22 Best Books on New York History

22 Best Books on New York History

New York- the city of skyscrapers, never ending energy, and the world-famous statue of liberty- has been a dream of many, including me. We all watch New York-based series and fantasize about living a lavish life in the city, but how many of us know about its history? What we think about New York is true, but it has other aspects too. In this article, we’re going to discuss 22 best books on New York History.

Being a former history student in high school, all I ever heard or studied about was the Indian history of colonialism, the German history of the Jewish genocide, the American history of racism and slavery, and significant world historical events like that. Only after my research did I learn about the history of the city of dreams, New York, and read a few books about it.

Numerous books have been written about New York City, including comprehensive overviews of its history, in-depth analyses of issues like gentrification or architecture, novels that capture a specific moment in time, and much more. Some of those many excellent books have been listed here.

Don’t worry; the wait is over. Here is the promised list of 22 remarkable books about New York History

22 Great Books on New York History

1. The Colossus of New York

The Colossus of New York | Books on New York History

Full Title: The Colossus of New York

Author: Colson Whitehead

Genre: Non-fiction

Publishing Year: 2003


The Colossus of New York is a remarkable portrayal of the city that never sleeps, capturing its inner and outward landscapes in a collection of vignettes, musings, and personal memories. Colson Whitehead captures the emotions and ideas of longstanding residents and recent immigrants who aspire to call it their home, those who have overcome its obstacles, and those who fight against its cruelties with an almost magical immediacy.

2. The Power Broker

The Power Broker | Books on New York History

Full Title: The Power Broker

Author: Robert Caro

Genre: Biography

Publishing Year: 1974


The Power Broker, one of the most lauded books of our time and the recipient of both the Pulitzer and the Francis Parkman awards, reveals the little-known history behind the shaping (and misshaping) of twentieth-century New York (city and state) and reveals what few have known: that Robert Moses was, for almost fifty years, the most influential person in the city, shaping not only its politics but also its physical structure and the issues associated with urban development.

3. New York Burning

New York Burning | Books on New York History

Full Title: New York Burning

Author: Jill Lepore

Genre: History

Publishing Year: 2005


Ten fires raged over Manhattan during a chilly few weeks in the winter of 1741. Panicked whites saw further proof of a slave insurrection with every successive fire. In the end, 17 black men were hanged, 13 black men were burned at stake, and more than 100 black men, women, and children were imprisoned beneath City Hall.

This book uses ground-breaking research to describe these spectacular incidents while reconstructing the emerging New York of the seventeenth century. Even back then, the city was a vibrant mix of groups, ethnicities, and colors, with one-fifth of the population being slaves.

Lepore vividly illustrates how, in a metropolis ripe with state intrigue and terror, the possibility of black revolt brought together the white political pluralities in a frenzy of racial fear and violence by examining the political and social milieu of the time.

4. The Encyclopedia of New York City

The Encyclopedia of New York City | Books on New York History

Full Title: The Encyclopedia of New York City

Author: Kenneth T. Jackson

Genre: History

Publishing Year: 1988


This encyclopaedia covers a wide range of information about what many people believe to be America’s most fascinating city, providing answers to inquiries like these: Why is Tin Pan Alley called that? Which building in New York City is home to leftovers from the World War II bombardment of London? Who won New York City for the previous Republican presidential candidate?

Where are Manhattan Transfer, Manhattan Beach, and Manhattan College located? There are none in Manhattan. When and how did New York’s population suddenly grow by 70% overnight? It covers topics from prehistory to the present in all five boroughs.

5. New York: An Illustrated History

New York: An Illustrated History | Books on New York History

Full Title: New York: An Illustrated History

Author: James Sanders and Ric Burns

Genre: Non-fiction

Publishing Year: 1999


This important work charts New York’s remarkable development from its early settlement on the tip of Manhattan through the devastation caused by the Revolutionary War to its rise as the nation’s leading industrial and commercial hub and as a magnet for immigrant hopes and dreams in the 19th century to its position as a beacon of modern culture in the 20th century and as a global symbol of resiliency in the 21st.

6. The Battle for New York

The Battle for New York | Books on New York History

Full Title: The Battle for New York: The City at the Heart of the American Revolution

Author: Barnet Schecter

Genre: History

Publishing Year: 2002


From the political and religious conflicts of the 1760s and early 1770s, which made the city a hotbed of political action, to the campaign of 1776, which turned today’s five boroughs and Westchester County into a series of battlefields, to the seven years of British occupation and martial law, this book tells the tale of how the city became the pivot on which the American Revolution turned.

By far the most significant military operation of the Revolutionary War, the battle for control of New York involved nearly every key player on both sides, from General William Howe to Nathan Hale, Benedict Arnold to George Washington. By skillfully fusing 18th-century happenings with the contemporary setting of the city, Barnet Schecter illuminates the unrecognized warfare that still exists today.

