stringer never let on that she was going through chemo and caring for her seriously-ill mom while handling the crisis with the utmost poise and dignity. Poignantly written without a whit of bitterness, Standing Tall is as moving a memoir as I ever remember reading. The tears started flowing from the first page and didn’t stop till I finished the book.

4. Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting  by Terrie M. Williams 

Social Worker Terrie Williams is most persuasive, here, making the argument that life is hard in the ‘hood, that people are suffering from depression as a consequence, and that the time has arrived to remove the stigma in the community still attached to seeking out psychological help. A convincing call for African-Americans to trade in their self-defeating stoicism for some long-overdue mental health treatment.

5. Don’t Blame It on Rio by Jewel Woods and Karen Hunter 

Did you know that Brazil has become the favorite vacation destination of a rapidly-increasing number of professional African-American males? Are black women even necessary any longer? Perhaps not, according to Jewel Woods and Pulitzer Prize-winner Karen Hunter, co-authors of this eye-opening exposé which blows the cover off the clandestine sex trade currently flourishing in Rio.

The city is apparently a popular port of call with bourgie brothers from the U.S. due to the easy availability of local women who don’t have the attitude or emotional baggage they generally find attached to sisters back home. A rather revealing look at a disturbing cultural trend.

6. Be a Father to Your Child by April R. Silver 

How do African-American males feel about fatherhood nowadays? Here’s a hint: Between 70 and 85% of black kids are now being raised by single-moms. The popular notion is that misogynistic gangsta rap might have formed men generally unwilling to shoulder their fair share of the burden when it comes to parenting.

But before you jump to conclusions, you might want to read this collection of empowering essays by black men of the Hip-Hop Generation who have not abandoned their children. For this uplifting tome, which includes contributions by rapper Talib Kweli, writer Bakari Kitwana and filmmaker Byron Hunt, offers a heartening mix of poetry, prose and pictures designed to reassure skeptics about the prospects of the black family.

7. The Naked Truth: Young Beautiful and (HIV) Positive by Marvelyn Brown

This bittersweet biography chronicles the author’s evolution from being diagnosed HIV+ to feeling desperate, frightened and abandoned to blossoming into a fearless AIDS activist. Now 24, this brave young lady deserves considerable credit for going public and thus putting a face on a still generally hidden and denied disease at a time when African-Americans account for the majority of new infections in the United States.   

8. The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse by Richard Thompson Ford 

Was it fair for Michael Jackson to turn himself white only to reclaim his blackness when he wanted to sue his record company? According to Richard Thompson Ford, many well-off African-Americans are more than  willing to make inappropriate accusations of prejudice for purely selfish reasons.

The author concludes that such opportunists who resort to the tactic of playing the race card “are the enemies of truth, social harmony, and social justice.” His solution? “For all decent and honest people” to join in condemning any such perpetrators. Certainly, food for thought in what has recently been dubbed “post-racial” America.

9. Letters to a Young Sister: Define Your Destiny by Hill Harper 

Actor Hill Harper received nothing but positive feedback a couple of years ago upon the release of Letters to a Young Brother, his inspirational how-to book for African-American males. Its uplifting message emphasized the value of a good education over the accumulation of material possessions while also stressing the importance of being the architect of your own life.

So, it is only fitting that he would choose to write a companion text for black females with the help such luminaries as Michelle Obama, Angela Bassett, Ruby Dee, Nikki Giovanni and Sanaa Lathan. This invaluable tome addresses a litany of concerns occupying the inquiring minds of impressionable girls still in their formative years. Overall, an uplifting collection of sage insights aimed at instilling self-confidence, self-respect and self-reliance.

10. Sweet Release: The Last Step to Black Freedom by Dr. James Davison, Jr. 

Is it detrimental for African-Americans to continue to think of their struggle for advancement as a collective as opposed to a solitary enterprise? This is the controversial contention put forward by Dr. Davison, a psychologist in private practice in California. He believes that those black folks still viewing reality through a pre-Civil Rights Era prism are only standing in the way of their own freedom.

According to the author, the key rests in African-Americans breaking the psychological bonds to their racial past by asserting their individuality, a step which he claims “has little to do with racism, prejudice, or discrimination.” A bitter pill to swallow, but so shockingly confrontational that its prescription for black sanity is a must read, despite the doctor’s apparent right-wing political allegiances.   

Honorable Mention

All about the Beat: Why Hip-Hop Can’t Save Black America by John McWhorter 

Barack Obama: Making History Edited by Tanya Ishikawa

The Chronicles of a Gentleman (The Untold Truth) by Leroy Sanders 

Company I 366th Infantry by Harold E. Russell, Jr. 

How to Build a Million Dollar Business by Richelle Shaw 

Life as a Single Mom by Stephanie M. Clark  

Life Is a Game by Jim Copeland 

My True Soul: Exploited, Apprehended & Broken Within by Shawna M. Harrison 

Why Black People Can’t Lose Weight by Makeisha Lee 

Why African-Americans Can’t Get Ahead by Gwen Richardson 

25 Things That Really Matter in Life: A Comprehensive Guide to Making Your Life Better by Gary A. Johnson 

Worst Black Book of 2008

A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited about Obama and Why He Can’t Win by Shelby Steele 

The title says it all. Black conservative Shelby Steele took a calculated risk in publishing a book predicting Obama wouldn’t win. Oops. A bigger blunder than the Chicago Tribune’s “Dewey Elected’ headline prematurely announcing the demise of Harry Truman in 1948. Probably already out-of-print.

posted 14 December 2008 

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 14 March 2012




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Related files: The 10 Best Black Books of 2007

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