25 Best Books About New York City History Update 05/2022

It doesn’t matter if you were born or moved to New York a long time ago or just moved here. You might be interested in learning about what was here before you came. There have been more than ten thousand books written about New York City, says Kenneth Jackson, the editor of The Encyclopedia of New York City. He says that since 1990, there have been about 100 books written about the city every year. It’s hard to figure out which books are worth reading. What books should the person who is new to New York history read? We asked 11 historians and authors to tell us their favorite New York history books, along with why they chose them.

We thought there would be a lot of things that were the same, but we were wrong. A list of 25 different books came up. Some of them are general reference sources, and some are about architecture. Some were written recently, and others have been around for a long time. It’s also possible to call some picks “quirky.” People mostly chose nonfiction, but two novels also made the list.

American Institute of Architects Guide to New York City by Norval White, Elliot Willensky, and Fran Leadon

AIA’s Guide, which was first published in 1967 and last updated in 2010, was on three lists of experts’ favorite books.
“It’s broken down by borough, then by neighborhoods inside each borough.” It gives basic information about each building, like the architect, style, year it was built or changed, and puts them in a historical or cultural context.

The author of the books “Walking Brooklyn and Walking Queens”:
“It’s the bible for New York City architecture, and it talks about interesting aesthetics.”
People who work as walking tour guides: Jim Mackin is a history teacher and walking tour guide.
“It’s a good place to start when you want to find out more about specific buildings.” I like the old WPA Guide to New York City, which was published in 1939, because of its elegant style, conciseness, and period attitude.
Dan Wakin, the author of The Man with the Sawed-Off Leg and Other Tales from a New York City Block, said this.

The Encyclopedia of New York City, edited by Kenneth T. Jackson

A huge book that can help you “get a quick sense of any ancillary place, person, or event that might come up in your research.”
—Dan Wakin said that.

Gotham by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace

Gotham is the first of two books that each have more than 1,000 pages.
In just about any subject about the city up to 1898, it has a lot of information about it.
—Dan Wakin said that.

Greater Gotham by Mike Wallace

Gotham: The Second Part covers just 21 years, from when New York and Brooklyn merged to 1919. So many great years! You might think that writing more than 1,000 pages about a time of gold and misery would be too long, but this is a “made-for-Netflix” movie. It was written by Justin Davidson, who is the author of the book called Magnetic City.

New York at its Core by the Museum of the City of New York

“I can’t help but add his new book to our exhibition of the same name, which is the first ever to give New Yorkers an overview of four-plus centuries of the city’s history.” It is a great place to start or to get more into the history of the city. This quote comes from Sarah Henry, who works as the deputy director and chief curator of the Museum of the City of New York.

Empire City: New York through the Centuries, edited by Kenneth T. Jackson and David Dunbar

“A fascinating look at New York’s history through primary source documents, which let the people who were there at the time speak in their own words.” If you need more specific help, the section introductions are very detailed and comprehensive. Valerie Paley, vice president and chief historian of the New-York Historical Society and director of the center for women’s history at the society, said this.

The Historical Atlas of New York City by Eric Homberger

“A short, easy-to-read, well-illustrated history of the city, from pre-colonization to the 21st century.” To teach a class about the history of the city, I’d give this book to the students. —Michael Miscione, a history of Manhattan’s borough.

The Row House Reborn: Architecture and Neighborhoods in New York City 1908-1929 by Andrew Dolkart

When I write about or learn about row houses, this is one of the books I use. There is a book that tells the story of how row houses in New York City were reused at the beginning of the 20th century. It shows how they were restyled and updated. Sarah Bean Apmann, the director of research and preservation for the Greenwich Village Society for Preservation, says that the group’s goal is to preserve and research the history of the neighborhood.

The New York Chronology by James Trager

When, who, where, and why things happened in the city that made it what it is today. They range from simple things like the birth date of a New York City celebrity to an in-depth look at what happened at a big event. A lot of history books don’t go back that far and give so much information about colonial New York/New Amsterdam, but this one does. In this case, it was Adrienne Onofri.

“Tager gives you a quick look at some history at your fingertips.” This is a little like “scanning the front page for the year you want to read about.” —Dan Wakin said that.

Here is New York by E.B. White

“Perceptive, funny, and nostalgic, E.B. White’s trip around Manhattan is still the best love letter to New York written by one of the country’s best-known writers.” “What a treasure!” Justin Ferate is a historian.

From Abyssinian to Zion by David W. Dunlap

“This is almost a complete list of every religious place of worship, both alive and dead.” The history and names of the people who are connected to that history are a bonus. This is a good thing. —Jim Mackin said that.

