Through his videos, Akala is building a recommended reading list of books that promote critical thinking, expand ideas and improve our understanding of the world and people around us. The list covers a huge breadth of disciplines while at the same time being a very personal recommendation of important books.
Akala's Great Reads - YouTube Playlist
You Are What You Read - An article on knowledge and reading by Akala. Huffington Post 2011.
The List So Far
The Awakening of Intelligence
by Jiddu Krishnamurti
This comprehensive record of Krishnamurti's teachings is an excellent, wide-ranging introduction to the great philosopher's thought. With among others, Jacob Needleman, Alain Naude, and Swami Venkatasananda, Krishnamurti examines such issues as the role of the teacher and tradition; the need for awareness of 'cosmic consciousness'; the problem of good and evil; and traditional Vedanta methods of help for different levels of seekers.
Akala Reads Episode 1
The Glass Bead Game
by Hermann Hesse
The final novel of Hermann Hesse, for which he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946, The Glass Bead Game is a fascinating tale of the complexity of modern life as well as a classic of modern literature.
Set in the 23rd century, The Glass Bead Game is the story of Joseph Knecht, who has been raised in Castalia, the remote place his society has provided for the intellectual elite to grow and flourish. Since childhood, Knecht has been consumed with mastering the Glass Bead Game, which requires a synthesis of aesthetics and scientific arts, such as mathematics, music, logic, and philosophy, which he achieves in adulthood, becoming a Magister Ludi (Master of the Game).
Akala Reads Episode 2
The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic
by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker
Using a decade of original research into the 17th and 18th century, this text unearths ideas and stories about liberty, democracy and freedom that terrified the ruling classes of the time and form the foundations of modern revolutions.
Paperback - Verso Books
Akala Reads Episode 3
When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order
by Martin Jacques
How China's ascendance as an economic superpower will alter the cultural, political, social, and ethnic balance of global power in the twenty-first century, unseating the West and in the process creating a whole new world.
According to even the most conservative estimates, China will overtake the United States as the world's largest economy by 2027 and will ascend to the position of world economic leader by 2050. But the full repercussions of China's ascendancy-for itself and the rest of the globe-have been surprisingly little explained or understood. In this far-reaching and original investigation, Martin Jacques offers provocative answers to some of the most pressing questions about China's growing place on the world stage.
Akala Reads Episode 4
by Randall Robinson
Makeda Gee Florida Harris March is a proud matriarch, the anchor and emotional bellwether who holds together a hard-working African American family living in 1950s Richmond, Virginia. Lost in shadow is Makeda's grandson Gray, who begins escaping into the magical world of Makeda's tiny parlour.
Makeda, a woman blind since birth but who has always dreamed in colour, begins to confide in Gray the things she "sees" and remembers from her dream state, and a story emerges that is layered with historical accuracy beyond the scope of Makeda's limited education. Gradually, Gray begins to make a connection between his gr
Part coming-of-age story, part spiritual journey, and part love story, Makeda is a universal tale of family, heritage, and the ties that bind. Randall Robinson plumbs the hearts of Makeda and Gray and summons our collective blood memories, taking the reader on an unforgettable journey of the soul that will linger long after the last page has been turned.
Akala Reads Episode 5
A Brief History of Seven Killings
by Marlon James
Winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes a masterfully written novel that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s.
On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert, gunmen stormed his house, machine guns blazing. The attack nearly killed the Reggae superstar, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Marley would go on to perform at the free concert on December 5, but he left the country the next day, not to return for two years.
Deftly spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of characters - assassins, journalists, drug dealers, and even ghosts—A Brief History of Seven Killings is the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the 70s, to the crack wars in 80s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the 90s. Brilliantly inventive and stunningly ambitious, this novel is a revealing modern epic that will secure Marlon James’ place among the great literary talents of his generation.
Akala Reads Episode 6
by Dr Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
The year 2000 approaches. The chance we have now to look back and take stock will be unrepeatable for another thousand years. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto's Millennium sweeps the past and scans the prospects to present an unprecedented vision of genuinely global history.
