How do you find a new hero? Read one of these great books…

Photo of book covers.
Photo of book covers.

African American biographies by various authors

c.2023, Various publishers


Various page counts


You are never alone in this world.

Reach out, and you can always get help. Look around, and you’ll find company. Pick up one of these great books, and you’ll read about someone whose life was fascinating, and who you can admire and aspire to be like…

For anyone who likes to watch the ponies, or who thrills to the Triple Crown each year, “Isaac Murphy: The Rise and Fall of a Black Jockey” by Katherine C. Mooney (Yale University Press, $25) is a book filled with action and history. Isaac Murphy was born a slave in 1861 and became a horse jockey, as many Black men did then. Horse racing was one of America’s most popular sports in the mid-nineteenth-century and Murphy was one of America’s most well-known athletes, Black and white – but while his work, the races he won, and the prizes he captured made him famous then, Murphy is often forgotten today. This is an excellent look at a quietly hidden part of Black history, and it can’t be missed.

In “Samuel Ringgold Ward: A Life of Struggle” by R.J.M. Blackett (Yale University Press, $25), you”ll read about another person you’ve likely never heard about. Though he was born early in the 1800s, Ward was not ever enslaved, but he knew the pain of inequality and so he dedicated his life to being an abolitionist. A contemporary of Frederick Douglass, Ward was also a minister, a highly regarded newspaper editor, a speaker, and he firmly believed that alcohol needed to be banned. Why his name fell into obscurity and why you should know about his life and his work makes an excellent read for anyone of any age.

Fans of MTV back in the day, and fans of music over the last 40 years will love reading “Top Billin'” by Bill Bellamy (Amistad, $29.99). In the 1990s, when MTV was still mostly a music channel on cable television, Bellamy was one of its biggest stars. This book remembers those years, and Bellamy’s interviews and friendships with people like Biggie and Tupac, Janet Jackson, the late Kurt Cobain, Snoop Dogg, Eddie Murphy, and many big names. You’ll also read about Bellamy’s early life, his family, and his other work in music videos. Oh, and you’ll laugh, because Bellamy’s a funny guy. If you remember the 90s, you’ll want this book.

And finally, if ancient lives are your thing, find “The West: A New History in Fourteen Lives” by Naoise Mac Sweeney.(Dutton, $32). Read about Phillis Wheatley, scholar Al-Kindi of Arabia, Herodotus (who was of mixed race), and twelve other influential lives that left their mark on Western civilization. History scholars: head’s up on this one. This book is meant for readers like you.

And if these great life stories aren’t enough, go find your favorite librarian or bookseller and ask for help. They know books, they have access to millions of biographies, they’ll know exactly what you want to read next.

And with a great book by your side, you’re never alone.