100 books like The Americans

By Robert Frank,

Here are 100 books that The Americans fans have personally recommended if you like The Americans. Shepherd is a community of 9,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Ways of Seeing

By John Berger,

Book cover of Ways of Seeing

Gareth Southwell Author Of Pale Kings

From the list on understanding the crazy world of contemporary art.

Who am I?

From the moment I could pick up a pencil, I’ve loved to draw. Since then, my art career has developed alongside my writing, and I’m now a professional illustrator. Despite this background, I still feel alienated from the “art world”. Contemporary art seems like a scam. Its pieces leave me cold, there’s rarely any skill to be appreciated, and their “meaning” is often obscure or trivial – at the end of the day, a pickled sheep is a pickled sheep, right? Pale Kings is a satire of all this, where a group of chancers set out to scam the scammers at their own game. But would anyone really buy a hole?

Gareth's book list on understanding the crazy world of contemporary art

Why did Gareth love this book?

This classic text juxtaposes contemporary popular media with well-known works of art, and in doing so lays bare the hidden, timeless motives behind art production and collecting.

The book combines short articles with photo “essays”, and it’s actually the images that supply the most convincing argument. To see a Playboy centrefold alongside a nude by Ingres, or a food advert next to a still life by a Dutch master, forcefully illustrates Berger’s central point: that art is, and always has been, tied closely to commerce, commodification, and possession.

In short, art sells things – whether experiences, pleasures, values, or a particular sense of self or way of life. As such, it is a servant of those who have the power and wealth to possess these things.

By John Berger,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Ways of Seeing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.""But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but word can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled."John Berger's "Ways of Seeing" is one of the most stimulating and the most influential books on art in any language. First published in 1972, it was based on the BBC television series about…


Looking at Photographs

By John Szarkowski,

Book cover of Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art

Philip Gefter Author Of What Becomes a Legend Most: A Biography of Richard Avedon

From the list on for understanding photography as art.

Who am I?

My interest in photography began as a student at Pratt Institute, a preeminent art school, and I have worked in the field my entire adult life, not as a photographer but as a picture editor and photography critic. I was the Page One Picture Editor of The New York Times and wrote regularly about photography for the paper. I have published two biographies: one on Richard Avedon, among the more significant artists of the 20th century, and another on Sam Wagstaff, one of the earliest collectors who established the art market for photography; a book of collected reviews and essays called Photography After Frank; and essays on individual photographers for museum catalogues and artist’s monographs. I produced the 2011 documentary, Bill Cunningham New York.

Philip's book list on for understanding photography as art

Why did Philip love this book?

As the legendary curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, John Szarkowski was instrumental in elevating photography’s stature to an equal among the fine arts. He is eloquent in his explanation about the meaning of photography and illuminating in his descriptions of each of the one hundred photographs published in this book from MoMA’s sterling collection of photographs. There is no better guide to an awakening of your own eye than Szarkowski.

By John Szarkowski,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

`This is a picture book, and its first purpose is to provide the material for simple delectation', wrote curator John Szarkowski in this first survey of The Museum of Modern Art's photography collection. Since 1930, when the Museum accessioned its first photograph, it has assembled an extraordinary and wide-ranging collection of pictures for preservation, study and exhibition. A visually splendid album, Looking at Photographs is both a treasury of remarkable photographs and a lively introduction to the aesthetics and the historical development of photography. This reissue, with new digital duotones, enhances a classic volume and makes it available to a…


Book cover of How Photography Became Contemporary Art: Inside an Artistic Revolution from Pop to the Digital Age

Philip Gefter Author Of What Becomes a Legend Most: A Biography of Richard Avedon

From the list on for understanding photography as art.

Who am I?

My interest in photography began as a student at Pratt Institute, a preeminent art school, and I have worked in the field my entire adult life, not as a photographer but as a picture editor and photography critic. I was the Page One Picture Editor of The New York Times and wrote regularly about photography for the paper. I have published two biographies: one on Richard Avedon, among the more significant artists of the 20th century, and another on Sam Wagstaff, one of the earliest collectors who established the art market for photography; a book of collected reviews and essays called Photography After Frank; and essays on individual photographers for museum catalogues and artist’s monographs. I produced the 2011 documentary, Bill Cunningham New York.

Philip's book list on for understanding photography as art

Why did Philip love this book?