Millennium is a new initiative in narrative history, viewing the current millennium as it draws to a close as from the future. The evidence of what this thousand years represents is explored with more intricacy and intimacy than has ever been attempted in a work of this size. With the help of perfectly chosen details, our past history is illuminated over the course of a millennium on the scale of entire civilisations and cultures, revealing the historical initiative as it shifts from one part of the world to another and back again.
With its vivid writing and hundreds of illustrations, Millennium is a classic of popular history: one of the few books which has relevance for the present as well as enduring interest for the future. Critically acclaimed on first publication, it was short-listed for the Duff Cooper Prize.
Akala Reads Episode 7
The Blood Never Dried: A People's History of the British Empire
by John Newsinger
George Bush's 'War on Terror' has inspired a forest of books about the new American Empire. But what about Britain's role in the world? "A People's History of the British Empire" challenges the claim that the British Empire was a kinder, gentler empire and suggests that the description of 'Rogue State' is more fitting. How many people today know about Britain's deep involvement in the opium drug trade in China, or that Tony Blair's hero Gladstone devoted his maiden parliamentary speech to defending his family's slave plantation in Jamaica? John Newsinger has written a wonderful popular history of key episodes in British imperial history. He pays particular attention to the battles of the colonised to free themselves of its baleful rule, including Rebellion in Jamaica; The Irish Famine; The Opium Wars; The Great Indian Rebellion; The Conquest of Egypt; Palestine in Revolt; 'Quit India' and the struggle for Independence; Suez; Malaya; Kenya and Rhodesia; and, Britain and American Imperialism.
Akala Reads Episode 8
Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries
by Neil Degrasse Tyson
Loyal readers of the monthly 'Universe' essays in Natural History magazine have long recognized Neil deGrasse Tyson's talent for guiding them through the mysteries of the cosmos with clarity and enthusiasm. Bringing together more than forty of Tyson's favourite essays, ?Death by Black Hole? explores a myriad of cosmic topics, from what it would be like to be inside a black hole to the movie industry's feeble efforts to get its night skies right. One of America's best-known astrophysicists, Tyson is a natural teacher who simplifies the complexities of astrophysics while sharing his infectious fascination for our universe.
Akala Reads Episode 9
The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese
by Michael Paterniti
In the fall of 1991, while working at a gourmet deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Michael Paterniti encountered a piece of cheese. Not just any cheese. This was Paramo de Guzman, a rare Spanish queso reputed to be the finest, and most expensive, in the world. The cheese carried its own legend: Made from an ancient family recipe in the medieval Castilian village of Guzman (pop. 80), the cheese was submerged in olive oil and aged in a cave where it gained magical qualities-if you ate it, some said, you might recover long-lost memories. Too broke to actually buy the cheese, Paterniti made a quixotic vow: that he would meet this cheese again someday. Flash forward ten years, when Paterniti has finally found his way-family in tow-to that tiny hilltop village to meet the famous cheese maker himself, a voluble, magnetic, heartbroken genius named Ambrosio. What Paterniti discovers in Guzman is nothing like the idyllic slow-food fable he has imagined. Instead, he wanders into-and eventually becomes deeply implicated in-the heart of an unfolding mystery, in which a village begins to spill its long-held secrets, and nothing is quite what it seems.
Akala Reads Episode 10
Race First: The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association
by Tony Martin
A classic study of the Garvey movement, this is,the most thoroughly researched book on Garvey's,ideas by a historian of black nationalism.
Akala Reads Episode 11
A Dying Colonialism
by Frantz Fanon
An incisive and illuminating account of how, during the Algerian Revolution, the people of Algeria changed centuries-old cultural patterns and embraced certain ancient cultural practices long derided by their colonialist oppressors as primitive, in order to destroy those same oppressors. Fanon uses the fifth year of the Algerian Revolution as a point of departure for an explication of the inevitable dynamics of colonial oppression.
Akala Reads Episode 12
The Collected Works of Khalil Gibran
For the first time, all the major works of this beloved writer are gathered together in one hardcover volume.
