7 Nonfiction Books That Taught Us So Much About NYC
It’s well-established that NYC makes a compelling backdrop for countless novels and memoirs (and their subsequent movie adaptations). But the city itself may be the most worthy subject of all—and these eye-opening books might just make an NYC history buff out of you.
St. Marks Is Dead by Ada Calhoun
Follow the history of the East Village’s most notorious street from its beginnings as a pear orchard to its legacy as a creative mecca to its current, wig-laden incarnation—as written by someone who grew up there.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning by Jonathan Mahler
You don’t have to be a Yankees fan to get sucked into this book, a fascinating cross-section of NYC in 1977: a pivotal year marked by crime, economic crisis, the opening of Studio 54, a bitter mayoral election and, yes, baseball.
97 Orchard by Jane Ziegelman
Part history book, part cookbook, this tome chronicles the lives and meals of the residents of one building (now the site of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum). It’s a captivating look at how the city’s immigrant identity and food identity are intertwined—and if it makes you hungry, just try one of the 40 recipes inside.
The Works: Anatomy of a City by Kate Ascher
Even if you’ve never thought much about urban planning, you’ll gain a whole new appreciation for the complex systems that keep this city running—think subways, water and trash—after reading this guide, written by the former executive VP of the NYC Economic Development Corporation.
Low Life by Luc Sante
If Herbert Asbury’s The Gangs of New York (published in 1927) is the original account of Manhattan’s underbelly at the turn of the century, Low Life delves even deeper into the era’s politics, violence and debauchery. (Fittingly enough, Sante served as “historical advisor” to the 2002 movie inspired by Asbury’s book.)
The Great Bridge by David McCullough
It’s no small task to write about one of the most iconic structures in the world, but McCullough’s exhaustive narrative—covering not only the science and engineering but also the tireless dedication and personal sacrifice of the father and son behind it—more than lives up to its weighty subject matter.
Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell
The renowned New Yorker journalist’s collection of painstakingly rendered portraits should be required reading for everyone. Not only is it a fascinating glimpse into the New York City of the mid-20th century, but Mitchell’s thoughtful and elegant prose makes his fondness for the city contagious.