11 Best Books About Hawaiian History Update 05/2022

You’ll spend a lot of time reading about everything there is to see and do in Hawai’i when planning a trip there. However, don’t limit your reading to just travel planning; include some inspirational reading as well.

There are numerous publications about Hawai’i that explore the island’s landscapes, people, culture, and history. Some people may favor nonfiction, while others may like a book set in Hawaii. In either case, reading about the place in story form will broaden your horizons and pique your interest in visiting the islands. We’ve broken down some of our best books about Hawai’i into numerous categories, including fiction, nonfiction, and children’s literature, in the list below.

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Hawaiʻi

Hawaii by James Michener, arguably the most famous novel on the islands, was released in 1959 and is still in print today. If you only read one book before visiting Hawai’i, make it this one. It will provide you a good summary of the islands’ extensive and colorful history, although in fictional form.

It chronicles the whole history of Hawai’i, from its beginnings as an uninhabited volcanic island chain rising from the sea, through the arrival of the first Polynesian residents, to the contemporary day, when American missionaries and business owners irreversibly altered the islands’ trajectory. You will have a better understanding and appreciation for what has happened on this small island chain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean after reading this book.

Molokaʻi

Molokai has long been a bit of a mystery to visitors, thanks to its low-key and, at times, apathetic attitude toward tourism. Visitors to the island are often enthralled by the narrative of Kalaupapa, the island’s leper colony on the north shore. Though its “heyday” was in the 1860s, when it was established to prevent the spread of leprosy throughout the islands, it is still operational today with a small number of patients. Many saintly figures, including Father Damien, hurried to help care for the patients, but the plague claimed the lives of almost 8,000 people in Kalaupapa, making it one of the most tragic stories in Hawaiian history.

The book Molokai seeks to depict this tragedy through the fictional account of a little girl who contracts the disease and is taken to Kalaupapa. It is recommended not only for visitors to Molokai, but also for anyone interested in the history of Hawai’i before it became a part of the United States. Kalaupapa now serves as a National Historic Park.

The Descendants

It’s conceivable you’ve heard of The Descendants, which is now a blockbuster cinematic picture starring George Clooney. The book, on the other hand, is superior — or, at the very least, it provides a lot more context and detail, as well as a fascinating perspective on Hawai’i as an island paradise. Indeed, one of the greatest disconnects between a traveler and a local, which exists all around the world but especially in Hawai’i, is the temptation to view a place as a blissful paradise when visiting for a few days, ignoring the realities of life for locals. People that reside in Hawai’i, believe it or not, have troubles as well.

The Descendants puts this issue front and center in its tale, which chronicles a husband’s search for and notification of his wife’s lover of her approaching death (she’s in a coma). With two girls in tow, it’s safe to say it’s a tangled scenario that’s both sad and funny at times. The novel is set on the island of Kauai and includes references to local issues such as ancestral lands. While it may not make you “eager” to visit the islands, it is a pleasant book to read while there — a fine beach read, if you will.

Books about Hawaiian history

These books delve into Hawai’i’s rich history and mythology, allowing you to obtain a better understanding of modern-day Hawai’i and its past.

Shoal of Time

Shoal of Time is a fantastic place to start if you want to learn about Hawaiian history through nonfiction. It depicts scenes from Captain Cook’s initial discovery of the islands to the statehood of Hawai’i in 1959, introducing readers to the Hawaiian monarchy and the slow but steady way that western business and influence began to affect the islands permanently.

This book will provide you a general understanding of Hawaiian history’s timeline, important periods, and significant events if you haven’t read anything about it. It’s an excellent place to start, and you can delve deeper into specific historical periods with other books.

Captive Paradise

Captive Paradise is another nonfiction history choice. When everything is said and done, it does provide a wide picture, but it does so by focusing mostly on how outside forces have influenced Hawai’i. It demonstrates how western commercial and religious ideals pushed Native Hawaiian activities and beliefs out. The book’s tone is one of oppression and struggle, which, although not unjust, isn’t exactly upbeat reading.

It is, nonetheless, a must-read for everyone interested in knowing more about real Hawai’i and its past fight. It’s particularly significant because Native Hawaiian culture has seen a revival throughout the islands, resulting in numerous discussions on the past, present, and future of the culture. When traveling across the islands, astute travelers will want to be aware of this viewpoint.

Hawaiʻi’s Story by Hawaiʻi’s Queen

If you’re interested in learning more about how Hawai’i became a US state, Hawai’s Story by Hawai’s Queen is a great place to start. It was composed by Queen Liliuokalani, Hawai’i’s last monarch. Following an insurgency, she was arrested and compelled to turn control of Hawai’i back to the United States government.

The book tells the story of her childhood and quest to become queen, as well as the events leading up to her “overthrow” and the subsequent appeals process.

Because it was written by the Queen herself, it is written from a uniquely Hawaiian perspective, which is uncommon in historical texts.

Books about Hawaiʻi’s natural environment and local culture

These books will introduce you to the Hawaiian culture as well as the natural world.

Wind, Wings, and Waves

Print length: 384 pages | Overall rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars This is the book for you if you want to learn about Hawai’i’s natural surroundings, both on land and in the ocean. It has color images and covers a wide range of topics, including coral reefs, volcanoes, the night sky, and the flora and animals of the world.

The book also does a good job of contextualizing some features of Hawai’i’s natural environment. It discusses, among other things, how and why Hawai’i became a center of astronomy, how flora and animals arrived on the island, which reefs to visit, and the lifetime of a volcano.

Hawaiki Rising: Hōkūle‘a, Nainoa Thompson, and the Hawaiian Renaissance

Nearly 2,000 years ago, Polynesians came in Hawai’i. They were a voyaging people that traveled and navigated by the stars, which has been a part of Hawaiian tradition for generations. However, that knowledge was lost along the way, and the ability to navigate by night stars gave way to contemporary technology.

Hawaiki Rising is the inspiring narrative of how this old Hawaiian technique was revived in modern Hawai’i, culminating in the successful round of the globe in 1975 by the Hklea, a copy of an ancient Hawaiian outrigger canoe, using solely star navigation.

The Food of Paradise: Exploring Hawaiʻi’s Culinary Heritage

This book will appeal to foodies since it mixes practical recipes (150 in total) with an explanation and analysis of Hawai’i’s local cultures and the cuisine that has resulted from their mingling.

Rather than focusing on posh hotels’ “Pacific Rim” cuisine or keeping to a standard cookbook structure, the book brings the reader to marketplaces and sellers who serve food that locals eat on a daily basis. After reading, one will have a thorough understanding of how certain recipes became popular in Hawaii, as well as suggestions for what to try while there and how to duplicate them at home.

Children’s books about Hawaiʻi

In the days preceding up to your trip, read these novels with your kids.

ʻOhana Means Family

If your children have seen Lilo and Stitch, they are likely familiar with the term “ohana,” which means “family.” As the story follows the preparation of poi for a lau, this cute book will further educate kids to the theme of familial togetherness in Hawai’i.

One of the most essential notions in Hawai’i is “ohana,” and this book will encourage readers to think about their own families in the same manner. It will also pique their interest in going to a luau.

Honey Girl: The Hawaiian Monk Seal

If your children enjoy animals, as we are sure they do, this is an excellent book to read before visiting the islands to introduce them to one of our most cherished critters, the Hawaiian monk seal.

They are critically endangered, although they can be found on the beaches more often than you might imagine. The monk seals and the waters of Hawai’i will be introduced to them in this book. It will pique their interest in seeing one during your vacation, possibly leading to a day of beach hopping.

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