Poet, artist, and mystic, Kahlil Gibran was born in 1883 to a poor Christian family in Lebanon and immigrated to the United States as an adolescent. His masterpiece, The Prophet, a book of poetic essays that he began while still a youth in Lebanon, is one of the most cherished books of our time and has sold millions of copies in more than twenty languages since its publication in 1923. But all of Gibran’s works—essays, stories, parables, and prose poems—are imbued with equally powerful simplicity and wisdom, whether they are addressing marriage or children, friendship or grief, work or pleasure. Perhaps no other twentieth-century writer has touched the hearts and minds of so remarkably varied and widespread a readership.
Included in this volume are The Prophet, The Wanderer, Jesus the Son of Man, A Tear and a Smile, Spirits Rebellious, Nymphs of the Valley, Prose Poems, The Garden of the Prophet, The Earth Gods, Sand and Foam, The Forerunner, and The Madman.
Akala Reads Episode 13
Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment
by Peter Hallward
Once the most lucrative European colony in the Caribbean, Haiti has long been one of the most divided and impoverished countries in the world. In the late 1980s a remarkable popular mobilization known as Lavalas, or “the flood,” sought to liberate the island from decades of US-backed dictatorial rule. After winning a landslide election victory, in 1991 the Lavalas government led by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown by a bloody military coup. Damming the Flood analyzes how and why Aristide’s enemies in Haiti, the US and France made sure that his second government, elected with another overwhelming majority in 2000, was toppled by a further coup in 2004.
The elaborate international campaign to contain, discredit and then overthrow Lavalas at the start of the twenty-first century was perhaps the most successful act of imperial sabotage since the end of the Cold War. Its execution and its impact have much to teach anyone interested in the development of today’s political struggles in Latin America and the rest of the post-colonial world.
Paperback - Verso Books
Akala Reads Episode 14
When We Ruled: The Ancient and Medieval History of Black Civilisations
by Robin Walker
When We Ruled is by far the best general work on the ancient and medieval history of Black people there has ever been.
This landmark publication, which is superbly illustrated with high quality photographs, maps and drawings, provides an extraordinary and cutting-edge synthesis of the archaeological data, the documentary evidence, and the historical linguistic research. It recounts the fascinating story of the origin and development of indigenous civilisations across the vast panorama of the African continent.
In particular, the author answers the key question in Black history: How much documented history is there beyond the Slave Trade, Mary Seacole, and Malcolm X? In 713 pages that question is answered again and again with a vast array of evidence that explodes the widely held view that Africans were without historical distinctions. In particular, there are ancient and medieval monuments that are still standing all over Africa. In addition, there are Black families and institutions that still possess their medieval manuscripts.
The history of Black people cannot be divorced from the history of peoples on other continents particularly Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Topic areas that have traditionally been ignored, such as Black Women's history, early African science and technology, and the two-way influences between Africa and Europe, are also discussed.
What is remarkable about this work is that for the first time it dares to connect Egypt, and its cultural affinities, with Africa and its chronological timeline within the vast chronology (nearly 90,000 years) of African achievement. It is now untenable for Egyptologists to consider themselves to be experts on Egypt without understanding the African cultural signature embedded within Ancient Egypt and its long history.
Faculty, students and parents interested in a comprehensive, critical and balanced overview of African or Black history will find no better book.
Akala Reads Episode 15
by Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borge's Fictions introduced an entirely new voice into world literature. It is here we find the astonishing accounts of Funes, the man who can forget nothing; the French poet who recreated Don Quixote word for word; the fatal lottery in Babylon; the mysterious planet of Tlön; and the library containing every possible book in the whole universe. Here too are the philosophical detective stories and the haunting tales of Irish revolutionaries, gaucho knife fights and dreams within dreams which proved so influential (and yet impossible to imitate). This collection was eventually to bring Borges international fame; over fifty years later, it remains endlessly intriguing.
This edition is the collection originally published in Spanish as Ficciones (1944).
Ficciones is in fact a compilation of two collections: El Jardín de senderos qui se bifurcan ("The Garden of Forking Paths"), first published in 1941, and Artificios ("Artifices"), unpublished in book form prior to 1944.
Akala Reads Episode 16
by Jeff Smith
From the New York Times best selling author of BONE comes a stark, gritty sci-fi series about a dimension-jumping art thief, a man who races through space and time searching for his next big score and trying to escape his past. Known only by the four letter word found spray-painted at the scene of a crime, RASL stumbles across a mystery that spans centuries, and not only threatens to expose his illicit activities, but could uncover one of the world's most dangerous secrets.
