When planning your trip to the South, it’s important to research where you’re going. So we’ve compiled a list of the best books about South Carolina and by South Carolina authors to help you prepare. No matter whether you’re a resident looking to learn more about your home state or a first timer curious about history, these books are sure to help you enjoy it more. Note that this post does contain affiliate links, but will not add any additional fees to your purchases.
Books by South Carolina Authors
Sullivan’s Island by Dorthea Benton Frank
The first installment in the Lowcountry Tales series, Sullivan’s Island introduces Susan Hayes, a woman fed up with her cheating husband and an ambivalent daughter longing to return to the idyllic island home of her youth. With the help of her sister, Hayes comes to terms with her less than ideal childhood and the prospect of an unforeseen future. The book is set on one of Charleston’s best beaches.
Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
Following the struggles of poor whites in Greenville County, Allison’s story has been championed by fans, banned by critics and likened to Southern sweetheart Harper Lee. Profiling the poor bastard Bone, readers of Bastard Out of Carolina learn of the conflict of an increasingly violent stepfather in a space where girls marry young and men measure themselves drinking hard and playing mean.
Mamba’s Daughters by DuBose Heyward
With a glimpse at Charleston’s overlooked Gullah culture, Mamba’s Daughters profiles the experiences of two African American women in the years leading up to and following WWI. Including reflections on race relations and the changing experience of minorities in the South, this is a thoughtful and powerful portrayal of the era.
Celia Garth by Gwen Bristow
In the New York Times-bestselling novel Celia Garth, a woman lives in Charleston before the Revolutionary War, working as a dressmaker. She sees weapons and other supplies being unloaded in the busy port. But soon the British arrive and occupy the city. General Francis Marion, nicknamed the “Swamp Fox,” comes up with a plan to fight back, recruiting Celia to spy for the rebelling colonists.
Scarlet Sister Mary by Julia Peterkin
The winner of the 1929 Pulitzer Prize, Scarlet Sister Mary tells the story of the Gullah people of coastal South Carolina. The main character, Mary, is an orphan living at an abandoned plantation with her aunt and cousin. She feels torn between her life in the church and the desire to experience life’s pleasures. The novel rejects the stereotypes found in many African-American characters of the time and became a banned book in Gaffney, South Carolina. Peterkin was a native of Laurens County.
Fiction Set in South Carolina
The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
In The Prince of Tides, Tom Wingo’s presence is requested by the psychiatrist of his sister, Savannah, who has again attempted suicide in coastal South Carolina. As he grows closer to Dr. Lowenstein, the horrific and manipulative history of the Wingo family comes to light. With more dark corners than most family homes can boast, the story of the Wingo family unfolds, making sense of the struggles of siblings Tom and Savannah and the parents who raised them.
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Newcomer Lena tries to hide her secrets within the overgrowth and decay of her family home in fictional Gatlin in Beautiful Creatures. Enter Ethan, a resident with a secret or two of his own chomping at the bit to leave his small town upbringing. When the two collide it’ll take more than magic to resist this Southern Gothic romance. It was also turned into a popular film.
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Set in the blur of racism and violence that marked the 1960s in the South comes the “coming of age” story of Lily, a motherless lost soul running from her memories towards the hope of knowledge and a “Black Madonna.” With a cast of unforgettable strong women, this bestselling novel titled The Secret Life of Bees has a lesson for us all. Both the book and subsequent film are set in the fictional town of Tiburon.
The Beach House by Mary Alice Monroe
Following a request from her ailing mother, Caretta Rutledge leaves Chicago to return home to the Lowcountry beach house where she spent much of her youth in The Beach House. With the flow of the tide comes a flow of memories, not all pleasant. What follows is a story of forgiveness, love, and turtles.
