Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

7 Best Books About Hawaii to Read Before You Visit

Headed to Hawaii soon, but know nothing about the island state at all? Never fear. Below, you can find our picks for the seven most essential books about Hawaii. We’ve included history, novels, and even a memoir from President Barack Obama to round out the selections.

Hawaii by James Michener

Hawaii by James Michener

Originally published in the year Hawaii became a state, Hawaii by James Michener is an epic novel that traces the entirety of Hawaii’s history. From the first people to land on the islands’ shores through Calvinist missionaries to the Chinese and Japanese immigrants who came to seek a new life, the novel follows all of them through to the time that Hawaii became a state. The big criticism of this book is that it perpetuates a number of stereotypes about island life.

Related Videos

Hawai’i by Mark Panek

Hawai'i by Mark Panek

Where Michener’s book stopped when Hawaii became a state, Panek’s book looks at Hawaii today. He does away with the stereotypes and offers a nuanced look at island life without romanticizing it. The story encompasses dead politicians, crystal meth, and much, much more in what many consider one of the best novels ever written about Hawaii.

Mark Twain’s Letters From Hawaii by Mark Twain

Mark Twain's Letters From Hawaii by Mark Twain

Everyone knows who Mark Twain is, and most likely is familiar with his travels along the Mississippi River, but did you know the famous American humorist also traveled to Hawaii? (Sidebar: Imagine Tom Sawyer set in Hawaii for a second … how cool would that have been?) As a special correspondent for a California newspaper in the late 1800s, Twain wrote a series of 25 letters over a four-month stay.

Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands by Gavan Daws

Shoal of Time

The bestselling history book about Hawaii of all time, Shoal of Time is a massive tome that explores, well, the history of Hawaii. From its very beginnings through to statehood, Daws covers it all. Much like its fictional counterpart (Hawaii by Michener) though, this book is also written by an outsider and for some, that shows and detracts from the narrative built by Daws.

Shark Dialogues by Kiana Davenport

Shark Dialogues by Kiana Davenport

A novel that manages to weave in a century’s worth of Hawaiian history, Shark Dialogues explores the saga of a Hawaiian family over time in a way that mainlanders could not. Mixing Hawaiian legend and lore with a saga that spans generations, Shark Dialogues is a great read for those looking to dig in to the expansive history of Hawaii while also entertaining ideas of magic and familial bonds.

Dreams from my Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama

Dreams from my Father

Published 13 years before he became president, this memoir by Barack Obama is a look at his early years in Hawaii, as well as his time in Chicago leading up to when he went to law school in the late 1980s. The memoir is modeled on Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

The Curse of Lono by Hunter S. Thompson

The Curse of Lono by Hunter S. Thompson

At one point in this book, Thompson beats a marlin to death with a Hawaiian war club. This takes place after he covers the Hawaii marathon, the main point of the book. If you’ve ever read anything by Thompson, you know what to expect. Drugs, crazy adventures, and Ralph Steadman (who accompanies Thompson on the trip that constituted this book).

Editors' Recommendations

The Best Self-Help Books for a Better Perspective on Life
The Best Self-Help Books for Men

Humans are constantly striving to improve their lot in life, and self-help books are the quickest way to forge a new path. It should come as no surprise that self-help shelves in bookstores are typically the most populated ones, with titles tackling countless topics.

According to a report from NPD Bookscan, the company that tracks the U.S. publishing market, the number of self-help books released between 2013 and 2019 nearly tripled. This doesn't even consider all the titles sold during the last two years of quarantining and constant self-reflection. Motivational and inspirational books, the two most popular topics in the self-help category, accounted for sales of 4.3 million volumes during those years.

Read more
The 15 Best Gifts For Book Lovers this Holiday Season
Man laying down on couch reading book next to window.

Is there a bookworm in your life? They always seem to be carrying around a book everywhere they go and they're buying more books than they can read. Nothing is more exciting for a book lover than a new book that they've been dying to read, but if you’re unsure of what their favorite genres are, it might be tricky to shop the perfect book for them.

We recommend giving them something they can use for their holiday reading time, like books accessories to organize their collection or help them get comfortable as they lie down to read. To give you ideas, this list of the best gifts for booklovers covers everything readers love when it comes to reading, from bookmarks to book subscriptions.

Read more
9 Great Books by Latin American Authors To Read This Month
man with glasses reading

No te preocupes (don't you worry); when I say you really need to read these best classic books by Latin American authors, I'm not trying to shame you for not having read them yet, I'm trying to excite you at the prospect of reading some truly outstanding pieces of writing. And you don't have to worry if you're not a fluent Spanish speaker (or reader) -- the books covered in this list hold up perfectly well in translation, a further testament to their quality. (And with a nod to the translators, whose task is of course far more involved than simply swapping out languages.)

Latin American literature is hardly monolithic -- no single theme informs all the major works, no few historical events frame the bulk of the writing, and no handful of stereotyped characters recur again and again. That said, there are a few trends running through a number of major Latin American works that tie the books together. These include a fantastic, semi-magical edge to otherwise standard narratives, a raw, realistic depiction of the harshness of everyday life, and the complicated, often fraught relationship with the country to the north that appropriated the name of an entire landmass or two. Of course, you'll also find everything from a wrenching memoir to hilarious farce to torrid romance to gripping-the-armrest action in Latin American-authored books. So read on, and then read on.
100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Read more