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The Best Nonfiction Books About New York

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“What are the best Nonfiction books about New York?” We looked at 129 of the top NY Nonfiction books, aggregating and ranking them so we could answer that very question!

The top 17 titles, all appearing on 2 or more “Best Nonfiction New York” book lists, are ranked below by how many lists they appear on. The remaining 100+ titles, as well as the lists we used are in alphabetical order at the bottom of the page.

Happy Scrolling!



Top 17 Nonfiction Books About New York



17 .) 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement written by Jane Ziegelman

 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement

Lists It Appears On:

  • Bustle
  • Purewow

97 Orchard is a richly detailed investigation of the lives and culinary habits—shopping, cooking, and eating—of five families of various ethnicities living at the turn of the twentieth century in one tenement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. With 40 recipes included, 97 Orchard is perfect for fans of Rachel Ray’s Hometown Eats; anyone interested in the history of how immigrant food became American food; and “foodies” of every stripe.



16 .) Breakfast at Tiffany’s written by Truman Capote

 Breakfast at Tiffany's

Lists It Appears On:

  • Curbed
  • Penguin Random House

It’s New York in the 1940s, where the martinis flow from cocktail hour till breakfast at Tiffany’s. And nice girls don’t, except, of course, Holly Golightly. Pursued by Mafia gangsters and playboy millionaires, Holly is a fragile eyeful of tawny hair and turned-up nose, a heart-breaker, a perplexer, a traveller, a tease. She is irrepressibly ‘top banana in the shock department’, and one of the shining flowers of American fiction. This edition also contains three stories: ‘House of Flowers’, ‘A Diamond Guitar’ and ‘A Christmas Memory’.



15 .) Gone to New York: Adventures in the City written by Ian Frazier

 Gone to New York: Adventures in the City

Lists It Appears On:

  • Bustle
  • Time Out

Welcome to Ian Frazier’s New York, where every block is an event, and where the denizens are larger than life. Meet landlord extraordinaire Zvi Hugo Segal, and the man who scaled the World Trade Center. Learn the location of Manhattan’s antipodes, and meander the length of Route 3 to New Jersey. Like his literary forebears Joseph Mitchell and A. J. Liebling, Frazier makes us fall in love with America’s greatest city all over again.



14 .) Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 written by Edwin G. Burrows

 Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898

Lists It Appears On:

  • Curbed
  • Goodreads

To European explorers, it was Eden, a paradise of waist-high grasses, towering stands of walnut, maple, chestnut, and oak, and forests that teemed with bears, wolves, raccoons, beavers, otters, and foxes. Today, it is the site of Broadway and Wall Street, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, and the home of millions of people, who have come from every corner of the nation and the globe. In Gotham, Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace have produced a monumental work of history, one that ranges from the Indian tribes that settled in and around the island of Manna-hata, to the consolidation of the five boroughs into Greater New York in 1898. It is an epic narrative, a story as vast and as varied as the city it chronicles, and it underscores that the history of New York is the story of our nation. Readers will relive the tumultuous early years of New Amsterdam under the Dutch West India Company, Peter Stuyvesant’s despotic regime, Indian wars, slave resistance and revolt, the Revolutionary War and the defeat of Washington’s army on Brooklyn Heights, the destructive seven years of British occupation, New York as the nation’s first capital, the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, the Erie Canal and the coming of the railroads, the growth of the city as a port and financial center, the infamous draft riots of the Civil War, the great flood of immigrants, the rise of mass entertainment such as vaudeville and Coney Island, the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and the birth of the skyscraper. Here too is a cast of thousands–the rebel Jacob Leisler and the reformer Joanna Bethune; Clement Moore, who saved Greenwich Village from the city’s street-grid plan; Herman Melville, who painted disillusioned portraits of city life; and Walt Whitman, who happily celebrated that same life.



13 .) Here Is New York written by E.B. White

 Here Is New York

Lists It Appears On:

  • Curbed
  • Goodreads

Perceptive, funny, and nostalgic, E.B. White’s stroll around Manhattan remains the quintessential love letter to the city, written by one of America’s foremost literary figures. The New York Times has named Here is New York one of the ten best books ever written about the metropolis, and The New Yorker calls it “the wittiest essay, and one of the most perceptive, ever done on the city.