Saints at the River by Ron Rash
Set in upstate South Carolina, Rash’s novel Saints at the River profiles the conflict between a southern town’s residents and environmentalists in the wake of a tragedy. Native reporter Maggie Glen returns home after ten years to cover the story immediately being wrapped up in tensions coming from both sides. Rash’s penchant for evoking a sense of place makes this novel equal parts romantic, heartbreaking, and familiar.
Non-fiction About South Carolina
Mary Chesnut’s Civil War by Mary Chesnut
Written by a Confederate aristocrat, this journal follows the personal musings of the wife of a wealthy plantation owner in the Civil War South. With strong emotion and a penchant for name dropping, Mary Chestnut’s Civil War is considered a thoughtful glimpse into the attitudes of the era. She lived much of her life in the town of Camden.
City of Heroes: The Great Charleston Earthquake of 1886 by Richard N. Cote
This meticulously organized and compellingly written account of the largest earthquake in East Coast history leaves readers inspired by the ingenuity and selflessness of the Charleston people in the wake of such disasters. With an abundance of pictures and interesting information on the region’s seismology, City of Heroes is sure to leave history buffs fascinated.
On a Street Called Easy, in a Cottage Called Joye by Gregory White Smith and Steven W. Naifeh
In the style of A Year in Provence or Under the Tuscan Sun, On a Street Called Easy tells the story of the three years it took partners and award-winning writers Smith and Naifeh to restore a house in Aiken. They dealt with challenges while making their dream home, which was previously owned by robber baron William C. Whitney, but also got to know their new neighbors in the small town.
South Carolina: A History by Walter Edgar
For a look at all aspects of the state’s history, there’s no better book than South Carolina: A History. It showcases nearly five centuries of inhabitance, featuring the diverse voices that make it up including the economic, educational, and political environments.
Thunder in the Harbor: Fort Sumter, Charleston, and the American Civil War by Richard W. Hatcher III
Especially if you’re visiting Charleston, this book provides a look into what the city was like leading up to the American Civil War when those fateful shots were fired at Fort Sumter. Thunder in the Harbor features historical photos and information about why the fort was so important for the protection of the city and the role it played in the ensuing battles.
Guidebooks on South Carolina
Lonely Planet: The Carolinas, Georgia, and the South Trips by Alex Leviton
The Carolinas, Georgia, and the South Trips set up the guidebook with themed trips throughout the Southern states, including ones focused on food, music, and history. It covers multiple states, but in particular highlights parts of South Carolina like the Lowcountry as well as the Upstate. It showcases the advice of local experts and includes color photos and maps.
South Carolina Country Roads by Tom Poland
Visit the back roads of the state with South Carolina Country Roads, which showcases the places where time stands still. Highlights include a 1930s steel truss bridge and an old gristmill as well as landmarks all over South Carolina. This book is essential for avid road trippers.
Wildsam Charleston by Taylor Bruce
Like the other trendy field guides of the series, Wildsam Charleston highlights the words of local experts like former mayor Joe Riley, lauded chef Sean Brock, and the late great author Pat Conroy. It includes topics related to the city’s history, like the Civil Rights Movement and Gullah cultures, as well as what is going on there today.
Wild South Carolina by Liesel and Susan Hamilton
Written by a mother-daughter naturalist team, Wild South Carolina dives into the diverse plant and animal life from the Palmetto State’s mountains to its islands. The book focuses on the outdoor destinations that appeal to visitors and locals alike with over 150 color photographs. There are tours of parks and wildlife refuges that might not be on your radar.
Explorer’s Guide Myrtle Beach & the Grand Strand by Renee Wright
The book Explorer’s Guide Myrtle Beach & the Grand Strand is an extensive look at the beach town, its surrounding communities, and neighbors in coastal North Carolina. The entire area is easily accessible via road trips and has a diverse selection of activities for all ranges of travelers. The book features detailed history and information about Myrtle Beach with color photos, maps, and expert information.
We can’t leave out our own book, This Is My South: The Essential Travel Guide to the Southern States, which has a whole chapter on South Carolina. Purchase your copy today!