Award-winning cartoonist Jeff Smith explores a world of violence and corruption, mixing murder, passion, and folklore, with cutting-edge physics.
Akala Reads Episode 17
The Ruins, Or, Meditation on the Revolutions of Empires: And the Law of Nature
by C. F. Volney
From first-hand observations and study, Volney demonstrates that early Nile Valley Africans provided a basis for the civilization of his time.
First published in 1791, this is an essay on the philosophy of history, containing a vision which predicts the final union of all religions by the recognition of the common truth underlying them all.
Akala Reads Episode 18
by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Saga is an epic space opera/fantasy comic book series written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, published monthly by the American company Image Comics. The series is heavily influenced by Star Wars and is based on ideas Vaughan conceived both as a child and as a parent. It depicts a husband and wife, Alana and Marko, from long-warring extraterrestrial races, fleeing authorities from both sides of a galactic war as they struggle to care for their daughter, Hazel, who is born in the beginning of the series and who occasionally narrates the series as an unseen adult.
Digital - Image Comics
Akala Reads Episode 19
The Dead Emcee Scrolls: The Lost Teachings of Hip-Hop
by Saul Williams
In the underground labyrinths of New York City's subway system, beneath the third rail of a long forgotten line, Saul Williams discovered scrolls of aged yellowish-brown paper rolled tightly into a can of spray paint. His quest to decipher this mystical ancient text resulted in a primal understanding of the power hip-hop has to teach us about ourselves and the universe around us.
Now, for the first time, Saul Williams shares with the world the wonder revealed to him by the Dead Emcee Scrolls.
Akala Reads Episode 20
Love in the Time of Cholera
by Gabriel García Márquez
In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career he whiles away the years in 622 affairs--yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last, and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again.
Akala Reads Episode 21
by R.K. Narayan
Introducing this collection of stories, R. K. Narayan describes how in India “the writer has only to look out of the window to pick up a character and thereby a story.” Composed of powerful, magical portraits of all kinds of people, and comprising stories written over almost forty years, Malgudi Days presents Narayan’s imaginary city in full color, revealing the essence of India and of human experience. This edition includes an introduction by Pulitzer Prize- winning author Jhumpa Lahiri.
Akala Reads Episode 22
From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia
by Pankaj Mishra
The Victorian period, viewed in the West as a time of self-confident progress, was experienced by Asians as a catastrophe. As the British gunned down the last heirs to the Mughal Empire, burned down the Summer Palace in Beijing, or humiliated the bankrupt rulers of the Ottoman Empire, it was clear that for Asia to recover a vast intellectual effort would be required.
Pankaj Mishra's fascinating, highly entertaining new book tells the story of a remarkable group of men from across the continent who met the challenge of the West. Incessantly travelling, questioning and agonising, they both hated the West and recognised that an Asian renaissance needed to be fuelled in part by engagement with the enemy. Through many setbacks and wrong turns, a powerful, contradictory and ultimately unstoppable series of ideas were created that now lie behind everything from the Chinese Communist Party to Al Qaeda, from Indian nationalism to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Akala Reads Episode 23
Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation
by Jeff Chang
Can't Stop Won't Stop is a powerful cultural and social history of the end of the American century, and a provocative look into the new world that the hip-hop generation created.
Forged in the fires of the Bronx and Kingston, Jamaica, hip-hop became the Esperanto of youth rebellion and a generation-defining movement. In a post-civil rights era defined by deindustrialization and globalization, hip-hop crystallized a multiracial, polycultural generation's worldview, and transformed American politics and culture. But that epic story has never been told with this kind of breadth, insight, and style.
Based on original interviews with DJs, b-boys, rappers, graffiti writers, activists, and gang members, with unforgettable portraits of many of hip-hop's forebears, founders, and mavericks, including DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Chuck D, and Ice Cube, Can't Stop Won't Stop chronicles the events, the ideas, the music, and the art that marked the hip-hop generation's rise from the ashes of the 60's into the new millennium.
