Black and British – A Short Essential History by David Olusoga

Historian and broadcaster David Olusoga’s book Black and British has been revised and rewritten especially for teen readers in this edition published last year. An informative and enlightening read, Black and British – A Short Essential History is perfect for secondary school libraries and an excellent introduction to the subject for adults. This book was the winner of the British Book Awards Children’s Illustrated and Non-fiction Book of the Year in May of this year.

Cover design by Emily Courdelle

Starting with the Roman Africans who helped guard Hadrian’s Wall Olusoga takes the reader up to the present day incorporating details of Black people in the Tudor Court, the effect of the American Civil war and two world wars plus the arrival of the Windrush. This is told in a readable narrative style presented with maps, illustrations, photos and a useful glossary supporting the information. The text and the tone is both accessible for teen readers and an excellent introduction for adults.

The way in which events, political movements, economics and the use of power, have connected countries and people through hundreds of years is portrayed in a concise manner. We learn about the slave trade, the Abolitionists, the Industrial Revolution and the colonisation of Africa. However history is not only about the huge national and international moments, it is about people, notably individuals who may make a difference through their actions or their experiences. This book is full of these individual stories and it is this, I think, that gives it even greater impact. Learning about John Blanke, a trumpeter in Henry VIII’s court, Olaudah Equiano and Ottobah Cugoano who wrote important 18th century abolitionist books and Walter Tull who fought in the First World War for example, brings history to life for the reader.

The author provides a clear overview of the presence of Black people in Britain throughout history, something that has been missing from the history curriculum. This excellent book asks questions and provides answers and, presented in a clear and concise style, will educate and enlighten its readers. Books such as this one can do much to combat ignorance, increase understanding and tackle racism. The publishers, Macmillan Children’s Books, are donating 50p from every copy sold to The Black Curriculum a social enterprise founded in 2019 by Lavinya Stennett to address the lack of Black British history in the UK Curriculum.

This was a fascinating read and I would highly recommend it as an essential purchase for secondary school libraries. It would also be helpful for teachers at both secondary and primary level. Black and British – A Short Essential History by David Olusoga was published in October 2020. I bought my copy at Barnett’s Books and you can find your nearest independent book shop on this map. A junior illustrated edition suitable for age 6+ is to be published in November and can be pre-ordered here.

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4 Responses to Black and British – A Short Essential History by David Olusoga

  1. Calmgrove says:

    This is on my wishlist to read soon, and your review emphasises why this would be, in fact is, such an important contribution not just to the school library but for every classroom’s bookshelf.


  2. alibrarylady says:

    It’s an excellent book and I agree, perfect for secondary classrooms too. The original, adult version appeals too but lack of time prompted me to try this and assess it for younger readers. I’m glad that I did.


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