87 books like The Downtown Book

By Marvin J. Taylor (editor),

Here are 87 books that The Downtown Book fans have personally recommended if you like The Downtown Book. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity

Sonia A. Hirt Author Of Zoned in the USA: The Origins and Implications of American Land-Use Regulation

From my list on time, space, and modern urbanism.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love cities and I teach about them. I was born in the capital of Sofia, Bulgaria, and landed in the US (mostly by chance) in 1993. Spent most of my professional life in US academia (Michigan, Virginia Tech, Harvard, Maryland, and now Georgia). I never stopped wondering how cities change and why American cities look and function so differently than European cities. So, I wrote a few books about cities, including Iron Curtains; Gates, Suburbs and Privatization of Space, which is about changes in East European Cities after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Sonia's book list on time, space, and modern urbanism

Sonia A. Hirt Why did Sonia love this book?

A modern classic! A fascinating analysis of arts, culture, literature, and social and urban change. A breathtaking read of Goethe’s Faust to Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground and a sharp analysis of what Hausmann’s Parisian boulevards have to do with the prospects of pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg and the highways of mid-century New York. Fantastic chapters on Karl Marx (from whom the title of the book is borrowed) and Charles Baudelaire. Written with poetic perfection!

By Marshall Berman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked All That Is Solid Melts Into Air as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A bubbling caldron of ideas . . . Enlightening and valuable." Mervyn Jones, New Statesman.

The political and social revolutions of the nineteenth century, the pivotal writings of Goethe, Marx, Dostoevsky, and others, and the creation of new environments to replace the old all have thrust us into a modern world of contradictions and ambiguities. In this fascinating book, Marshall Berman examines the clash of classes, histories, and cultures, and ponders our prospects for coming to terms with the relationship between a liberating social and philosophical idealism and a complex, bureaucratic materialism.

From a reinterpretation of Karl Marx to an…


Book cover of Affordable Housing in New York: The People, Places, and Policies That Transformed a City

Thomas Dyja Author Of New York, New York, New York: Four Decades of Success, Excess, and Transformation

From my list on how New York became New York.

Why am I passionate about this?

It took eight years to write New York, New York, New York, and reading hundreds and hundreds of books about all different aspects of New York past and present. There were lots of brilliant ones along the way, but these five changed how I think about New York, flipped assumptions, created entirely new maps and narratives.

Thomas' book list on how New York became New York

Thomas Dyja Why did Thomas love this book?

For my money, affordable housing is the biggest issue New York faces right now and this book was one of the happiest, most fascinating surprises in my research. No one should utter that phrase—“affordable housing”—until they read this book, a comprehensive, overview of all the different kinds of affordable housing created in and by New York over the last century. With fabulous imagery from photographer and sociologist David Schaillol, it ultimately becomes an alternative history of what the city has done, which made me hopeful about what it can do if we choose to.

By Nicholas Dagen Bloom (editor), Matthew Gordon Lasner (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Affordable Housing in New York as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A richly illustrated history of below-market housing in New York, from the 1920s to today

A colorful portrait of the people, places, and policies that have helped make New York City livable, Affordable Housing in New York is a comprehensive, authoritative, and richly illustrated history of the city's public and middle-income housing from the 1920s to today. Plans, models, archival photos, and newly commissioned portraits of buildings and tenants by sociologist and photographer David Schalliol put the efforts of the past century into context, and the book also looks ahead to future prospects for below-market subsidized housing. A dynamic account…


Book cover of The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

Thomas Dyja Author Of New York, New York, New York: Four Decades of Success, Excess, and Transformation

From my list on how New York became New York.

Why am I passionate about this?

It took eight years to write New York, New York, New York, and reading hundreds and hundreds of books about all different aspects of New York past and present. There were lots of brilliant ones along the way, but these five changed how I think about New York, flipped assumptions, created entirely new maps and narratives.

Thomas' book list on how New York became New York

Thomas Dyja Why did Thomas love this book?

Holly Whyte is a sort of godfather to my book. He was a journalist turned urbanist who became extremely influential in New York City by focusing on how exactly people used public space. He and his team would set up cameras around plazas and small parks to document the ways New Yorkers sat, strolled, and schmoozed. Their findings, along with Whyte’s profoundly optimistic vision of people as the solution to urban problems, laid the foundation for transformative changes in places like Bryant Park and Times Square. You’ll never look at the city the same way after reading this, both in terms of the built environment and in how people act in public space.

By William H. Whyte,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1980, William H. Whyte published the findings from his revolutionary Street Life Project in The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Both the book and the accompanying film were instantly labeled classics, and launched a mini-revolution in the planning and study of public spaces. They have since become standard texts, and appear on syllabi and reading lists in urban planning, sociology, environmental design, and architecture departments around the world.


Project for Public Spaces, which grew out of Holly's Street Life Project and continues his work around the world, has acquired the reprint rights to Social Life, with the intent…


Book cover of Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940

Why am I passionate about this?

