The best books about the frightening, fascinating history of life, death, and magic in New Orleans

Why am I passionate about this?

Being from Upstate New York I went to college at Cornell University but headed off to New Orleans as soon as I could. By and by I became an instructor at Delgado Community College. Always a big fan of the city’s amazing historic cemeteries, when teaching a world architectural history class, I took the class to the Metairie Cemetery where I could show the students real examples of every style from Ancient Egyptian to Modern American. After coming to Texas State University, San Marcos (30 miles from Austin), I went back to New Orleans on sabbatical in 2013 and wrote The Cemeteries of New Orleans. 


I wrote...

The Cemeteries of New Orleans: A Cultural History

By Peter B. Dedek,

Book cover of The Cemeteries of New Orleans: A Cultural History

What is my book about?

The Cemeteries of New Orleans reveals the origins and evolution of the Crescent City’s world-famous necropolises, exploring their distinctive architecture and their profound cultural impact. Dedek takes readers from muddy fields of crude burial markers to extravagantly designed cities of the dead, illuminating a vital and vulnerable piece of New Orleans’s identity.

Where many histories of New Orleans cemeteries focus on the famous people buried within them, Dedek sets his sights on the marble cutters, burial society members, journalists, and tourists who shaped these graveyards into internationally recognizable emblems of the city. Cultural and religious customs, such as the celebration of All Saints’ Day and the practice of Voodoo rituals, flourished within the spatial bounds of these resting places.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square

Peter B. Dedek Why did I love this book?

I discovered and used The World That Made New Orleans as a source for my book.

Upon opening the book, I was gleefully surprised to discover what an informative, interesting, and fun read it is. Sublette describes the French origins of the city in the early 1700s which involved wild parties, debauchery, tragic exploratory expeditions, and a massive Ponzi scheme that used Louisiana and the fictional gold mines there to defraud most every rich person in France, eventually crashing the entire French economy.

He then took me on a thrilling journey through the Spanish and early American periods to quadroon balls, Congo Square, and so many other fascinating places. I knew the city’s history was interesting, but reading The World That Made New Orleans blew me away. 

By Ned Sublette,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The World That Made New Orleans as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Named one of the Top 10 Books of 2008 by The Times-Picayune.  Winner of the 2009 Humanities Book of the Year award from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. Awarded the New Orleans Gulf South Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award for 2008. 

New Orleans is the most elusive of American cities. The product of the centuries-long struggle among three mighty empires--France, Spain, and England--and among their respective American colonies and enslaved African peoples, it has always seemed like a foreign port to most Americans, baffled as they are by its complex cultural inheritance.

 

The World That Made New…


Book cover of Storyville, New Orleans: Being an Authentic, Illustrated Account of the Notorious Red-Light District

Peter B. Dedek Why did I love this book?

This book provides an intimate look at Storyville, the legal New Orleans red-light district that operated in a grid of streets nestled between St. Louis Cemeteries no. 1 and 2 near the French Quarter from 1897 to 1917.

Although the book is a bit dated (it was published in 1974) and includes a few wild and unsubstantiated stories about certain historic New Orleans personalities, such as Marie Laveau, this mostly factual volume is a fascinating and detailed portrait of the "District," as Storyville was often called, and the colorful, sometimes tragic stories of the people who lived and worked there.

By Al Rose,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Storyville, New Orleans as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A true-to-life impression of Storyville, the only legally established red light district in the US

At the turn of the twentieth-century, there were hundreds of red-light districts in the United States, ranging in size from a discreet “house” or two in or near small towns and cities to block after bawdy block of brothels in larger cities such as Chicago and San Francisco. Storyville, New Orleans: Being an Authentic, Illustrated Account of the Notorious Red Light District seeks to offer the reader a reasonably true-to-life impression of Storyville, the most famous of the large districts and the only such district…


Book cover of Life on the Mississippi

Peter B. Dedek Why did I love this book?

Life on the Mississippi is the autobiographical story of Mark Twain’s career as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River in the mid-1800s.

I first read this book when living in the French Quarter in the 1990s and could hear ship horns out on the river as I took in Twain’s fascinating, often silly and sarcastic narrative about his life and the river.

When describing New Orleans cemeteries, Twain writes, “Many of the cemeteries are beautiful, and are kept in perfect order. When one goes from the levee or the business streets near it, to a cemetery, he observes to himself that if those people down there would live as neatly while they are alive as they do after they are dead, they would find many advantages in it.

