In Downtown: My Manhattan, Peter Hamill writes about a New York he has carried with him as a journalist through years of reading, reporting, and living the city. He weaves history and fun facts into his stories about Greenwich Village, the Bowery, Tribeca, Times Square, and other neighborhoods with his own sense of nostalgia and criticism.
A Walker in the City is set vividly amidst the working-class community of Jewish immigrants in Brownsville, Brooklyn during the 1930s. In this coming of age memoir, Kazin finds that he doesn’t have to cast off his roots while aspiring to make it in New York. Brendan Gill of The New Yorker called A Walker in the City “singular and beautiful…it is a small book and an immense achievement.”
This short memoir takes readers on a ride through Manhattan from 1952 to 1963. Wakefield describes living (and sometimes stumbling after drinks) in Greenwich Village in a time when Jack Kerouac could be seen at the Vanguard and Thelonious Monk heard at the Five Spot. Wakefield explores New York through his friendships with the Beat Generation and other literary and activist giants. Publisher’s Weekly writes that Wakefield has “written his generation’s kinder-spirited Moveable Feast.”
For an inside look into life in the iconic Upper West Side apartment, Life at The Dakota chronicles the social conflicts, the famous tenants, and the shifting social norms of New York City between the 19th and 20th centuries. The Dakota apartments–built so far north it was considered as far as the Dakotas–was once considered an experiment in modern living for upper class New Yorkers.
Broyard dives into the “lost Bohemia” that was Manhattan just before the Second World War, exploring the abstraction of art and the movement of sexual freedom. As reviewed in Kirkus Books, “Again and again, [Broyard’s] independence and right judgment reveal themselves in a mind that, in a Whitmanesque way, passionately insists on a genuine integration of life and art.” The Washington Post calls it “Seductive, ardently written…a valentine with barbs.”
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro (submitted by @Ospce)
This Pulitzer Prize winning book gives the reader a path into the mind of prolific and controversial city builder, Robert Moses. Moses, chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (among other positions), reshaped how people navigated the city by car and foot. Author Robert Caro also explores how the exchange of power can impact a city’s infrastructure. Rave reviews aside, the most poignant probably comes from Robert Moses’ most frequent sparring partner, Jane Jacobs, who said, “Apart from the book’s being so good as biography, as city history, as sheer good reading, The Power Broker is an immense public service.”
Scholars Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace prove that “nothing just happens” as they chronicle New York City’s history from the Indian encounter of the early 1600s to 1898. In this Pulitzer Prize winning book, the authors meticulously recount the landscapes, trading systems, wars, and more that have shaped the New York City of today. In his review, Robert McNamara says “even those who think they know the history of New York City will no doubt find surprises on nearly every page.”
Robert Fogelson, an MIT professor of urban studies and history, traces the rise and fall of downtown areas in urban America and the evolution of suburban sprawl. More than a physical analysis, Fogelson also looks at how cities are understood by Americans and how the identity of “downtown” can be changed, for instance, by who a city keeps out and who it extends transportation to. The book is clearly aimed towards city builders and planners though with thorough analysis of the haphazard and conflicting urban planning attempts to rehabilitate declining city centers.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City by Jonathan Mahler (submitted by @JuliaManhattan)
New York City in 1977 was struggling financially and socially with riots, blackouts, a manhunt for the Son of Sam killer and political upheaval, but Mahler lays out the year from the lens of baseball. Starting with the contentious relationship between the Yankee’s star player and the coach, Mahler brings together a multiplicity of stories and characters from athletes to politicians, punk rockers and Studio 54 revelers. Publisher’s Weekly calls it “a fascinating prelude to Tom Wolfe’s novel The Bonfire of the Vanities.”
Also check out our editor’s picks of favorite non-fiction NYC books. What other books would you add?