The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad

by Colson Whitehead


$10.49 $16.95 Save 38% Current price is $10.49, Original price is $16.95. You Save 38%. View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Wednesday, August 28


#1 New York Times Bestseller • Winner of the Pulitzer Prize • Winner of the National Book Award • Winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction • Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize

One of the Best books of the Year: The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, The Boston Globe, The Seattle Times, HuffPost, Esquire, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Look for Whitehead’s acclaimed new novel, The Nickel Boys, available now!

Cora is a young slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. An outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is on the cusp of womanhood—where greater pain awaits. And so when Caesar, a slave who has recently arrived from Virginia, urges her to join him on the Underground Railroad, she seizes the opportunity and escapes with him. In Colson Whitehead's ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor: engineers and conductors operate a secret network of actual tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora embarks on a harrowing flight from one state to the next, encountering, like Gulliver, strange yet familiar iterations of her own world at each stop. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the terrors of the antebellum era, he weaves in the saga of our nation, from the brutal abduction of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is both the gripping tale of one woman's will to escape the horrors of bondage—and a powerful meditation on the history we all share.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345804327
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/30/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 474
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.80(d)
Lexile: 890L (what's this?)

About the Author

Colson Whitehead is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Underground Railroad, which in 2016 won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and the National Book Award and was named one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review, as well as The Noble HustleZone OneSag HarborThe IntuitionistJohn Henry DaysApex Hides the Hurt, and The Colossus of New York. He is also a Pulitzer Prize finalist and a recipient of the MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships. He lives in New York City.


Brooklyn, NY

Date of Birth:

November 6, 1969

Place of Birth:

New York, NY


Harvard College, BA in English & American Literature

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Excerpted from "The Underground Railroad"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Colson Whitehead.
Excerpted by permission of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of The Underground Railroad, a triumph of a novel by Colson Whitehead.

1. How does the depiction of slavery in The Underground Railroad compare to other depictions in literature and film?

2. The scenes on Randall’s plantation are horrific—how did the writing affect you as a reader?

3. In North Carolina, institutions like doctor’s offices and museums that were supposed to help ‘black uplift’ were corrupt and unethical. How do Cora’s challenges in North Carolina mirror what America is still struggling with today?

4. Cora constructs elaborate daydreams about her life as a free woman and dedicates herself to reading and expanding her education. What role do you think stories play for Cora and other travelers using the underground railroad?

5. “The treasure, of course, was the underground railroad... Some might call freedom the dearest currency of all.” How does this quote shape the story for you?

6. How does Ethel’s backstory, her relationship with slavery and Cora’s use of her home affect you?

7. What are your impressions of John Valentine’s vision for the farm?

8. When speaking of Valentine’s Farm, Cora explains “Even if the adults were free of the shackles that held them fast, bondage had stolen too much time. Only the children could take full advantage of their dreaming. If the white men let them.” What makes this so impactful both in the novel and today?

9. What do you think about Terrance Randall’s fate?

10. How do you feel about Cora’s mother’s decision to run away? How does your opinion of Cora’s mother change once you’ve learned about her fate?

11. Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader: if things are going well, you get comfortable before a sudden tragedy. What does this sense of fear do to you as you’re reading?

12. Who do you connect with most in the novel and why?

13. How does the state-by-state structure impact your reading process? Does it remind you of any other works of literature?

14. The book emphasizes how slaves were treated as property and reduced to objects. Do you feel that you now have a better understanding of what slavery was like?

15. Why do you think the author chose to portray a literal railroad? How did this aspect of magical realism impact your concept of how the real underground railroad worked?

16. Does The Underground Railroad change the way you look at the history of America, especially in the time of slavery and abolitionism?

