Top Ten Books About Reggae and Jamaican Music

The Very Best of Reggae Writing

Bob Marley
Graham Wiltshire/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Listening to reggae music is, of course, deeply enjoyable, even for people who aren't from the Jamaican culture which created the genre. However, gaining some background of the genre can add important social context and reveal the personalities behind the music, thereby bringing a whole new depth to the reggae experience. From casual coffee-table books to serious anthropological studies, this list has something for everyone.

The Rough Guide to Reggae

The Rough Guide series has become indispensable for both travelers and music lovers. Concise yet thorough, deeply informative and impressively non-judgmental, this reference tome is a must-have for any real reggae fan's library.

Reggae Bloodlines - Stephen Davis

This excellent book takes a look at the culture and politics of Jamaica, as well as the tenets of Rastafarianism, and how these things have shaped reggae musicians and reggae music. The social and cultural context of reggae is vital to the understanding of the genre, and this book is a great introduction.

Reggae: The Story of Jamaican Music - Lloyd Bradley

This accompanying volume to the BBC Television series of the same name was written by Lloyd Bradley, one of the UK's leading experts on reggae and Jamaican music. It's a quick read, but well worth it, and the pictures included are outstanding.

No Woman, No Cry: My Life With Bob Marley - Rita Marley

This book tells the story of reggae legend Bob Marley, through the eyes of the woman who knew him best: his wife, Rita Marley. It is blunt and unapologetic, and yet deeply reverential. No Woman, No Cry is also the subject of an upcoming Bob Marley biopic, so now is a great time to read it.

Solid Foundation: An Oral History of Reggae - David Katz

As the title implies, this is a book of oral histories - stories from those people who were part of the amazing Jamaican music scene of the 1950s, '60s, and '70s and who watched the music develop and form into what became one of the world's most popular genres of music. There is, expectedly, a bit of braggadocio, lots of devastatingly sad stories, and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. These stories come from a variety of insiders, many of whom are reggae greats, and to understand these people is to understand the music.

Wake the Town and Tell the People - Norman Stolzoff

When reggae spun off into the more controversial genre known as "dancehall", a distance grew between the fans of the new sound and the "roots reggae" of yesteryear. Norman Stolzoff, an anthropologist, took a look at the gap between these two now-distinct genres, and the economic, social and political contexts that brought them apart. Though this is a serious cultural study, it's definitely readable, and definitely worth a perusal for both fans of reggae and fans of social psychology and its convergence with ethnomusicology.

Reggae Explosion - Chris Salewicz & Adrian Boot

Though this book contains tons of interesting factual information about reggae music, its influences, the genres and musicians it influenced, interviews and so on, it's really all about the pictures. Presented coffee table book style, Reggae Explosion is full of forty years' worth of rare photos, album covers, and obscure memorabilia. It's easy to spend a few hours geeking out on this one if you're a die-hard fan.

Reggae, Rasta, Revolution - Chris Potash, Ed.

Starting with ska and working through rocksteady, reggae, dub, and dancehall, this collection of essays and articles covers an amazing breadth of Jamaican music. The pieces come from around the world, and serve to give a well-rounded view of reggae music through the eyes of many of the different cultures who have fallen in love with it. There is also a lot of vital historical information in here, so for people who prefer short stories over novels, so to speak, this is an ideal book.

People Funny Boy: The Genius of Lee Scratch Perry - David Katz

Bob Marley is certainly the most heralded reggae star on the international scene, but Lee "Scratch" Perry, the legendary musician and producer, may have actually been more influential on the sound and evolution of the music. It was through collaborative work with Perry that Bob Marley created the sound that would change music forever, and Perry also guided hundreds of other musicians, many of whom became international superstars through his guidance. This biography is engaging and fun and really shines a light on an underappreciated musical genius.

Stir It Up: Reggae Album Cover Art - Chris Morrow

Any fan of reggae and Jamaican music (or any serious record collector) will appreciate this wonderful art book. The album covers included a range from psychedelic to scenic, and biblical to scandalous. They say not to judge a record by its cover, but these covers are amazing enough to stand in their own right.