I started my career teaching high school. I attended amazing professional development institutes, where scholars showed me how the stories I’d learned and then taught to my own students were so oversimplified that they had become factually incorrect. I was hooked. I kept wondering what else I’d gotten wrong. I earned a Ph.D. in modern US History with specialties in women’s and gender history and war and society, and now I’m an Associate Professor of History at Iowa State University and the Coordinator of ISU’s Social Studies Education Program. I focus on historical complexity and human motivations because they are the key to understanding change.

Amy's book list on books about twenteith-century U.S. History that make you rethink something you thought you already knew

Amy J. Rutenberg Why did Amy love this book?

If you’ve ever wondered about where the terms “coming out,” “tea room,” or “fairy” came from, this book has the answers. But more importantly, this book showed me the extent to which my preconceived notions about the relationship between gender and sexuality were simply wrong.

Chauncey’s careful and readable reconstruction of gay communities in early twentieth-century New York illustrates very clearly that ideas of masculinity and deviance and the meanings attached to sex between men are socially constructed and change over time.

His story also showed me how much history can hide in plain sight and how there are still so many stories left to tell.

By George Chauncey,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Gay New York as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The award-winning, field-defining history of gay life in New York City in the early to mid-20th century

Gay New York brilliantly shatters the myth that before the 1960s gay life existed only in the closet, where gay men were isolated, invisible, and self-hating. Drawing on a rich trove of diaries, legal records, and other unpublished documents, George Chauncey constructs a fascinating portrait of a vibrant, cohesive gay world that is not supposed to have existed. Called "monumental" (Washington Post), "unassailable" (Boston Globe), "brilliant" (The Nation), and "a first-rate book of history" (The New York Times), Gay New Yorkforever changed how…


Book cover of Manhattan, When I Was Young

Amanda Schuster Author Of Signature Cocktails

From my list on making it there from anywhere in New York City.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a lifelong New Yorker and author of two books about drinking in the city—New York Cocktails and Drink Like a Local New York—these are the books about bygone days of city living that I would tell you to read if we met in a bar. You already know the ones by E.B. White, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, or possibly Pete Hamill or Walt Winchell. Those books are fantastic, but these are some “deep cuts” New York City appreciation books that you should also get to know.  

Amanda's book list on making it there from anywhere in New York City

Amanda Schuster Why did Amanda love this book?

The book is an engaging memoir about what it was like in the 1950s for a single woman just out of college to balance life and relationships while starting a career in magazine publishing in the Big Apple and follows her career and family relationships through to the 1970s.

Though things like finding an apartment in a trendy neighborhood back then were significantly easier than they are in modern day, the hilarious accounts about the challenges of adapting to small living conditions still ring true.

It’s an entertaining glimpse into the golden age of the print magazine industry, but it’s also a brutally honest account of women’s mental health issues, and what it’s like to seemingly have it all but still feel the constraints imposed by choosing to live in NYC. Any aspiring writer should read this book. 

By Mary Cantwell,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Manhattan, When I Was Young as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Mary Cantwell arrived in Manhattan one summer in the early 1950s with $80, a portable typewriter, a wardrobe of unsuitable clothes, a copy of The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, a boyfriend she was worried might be involved with the Communists and no idea how to live on her own. She moved to the Village because she had heard of it and worked at Mademoiselle because that was where the employment agency sent her.

In this evocative unflinching book Cantwell recalls the city she knew then by revisiting five apartments in which she lived. Her memoir vividly recreates both a…


Book cover of This Beautiful Life

Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg Author Of The Nine

From my list on campus novels for the 21st century.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an award-winning author of two novels, the most recent of which, The Nine, is set on a fictional New England boarding school campus. Although a secret society’s antics and a scandal on campus keeps readers turning the page, at the heart of the novel is the evolution of a mother-son relationship. Even before my three children began considering boarding schools, I was a fan of the campus novel. Think classics like A Separate Peace or Catcher in the Rye. My fascination surrounding these little microcosms—their ideals, how they self-govern, who holds power—only increased after experiencing their weird and wily ways as a mother. 

Jeanne's book list on campus novels for the 21st century

Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg Why did Jeanne love this book?

A painful examination of all that’s at stake when kids make bad decisions, This Beautiful Life made me reflect on the pressure contemporary kids feel to be beyond reproach while growing up amid the instant connectivity and permanent consequences of the internet age. Like Testimony, Schulman’s novel begins with a video, this time one whose ramifications are amplified and complicated as it goes viral in a matter of hours.

A gripping early scene dramatizes the split second when fifteen-year-old Jake Bergamot makes the fateful choice to forward a video he’s received to a friend. The scandal that ensues threatens not only Jake, but his entire family’s “beautiful life.” Rather than a boarding school, this novel is set at an elite Manhattan private school where the social strata among parents are even more painfully felt. As the story unfolds, this book takes readers even deeper into the mom’s head—a delightful place…

By Helen Schulman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"ThisBeautiful Life is a gripping, potent and blisteringly well-written story offamily, dilemma, and consequence. . . . I read this book with white-knuckledurgency, and I finished it in tears. Helen Schulman is an absolutely brilliantnovelist." —Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
 

Theevents of a single night shatter one family’s sense of security and identity inthis provocative and deeply affecting domestic drama from Helen Schulman, theacclaimed author of A Day at the Beach and Out of Time. In thetradition of Lionel Shriver, Sue Miller, and Laura Moriarty, Schulman crafts abrilliantly observed portrait of parenting and modern life, cunningly exploringour most…


Book cover of Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York

Christiane Bird Author Of A Block in Time: A New York City History at the Corner of Fifth Avenue and Twenty-Third Street

From my list on New York City by women writers.

