The best books to excite a passion for understanding cities

Why am I passionate about this?

I fell in love with understanding cities toward the end of my college studies. It was the late 1960s and urban issues were foremost in the nation’s consciousness. The times were difficult for cities and many of the problems, seemingly intractable. That drew me to graduate work in urban studies and afterward, teaching about real estate development and finance. My work on public/private partnerships and the political economy of city building has drawn a wide audience. In explaining how cities are built and redeveloped, my goal has been to de-mystify the politics and planning process surrounding large-scale development projects and how they impact the physical fabric of cities.


I wrote...

Times Square Remade: The Dynamics of Urban Change

By Lynne B. Sagalyn,

Book cover of Times Square Remade: The Dynamics of Urban Change

What is my book about?

What is it about Times Square that has attracted millions for well over a century? And how is it that, despite its many changes of character, the place has maintained a unique hold on our collective imagination? My book chronicles the profound changes that have remade this symbolic space of New York City four times.

From its earliest halcyon days, 42nd Street and Times Square was a nexus of speculation and competitive theater building. In its darkest days, it was vice central, before aggressive government intervention cleansed the area of pornography and crime. Drawing on the history, sociology, and politics of the place, accompanied by nearly 160 images, my book explains how the public-private transformation of 42nd Street at Times Square impacted the entertainment district and adjacent neighborhoods, particularly Hell's Kitchen.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Loft Living: Culture and Capital in Urban Change

Lynne B. Sagalyn Why did I love this book?

For anyone who has ever lived in a loft or aspired to live in one, this book tells the story of how loft living came into being, how it started with artists seeking a place to live with low rent and large spaces for studios they found in old manufacturing buildings.

I have used this story to teach about innovation and how artists were ahead of both government policy and real estate developers in finding value in spaces they occupied illegally! This is a classic book about an unexpected urban transformation that morphed into a chic lifestyle.

By Sharon Zukin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Loft Living as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Since its initial publication, Loft Living has become the classic analysis of the emergence of artists as a force of gentrification and the related rise of "creative city" policies around the world. This 25th anniversary edition, with a new introduction, illustrates how loft living has spread around the world and that artists' districts-trailing the success of SoHo in New York-have become a global tourist attraction. Sharon Zukin reveals the economic shifts and cultural transformations that brought widespread attention to artists as lifestyle models and agents of urban change, and explains their role in attracting investors and developers to the derelict…


Book cover of The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011

Lynne B. Sagalyn Why did I love this book?

Time and time again, I refer to this book because it is chock full of fascinating history about New York told in an unusual way.

Packed with beautifully reproduced photos on every page, it takes as its subject the seemingly dull characteristic of urban experience—the street grid—and fashions over 200 short succinct stories of people, politics, and real estate development. It’s a bravo book.

By Hilary Ballon (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Greatest Grid as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Laying out Manhattan's street grid and providing a rationale for the growth of New York was the city's first great civic enterprise, not to mention a brazenly ambitious project and major milestone in the history of city planning. The grid created the physical conditions for business and society to flourish and embodied the drive and discipline for which the city would come to be known. Published to coincide with an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York celebrating the bicentennial of the Commissioners' 1811 Plan of Manhattan, this volume does more than memorialize such a visionary effort,…


Book cover of Icons and Aliens: Law, Aesthetics, and Environmental Change

Lynne B. Sagalyn Why did I love this book?

I love this short lively book because it brings clarity and criticism of ideas about preservation and landmarks that were new when first published in 1989 yet hold true just as strongly today.

It’s not visual beauty alone that should define what gets preserves, the argument goes, but rather the associations or symbolic meanings that hold for residents of a place. Passionate about the subject, the author makes some of his points with photographs and cartoons sure to delight the reader.

By John J. Costonis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Icons and Aliens as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Costonis (law, Vanderbilt U.) bridges the fields of law and design and probes the task of legal aesthetics what the law can and cannot do in response to architectural development that radically changes the environment. Annotation copyright Book News, Inc. Portland, Or.


Book cover of Capital City: New York City and the Men Behind America's Rise to Economic Dominance, 1860-1900

Lynne B. Sagalyn Why did I love this book?

It’s near impossible not to fall for the lure of urban history when a skilled writer brings to light compelling stories of the men (atlas no women in this book) who transformed New York into an economic powerhouse, the capital of capitalism, in the late 19th century.

Their names are familiar but not so their complete stories: J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, Samuel Gompers, Theodore Roosevelt. The writing is so good, it’s hard to put the book down.

By Thomas Kessner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Capital City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Describes the emergence of post-Civil War New York City, as it evolved from a port city to metropolis via the birth of capitalism, and how such moguls as Rockefeller, Carnegie, and J. P. Morgan helped define the foundation of twentieth-century financial institutions. By the author of Fiorello H. LaGuardia and the Making of Modern New York.


Book cover of Miami

Lynne B. Sagalyn Why did I love this book?

In riveting prose and masterly reporting, Joan Didion describes the two profoundly different and separate cultures of Miami, a city of Cuban exiles and racial tension with a long history of fast money and luxury living.

This analysis of the politics of immigration and exile told with passion and drama is as relevant today as it was in the 1980s.

By Joan Didion,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Miami is not just a portrait of a city, but a masterly study of immigration and exile, passion, hypocrisy, and political violence, from the bestselling, award-winning author of The Year of Magical Thinking and Let Me Tell You What I Mean.

It is where Fidel Castro raised money to overthrow Batista and where two generations of Castro's enemies have raised armies to overthrow him, so far without success. It is where the bitter opera of Cuban exile intersects with the cynicism of U.S. foreign policy. It is a city whose skyrocketing murder rate is fueled by the cocaine trade, racial…


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Book cover of Act Like an Author, Think Like a Business: Ways to Achieve Financial Literary Success

Joylynn M Ross

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What is my book about?

Act Like an Author, Think Like a Business is for anyone who wants to learn how to make money with their book and make a living as an author. Many authors dive into the literary industry without taking time to learn the business side of being an author, which can hinder book sales and the money that can be made as an author.

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Interested in New York City, Manhattan, and New York State?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about New York City, Manhattan, and New York State.

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