12 .) Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning written by Jonathan Mahler

 Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning

Lists It Appears On:

  • Curbed
  • Purewow

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year Scheduled for release in July 2007 as an ESPN original miniseries, starring John Turturro as Billy Martin, Oliver Platt as George Steinbrenner, and Daniel Sunjata as Reggie Jackson. A kaleidoscopic portrait of New York City in 1977, The Bronx Is Burning is the story of two epic battles: the fight between Yankee Reggie Jackson and team manager Billy Martin, and the battle between Mario Cuomo and Ed Koch for the city’s mayorship. Buried beneath these parallel conflicts–one for the soul of baseball, the other for the soul of the city–was the subtext of race. Deftly intertwined by journalist Jonathan Mahler, these braided Big Apple narratives reverberate to reveal a year that also saw the opening of Studio 54, the acquisition of the New York Post by Rupert Murdoch, a murderer dubbed the “Son of Sam,” the infamous blackout, and the evolution of punk rock. As Koch defeated Cuomo, and as Reggie Jackson rescued a team racked with dissension, 1977 became a year of survival–and also of hope.



11 .) Low Life written by Luc Sante

 Low Life

Lists It Appears On:

  • Curbed
  • Purewow

Luc Sante’s Low Life is a portrait of America’s greatest city, the riotous and anarchic breeding ground of modernity. This is not the familiar saga of mansions, avenues, and robber barons, but the messy, turbulent, often murderous story of the city’s slums; the teeming streets–scene of innumerable cons and crimes whose cramped and overcrowded housing is still a prominent feature of the cityscape. Low Life voyages through Manhattan from four different directions. Part One examines the actual topography of Manhattan from 1840 to 1919; Part Two, the era’s opportunities for vice and entertainment–theaters and saloons, opium and cocaine dens, gambling and prostitution; Part Three investigates the forces of law and order which did and didn’t work to contain the illegalities; Part Four counterposes the city’s tides of revolt and idealism against the city as it actually was. Low Life provides an arresting and entertaining view of what New York was actually like in its salad days. But it’s more than simpy a book about New York. It’s one of the most provocative books about urban life ever written–an evocation of the mythology of the quintessential modern metropolis, which has much to say not only about New York’s past but about the present and future of all cities.



10 .) The Death and Life of Great American Cities written by Jane Jacobs

 The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Lists It Appears On:

  • Curbed
  • Goodreads

A direct and fundamentally optimistic indictment of the short-sightedness and intellectual arrogance that has characterized much of urban planning in this century, The Death and Life of Great American Cities has, since its first publication in 1961, become the standard against which all endeavors in that field are measured. In prose of outstanding immediacy, Jane Jacobs writes about what makes streets safe or unsafe; about what constitutes a neighborhood, and what function it serves within the larger organism of the city; about why some neighborhoods remain impoverished while others regenerate themselves. She writes about the salutary role of funeral parlors and tenement windows, the dangers of too much development money and too little diversity. Compassionate, bracingly indignant, and always keenly detailed, Jane Jacobs’s monumental work provides an essential framework for assessing the vitality of all cities.



9 .) The Encyclopedia of New York City written by Kenneth T. Jackson

 The Encyclopedia of New York City

Lists It Appears On:

  • Curbed
  • Time Out



8 .) The Great Bridge written by David McCullough

 The Great Bridge

Lists It Appears On:

  • Curbed
  • Purewow

Published on the fortieth anniversary of its initial publication, this edition of the classic book contains a new Preface by David McCullough, “one of our most gifted living writers” (The Washington Post).Built to join the rapidly expanding cities of New York and Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Bridge was thought by many at the start to be an impossibility destined to fail if not from insurmountable technical problems then from political corruption. (It was the heyday of Boss Tweed in New York.) But the Brooklyn Bridge was at once the greatest engineering triumph of the age, a surpassing work of art, a proud American icon, and a story like no other in our history. Courage, chicanery, unprecedented ingenuity and plain blundering, heroes, rascals, all the best and worst in human nature played a part. At the center of the drama were the stricken chief engineer, Washington Roebling and his remarkable wife, Emily Warren Roebling, neither of whom ever gave up in the face of one heartbreaking setback after another. The Great Bridge is a sweeping narrative of a stupendous American achievement that rose up out of its era like a cathedral, a symbol of affirmation then and still in our time.