7. The Island at the Center of the World

The Island at the Center of the World | Books on New York History

Full Title: The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America

Author: Russell Shorto

Genre: History

Publishing Year: 2004


When the British took control of New Amsterdam in 1664, legends about an island that cost only 24 dollars and a peg-legged governor started to take the place of the reality of its bustling, multilingual civilization.

But thanks to the 12,000 pages of its records that have now been designated a national treasure, the tale of the Dutch colony of New Netherlands was only forgotten, not destroyed.

Russell Shorto has crafted a compelling narrative—a story of global scope centred on a wilderness named Manhattan—using this unique resource that completely alters how we think about the early days of the United States.

8. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler | Books on New York History

Full Title: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler

Author: E.L. Konigsburg

Genre: Fiction

Publishing Date: 1967


Claudia had a very thoughtful plan before deciding to flee. She would only be gone long enough for her parents to learn the value of Claudia. She would travel in luxury and reside in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Because Jamie was a miser and would have money, she asked him along after saving some of her own money.

Jamie and Claudia arrived at the museum on time because Jamie was an excellent planner and had some ideas of his own. But after the excitement of moving in had passed, Claudia encountered two unanticipated issues. She was feeling the same but wanted to feel different, and she spotted a statue at the museum that was so stunning that she was unable to leave until she had learned who it was made by—a mystery that even the experts couldn’t explain.

Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler was the statue’s previous owner. Claudia might not have discovered a route home without her, to be honest.

9. How the Other Half Lives

How the Other Half Lives | Books on New York History

Full Title: How the Other Half Lives

Author: Jacob Riis

Genre: History

Publishing Year: 1890


Jacob Riis’ astonishing investigation into the appalling living conditions of the underprivileged in New York City, which was first published in 1890, had an immediate and tremendous impact on society, driving reforms that affected the lives of millions of people.

10. New York

New York novel  | Books on New York History

Full Title: New York

Author: Edward Rutherfurd

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publishing Year: 2009


In a complex, captivating epic, Edward Rutherfurd honours the most fantastic city in America by tying together the stories of wealthy and impoverished families, native-born people, and immigrants—a cast of imaginary and real characters whose fortunes rise and fall along with the fortunes of the city.

From this close-up vantage, we see New York’s humble beginnings as a small Indian fishing community, the arrival of Dutch and British merchants, the Revolutionary War, the city’s emergence as a significant trading and financial centre, the upheavals of the Civil War, the excesses of the Gilded Age, the explosion of immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the trials of World War II, the city’s almost inevitable demise in the 1970s, and its rebirth in 1990s.

11. Gotham

Gotham | Books on New York History

Full Title: Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898

Author: Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace

Genre: Non-fiction

Publishing Year: 1998


A paradise of waist-high grasses, towering stands of oak, walnut, maple, and chestnut trees, and forests teeming with bears, wolves, raccoons, beavers, otters, and foxes, it was Eden to European travellers.

Today, it is home to millions of people who have immigrated from all over the country and the world. It is the Broadway and Wall Street location, the Empire State Building, and the Statue of Liberty.

12. Inside the Apple

Inside the Apple | Books on New York History

Full Title: Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City

Author: James Nevius and Michelle Nevius

Genre: History

Publishing Year: 2009


Inside the Apple vividly and thoroughly explores New York’s exciting past. You can go to the locations where each story in this book was told. This lively, comprehensive, and frequently funny book examines some of New York’s most significant historical episodes while remaining grounded in the present-day metropolis.

13. 97 Orchard

97 Orchard | Books on New York History

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

Author: Jane Ziegelman

Genre: Cookbook

Publishing Year: 2010


97 Orchard is an extensively detailed examination of the lifestyles and eating customs of five families of various races residing in one Lower East Side tenement at the beginning of the twentieth century. Fans of Rachel Ray’s Hometown Eats, people interested in the evolution of American cuisine, and “foodies” of all stripes will like the 40 recipes in 97 Orchard.

14. Forgotten New York

Forgotten New York

Full Title: Forgotten New York: Views of a Lost Metropolis

Author: Kevin Walsh

Genre: History

Publishing Year: 2006


This book is your guide to viewing everything in New York, including houses built by the earliest Dutch settlers on Staten Island, yellow brick streets in Brooklyn, clocks set into the sidewalk in Manhattan, bishop’s crook lampposts in Queens, and a white elephant in the Bronx.

With simple-to-use maps and proposed paths to hundreds of obscure locations, historic sites, streets leading nowhere, and abandoned structures, Forgotten New York covers all five boroughs.

15. The Bowery Boys

The Bowery Boys

Full Title: The Bowery Boys: Adventures in Old New York: An Unconventional Exploration of Manhattan’s Historic Neighborhoods, Secret Spots and Colorful Characters

Author: Greg Young, Tom Meyers

Genre: Travel Literature

Publishing Year: 2016


The Bowery Boys podcast is a sensation, captivating listeners every month with one incredible tale after another. The two now give you an exclusive personal tour through New York’s historic cobblestone streets and gas-lit back lanes in their first book.