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

The Underground Railroad: A Novel 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 59 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A must read! Told in such a way to make you want to skip ahead to find out what happens next. My heart weeps for my ancestors who endured such cruelty, but it also rejoices to know that my people are a strong people to have endured such treatment. I don't usually reread books, but I will absolutely read this again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I expected to like this book. However i did not. The subject matter is very interesting. However did not like the writing style. The book was confusing at points with too many names etc. Further it just drops you at the end with no real conclusion.
Daenel More than 1 year ago
This is not a book that you like or dislike. This is a book that you read, put down, and think about for days on end. The subject is sensitive and the topics are still relevant today: violence against women/men, racism and the way it impacts all people, silence/{in}action in the face of injustice, education, and the idea of freedom. The characters were well written, sympathetic {when they needed to be} and monstrous {when expected}. I found myself invested in the characters. I didn't want to know just about the black characters, but the white characters as well. And Whitehead delivered. I liked the way he gave the characters a history and wrapped up each character's story without it being contrived or forced. I know some folks are bothered by the fact that Whitehead uses a literal underground railroad as the transportation system for escaped slaves versus a metaphorical one. I don't have a problem with this. This is a novel, not a history book, so I expect the author to use a bit of literary license. In fact, I would say that the idea of an actual underground railroad enhances the feelings of fear and anxiety about the known and unknown worlds that {escaped} slaves inhabited. This book does contain some violence, some of it is graphic {and sexual in nature}, but given the topic, that is to be expected. To show how engrossed I was in the story, I don't recall there being any harsh or coarse language, so if there was any it was used to propel the story and not just as a filler. I would recommend this book for discussion groups and literature classes. There is so much to unpack in this story that I'm afraid my review can't do it justice, but if you do read it, I'd love to discuss it with you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A story that just tears at your soul. Injustice upon pain, upon a story so searing that this old white guy will never forget.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book weaved stories within known history. I couldnt put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You could easily choose to never finish this book. The horrors are so precise and devastating and his research complete. You could stop reading but I pray you continue. Be courageous. We owe it to the millions of people who lived through the horrors of slavery to hear more stories. And the underground railroad? It may not have been literal in history but it's impact is just as lasting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Overall, a good story. Eye opening for me- saw a side of slavery that i was not familiar with. But the story was choppy without a clear plot line. Will not try to read another book by this author.
KrisAnderson_TAR More than 1 year ago
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead tells the story of Cora and her life as a slave. Cora is a slave in Georgia. Cora is the daughter of Mabel and the granddaughter of Ajarry. After Cora’s mother escaped, Cora was alone. Cora is treated horribly by the other slaves. She gets thrown out of the where she was living with her mother and is forced to move into the Hob (a house for the slave outcasts). One day Cora is approached by Caesar. Caesar is a new to the plantation. His previous owner was a kind woman who taught him to read. She had promised Caesar his freedom upon her death, but she did not keep her promise. Caesar tells Cora about the Underground Railroad. The two of them form a plan and one day they take off. Unfortunately, things do not go quite as planned. Lovey, a fellow slave, follows them (she had been watching them). They are going through the swamps to make capture more difficult, but they did not anticipate hog hunters. The hunters realize they are runaway slaves and attempt to capture them. One of the hunters (just a boy really) ends up dead from a rock. Cora is now wanted for murder. Lovey ends up getting captured. Cora and Caesar quickly make their way to the first stop for them on the Underground Railroad. They are in for quite a journey. Some of the stops will be quick and others will be quite lengthy. Will they ever be completely free or will they continue to be hunted (especially Cora)? Ridgeway is a slave hunter who has something to prove. Ridgeway was given the task of finding Cora’s mother, Mabel. He was never able to capture her. Ridgeway is very determined to return Cora to her owner. To find out what happens to Cora and Caesar, you will have to read The Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad is a very dark novel. The majority of the novel focuses on Cora (poor Caesar). I found the writing to be awkward and difficult to read (I just did not like the author's writing style). The book lacks flow. First we are with Cora, then it jumps to someone else, then back to Cora, and then to another character. It will also go back in time to tell you the backstory of the latest character (when Cora meets someone new on the Underground Railroad). It makes it hard to read and to get into the story. I was able to finish the book, but I did not like it or enjoy it (sorry). You need to be aware that The Underground Railroad contains very graphic violence. Some of the violence is very disturbing and upsetting. I give The Underground Railroad 2 out of 5 stars. I did like Colson Whitehead’s take on the Underground Railroad. He had tunnels running all over the United States and actual trains. I was curious, though, how people above ground did not hear the loud engines of the trains. Mr. Whitehead did capture the time and place quite accurately. The ending was extremely dissatisfying.
