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.

6 Books About NYC to Read This Summer

st marks is dead list
Cover: W.W. Norton & Company/Background: bwzenith/Getty Images

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.

bronx is burning book list
Cover: Macmillan/Background: bwzenith/Getty Images

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 book list
Cover: HarperCollins/Background: bwzenith/Getty Images

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.

anatomy of a city book list
Cover: Penguin Books/Background: bwzenith/Getty Images

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 book list
Cover: Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Background: bwzenith/Getty Images

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.)

david mccullough the great bridge book list
Simon & Schuster

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 book list
Cover: Random House/Background: bwzenith/Getty Images

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.

purewow author
Carolyn Kuang-chen Stanley


From 2016-2019 Carolyn Kuang-chen Stanley held the role of Editor covering food, travel and all things nyc.
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