The best books on Post-9/11 New York City

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always loved cities, New York in particular. A few weeks after 9/11, I decided to study the rebuilding of the WTC site for my graduate thesis, compelled by the immensity of the project and the layers of conflict embedded in the reconstruction and memorialization. None of the books listed below are directly about 9/11, but the attacks and their aftermath thread through all of their stories. New York is an intense, fraught, sometimes fun, sometimes heartbreaking place, like these stories, which are listed from newest to oldest.


I wrote...

Battle for Ground Zero: Inside the Political Struggle to Rebuild the World Trade Center

By Elizabeth Greenspan,

Book cover of Battle for Ground Zero: Inside the Political Struggle to Rebuild the World Trade Center

What is my book about?

My book tells the story of the fight to rebuild the WTC site, from days after the Twin Towers collapsed, in September 2001, to the opening of the memorial on the 10 year anniversary of the attacks. It’s a portrait of clashing voices, belonging to victims’ families, local residents, wealthy leaseholders, first responders, and designers, among others, all of whom felt an intense sense of ownership over this sixteen-acre piece of land. For a moment, and due to extraordinary events, the city's most powerful people had to answer to an aggrieved public about the land’s future. My book chronicles the messy compromises and bitter feuds that followed—and that ultimately remade Lower Manhattan.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The City We Became

Elizabeth Greenspan Why did I love this book?

Suddenly, for reasons no one can quite explain, five ordinary New Yorkers become-slash-embody the city’s five boroughs. For example, a newcomer named Manny discovers he *is* Manhattan; he feels and sees its streets and crowds. Through telling these five people’s stories—and chronicling their efforts to save the city from a powerful evil force—Jemisin tells the story of New York. It’s sort of sci-fi, it’s very funny. It’s also a portrait of the city today through regular, non-wealthy residents.

By N. K. Jemisin,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The City We Became as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A glorious fantasy, set in that most imaginary of cities, New York' Neil Gaiman on THE CITY WE BECAME

'The most celebrated science fiction and fantasy writer of her generation. . .Jemisin seems able to do just about everything'
NEW YORK TIMES

'Jemisin is now a pillar of speculative fiction, breathtakingly imaginative and narratively bold'
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

Five New Yorkers must band together to defend their city in the first book of a stunning new series by Hugo award-winning and New York Times bestselling author N. K. Jemisin.

Every city has a soul. Some are as ancient as myths, and…


Book cover of This Is All I Got: A New Mother's Search for Home

Elizabeth Greenspan Why did I love this book?

Sandler tells the story of Camila, a young and poor transplant, as she tries to find a place to live in New York while caring for her newborn son. It’s a riveting nonfiction narrative about how hostile New York is to those without homes and jobs, a population that has continued to grow over the past twenty years, as the city has become more and more unequal. Camila is resilient, but personal crises abound, and Sandler shows how much the city neglects so many of its inhabitants.

By Lauren Sandler,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked This Is All I Got as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK • From an award-winning journalist, a poignant and gripping immersion in the life of a young, homeless single mother amid her quest to find stability and shelter in the richest city in America

LONGLISTED FOR THE PEN/JEAN STEIN BOOK AWARD • “Riveting . . . a remarkable feat of reporting.”—The New York Times

Camila is twenty-two years old and a new mother. She has no family to rely on, no partner, and no home. Despite her intelligence and determination, the odds are firmly stacked against her. In this extraordinary work of literary reportage, Lauren…


Book cover of Open City

Elizabeth Greenspan Why did I love this book?

This is a novel about a man who wanders ruminatively around New York a couple of years after the 2008 financial crisis. One of the reasons it works, I think, is because everything we see about New York, every person we meet or interaction we overhear or street we observe, is through the eyes of the story’s narrator. Getting to know him means getting to know the city, and vice versa. He has a relationship with New York, which is charged and at times deceptive, which felt true, if nothing else.