16. The Historical Atlas of New York City

The Historical Atlas of New York City

Full Title: The Historical Atlas of New York City: A Visual Celebration of Nearly 400 Years of New York City’s History

Author: Eric Homberger

Genre: History

Publishing Year: 1994


Astor’s meteoric rise from a modest fur trader to the wealthiest and most powerful man in the city, as well as the fascinating ethnic diversity of contemporary Queens, are just a few of the significant events covered in this book as it takes the reader through 400 years of Gotham’s rich past, neighborhood by neighborhood.

This encyclopaedic book’s full-color maps, charts, photos, sketches, and mini-essays track the evolution and cultural significance of Fifth Avenue, Wall Street, Park Avenue, and Broadway, among other well-known New York thoroughfares. With three brand-new, two-page spreads on Rudolph Giuliani’s New York, the revitalization of Forty-second Street, and the reconstruction of Ground Zero, this revised edition brings the Atlas up to date.

17. City of Women

City of Women

Full Title: City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789-1860

Author: Christine Stansell

Genre: Non-fiction

Publishing Year: 1986


This intriguing research examines how women came to be seen as a distinct class in the post-Civil War society of New York City from a novel perspective. The relationships between “lady” and working women were harmonious. The middle-class sisters of the labourers, who had the time to behave as “self-appointed exemplars of morality,” controlled the labourers’ sexual and social behaviour. Stansell’s description of the situation of working-class women gives them life.

Without any ties to their families, they joined the workforce. Many turned to crime and prostitution, which led to the altruism of refined bourgeois ladies, the growth of social reformers, and the development of the settlement house movement. Poor people’s neighborhoods, tenements, and lewd homes in 19th-century New York are portrayed as significant figures in women’s history. At Princeton University, Stansell is an instructor.

18. Empire City

Empire City

Full Title: Empire City: New York Through the Centuries

Author: Kenneth T. Jackson

Genre: History

Publishing Year: 2005


In its unique history, New York has captivated Americans’ imagination like never before. With contributions from O. Henry, Theodore Dreiser, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Paul Auster, and James Baldwin, among many others, this significant anthology collects not only the best literary works about New York but also the most illuminating essays written by politicians, philosophers, city planners, social critics, tourists, immigrants, journalists, and historians.

19. The New York Chronology

The New York Chronology

Full Title: The New York Chronology: The Ultimate Compendium of Events, People, and Anecdotes from the Dutch to the Present

Author: James Trager

Genre: History

Publishing Year: 2004


A book unlike any other is written for a city unlike any other. The New York Chronology chronicles the history of the great metropolis in tens of thousands of chronological entries, from Giovanni da Verrazano’s entrance in 1524 to the closing of Ratner’s Delicatessen on the Lower East Side after 97 years of providing blintzes, kasha, latkes, and matzoh brie.

This is a fun and essential book for fans of New York, with perfect scholarship, comedy, and astounding detail.

20. Open City

Open City

Full Title: Open City

Author: Teju Cole

Genre: Fiction

Publishing Year: 2011


A young Nigerian doctor completing his residency wanders through the streets of Manhattan. The walks fulfil their need for Julius since they allow him to evaluate his relationships, his recent breakup with his fiancée, his present, and his past while escaping the highly controlled mental environment of work.

Julius also travels across various social landscapes, coming into contact with people from all backgrounds who can shed light on his voyage, which leads him to Brussels, his native Nigeria, and the most obscure corners of his soul.

21. Low Life

Low Life

Full Title: Low Life

Author: Lucy Sante

Genre: History

Publishing Year: 1991


Luc Sante’s Low Life portrays the most significant metropolis in America, New York, as the chaotic and disorderly womb of modernity. Instead of the well-known tale of mansions, avenues, and robber barons.

This is the chaotic, violent, and frequently murderous tale of the city’s slums; the bustling streets, the scene of countless frauds and crimes, whose claustrophobic and overcrowded housing is still a notable aspect of the urban landscape.

22. The Waterworks

The Waterworks

Full Title: The Waterworks

Author: E.L. Doctorow

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publishing Date: 2007


Martin Pemberton, a freelance writer in lower Manhattan, one wet morning in 1871, notices five older men in a passing stagecoach, one of whom he knows as his allegedly dead and buried father.

While trying to solve the mystery, Pemberton vanishes, which prompts McIlvaine, his employer and the editor of an evening paper, to look into the circumstances surrounding his freelancer’s demise.

Layer by layer, McIlvaine shows a contemporary metropolis bursting with primal impulses and crimes, where the Tweed Ring runs the city for its gain, and a glaringly smug nouveau-riche ignores the misery and poverty that surrounds them.

Final Words

Enlightening? Now at least, you would know about the history of your dream city before you think of visiting it. After going through these books, I’m even more attracted to New York and want to stay there at least once. If you dream of visiting the city too, I recommend you read these books.

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