MerryWifeofWindsor More than 1 year ago
When I saw this book was suggested by Oprah Winfrey (knowing her pretty good taste in books), I sat down to read it. I had initially thought this to be a standard historical fiction work. General historical fiction books often tend to emphasize the historical accuracy. With Mr. Whitehead’s book, there is a lot of historical inaccuracy but in my opinion, that adds to the appeal. That being said, I am often a stickler for historical accuracy in a historical fiction work but Cora’s travels border on the folkloric. Mr. Whitehead’s book “Underground Railroad” came across as very jarring and very real to me but at the same time, bordering on the fantastical. This book is the imagined world of the author who envisions the historic abolitionist network, the Underground Railroad as a series of subterranean tracks and tunnels. On numerous occasions, Cora is in a dark subterranean locale and there are always a set of tracks involved. The men who shepherd herself and her fellow escapees such as Caesar, are referred to as conductors and that is something I found curious. Although it wasn’t entirely clear to me in the beginning, towards the end I began to realize that this book reminded me of something akin to Dante’s "Inferno", Homer’s "Odyssey", or Lewis Carroll’s "Alice in Wonderland." While the story has its folkloric aspects, the horror of slavery and the depiction of one man’s inhumanity to another was very real. Since I don’t want to ruin any surprises, I will be vague here, but there are multiple instances where white Southerners treat the enslaved people in a terrible manner. There is one instance, when Cora is in North Carolina, when the white people gather together to celebrate a Friday evening together. These evenings consist of a people getting together to celebrate their “good fortune” but they always conclude the event with hanging an escaped slave. I found this a difficult book to stomach and there were instances where this book brought tears to my eyes. Overall, it was a good book and a worthwhile one to read. The imagination of the author combined with the larger-than-life personality of the heroine, Cora was refreshing. Cora grew up in a harsh environment where she had to fend for herself and where there was very little kindness showed her. Despite all of the adversity she came up against, she always had a fighting spirit and that endeared her to me. Along with Cora, I enjoyed the characters Caesar and Royal who both were unique in their own ways. Do I recommend this book? Yes. It was interesting and I was engrossed from start to finish. Reviewed by the Merry Wife of Windsor. ****
Anonymous 3 months ago
Worth reading and brings the immorality of slavery clearly in view
Anonymous 8 months ago
A spellbinding read.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting history that I knew little about. Chose it for my book club and am having a women speak on the underground railroads in our area.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wanted to like this and never really felt it developed enough.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A historical treasure. ~*~LEB~*~
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love that it ends with great possibilities!!!
alexcan3 More than 1 year ago
A powerful read. A bit confusing in the begin, for me, as it relates to narrative flow, but this resolved quickly, and I was able to follow the storyline and liked the structure. I liked the weaving of Cora's story with a chapter in-between sharing the background of another important character. I enjoyed the imaginative quality of a literal "underground railroad". Many well-written sections are difficult to read and imagine. They are violent and heart-wrenching. However, I believe they are necessary and should not discourage a potential reader.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a good novel. I enjoyed the vivid descriptions of the events and trials that the main character endured. I would have liked to know how she finally came to rest in a "normal" life. Espically considering all the pain and hardship she endured. I would have given this novel more stars if it didnt just end so abruptly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was very excited about reading a piece of historical black fiction with my husband who is not black but was very interested in the topic. Unfortunately, the writing style was a challenge to read making it less of a page turner. I also found the ending to be disappointing and abrupt. Overall a decent book but it could’ve been so much more!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Outstanding. Buy it, read it, love it!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Always told myself there was freedom possible. What I found in reading this book was strength, grace, and mercy. A book of truth in heart, of souls,and of a land that states it is based on freedom. Worth reading, worth understanding the cause and a need of hearts to see and decide to change.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed getting to know the inner workings of Cora’s life and all the struggles she went through. However, the book goes off in too many different directions during the scenes. There are too few really climatic parts. It it did make me think a lot.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad is a spellbinding story of not only one woman’s struggle. It gives us an overwhelming sense of the entire era of slavery. In these days of 2017 and beyond when adherents of white supremacy have come again out of their grotesque shadows, we feel the depraved power of the past, undead.