By Teju Cole,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Open City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The bestselling debut novel from a writer heralded as the twenty-first-century W. G. Sebald.

A haunting novel about national identity, race, liberty, loss and surrender, Open City follows a young Nigerian doctor as he wanders aimlessly along the streets of Manhattan. For Julius the walks are a release from the tight regulations of work, from the emotional fallout of a failed relationship, from lives past and present on either side of the Atlantic.

Isolated amid crowds of bustling strangers, Julius criss-crosses not just physical landscapes but social boundaries too, encountering people whose otherness sheds light on his own remarkable journey…


Book cover of Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays

Elizabeth Greenspan Why did I love this book?

This essay collection isn’t exclusively about New York, but the four essays that open the collection are, and they are excellent. Biss writes personally about race relations in the city, and the United States. Her insights still feel relevant more than a decade later. She also refreshingly tackles the myth of New York, and the way that it is, as she says, overimagined. 

By Eula Biss,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Notes from No Man's Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A frank and fascinating exploration of race and racial identity, Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays begins with a series of lynchings and ends with a series of apologies. Eula Biss explores race in America and her response to the topic is informed by the experiences chronicled in these essays - teaching in a Harlem school on the morning of 9/11, reporting from an African American newspaper in San Diego, watching the aftermath of hurricane Katrina from a college town in Iowa, and settling in Chicago's most diverse neighbourhood.
As Biss moves across the country from New York to…


Book cover of Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants

Elizabeth Greenspan Why did I love this book?

Sullivan’s narrative nonfiction illuminates the New York that the city’s rats have conquered, and it’s a humbling, fascinating place. One of the epicenters, for Sullivan, is Wall Street, where he began doing research a few months before 9/11, blocks from the Twin Towers. The book isn’t about the aftermath of 9/11, its sticks to rats, but at moments it does become a chronicle of the city during this shocking and disturbing time, when going underground with the rats seems like a reasonable idea.

By Robert Sullivan,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Rats as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

New York Public Library Book for the Teenager
New York Public Library Book to Remember
PSLA Young Adult Top 40 Nonfiction Titles of the Year

"Engaging...a lively, informative compendium of facts, theories, and musings."-Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

Behold the rat, dirty and disgusting! Robert Sullivan turns the lowly rat into the star of this most perversely intriguing, remarkable, and unexpectedly elegant New York Times bestseller.

Love them or loathe them, rats are here to stay-they are city dwellers as much as (or more than) we are, surviving on the effluvia of our society. In Rats, the critically acclaimed bestseller,…


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Beautiful and Terrible Things

By S. M. Stevens,

Book cover of Beautiful and Terrible Things

S. M. Stevens

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Charley Byrne isn’t really living. She hunkers down in her apartment above the bookstore she manages, until quirky activist Xander Wallace lures her out of social exile with the prospect of friendship and romance. Charley joins Xander’s circle of diverse friends and thrives, even leaving her comfort zone to join protests in a city struggling with social justice ills.

But the new friendships bring back-to-back betrayals that threaten the bookstore—Charley’s haven—and propel her into a dangerous depression, in a stark reminder that friendship has the power to destroy as well as save lives. Can her friends save the store? And Charley?

Beautiful and Terrible Things

By S. M. Stevens,

What is this book about?

"A beautifully crafted story of friendship and self-discovery set amidst the harsh realities of today's world. Superb!" -Eileen O'Finlan, author of Erin's Children

Charley Byrne isn't really living. At age 29, she hunkers down in her apartment above the bookstore she manages, afraid of a 7-year curse. Then quirky activist Xander Wallace lures her out of social exile with the prospect of friendship and romance. Charley joins Xander's circle of friends diverse in their heritage, race, gender and sexual orientation. She thrives, even leaving her comfort zone to join protests in a city struggling with social justice ills.

But the…


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Interested in New York City, race relations, and good and evil?

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