Akala Reads Episode 24
Bending the Bow: An Anthology of African Love Poetry
by Frank M Chipasula
This anthology is a work of literary archaeology that lays bare a genre of African poetry that has been overshadowed by political poetry. Frank Chipasula has assembled a historically and geographically comprehensive wealth of African love poetry that spans more than three thousand years. By collecting a continent’s celebrations and explorations of the nature of love, he expands African literature into the sublime territory of the heart.
Bending the Bow traces the development of African love poetry from antiquity to modernity while establishing a cross-millennial dialogue. The anonymously written love poems from Pharaonic Egypt that open the anthology both predate Biblical love poetry and reveal the longevity of written love poetry in Africa. The middle section is devoted to sung love poetry from all regions of the continent. These great works serve as the foundation for modern poetry and testify to love poetry’s omnipresence in Africa. The final section, showcasing forty-eight modern African poets, celebrates the genre’s continuing vitality. Among those represented are Muyaka bin Hajji and Shaaban Robert, two major Swahili poets; Gabriel Okara, the innovative though underrated Nigerian poet; Léopold Sédar Senghor, the first president of Senegal and a founder of the Negritude Movement in francophone African literature; Rashidah Ismaili from Benin; Flavien Ranaivo from Madagascar; and Gabeba Baderoon from South Africa.
Ranging from the subtly suggestive to the openly erotic, this collection highlights love’s endurance in a world too often riven by contention. Bending the Bow bears testimony to poetry’s role as conciliator while opening up a new area of study for scholars and students.
Akala Reads Episode 25
by William Shakespeare
Shakespeare writing on power - in love, war, government and the family. This series brings you the works of the great thinkers, pioneers, radicals and visionaries whose ideas shook civilization and helped make us who we are.
Akala Reads Episode 26
by Ayi Kwei Armah
Fiction. African Studies. THE HEALERS tells a story of the conflict and regeneration focused on replacing toxic ignorance with the healing knowledge of African unity.
Akala Reads Episode 27
Tao Te Ching
by Lao Tzu
The Tao Te Ching, along with the Zhuangzi, is a fundamental text for both philosophical and religious Taoism, and strongly influenced other schools, such as Legalism, Confucianism, and Chinese Buddhism, which when first introduced into China was largely interpreted through the use of Daoist words and concepts. Many Chinese artists, including poets, painters, calligraphers, and even gardeners, have used the Daodejing as a source of inspiration. Its influence has also spread widely outside East Asia, and it is among the most translated works in world literature.
Akala Reads Episode 28
The History of White People
by Nell Irvin Painter
Eminent historian Nell Irvin Painter tells perhaps the most important forgotten story in American history. Beginning at the roots of Western civilization, she traces the invention of the idea of a white race—often for economic, scientific, and political ends. She shows how the origins of American identity in the eighteenth century were intrinsically tied to the elevation of white skin into the embodiment of beauty, power, and intelligence; how the great American intellectuals— including Ralph Waldo Emerson—insisted that only Anglo Saxons were truly American; and how the definitions of who is “white” and who is “American” have evolved over time.
A story filled with towering historical figures, The History of White People closes an enormous gap in a literature that has long focused on the nonwhite, and it forcefully reminds us that the concept of “race” is an all-too-human invention whose meaning, importance, and reality have changed according to a long and rich history.
Akala Reads Episode 29
Special Episode: The Haitian Revolution
A look at a collection of books on the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804.
- Haitian Revolution: A Documentary History by David P. Geggus
- Haitian Revolutionary Studies by David P. Geggus
- Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War: The Promise and Peril of a Second Haitian Revolution by Matthew J. Clavin
- Beyond the Slave Narrative: Politics, Sex, and Manuscripts in the Haitian Revolution by Deborah Jenson
- The Colonial System Unveiled by Baron De Vastey
- An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti by Marcus Rainsford
- The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution by C.L.R. James
- Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution by Laurent Dubois
Akala Reads Episode 30
I'll continue to add Akala's latest episodes to this list and will expand each entry with buying options. As usual, DRM-free e-books or independent physical bookshops are preferable. Here's a list of DRM-free Bookshops to get you started.
You can find more book recommendations, and some of the same titles, in the Luke Cage Reading List.