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Learn About Hawaiian History

Posted on: September 3, 2021 | Category: Spotlight

September is Hawaiian History Month, and to celebrate we would like to highlight some of the resources we have available through the Hawaii State Public Library System.  What better excuse do you need to stay home and read or learn something new about Hawaii!  It is easy to navigate our website and search our catalog for one of our many books on Hawaiian history.  You can place a hold on the item you want to read and have it sent to the library of your choosing.  You should be notified through email or postcard when the book is available, at which point you can schedule a pick up time through our Library Take Out service.

How about checking out an e-book or e-audiobook from the comfort of your home?

Visit our OverDrive page and learn how to download the Libby app for easy borrowing on your device.  For ideas on what to read next, you can browse our online Hawaiian Collection at

Looking for suggestions for your next Hawaiian history read?  The Hawaii & Pacific Section of the Hawaii State Library staff put their heads together and came up with some suggestions.


Probably the most well-known history book of Hawaii is, “Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands,” by Gavan Daws (UH Press, 1968) which is quite readable and is now available as an audiobook on OverDrive, with a new introduction for the 50th anniversary of its release.

Another popular title is “Unfamiliar Fishes,” by the humorist Sarah Vowell (Riverhead Books, 2011) whose dry wit is sprinkled throughout for a more entertaining read (plus the audiobook on OverDrive has an all-star cast).

Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure,” by Julia Flynn Siler (Atlantic Monthly, 2012) came out not long after, for a more balanced and serious history.


If you like stories about amazing events, then you might try “Aloha Rodeo: Three Hawaiian Cowboys, the World’s Greatest Rodeo, and a Hidden History of the American West,” by David Wolman and Julian Smith (William Morrow, 2019), which is the story of how Ikua Purdy, Jack Low and Archie Kaaua won the 1908 Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo in Wyoming, also available as an audiobook on OverDrive.

On more of a timely note, “Plague and Fire: Battling Black Death and the 1900 Burning of Honolulu’s Chinatown,” by James C. Mohr (Oxford, 2005), and “The Gifts of Civilization: Germs and Genocide in Hawaii,” by O.A. Bushnell (UH Press, 1993) will enlighten you on Hawaii’s past experience with communicable diseases.


Enjoy listening to people talk story about their experiences?  “Voices of Hawaii: Life Stories from the Generation that Shaped the Aloha State,” by Jane Marshall Goodsill (Watermark, 2021) and “Talking Hawaii’s Story: Oral Histories of an Island People,” (UH Press, 2009) are engrossing collections of oral history.


You may also be pleasantly surprised by “The Journal of Prince Alexander Liholiho: The Voyages Made to the United States, England and France in 1849-1950,” (Hawaiian Historical Society, 1967), in which the teenage future King Kamehameha IV writes down his impressions of his travels overseas with his 18-year-old brother, Lot, under the stern eye of Dr. Judd.

Another amazing voice from the past is David Malo (1795-1853), one of the 18th century Hawaiian scholars who documented their culture and history in books like, “Ka Moolelo Hawaii,” or “Hawaiian Antiquities,” (Bishop Museum, 1951), and now recently republished in, “The Moolelo Hawaii of Davida Malo,” a two volume set with the original images of his handwritten manuscript.

Mary Kawena Pukui (1895-1986) was another important scholar of Hawaiian culture whose knowledge is recorded in, “The Polynesian Family System in Kau,” co-written by E.S. Craighill Handy, and “Nana i ke Kumu (Look to the Source),” vols. 1 & 2 (Hui Hanai, 1972-1979), both very fascinating works.  A third volume of “Nana i ke Kumu” was recently added by Lynette K. Paglinawan, et al. (Liliuokalani Trust, 2020).

Finally, if you haven’t had the opportunity to read Queen Liliuokalani’s, “Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen,” (Tuttle, 2011) which was republished not too long ago with excellent annotations by David W. Forbes (Hui Hanai, 2013), why not do it now? Also available as an audiobook on OverDrive.

All of these titles are available in print to borrow through the library system, and many of them are available as an e-book or e-audiobook to download through OverDrive. Remember to browse our online Hawaiian Collection for ideas on what to read next.  Let’s learn something new about this special place we call home!