7 .) The Power Broker written by Robert A. Caro

 The Power Broker

Lists It Appears On:

  • Curbed
  • Time Out

One of the most acclaimed books of our time, winner of both the Pulitzer and the Francis Parkman prizes, The Power Broker tells the hidden story behind the shaping (and mis-shaping) of twentieth-century New York (city and state) and makes public what few have known: that Robert Moses was, for almost half a century, the single most powerful man of our time in New York, the shaper not only of the city’s politics but of its physical structure and the problems of urban decline that plague us today. In revealing how Moses did it–how he developed his public authorities into a political machine that was virtually a fourth branch of government, one that could bring to their knees Governors and Mayors (from La Guardia to Lindsay) by mobilizing banks, contractors, labor unions, insurance firms, even the press and the Church, into an irresistible economic force–Robert Caro reveals how power works in all the cities of the United States. Moses built an empire and lived like an emperor. He personally conceived and completed public works costing 27 billion dollars–the greatest builder America (and probably the world) has ever known. Without ever having been elected to office, he dominated the men who were–even his most bitter enemy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, could not control him–until he finally encountered, in Nelson Rockefeller, the only man whose power (and ruthlessness in wielding it) equalled his own.



6 .) The Village: 400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues written by John Strausbaugh

 The Village: 400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues

Lists It Appears On:

  • Bustle
  • Goodreads

Cultural commentator John Strausbaugh’s The Village is the first complete history of Greenwich Village, the prodigiously influential and infamous New York City neighborhood. From the Dutch settlers and Washington Square patricians, to the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and Prohibition-era speakeasies; from Abstract Expressionism and beatniks, to Stonewall and AIDS, the connecting narratives of The Village tell the story of America itself. Illustrated with historic black-and-white photographs, The Village features lively, well-researched profiles of many of the people who made Greenwich Village famous, including Thomas Paine, Walt Whitman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mark Twain, Margaret Sanger, Eugene O’Neill, Marcel Duchamp, Upton Sinclair, Willa Cather, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Jackson Pollock, Anais Nin, Edward Albee, Charlie Parker, W. H. Auden, Woody Guthrie, James Baldwin, Maurice Sendak, E. E. Cummings, and Bob Dylan.



5 .) Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan written by Phillip Lopate

 Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan

Lists It Appears On:

  • Bustle
  • Untapped Cities

East Side, West Side, from the Little Red Lighthouse to Battery Park City, the wonders of Manhattan’s waterfront are both celebrated and secret — hidden in plain sight. In his brilliant exploration of this defining yet neglected shoreline, personal essayist Philip Lopate also recovers a part of the city’s soul. A native New Yorker, Lopate has embraced Manhattan by walking every inch of its perimeter, telling stories on the way of pirates (Captain Kidd) and power brokers (Robert Moses), the lowly shipworm and Typhoid Mary, public housing in Harlem and the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. He evokes the magic of the once bustling old port from Melville’s and Whitman’s day to the era of the longshoremen in On the Waterfront, while appraising today’s developers and environmental activists, and probing new plans for parks and pleasure domes with river views. Whether escorting us into unfamiliar, hazardous crannies or along a Beaux Arts esplanade, Waterfront is a grand literary ramble and defense of urban life by one of our most perceptive observers.



4 .) Just Kids written by Patti Smith

 Just Kids

Lists It Appears On:

  • Bustle
  • Curbed
  • Untapped Cities

In Just Kids, Patti Smith’s first book of prose, the legendary American artist offers a never-before-seen glimpse of her remarkable relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the epochal days of New York City and the Chelsea Hotel in the late sixties and seventies. An honest and moving story of youth and friendship, Smith brings the same unique, lyrical quality to Just Kids as she has to the rest of her formidable body of work–from her influential 1975 album Horses to her visual art and poetry.



3 .) Mapping Manhattan: A Love (And Sometimes Hate) Story in Maps by 75 New Yorkers written by Becky Cooper

 Mapping Manhattan: A Love (And Sometimes Hate) Story in Maps by 75 New Yorkers

Lists It Appears On:

  • Bustle
  • Untapped Cities
  • Untapped Cities

Armed with hundreds of blank maps she had painstakingly printed by hand, Becky Cooper walked Manhattan from end to end. Along her journey she met police officers, homeless people, fashion models, and senior citizens who had lived in Manhattan all their lives. She asked the strangers to “map their Manhattan” and to mail the personalized maps back to her.