As a photography critic for The New York Times, Grundberg was present when a generation of artists began to take apart the photographic image and transform its meaning in society. He wrote about post-modern practice in the present tense, as it was happening. This book is a collection of his reviews and essays from the 1980s when the medium was at a crossroads; the factual veracity of photography was enduring challenges at every turn and the valuation of the photograph as an art object was under critical scrutiny.

By Andy Grundberg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How Photography Became Contemporary Art as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A leading critic's inside story of "the photo boom" during the crucial decades of the 1970s and 80s

"Grundberg . . . is a vibrant, opinionated, authoritative guide to the medium's past and present."-Jackie Wullschlager, Financial Times, "Best Books of 2021: Visual Arts"

When Andy Grundberg landed in New York in the early 1970s as a budding writer, photography was at the margins of the contemporary art world. By 1991, when he left his post as critic for the New York Times, photography was at the vital center of artistic debate. Grundberg writes eloquently and authoritatively about photography's "boom years,"…


Evidence

By Larry Sultan (photographer), Mike Mandel (photographer),

Book cover of Evidence

Philip Gefter Author Of What Becomes a Legend Most: A Biography of Richard Avedon

From the list on for understanding photography as art.

Who am I?

My interest in photography began as a student at Pratt Institute, a preeminent art school, and I have worked in the field my entire adult life, not as a photographer but as a picture editor and photography critic. I was the Page One Picture Editor of The New York Times and wrote regularly about photography for the paper. I have published two biographies: one on Richard Avedon, among the more significant artists of the 20th century, and another on Sam Wagstaff, one of the earliest collectors who established the art market for photography; a book of collected reviews and essays called Photography After Frank; and essays on individual photographers for museum catalogues and artist’s monographs. I produced the 2011 documentary, Bill Cunningham New York.

Philip's book list on for understanding photography as art

Why did Philip love this book?

Evidence, published in 1977, is a book of black-and-white pictures culled by these two artists from the archives of government agencies, public utilities, university laboratories, and private corporations. The anonymous photographs were made to document actual fires, land sites, crime scenes, product testing, and scientific experimentation. In Evidence, the pictures are removed from their context of origin and printed, one to a page, without caption information. Individually, the pictures take on surrealist properties subject to endless narrative interpretation; collectively, the sequencing creates a running narrative with no coherent story. Since the pictures so closely resemble the black-and-white documentary images that came to define art photography in the 1970s, Evidence was among the early postmodern works to contest the growing acceptance of photography as art, photographer as artist-author, photographic documentation as fact, and the truth-telling capability of the medium as unwavering.

By Larry Sultan (photographer), Mike Mandel (photographer),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A visual conundrum of incalculable mystery. ―Martin Parr, The Photobook: A History

In 1977, photographers Larry Sultan (1946–2009) and Mike Mandel (born 1950) published a book that would radically transform both photography and the photobook canon―a book described by Martin Parr, in The Photobook: A History, as "one of the most beautiful, dense and puzzling photobooks in existence, an endless visual box of tricks." Sultan and Mandel sifted through thousands of photographs in the files of the Bechtel Corporation, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Jet Propulsion Laboratories, the US Department of the Interior, Stanford Research Institute and a hundred…


Teenage Lust

By Larry Clark,

Book cover of Teenage Lust: An Autobiography

Tom Carter Author Of China: Portrait of a People

From the list on documentary photography.

Who am I?

Peeking over the American fence, I found myself in China in 2004 as the nation was transitioning from its quaint 1980s/90s self into the futuristic “China 2.0” we know it today. My occupation, like many expats, was small-town English teacher. I later departed for a two-year backpacking sojourn across the country. I took a bunch of snapshots along the way with a little point-and-shoot camera. 800 of those images became my first book. Photography – be it travel, documentary, street or reportage – is my passion. The following are but five of five hundred books I’d love to recommend.

Tom's book list on documentary photography

Why did Tom love this book?

Larry Clark is most well known for his controversial 1995 motion picture Kids, but decades before refashioning himself into a filmmaker, Clark got his start as a shutterbug. His first and most critically acclaimed photo essay, Tulsa, was on the heroin habits of friends from the fringes of his Oklahoman hometown throughout the 1960s. His follow-up book, 1983’s Teenage Lust, is a much more accomplished and focused collection; Clark dials up to 11 his intrigue for rebellious children, paralleling the graphic imagery with anecdotes of his own wayward youth. Out of print for decades, good luck finding an affordable copy.