Manhattan, When I was Young by Mary Cantwell

During the 1950s, New York City was exciting and romantic. A memoir by a writer and editor shows that. Cantwell remembers her post-college years, including her jobs, romance, and homes, with precision and insight. There is a research scholar at Barnard College named Nancy Woloch. She is also the author of two books: “A Class by Myself” and “Eleanor Roosevelt: In Her Words.”

Open City by Teju Cole

That two people can be so close without breaking each other’s privacy is one of the great things about this book. Julius, the narrator, is both hyper-observant and completely oblivious. Even though Cole wrote the book seven years ago, it already feels like he was writing about a city from a long time ago. Justin Davidson: —

City on Two Rivers by Stephen Longstreet

People wrote this about New York City in 1975. Almost like gossip, this book is full of New York history and high society, as well as neighborhood color and crooked politicians, show girls, and colorful New York people. A lot of fun! —JustinFerate

Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn of the Century New York by Kathy Peiss

Their jobs, goals, clubs, hang-outs… their sense of style and their impact on culture. “The main thing is how commercialized leisure activities have grown.” —Nancy Woloch is the author of the book.

Power and Society: Greater New York at the Turn of the Century by David C. Hammack

“Not for the weak of heart!” In this book, you’ll learn about one of New York’s most interesting and important times: the start of the 20th century. “In it, you’ll meet a cast of long-forgotten politicians, socialites, and financial movers and shakers as they influence the decisions that would shape the city for decades to come.” —MichaelMiscione

City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789-1860 by Christine Stansell

“Looks at how women lived together and competed in early New York City’s tenement dwellings and working-class neighborhoods.” Middle-class and low-class women’s cultures are shown to be very different in this book. It also makes an original contribution to urban history. —NancyWoloch

City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex 1790-1920 by Timothy J. Gilfoyle

“Of all the books I’ve read about New York City, this one is one of the best. I always remember it.” Even though it was written for a more scholarly audience, it touches on so many topics: economics, gender, urbanization, politics, morality, sexuality, immigration, and I’m sure I’m forgetting something. For some reason, I can’t walk through Soho without thinking about it as the first sex district in New York City because of this book. In this case, Valerie Paley says that.

Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York by Luc Sante

People who lived in 19th-century New York might not have spent much time at whorehouses, poison-dispensing taverns, murderous alleys, and stinking wharves that Sante talks about. But, boy, it’s fun to read about them in this clear, muddy prose. Justin Davidson: —

New York by Luc Sante

“”Had I been a 19th century New Yorker, I might not have actually spent much time frequenting whorehouses, poison-dispensing taverns, murderous alleys, and stinking 

“Author Joseph Mitchell, who is known for his precise and respectful observations, loves to remember New Yorkers like saloonkeepers, street preachers, skyscraper-building Mohawks, and the moving personal story of the griot (historian) of Staten Island’s free black community.” Mitchell’s uplifting descriptions show how important people are to the development of this great city. —JustinFerate

The Battle for New York by Barnet Schechter

“Schecter makes New York City the center of attention during the American Revolution, making it the place to be.” A lot of important revolutionary history took place in the present-day five borough city, and the author adds to his never-dull book with walking tours of the places he talks about. In this case, Michael Miscione.

New York Art Deco: A Guide to Gotham’s Jazz Age by Anthony W. Robins

“It was meant to be a classic. It’s a great book that’s both fun and educational. It shows readers how New York became the world’s modern metropolis in the Jazz era. The man who said that was Justin Ferate:

The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011 by Hilary Ballon

“Amazing. In this book, we learn about the DNA of the city we know and how the Commissioners Plan of 1811 still has an impact on it today. In this case, it’s Sarah Henry.

The Waterworks by E.L. Doctrow

This isn’t the best book by Doctorow. Ragtime or Billy Bathgate would be his best. I like murder mysteries that feature unsavory journalism, bad doctors, and the Tweed Ring, as well as the aqueducts that turned New York from an old town into the world’s biggest.
Justin Davidson: —

New York: A Guide to the Metropolis by Gerard R. Wolfe

This is one of my favorite songs. It was written in 1975. First, I read it when I arrived in New York. In a thank you note, I thanked the author for being the person who made me fall in love with New York. : “To me, it’s the best guide for people.” The man who said that was Justin Ferate:
This is a good oldie but a good one.It’s been on my bookshelf since I moved to New York for graduate school, and I’ve had it there ever since. Sometimes I take it out and go to a new place. In my heart, I’m an art historian. I love the architectural details that Wolfe picks out for his readers. “Margaret Oppenheimer, author of The Remarkable Rise of Eliza Jumel,” says this: “Eliza Jumel had a remarkable rise.”

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