2 .) The Works: Anatomy of a City written by Kate Ascher

 The Works: Anatomy of a City

Lists It Appears On:

  • Curbed
  • Purewow
  • Untapped Cities

How much do you really know about the systems that keep a city alive? The Works: Anatomy of a City contains everything you ever wanted to know about what makes New York City run. When you flick on your light switch the light goes on–how? When you put out your garbage, where does it go? When you flush your toilet, what happens to the waste? How does water get from a reservoir in the mountains to your city faucet? How do flowers get to your corner store from Holland, or bananas get there from Ecuador? Who is operating the traffic lights all over the city? And what in the world is that steam coming out from underneath the potholes on the street? Across the city lies a series of extraordinarily complex and interconnected systems. Often invisible, and wholly taken for granted, these are the systems that make urban life possible. The Works: Anatomy of a City offers a cross section of this hidden infrastructure, using beautiful, innovative graphic images combined with short, clear text explanations to answer all the questions about the way things work in a modern city. It describes the technologies that keep the city functioning, as well as the people who support them-the pilots that bring the ships in over the Narrows sandbar, the sandhogs who are currently digging the third water tunnel under Manhattan, the television engineer who scales the Empire State Building’s antenna for routine maintenance, the electrical wizards who maintain the century-old system that delivers power to subways.



1 .) Up in the Old Hotel written by Joseph Mitchell

 Up in the Old Hotel

Lists It Appears On:

  • Bustle
  • Curbed
  • Purewow
  • Time Out

Saloon-keepers and street preachers, gypsies and steel-walking Mohawks, a bearded lady and a 93-year-old “seafoodetarian” who believes his specialized diet will keep him alive for another two decades. These are among the people that Joseph Mitchell immortalized in his reportage for The New Yorker and in four books—McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon, Old Mr. Flood, The Bottom of the Harbor, and Joe Gould’s Secret—that are still renowned for their precise, respectful observation, their graveyard humor, and their offhand perfection of style.These masterpieces (along with several previously uncollected stories) are available in one volume, which presents an indelible collective portrait of an unsuspected New York and its odder citizens—as depicted by one of the great writers of this or any other time.




The 100+ Additional Best NY Nonfiction Books



#BookAuthorLists
18
A History of Brooklyn Bridge Park: How a Community Reclaimed and Transformed New York City’s Waterfront
 
Brownstoner
19A History of New York in 101 Objects Curbed
20A Little Life 
Penguin Random House
21A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Curbed
22A Visit from the Goon Squad 
Penguin Random House
23A Walker in the City Curbed
24Adelle Waldman Curbed
25Alexandra Lange Curbed
26Amale Andraos Curbed
27An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn Curbed
28An Old Merchant’s House: Life at Home in New York City 1835-1865Mary KnappGoodreads
29Another Country Curbed
30Asad Syrkett Curbed
31Battle for Bed-Stuy 
Brownstoner
32Ben Kabak Curbed
33Brian Lehrer Curbed
34Central Park, An American Masterpiece: A Comprehensive History of the Nation’s First Urban ParkSara Cedar MillerGoodreads
35Christadora Curbed
36Dan Doctoroff Curbed
37David Rockwell Curbed
38Delirious New York Curbed
39Designs Underfoot: The Art of Manhole Covers in New York CityDiana StuartGoodreads
40Discovering Vintage New York: A Guide to the City�s Timeless Shops, Bars, Delis & MoreMitch BroderGoodreads
41Divided Loyalties: How the American Revolution Came to New YorkRichard M. KetchumGoodreads
42Down These Mean Streets 
Penguin Random House
43Eloise Curbed
44Empire State Building: The Making of a LandmarkJohn TauranacGoodreads
45Five Points: The Nineteenth-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections and Became the World’s Most Notorious SlumTyler AnbinderGoodreads
46Footprints in New York: Tracing the Lives of Four Centuries of New YorkersJames NeviusGoodreads
47Forgotten New York Curbed
48From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Curbed
49Go Tell It on the Mountain 
Penguin Random House
50Great Jones Street 
Penguin Random House
51Greater Gotham Curbed
52Harriet the Spy Curbed
53How the Other Half LivesJacob A. RiisGoodreads
54I’ll Drink to That 
Penguin Random House
55Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York CityMichelle NeviusGoodreads
56Invisible Man 
Penguin Random House
57Janette Sadik-Khan and Seth Solomonow Curbed
58Jazz 
Penguin Random House
59Jeremiah Moss Curbed
60Julia Wertz Curbed
61Justin Davidson Curbed
62Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village MemoirAnatole BroyardBustle
63Kill All Your DarlingsLuc SanteTime Out
64Knickerbocker: The Myth behind New YorkElizabeth L. BradleyGoodreads
65M Train 
Penguin Random House
66Magnetic City Curbed
67Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York CityEric W. SandersonGoodreads
68Mark Gardner, Curbed
69Metropolitan LifeFran LebowitzBustle
70Money 
Penguin Random House
71Morningside Heights: A History of Its Architecture and DevelopmentAndrew S. DolkartGoodreads
72My Beloved World 
Penguin Random House
73My Sister EileenRuth McKenneyGoodreads
74Nadine Maleh Curbed
75Nathan Kensinger Curbed
76Native Speaker 
Penguin Random House
77Netherland 
Penguin Random House
78Never Built New York Curbed
79New York 1880: Architecture and Urbanism in the Gilded AgeRobert A.M. SternGoodreads
80New York 2140 Curbed
81New York 400: A Visual History of America’s Greatest City with Images from The Museum of the City of New YorkMuseum of the City of New York (NY-USA)Goodreads
82New York City Transit Authority: Objects Curbed
83
Newtown Creek: A Photographic Survey of New York’s Industrial Waterway
 
