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Our Top 10 Books About Maui & Hawaii History

Updated: Feb 18

Whether you have lived on Maui for years, have been returning on vacation for decades, or are vacationing on the Valley Island for the first time, we have put together a list of books that anyone passionate about learning more about Maui’s past are sure to enjoy. Our list of Maui books is made up of a broad range of writing genres, such as historical fiction novels, picture books, first-hand writings from historic Hawaiian figures, and even interviews with World War II veterans that trained on the shores of Kihei in a covert operation. Maui Walking Tours has read each of the below books and even sat down with a few of the authors. Now, let's get to the list of top books about Maui and Hawaii history, in no particular order.

  1. Hawaii

Written by James Michener in 1959

Style: Historical Fiction

This book is highlighted first on our list of Hawaii-themed books for a reason. If you are going to start anywhere, start with Hawaii, by James Michener.  This 1,200-page epic covers the formation of the Hawaiian Islands, the discovery of the islands by warring Polynesian tribes, the arrival of the missionaries and their influence on Hawaiian culture, the rise of the plantation era and arrival of Chinese and Japanese immigrants, the overthrow of Hawaii, World War II, and so much more.  Follow generations of families and fictitious characters (based loosely on real historical figures) through the pages as Hawaii matures through the decades.  Michener is a celebrated American author who has won a Pulitzer and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Again, if you only read one book on this list, read this one! You will not regret it. 

2. Maui, A History (New Edition)

Written by Cummins E Speakman. Update by Jill Engledow in 2014

Style: Detailed Historical Facts and Accounts

As the author points out in the forward of this book, Maui is the second largest island in the Hawaiian chain and plays a very special role in what Hawaii as a state looks like today, however “Maui’s own history has been neglected”, often a side paragraph or two in the larger telling of the state’s development. After taking a class titled “History of Maui” at Chaminade University of Honolulu in 1976, the author’s curiosity in Maui’s beginnings were cemented. Years of research ensued with Spreakman leveraging information gained from state libraries, international museums, Maui County historians, the Bishop Museum on Oahu, and countless first-hand interviews with cultural leaders.  The end result is a historically driven book that tells the detailed story of Maui’s first ali’i (chiefs) and their ongoing battles with neighboring islands, early explorers such as Captain Cook, La Perouse, and George Vancouver, the rise of whaling in Lahaina, the sugar industry, and so much more. 

3. Moloka’i

Written by Alan Brennert in 2003

Style: Historical Fiction

Maui County, more commonly referred to as “Maui Nui” is made up of the four neighboring islands of Maui, Moloka’i, Lana’i, and Kahoolawe. This national bestseller paints a vivid picture of a Hawaiian family in the 1890s that has to deal with a leprosy pandemic that rolled through the island chain.  Sick patients were isolated in the remote village of Kalaupapa on the island of Moloka’i.  The author, also an Emmy Award-winning screenwriter, spent over a year researching life in downtown Honolulu during the late 1800s and what living at the leper colony of Kalaupapa was like. He paints the picture of ancient traditions, family dynamics, Hawaiian culture, and gives a glimpse into the personalities of Saint Damien and Saint Marriane Cope.  

“A dazzling historical saga… a rare look at the rich history of a state most Americans think of largely in terms of tourism.” - The Washington Post

4. Maui Remembers: A Local History

Written by Gail Bartholomew. Photo research by Bren Bailey in 2014

Style: Historic picture book with text

For the more visual learner, pick up this 168-page book featuring over 200 black-and-white images from Maui’s past. Winner of a Historic Education Preservation Award, this book makes for a perfect coffee table book to flip through. Like many of the other books about Maui history on our list, the authors exhausted countless resources such as the Alexander and Baldwin Sugar Museum, University of Hawaii, Maui Historical Society, Lahaina Restoration Society, and many many more. Sections of the book are dedicated to different industries, cultures, towns, events, and highlights through the evolution of Maui.

5. Maalaea: The Untold Story of Maui’s Historic Crossroads

Written by Lucienne De Naie with Rita Goldman in 2022

Style: Historic picture book with text

Written by a resident of Maui for the past 40 years, De Naie has served on the Board of   the Sierra Club Hawaii, numerous non-profits, and has done deep historical research into numerous regions of Maui. We met with De Naie over smoothies in Paia recently and she told us about her work combing through the archives of the Maui News to piece together historical events.  This colorful picture book starts with a broad history of Hawaii, land divisions, and cultural influences.  It then pivots into the unique history of Ma’alaea as a crossroads to towns such as Lahaina and Wailuku in the early days.  Ma’alaea served as the major port for inter-island travel on steamships prior to airplanes and was later homebase to Maui’s first airport.  

