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 Florida and by Florida 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.
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Books by Florida Authors
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God is Hurston’s best-known work. It follows the experiences of Janie Crawford as she returns to the black community of Eaton, Florida. The novel unfolds as Janie describes the circumstances of her three marriages to her best friend Phoeby. Hurston’s writing is well known for giving context and spirit to the black experience. A classic for a reason, this novel will captivate and engage readers.
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Rawlings wrote her classic The Yearling while living in the backwoods of Florida near Gainesville. It inspired her story about a young boy living in this part of the state in the 1870s who raises a deer as his pet after its mother is killed in a neighbor dispute. His family is poor and can’t afford to feed it and conflict arises when the deer eats the family’s food supply. He must make a terrible choice.
Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
The book that inspired the television show, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, this crime novel tells of a forensic blood splatter analyst in Miami. But he has a dark secret. He follows the instructions of his “Dark Passenger,” an inner voice, and kills murderers, rapists, and other people he deems to be bad. Dexter operates as a vigilante as he learned from a detective friend who sought to get his sociopathic tendencies under control. The books follow his struggle to keep his impulses a secret as he works with crime scenes.
Tourist Season by Carl Hiassen
Carl Hiassen has dozens of classic Florida novels but Tourist Season might just be the most well known. A newspaper columnist named Skip and his comrades participate in kidnappings and murders to keep tourists out of Florida, feeding many to a giant alligator. A private investigator joins his friend Al Garcia and follows them through the Everglades, the Florida Keys, and beyond to end their crime spree and return safety to the state. Garcia is a continuing character in Hiassen’s books.
Florida Roadkill by Tim Dorsey
Dorsey’s books follow a similar format to Hiassen’s with quirky characters. Florida Roadkill follows Serge A. Storms as he teams up with his friends, a stripper and an addict, to defraud an insurance company by amputating the insured hand of a doctor. Things take a turn when the money is mistakenly put in a rental car and driven off. They all fight to be the ones to claim the money.
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
Set in southwest Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, Swamplandia! is centered around a family of alligator wrestlers at a roadside attraction. The New York Times bestseller is focused on Ava, the daughter, who must deal with family crises when her mother falls ill. Her brother takes a job at a rival park, causing clashes with her father. Her sister goes missing and she has to ask a sketchy character for help to track her down.
Fiction Set in Florida
Florida by Lauren Groff
Florida is an award-winning collection of short stories spans characters, histories, and memories yet all spin around the epicenter of the unique place that is Florida. With pointed attention to human emotion, Groff brings readers from bleak circumstance into hope and belief in a better future.
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
Following the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, Alas, Babylon zooms in on a small town in Florida, uniquely spared the annihilation. Those remaining must learn to cope without electricity, running water, and the millions of people that have been wiped out in a flash. This post-apocalyptic glimpse at everyday people is as pertinent a read as it was in 1959.
Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard
Set in Miami’s sultry yet sordid streets, Rum Punch centers around three flawed characters thrown together by missteps. One of Leonard’s most beloved crime novels, this book was later memorialized by filmmaker Quentin Tarantino in the now classic Jackie Brown.
Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel
With the novel’s opening meet cue taking place in Miami’s Biscayne Bay,
Stiltsville follows three decades of marriage with tender attention and poignancy. Francis and Dennis, the novels central couple, are familiar and relatable. As the book ends, readers say goodbye to friends they’ve known for decades and the changing South Florida landscape.
To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway
A far cry from the Bogart and Bacall film adaptation, Hemingway’s novel
To Have and Have Not follows a down on his luck boat captain forced to run contraband between Cuba and Florida to keep his family afloat. What starts as chartered day trips leads to human smuggling and rum running, placing flawed protagonist Harry Morgan in the midst of the Cuban Revolution. In typical Hemingway fashion, this bleak story straddles adventure and danger, love and loss, life and death.
Non-fiction About Florida
A Florida State of Mind by James D. Wright
In the spirit of the meme-inspiring “Florida Man,” Wright brings readers on a wacky adventure to one of the country’s most peculiar states in his book
A Florida State of Mind. Swamps and suburbs rooted in colonialism have produced a unique collection of laws and legacies. With stories and histories, Wright presents an unforgettable case for Florida’s quirks.
The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean
The Orchid Thief follows enigmatic swindler and horticultural consultant John Laroche on his journey to clone and monetize the elusive orchid Polyrrhiza lindenii. In her profile, Orlean glimpses the frenzied lust for rare orchids spanning socialites, botanists, and Seminole communities. With criticism and introspection, this account of the strange subculture of orchid hunters holds a mirror to the unique desires in the heart of each of us.
Team Rodent by Carl Hiassen
Media behemoth the Walt Disney Company plays the villain in Hiassen’s
Team Rodent, a deep dive into the darker corners of an organization so ingrained into the American household it’s hard to know how far the “rodents” have gotten. With a sharp tongue, this collection of essays covers topics ranging from the mysterious death of a black rhino in transit to Disney World‘s the Animal Kingdom to the influx of dalmatian purchases, and later neglect, following the release of 101 Dalmatians. An intriguing read for fans and foes alike.
The Everglades: River of Grass by Marjory Stoneman Douglas
First published in 1947, The Everglades is the book for Everglades ecology, history, and attempted development. Author Marjory Stoneman Douglas almost singlehandedly changed public opinion on the globally unique ecosystem of the Everglades with this book.
Last Train to Paradise by Les Standiford
Exploring the presumed impossible feat of connecting Key West with mainland Florida by railroad, Standiford paints of picture of American ingenuity and persistence in the 19th Century in Last Train to Paradise. With stories of mosquito swarms and devastating hurricanes, Henry Flagler’s unlikely task tells a story unlike any other.
Guidebooks on Florida
Florida: A Short History by Michael Gannon
Before you go, read up on the state’s past in Florida: A Short History. It starts with the arrival of the Spanish in 1513 and the legacy of Ponce de Leon and continues to the state’s role in the Cuban Revolution. The book includes 27 illustrated chapters.
Vanishing Florida by David T. Warner
Learn about the Florida of days gone by in Vanishing Florida, which focuses on the state’s disappearing landmarks and the author’s favorite places around the state. It weaves locations in with narrative for a travelogue focused on Florida.
The Florida Keys Bucket List by David L. Sloan
Visitors to the Keys will find The Florida Keys Bucket List helpful in discovering both the well-known and off-the-beaten-path landmarks and experiences in the southernmost island chain in America. The author has lived in Key West for decades and has a deep knowledge of the funky destination.
Walt Disney World Hacks by Susan Veness
Planning a trip to the “happiest place on earth” can be overwhelming, so Walt Disney World Hacks seeks to make the vacation easier through insider tips. The guide includes over 350 pieces of advice from insiders like how to avoid long lines, where to see your favorite characters, and the parks’ best dining options.
Fodor’s Florida by Fodor’s Travel Guides
There are dozens of great guidebooks on the Sunshine State, but Fodor’s Florida has color photos and breaks the state up into easy trips. The layout has been newly redesigned for even more information and a pull-out map of the state.
We can’t leave out our own book, This Is My South: The Essential Travel Guide to the Southern States, which is a good companion for trips to the South. Purchase your copy today!