By Larry Clark,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In Teenage Lust, Larry Clark returns to Oklahoma and the frank autobiographical material of his first book Tulsa (1971). This time he focused on the next generation, local teenagers, some of whom were the younger brothers of his old friends, whose lives were just beginning to spiral out of control through amphetamine use and petty crime. ‘Teenage Lust is a scrapbook whereas Tulsa is a movie,” he told [Mike] Kelley. The needles and guns that had been Tulsa’s key motives are reprised here, along with the seedy glamour of the addict turned outlaw. But Teenage Lust is also about innocence…


Book cover of History Is Made At Night

Tom Carter Author Of China: Portrait of a People

From the list on documentary photography.

Who am I?

Peeking over the American fence, I found myself in China in 2004 as the nation was transitioning from its quaint 1980s/90s self into the futuristic “China 2.0” we know it today. My occupation, like many expats, was small-town English teacher. I later departed for a two-year backpacking sojourn across the country. I took a bunch of snapshots along the way with a little point-and-shoot camera. 800 of those images became my first book. Photography – be it travel, documentary, street or reportage – is my passion. The following are but five of five hundred books I’d love to recommend.

Tom's book list on documentary photography

Why did Tom love this book?

Manhattanite David Godlis took up street photography in the 1970s, spending after dark at the now-notorious Bowery punk-rock bar, CBGB. However, few others could have predicted that the bands he was capturing in their infancy would go on to become some of the most iconic musicians of the era: Blondie, the Ramones, the Talking Heads, the Cramps... Godlis’ lens is grainy and gauzy, using only the scant natural light available to document these dark personalities on and off stage. History Is Made At Night is equal parts talent and perfect timing, as only a true historian would have had the foresight to hang out with who other photographers then considered just a bunch of unwashed miscreants.

By David Godlis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked History Is Made At Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Social Graces

By Larry Fink,

Book cover of Social Graces

Tom Carter Author Of China: Portrait of a People

From the list on documentary photography.

Who am I?

Peeking over the American fence, I found myself in China in 2004 as the nation was transitioning from its quaint 1980s/90s self into the futuristic “China 2.0” we know it today. My occupation, like many expats, was small-town English teacher. I later departed for a two-year backpacking sojourn across the country. I took a bunch of snapshots along the way with a little point-and-shoot camera. 800 of those images became my first book. Photography – be it travel, documentary, street or reportage – is my passion. The following are but five of five hundred books I’d love to recommend.

Tom's book list on documentary photography

Why did Tom love this book?

Veteran photographer Larry Fink once called my own book of photography “boring”, which I wear as a badge of honor, as I would have to be on the street-beat for as long as he has – 50 years! – before I could ever measure up to his skill and accomplishments. Fink specializes in juxtapositions, and in this touching series from the early-‘80s, he spends time among the working class of rural Pennsylvania as well as nouveau-riche socialites of New York, then couples the imagery into a telling tale of two cities. He has an uncanny ability to get right up in his subject’s business at their most vulnerable moments, and in that regard, among Fink’s large body of work, Social Graces is his most poignant.

By Larry Fink,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Fink, Larry


It's All Good

By Boogie,

Book cover of It's All Good

Tom Carter Author Of China: Portrait of a People

From the list on documentary photography.

Who am I?

Peeking over the American fence, I found myself in China in 2004 as the nation was transitioning from its quaint 1980s/90s self into the futuristic “China 2.0” we know it today. My occupation, like many expats, was small-town English teacher. I later departed for a two-year backpacking sojourn across the country. I took a bunch of snapshots along the way with a little point-and-shoot camera. 800 of those images became my first book. Photography – be it travel, documentary, street or reportage – is my passion. The following are but five of five hundred books I’d love to recommend.

Tom's book list on documentary photography

Why did Tom love this book?

I’ll bookend this list with what I consider to be a sort of updated take on Larry Clark’s Tulsa. Serbian photog Boogie has published similarly solemn collections on Moscow and war-torn Belgrade. With It’s All Good, he arrived in New York’s most violent neighborhoods circa 2010 to document the hard and often tragic lives of urban youth. Gangsters pointing their guns into the lens or jabbing their veins with needles might not make the most appealing coffee table book, but the photos themselves are even more sublime than anything shot by Clark, making this book a worthy successor.

