Equal parts comedy and tragedy, Trevor Noah‘s autobiographical Born a Crime presents the satirists’s extraordinary early life in post-apartheid South Africa. As a paean to the enduring strength and stubbornness of his mother, Noah details the lengths she went to to provide him with a childhood that didn’t repeat the deprivations of her own.

My mom would bring home boxes that white people had donated – picture books, chapter books, any book she could get her hands on.

Teaching him English as his first language and reading to him constantly, Noah describes the books he read growing up as his prized possessions. He “loved fantasy, loved to get lost in worlds that didn’t exist” and was particularly drawn to the wondrous words of Roald Dahl.

Language is a recurring theme throughout the book, and Noah stresses its inescapable link to identity: “Language, even more than color, defines who you are to people.” Quoting Nelson Mandela, he touches on the power of native language to communicate in ways that transcend words: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Read on for a list of books that shaped Trevor Noah.


The BFG by Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More by Roald Dahl

“I loved fantasy books as a kid. I lived in my head, and Roald Dahl was the best of the best. This short story collection was one of my favorites.” -TN

To Quote Myself: A Memoir by Khaya Dlanga

“A hilarious memoir by a great South African essayist. As good an account as you’ll find about life in the country today.” -TN

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

“Thanks to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, America and Africa are linked in more ways than we usually think about. This is a fascinating novel about the legacy of slavery and white supremacy on both continents.” -TN

But What if We’re Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman

“A question the architects of apartheid should have stopped and asked themselves at the start, and a question I try to ask about my own deeply held convictions every day.” -TN

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (also rec’d by Tilda Swinton)

“I had to fight to convince my mom to get the Narnia books for me.” -TN

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

“He was as good a writer as he was a freedom fighter and president. This is a book worthy of his storied life.” -TN

My Traitor’s Heart by Rian Malan

“A brutal excavation of a white South African’s conscience during the final days of apartheid.” -TN

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin (also rec’d by Bill Nye)

“One of the best accounts ever written about the art of stand-up and the life of the stand-up comic.” -TN

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (also rec’d by Hayao Miyazaki)

“A wonderful fable, beautifully told. It’s so simple and yet so complicated at the same time.” -TN

Native Life in South Africa by Sol Plaatje

“Plaatje was a founder and first general secretary of the organization that became the African National Congress, and his writings have survived to become some of the most compelling and celebrated accounts of the early days of apartheid.” -TN

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

“The whole series, start to finish. Like Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ and C.S. Lewis’s ‘Chronicles of Narnia,’ Rowling’s creation is a masterpiece of fantasy.”

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (also rec’d by Elon MuskJane Goodall)

(via Born a CrimeThe New York Times)


Books by Trevor Noah

Born a Crime (2016)

Categories: Comedians

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