By Mark Twain,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Life on the Mississippi as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Life on the Mississippi (1883) is a memoir by Mark Twain of his days as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River before the American Civil War. It is also a travel book, recounting his trip up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Saint Paul many years after the war.


Book cover of A New Orleans Voudou Priestess: The Legend and Reality of Marie Laveau

Peter B. Dedek Why did I love this book?

Written by accomplished historian Carolyn Morrow Long, A New Orleans Voudou Priestess tells the true story of Voodoo queen Marie Laveau based on extensive archival research.

In telling her readers about this Creole woman of color who was deeply embedded in the culture of New Orleans in the 1800s, we learn the real story of a woman who was often glorified and denigrated by the press and by local authors who wrote many fantastical tales about her life misleading many about her character and her religion. 

By Carolyn Morrow Long,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A New Orleans Voudou Priestess as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Legendary for an unusual combination of spiritual power, beauty, charisma, showmanship, intimidation, and shrewd business sense, Marie Leveau also was known for her kindness and charity, nursing yellow fever victims and ministering to condemned prisoners, and her devotion to the Roman Catholic Church. In separating verifiable fact from semi-truths and complete fabrication, Carolyn Morrow Long explores the unique social, political, and legal setting in which the lives of Laveau's African and European ancestors became intertwined in nineteenth-century New Orleans.


Book cover of Necropolis: Disease, Power, and Capitalism in the Cotton Kingdom

Peter B. Dedek Why did I love this book?

Necropolis describes how the yellow fever shaped New Orleans society in the 1800s.

While the fever was killing tens of thousands of people for almost two centuries from the founding of the city in 1718 until the last yellow fever epidemic in 1905, giving its victims horrible deaths in which they cried blood and vomited tar-like bile in the process, the disease helped preserve the city’s Creole culture by killing off a large proportion of immigrants to the city who were more susceptible than native-born New Orleans.

Before reading this book, I had no idea that being “acclimated” to yellow fever by surviving a case of this horrible disease was what made white transplants into bonafide citizens of the city. 

By Kathryn Olivarius,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Disease is thought to be a great leveler of humanity, but in antebellum New Orleans acquiring immunity from the scourge of yellow fever magnified the brutal inequities of slave-powered capitalism.

Antebellum New Orleans sat at the heart of America's slave and cotton kingdoms. It was also where yellow fever epidemics killed as many as 150,000 people during the nineteenth century. With little understanding of mosquito-borne viruses-and meager public health infrastructure-a person's only protection against the scourge was to "get acclimated" by surviving the disease. About half of those who contracted yellow fever died.

Repeated epidemics bolstered New Orleans's strict racial…


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Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

By Mark Doherty,

Book cover of Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

Mark Doherty Author Of Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

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Why am I passionate about this?

I am a highly experienced outdoorsman, musician, songwriter, and backcountry guide who chose teaching as a day job. As a writer, however, I am a promoter of creative and literary nonfiction, especially nonfiction that features a thematic thread, whether it be philosophical, conservation, historical, or even unique experiential. The thread I used for thirty years of teaching high school and honors English was the thread of Conservation, as exemplified by authors like Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Edward O. Wilson, Al Gore, Henry David Thoreau, as well as many other more contemporary authors.

Mark's book list on creative nonfiction books that entertain and teach through threaded essays and stories

What is my book about?

I have woven numerous delightful and descriptive true life stories, many from my adventures as an outdoorsman and singer songwriter, into my life as a high school English teacher. I think you'll find this work both entertaining as well as informative, and I hope you enjoy the often lighthearted repartee and dialogue that enhances the stories and experiences.

When I started teaching in the early 1990s, I brought into the classroom with me my passions for nature, folk music, and creativity. This book holds something new and engaging with every chapter and can be enjoyed by all sorts of readers, particularly those who enjoy nonfiction that employs wit, wisdom, humor, and even some down-to-earth philosophy.

Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

By Mark Doherty,

What is this book about?

Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration follows the evolution of a high school English teacher as he develops a creative and innovative teaching style despite being juxtaposed against a public education system bent on didactic, normalizing regulations and political demands. Doherty crafts an engaging nonfiction story that utilizes memoir, anecdote, poetry, and dialogue to explore how mixing creativity and pedagogy can change the way budding students visualize creative writing: A chunk of firewood plunked on a classroom table becomes part of a sawmill, a mine timber, an Anasazi artifact...it also becomes a poem, a song, an essay, and a memoir. The…


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