By Boogie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked It's All Good as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A whole lot of initiations happen every day. You hear about them on the news, but you don’t know it was an initiation. You hear about somebody getting shot somewhere in New York, and nobody knows why that person got shot; nine times out of ten it was a gang initiation. I am a three-star general in the Bloods, so I know what’s going on. The majority of crime in New York City is ’cause of gangs; drugs, killings, stabbings, robberies, even the bullshit car theft, the fucking pettiest crimes and misdemeanors are all ’cause of gangs.”
—Kasino, from his…


Luxury Fever

By Robert H. Frank,

Book cover of Luxury Fever: Weighing the Cost of Excess

Christopher J. Berry Author Of The Idea of Luxury: A Conceptual and Historical Investigation

From the list on answering the question, what is ‘luxury’?.

Who am I?

As an academic my work is in the area of political theory and my interest in ‘luxury’ came from the awareness that it involved questions of history (why was it seen as a threat to the Roman republic) and socio-political issues around inequality and consumerism. I was awarded a grant to start the investigation and my university (Glasgow) published it along with other awards and it got picked up by the media with the consequence I had my ‘ten minutes of fame’ as I was interviewed by newspapers and on the radio.  My book is the eventual fruit of that study which has, in the words of more than one author, been judged ‘seminal’. 

Christopher's book list on answering the question, what is ‘luxury’?

Why did Christopher love this book?

Frank’s book is the work of well-known and respected economists who has the considerable ability to translate what could be dry technical analyses into engaging and approachable prose. This makes his discussion of luxury stand out so that those with no expertise can not only understand but enjoy this book. I found its commitment and seriousness thought-provoking and it is by far the best book on luxury from an ‘economic’ perspective. He uses the discipline’s tools to argue that though pursuing luxuries is rational from an individual perspective it is irrational from a wider societal perspective. He also puts his ‘money where his mouth is’ by advocating social/taxation policies to assuage the ‘fever’. My book features in his bibliography but his agenda is very different and (of course) none the worse for that.

By Robert H. Frank,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The turn of the twenty-first century witnessed a spectacular rise in gross consumption. With the super-rich setting the pace, everyone spent furiously in a desperate attempt to keep up. As cars and houses grew larger and more expensive, the costs were enormous--not only monetarily but also socially. Consumers spent more time at work and less time with their family and friends; they saved less money and borrowed more. In this book, Robert Frank presents the first comprehensive and accessible account of these financial choices. Frank uses scientific evidence to demonstrate how these spending patterns have not made us happier or…


Under the Influence

By Robert H. Frank,

Book cover of Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work

Marianne E. Krasny Author Of In This Together: Connecting with Your Community to Combat the Climate Crisis

From the list on influencing others to do about climate change.

Who am I?

I am a professor at Cornell University who struggles with the meaning of individual action in the face of looming crises—be they plastics and litter, or climate. The idea of Network Climate Action bubbled up one morning as a way to magnify individual actions, such as eating a plant-rich diet, donating money to a climate organization, or joining in an advocacy group. Network Climate Action helps me achieve my role-ideals as a teacher, volunteer, friend, mom, and grandmother, and it gives meaning and happiness to my life. I live in beautiful Ithaca, NY, with my chosen family, which includes an Afghan artist and a Ukrainian mom and her two kids.

Marianne's book list on influencing others to do about climate change

Why did Marianne love this book?

Destination weddings, glamorous McMansions, and luxury cars—this is the result of us seeing what our better-off compatriots do and wanting to have ever more.

In fact, the biggest problem with carbon-intensive behavior is not any one rich person’s carbon footprint. Rather it’s the influence “affluencers” exert on others. But we can turn this around. Solar panels are often clustered in neighborhoods because people also copy each other’s climate-friendly behaviors.

For me, the important thing is not to hide what you are doing—make your sustainable behaviors visible for others to see.

By Robert H. Frank,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From New York Times bestselling author and economics columnist Robert Frank, bold new ideas for creating environments that promise a brighter future

Psychologists have long understood that social environments profoundly shape our behavior, sometimes for the better, often for the worse. But social influence is a two-way street-our environments are themselves products of our behavior. Under the Influence explains how to unlock the latent power of social context. It reveals how our environments encourage smoking, bullying, tax cheating, sexual predation, problem drinking, and wasteful energy use. We are building bigger houses, driving heavier cars, and engaging in a host of…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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