Roll of Honor: The Next 37 Titles on Our List of 50 Essential Hawai‘i Books

The voting was close enough we’re recognizing books that just missed making the list, as well as plays and guidebooks that our judges suggested. More to read this summer—and all year.

Choosing the first-ever list of 50 Essential Hawai‘i Books wasn’t easy or for the faint-hearted. But there was a good reason to do it. Too many important titles were slipping away from us, obscured by the white noise of an increasingly digitized media existence and the closing of most of our Island bookstores in the past 15 years. When books aren’t physically there to notice, leaf through and sample (especially in an overstuffed chair), they are in danger of going out of print, then lost in the mists of time.


That’s why we created our first 50 list. You’ll find it the May issue of HONOLULU, which starts landing in subscriber mailboxes in the next few days and on the newsstands May 1. It’s not a ranking from No. 1 to No. 50, and it’s not a canon. We like to think of it as a commons, a shared resource like our ocean and ‘āina.


It also was a very close thing, when the votes were counted. Our tally placed many worthy and well-known books just south of the Essential 50—the 51st spot on the list was shared by two titles, while 10 landed on No. 52. And so was born the idea of this Roll of Honor, in the style of the venerable Best American Short Stories and Essays series.


As with the Essential 50, the 37 titles listed below are unranked and arranged by the same categories.


We still had two more issues to wrestle with—what to do with guidebooks and plays. To do a vote and include both seemed to introduce confusion, as the former are basically utilitarian and the latter are written to be performed, almost always with cuts, trims and adjustments. Then there was the issue of lack of wide familiarity with both categories. In the end, we tip our caps to both, at the end of the Roll of Honor, by naming top vote-getters.


We hope all of these books are now positioned for greater recognition and popularity as their reputations solidify and readers get a chance to discover them. For readers of the two lists, we hope you make use of this resource to buy some books and support local authors and literature.


Finally, we also hope this exercise in taste-making sparks debate. In fact, if you have something to say about it or don’t see your own favorite on the list, we encourage you to write us at or post a comment after the story on Because any list of great books shouldn’t be a conversation stopper; it should be a great conversation starter.


Foundational Texts

51. The Journals of Captain Cook, by James Cook

52. A Shark Going Inland Is My Chief, by Patrick Vinton Kirch

53. Encounters with Paradise: Views of Hawai‘i and Its People, 1778–1941, by David Forbes

54. The Echo of Our Song: Chants and Poems of the Hawaiians, by Mary Kawena Pukui and Alfons L. Korn

55. Place Names of Hawai‘i, by Mary Kawena Pukui, Samuel H. Elbert and Esther T. Mookini

56. Nā Mele O Hawai‘i Nei: 101 Hawaiian Songs, edited by Samuel H. Elbert and Noelani K. Mahoe


History & Social Criticism

57. Kingship and Sacrifice: Ritual and Society in Ancient Hawai‘i, by Valerio Valeri

58. Sovereign Sugar: Industry and Environment in Hawai‘i, by Carol MacLennan

59. Hawai‘i: Islands Under the Influence, by Noel Kent

60. Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawai‘i? by Jon M. Van Dyke

61. The Island Edge of America: A Political History of Hawai‘i, By Tom Coffman

62. Ben: A Memoir, from Street Kid to Governor, by Ben Cayetano

63. Ē Luku Wale Ē, by Mark Hamasaki and Kapulani Landgraf

64. A Nation Rising, edited by Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua, Ikaika Hussey, Erin Kahunawaiki‘ala Wright

65. Finding Meaning: Kaona and Contemporary Hawaiian Literature, by Brandy Nālani McDougall


Lucky We Live Hawai‘i

66. Ka Lei: The Leis of Hawai‘i, by Marie McDonald

67. Jan Ken Po: The World of Hawai‘i’s Japanese Americans, by Dennis Ogawa

68. The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory, by Julie Checkoway

69. Obake: Ghost Stories in Hawai‘i, by Glen Grant

70. Volcano: A Memoir of Hawai‘i, by Garrett Hongo

71. Balikbayan: A Filipino Homecoming, by Michelle Cruz Skinner

72. The Blue Tomato: The Inspirations Behind the Cuisine of Alan Wong, by Alan Wong

73. Eddie Would Go: The Story of Eddie Aikau, Hawaiian Hero and Pioneer of Big Wave Surfing, by Stuart Holmes Coleman

74. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan

75. Sunny Skies, Shady Characters: Cops, Killers and Corruption in the Aloha State, by James Dooley


Novels & Short Fiction

76. Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life, by Herman Melville

77. Stories of Hawai‘i, by Jack London

78. From Here to Eternity, by James Jones

79. Lucky Come Hawai‘i, by Jon Shirota

80. My Old Sweetheart, by Susanna Moore

81. House of Many Gods, by Kiana Davenport

82. Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers, by Lois-Ann Yamanaka

83. Boi No Good, by Chris McKinney

84. Islands Linked by Ocean, by Lisa Linn Kanae

85. Hotel Honolulu, by Paul Theroux

86. This is Paradise, by Kristiana Kahakauwila



87. Still Out of Place, by Christy Passion


Plays (not in consideration, but received numerous votes)

Aloha Las Vegas and Other Plays, by Edward Sakamoto

Hawai‘i Nei: Island Plays, by Victoria Kneubuhl

The Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu, by Victoria Kneubuhl

Kāmau, by Alani Apio


Guides (not in consideration, but received numerous votes)

Hawai‘i Place Names: Shores, Beaches and Surf Sites, by John R.K. Clark

Hawaiian Surfing, by John R.K. Clark

Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fishes, by John E. Randall

The Hiker’s Guide to O‘ahu, by Stuart Ball


SEE ALSO: The Fine Print: How We Chose the 50 Essential Hawai‘i Books