Essential Books on Jackie Robinson
There are countless books on Jackie Robinson, and it comes with good reason, he was an athlete who became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball in the modern era. Robinson broke the baseball color line when he started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives,” he remarked.
In order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of history’s most consequential figures to the heights of societal contribution, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best books on Jackie Robinson.
Jackie Robinson: A Biography by Arnold Rampersad
The extraordinary life of Jackie Robinson is illuminated as never before in this full-scale biography by Arnold Rampersad, who was chosen by Jack’s widow, Rachel, to tell her husband’s story, and was given unprecedented access to his private papers. We are brought closer than we have ever been to the great ballplayer, a man of courage and quality who became a pivotal figure in the areas of race and civil rights.
Born in the rural South, the son of a sharecropper, Robinson was reared in southern California. We see him blossom there as a student-athlete as he struggled against poverty and racism to uphold the beliefs instilled in him by his mother – faith in family, education, America, and God.
We follow Robinson through World War II, when, in the first wave of racial integration in the armed forces, he was commissioned as an officer, then court-martialed after refusing to move to the back of a bus. After he plays in the Negro National League, we watch the opening of an all-American drama as, late in 1945, Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers recognized Jack as the right player to break baseball’s color barrier – and the game was forever changed.
Jack’s never-before-published letters open up his relationship with his family, especially his wife, Rachel, whom he married just as his perilous venture of integrating baseball began. Her memories are a major resource of the narrative as we learn about the severe harassment Robinson endured from teammates and opponents alike; about death threats and exclusion; about joy and remarkable success. We watch his courageous response to abuse, first as a stoic endurer, then as a fighter who epitomized courage and defiance.
True: The Four Seasons of Jackie Robinson by Kostya Kennedy
For players, fans, managers, and executives, Jackie Robinson remains baseball’s singular figure, the person who most profoundly extended, and continues to extend, the reach of the game. Beyond Ruth. Beyond Clemente. Beyond Aaron. Beyond the heroes of today. Now, a half-century since Robinson’s death, letters come to his widow, Rachel, by the score. But Robinson’s impact extended far beyond baseball: he opened the door for Black Americans to participate in other sports, and was a national figure who spoke and wrote eloquently about inequality.
True: The Four Seasons of Jackie Robinson by Kostya Kennedy is an unconventional biography, focusing on four transformative years in Robinson’s athletic and public life: 1946, his first year playing in the essentially all-white minor leagues for the Montreal Royals; 1949, when he won the Most Valuable Player Award in his third season as a Brooklyn Dodger; 1956, his final season in major league baseball, when he played valiantly despite his increasing health struggles; and 1972, the year of his untimely death. Through it all, Robinson remained true to the effort and the mission, true to his convictions and contradictions.
I Never Had it Made by Jackie Robinson
Before Reggie Jackson, before Hank Aaron, baseball’s stars had one undeniable trait in common: they were all white. In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke that barrier, striking a crucial blow for racial equality and changing the world of sports forever. I Never Had It Made is Robinson’s own candid, hard-hitting account of what it took to become the first black man in history to play in the major leagues.
Robinson recalls his early years and influences: his time at UCLA, where he became the school’s first four-letter athlete; his army stint during World War II, when he challenged Jim Crow laws and narrowly escaped court martial; his years of frustration, on and off the field, with the Negro Leagues; and finally that fateful day when Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers proposed what became known as the “Noble Experiment” – Robinson would step up to bat to integrate and revolutionize baseball.
42 Faith by Ed Henry
Journalist and baseball lover Ed Henry reveals for the first time the backstory of faith that guided Jackie Robinson into not only the baseball record books but the annals of civil rights advancement as well. Through recently discovered sermons, interviews with Robinson’s family and friends, and even an unpublished book by the player himself, Henry details a side of Jackie’s humanity that few have taken the time to see.
Branch Rickey, the famed owner who risked it all by signing Jackie to his first contract, is also shown as a complex individual who wanted nothing more than to make his God-fearing mother proud of him. Few know the level at which Rickey struggled with his decision, only moving forward after a private meeting with a minister he’d just met. It turns out Rickey was not as certain about signing Robinson as historians have always assumed.
With many baseball stories to enthrall even the most ardent enthusiast, 42 Faith also digs deep into why Jackie was the man he was and what both drove him and challenged him after his retirement. From his early years before baseball, to his time with Rickey and the Dodgers, to his failing health in his final years, we see a man of faith that few have recognized.
Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball by Scott Simon
The integration of baseball in 1947 had undeniable significance for the civil rights movement and American history. Thanks to Jackie Robinson, a barrier that had once been believed to be permanent was shattered – paving the way for scores of African Americans who wanted nothing more than to be granted the same rights as any other human being.