Untapped Cities
84Nonstop Metropolis Curbed
85Nowy Jork. Miejskie opowiesci: Historia, Mity, Tajemnice.Michelle NeviusGoodreads
86Passing 
Penguin Random House
87Paul Goldberger Curbed
88Playground of My Mind Curbed
89
Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants
 
Untapped Cities
90Rick Cook Curbed
91Roz Chast Curbed
92Rumaan Alam Curbed
93Secret New York: An Unusual Guide 
Untapped Cities
94So Little Time Curbed
95St. Marks Is DeadAda CalhounPurewow
96Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York Curbed
97Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution Curbed
98Stuart Little Curbed
99The AIA Guide to New York City Curbed
100The Battle for New York: The City at the Heart of the American RevolutionBarnet SchecterGoodreads
101The Beautiful and Damned 
Penguin Random House
102The Best of Everything Curbed
103The Bowery Boys: Adventures in Old New York Curbed
104The Boy Detective: A New York ChildhoodRoger RosenblattBustle
105The Bridge: The Building of the Verrazano-Narrows BridgeGay TaleseBustle
106The Brooklyn Nobody Knows – An Urban Walk 
Brownstoner
107
The Brooklyn Wars: The Stories Behind the Remaking of New York’s Most Celebrated Borough
 
Brownstoner
108
The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother
 
Untapped Cities
109The Colossus of New York Curbed
110The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese FoodJennifer 8. LeeGoodreads
111The Gangs of New YorkHerbert AsburyGoodreads
112The Godfather 
Penguin Random House
113The Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant Cookbook Curbed
114The Group Curbed
115The Historical Atlas of New York City: A Visual Celebration of Nearly 400 Years of New York City’s HistoryEric HombergerGoodreads
116The Island at the Center of the World Curbed
117The Long-Winded Lady Curbed
118The Manor: Three Centuries at a Slave Plantation on Long IslandMac GriswoldGoodreads
119The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century New YorkPatricia Cline CohenGoodreads
120The New York Nobody Knows Curbed
121The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir Curbed
122The Other Islands of New York City Curbed
123Thoughts without Cigarettes 
Penguin Random House
124Three Novels of New York 
Penguin Random House
125Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost its Soul Curbed
126Veronica 
Penguin Random House
127Washington Square 
Penguin Random House
128When You Reach Me Curbed
129Yolande Daniels Curbed



8 Best Nonfiction Books About New York City Book Sources/Lists



SourceArticle
Brownstoner Brooklyn Books: Four New Nonfiction Books Explain Brooklyn
Bustle 11 Best Nonfiction Books About New York City
Curbed Best books about New York: 50 essential NYC books
Goodreads Popular New York Non Fiction Books
Penguin Random House 31 Must-Read New York City Books
Purewow The Best Nonfiction Books About NYC History
Untapped Cities Untapped Cities’s 10 Favorite Non-Fiction Books About New York City
Time Out Best nonfiction books about New York City