The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley (Ballantine, $8).
Possibly no other American autobiography — possibly no other American book — has opened more minds than this one. Malcolm X's life story, a story of self-critique and transformation, shows us human potential at its best, and becomes a lesson in what is possible for us all.
All About Love: New Visions by Bell Hooks (William Morrow, $15).
This book changed my life forever. Hooks schooled me that love is not a noun or a strong emotional attachment. Love is a verb. Love is not the three words we say to people. Love is how we treat people, how people treat us. I love because of this book.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (Harper, $17).
This novel, the masterwork of anti-racist fiction, innovatively explores the precarious love life of a Southern black woman wrestling sexism, racism, and, ultimately, poverty. Hurston portrays black people in all their imperfections and complex diversity, which is what makes them human, and humanly equal to all other racial groups.
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (Vintage, $17).
The whole time I was reading Wilkerson's book, subtitled The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, my mind was filled with mental pictures. The scene-setting, the dialogue, the character development...I still cannot believe that this award-winning work is nonfiction.
Black Reconstruction in America: 1860–1880 by W.E.B. Du Bois (Free Press, $22).
Du Bois blew up the library of lies that fixed the South's post–Civil War years as a "tragic" era of black terror and white suffering — lies that justified Jim Crow for generations. Du Bois considered this 1935 book, not The Souls of Black Folk, to be his magnum opus. And I could not agree more.
Ida: A Sword Among Lions by Paula J. Giddings (Harper, $20).
Giddings microscopically renders not only the life of Ida Wells and all her courageous anti-lynching activism, but the life of the 19th- and early 20th-century United States that Wells navigated and endlessly challenged. It is the best biography I have ever read of an American activist.
— Ibram X. Kendi is the author of Stamped From the Beginning, an intellectual history of racism in America that won this year's National Book Award for nonfiction. He is an assistant professor of African-American history at the University of Florida.