In this critically-acclaimed installment to the ever-growing index of books on Jackie Robinson, renowned broadcaster Scott Simon reveals how Robinson’s heroism brought the country face-to-face with the question of racial equality. From his days in the army to his ascent to the major leagues, Robinson battled bigotry at every turn. Simon deftly traces the journey of the rookie who became Rookie of the Year, recalling the taunts and threats, the stolen bases and the slides to home plate, the trials and triumphs. Robinson’s number, 42, has been retired by every club in major league baseball – in homage to the man who had to hang his first Brooklyn Dodgers uniform on a hook rather than in a locker.
Jackie Robinson: A Spiritual Biography by Michael G. Long
Jackie Robinson believed in a God who sides with the oppressed and who calls us to see one another as sisters and brothers. This faith was a powerful but quiet engine that drove and sustained him as he shattered racial barriers on and beyond the baseball diamond. Jackie Robinson: A Spiritual Biography explores the faith that, Robinson said, carried him through the torment and abuse he suffered for integrating the major leagues and drove him to get involved in the civil rights movement. Marked by sacrifice and service, inclusiveness and hope, Robinson’s faith shaped not only his character but also baseball and America itself.
Promises to Keep by Sharon Robinson
A warm, intimate portrait of Jackie Robinson, America’s sports icon, told from the unique perspective of a unique insider: his only daughter.
Sharon Robinson shares memories of her famous father in this warm loving biography of the man who broke the color barrier in baseball. Jackie Robinson was an outstanding athlete, a devoted family man and a dedicated civil rights activist. The author explores the fascinating circumstances surrounding Jackie Robinson’s breakthrough. She also tells the off-the-field story of Robinson’s hard-won victories and the inspiring effect he had on his family, his community…his country!
Opening Day by Jonathan Eig
April 15, 1947, marked the most important opening day in baseball history. When Jackie Robinson stepped onto the diamond that afternoon at Ebbets Field, he became the first black man to break into major-league baseball in the twentieth century. World War II had just ended. Democracy had triumphed. Now Americans were beginning to press for justice on the home front – and Robinson had a chance to lead the way.
In this hallmark among books on Jackie Robinson, Jonathan Eig tells the true story behind the national pastime’s most sacred myth. He offers new insights into events of sixty years ago and punctures some familiar legends. Opening Day is also the story of a team of underdogs that came together against tremendous odds to capture the pennant. Facing the powerful New York Yankees, Robinson and the Dodgers battled to the seventh game in one of the most thrilling World Series competitions of all time.
The Black Bruins by James W. Johnson
The Black Bruins chronicles the inspirational lives of five Black athletes who faced racial discrimination as teammates at UCLA in the late 1930s. Best known among them was Jackie Robinson, a four‑star athlete for the Bruins who went on to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball and become a leader in the civil rights movement after his retirement. Joining him were Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Ray Bartlett, and Tom Bradley – the four played starring roles in an era when fewer than a dozen major colleges had black players on their rosters. This rejection of the “gentleman’s agreement,” which kept teams from fielding black players against all-white teams, inspired black Angelinos and the African American press to adopt the teammates as their own.
Kenny Washington became the first African American player to sign with an NFL team in the post-World War II era and later became a Los Angeles police officer and actor. Woody Strode, a Bruins football and track star, broke into the NFL with Washington in 1946 as a Los Angeles Ram and went on to act in at least fifty‑seven full-length feature films. Ray Bartlett, a football, basketball, baseball, and track athlete, became the second African American to join the Pasadena Police Department, later donating his time to civic affairs and charity. Tom Bradley, a runner for the Bruins’ track team, spent twenty years fighting racial discrimination in the Los Angeles Police Department before being elected the first black mayor of Los Angeles.
Strength for the Fight by Gary Scott Smith
The integration of Major League Baseball in 1947 was a triumph. But it was also a fight. As the first Black major leaguer since the 1880s, Jackie Robinson knew he was not going to be welcomed into America’s pastime with open arms. Anticipating hostility, he promised Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey that he would “turn the other cheek” during his first years in the league, despite his fiercely competitive disposition. Robinson later said that his faith in God had sustained him – giving him the strength he needed to play the game he loved at the highest level without retaliating against the abuse inflicted upon him by opposing players and fans.
Robinson’s faith will resonate with many Christians who believe, as he did, that “a person can be quite religious and at the same time militant in the defense of his ideals.” This religious biography of Robinson chronicles the important role of faith in his life, from his childhood to his groundbreaking baseball career through his transformative civil rights work, and, in the process, helps to humanize the man who has become a mythic figure in both sports history and American culture.
If you enjoyed this guide to essential Jackie Robinson books, check out our list of The 20 Best Books on Martin Luther King, Jr!