6. Land and Power in Hawaii: The Democratic Years

Written by George Cooper and Gavan Daws in 1990

Style: Detailed Historical Facts and Accounts

If you are a political science major, this book should be on your radar. Land and Power in Hawaii can be a bit hard to digest at times but explores the intricate history of land ownership and political influence in the Hawaiian Islands. Authors George Cooper and Gavan Daws delve into the impact of Western arrival, the overthrow of the monarchy, and the dominance of the Big Five corporations. The book highlights the enduring struggles of native Hawaiians to reclaim their land and political autonomy, emphasizing the complex interplay between economic interests, political power, and cultural identity. 

7. Fragile Paradise: The Impact of Tourism on Maui (1959 - 2000)

Written by Mansel Blackford in 2001

Style: Detailed Historical Facts and Accounts

This well-researched book (which references Land and Power in Hawaii numerous times) scrutinizes the consequences of tourism on the picturesque island of Maui. Author Mansel Blackford delves into the environmental, cultural, and socio-economic effects of the tourism industry. The book unveils the challenges posed by rapid development, the commodification of Hawaiian culture, and the strain on natural resources. Blackford illuminates the delicate balance between economic gains and environmental sustainability, prompting readers to contemplate the long-term impact of tourism on Maui's fragile ecosystem. Through in-depth analysis and case studies, the book navigates the complexities of managing paradise in the face of increasing tourist pressures.

8. Into Enemy Waters: A World War II Story of the Demolition Divers who Became the Navy Seals

Written by Andrew Dubbins in 2022

Style: Interview with veteran blended with historical military events

If you have taken Maui Walking Tours’ Kihei walking tour, you have heard the story of how the Navy Seals can trace their beginnings partially back to the shores of South Maui in the 1940s. This book combines one-on-one interviews with a WWII Navy veteran that stormed Normandy on D-Day and later completed a covert training camp on Maui to develop underwater demolition techniques used for generations to come.  Admittedly, there is only a chapter or two dedicated to life on Maui, but this graphic tale discusses the heavy military presence in Hawaii and particularly on Maui in behind-the-scenes detail. You will never look at the shores of Maui and the coastline of Kaho’olawe the same after reading this book,


9. Hawaiian Antiquities: Mo’olelo Hawaii

Written by David Malo in 1839

Style: Preserved Hawaiian stories and storytelling

To understand the importance and significance of this book, you must first understand the gravitas that the author David Malo holds. Malo was raised alongside the alii, scholars, and priests in the court of Kamehameha the Great. He was one of the first young Hawaiians to be educated by the missionaries and eventually became a Christian priest.  His writings are a cultural treasure that unravels the rich tapestry of Hawaii's past. It is an insiders compilation of traditional Hawaiian knowledge, folklore, and historical narratives. It delves into the islands' ancient customs, legends, and societal structures, offering readers a profound insight into the indigenous Hawaiian worldview. Malo's meticulous documentation preserves the essence of Hawaiian identity. From creation myths to navigation techniques to what the early Hawaiians valued most , the book is a vital repository of knowledge, connecting readers to the cultural heritage and ancestral wisdom of the Hawaiian people.

10. Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen

Written by Queen Liliuokalani in 1898

Style: Autobiography

For those interested in the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the events that led to Hawaii’s statehood, look no further than this historical book about Hawaii told through the eyes of its last monarch.  This is an intimate and poignant memoir by Queen Liliuokalani, the last reigning monarch of Hawaii. Written during her unjust imprisonment, it provides a compelling firsthand account of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893. Queen Liliuokalani reflects on her life, the cultural richness of Hawaii, and the political intrigues that led to the annexation by the United States. With grace and resilience, she shares her perspective on the tumultuous events, offering a powerful narrative that serves as both a historical document and a testament to the enduring spirit of the Hawaiian people in the face of adversity.

If you are living or vacationing on Maui and want to read any of these books, Maui Walking Tours highly encourages you to shop local and boost the Maui economy. Maui Friends of the Library has numerous volunteer-run book stores across Maui with great selections of Hawaiian history. We purchased a few of these books from the newly-opened location in Kihei on Lipoa street. The Kihei Public Library also has many if not all of these books that can be checked out for free.

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