Why am I passionate about this?

I moved to New York City right after college, hungry to escape from the homogeneity of a small New England town. I wanted nothing more than to be surrounded by people of all races and nations, languages, and walks of life, and to have easy access to some of the greatest cultural institutions of the world. New York can be hard and unforgiving, but there is no place like it. I love living here.

Christiane's book list on New York City by women writers

Christiane Bird Why did Christiane love this book?

Another classic—albeit of a far different type—Lucy Sante uncovers the underbelly of 19th- and early 20th-century New York, a world filled with pimps, madams, gamblers, con men, and crooked cops. But this book is more than just a collection of stories about colorful characters. It’s also a meditation on the city’s secrets and the allure of danger and darkness. I dealt with some of the same themes in my own book and had no better model to emulate than this groundbreaking work.

By Luc Sante,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Lucy Sante's Low Life is a portrait of America's greatest city, the riotous and anarchic breeding ground of modernity.

This is not the familiar saga of mansions, avenues, and robber barons, but the messy, turbulent, often murderous story of the city's slums; the teeming streets--scene of innumerable cons and crimes whose cramped and overcrowded housing is still a prominent feature of the cityscape.

Low Life voyages through Manhattan from four different directions. Part One examines the actual topography of Manhattan from 1840 to 1919; Part Two, the era's opportunities for vice and entertainment--theaters and saloons, opium and cocaine dens, gambling…


Book cover of Dry: A Memoir

Stefanie Wilder-Taylor Author Of Drunk-ish: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving Alcohol

From my list on addiction books that will make you feel less alone.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a memoir writer whose latest book, Drunk-ish, chronicles my experience getting sober. Before quitting drinking and after, I devoured all the "quit lit" books I could get my hands on despite not being entirely convinced I had an issue. I read to bond and identify with the authors, and the books I'm recommending are a few of my very favorites on the topic of addiction. On my podcast, "For Crying Out Loud," I often share about quitting drinking and addiction in general, and when I do, I find those are some of the most popular episodes. If you're sober, thinking about quitting, or even just like reading books about messed-up boozers, these books are for you.

Stefanie's book list on addiction books that will make you feel less alone

Stefanie Wilder-Taylor Why did Stefanie love this book?

This is one of my all-time favorite books about alcoholism because it’s hilarious. The title has a double meaning because the book is about the author’s attempt to stop drinking but also because Augusten’s humor is incredibly dry.

I found this book before I ever even entertained the notion that I, too, might have an issue with alcohol, and yet, I loved it. I’ve probably read this book at least 10 times, and it still makes me laugh despite the fact that it’s become all too real for me. 

By Augusten Burroughs,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the New York Times Bestselling author of Running With Scissors comes the story of one man trying to out-drink his memories, outlast his demons, and outrun his past.

“I was addicted to “Bewitched” as a kid. I worshipped Darren Stevens the First. When he’d come home from work and Samantha would say, ‘Darren, would you like me to fix you a drink?’ He’d always rest his briefcase on the table below the mirror in the foyer, wipe his forehead with a monogrammed handkerchief and say, ‘Better make it a double.’” (from Chapter Two)

You may not know it, but…


Book cover of Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City

Thomas Hynes Author Of Wild City: A Brief History of New York City in 40 Animals

From my list on the surprising history of New York City wildlife.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was drawn to the topic because I love everything about New York City. But, I also loved how the topic seemed at odds with itself. New York City wildlife felt like a contradiction of terms. Sure, there might be some rats, pigeons, and cockroaches here, but that was it. Well I was very wrong. Learning about the city’s natural history and legacy of wildlife allowed me to learn about the city in a whole new way. It’s also a great comeback story and it has been so inspiring to learn – and see! – how effective a few short decades of environmental regulations have been in making this a greener city. 

Thomas' book list on the surprising history of New York City wildlife

Thomas Hynes Why did Thomas love this book?

If the United States had been settled west-to-east, there’s a good chance Manhattan would have been made a national park. That’s how biologically diverse this city is at its core. This book provides the broadest view of New York City history by describing the area before European settlement and the ensuing urbanization. This book uses historical maps, GPS data, and other inputs to reveal the surprisingly rich natural history of New York City, while also providing a thoughtful analysis of how dramatically things have changed, as well as a compelling framework for a more sustainable future for New York. 

By Eric W. Sanderson, Markley Boyer (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On September 12, 1609, Henry Hudson first set foot on the land that would become Manhattan. Today, it's difficult to imagine what he saw, but for more than a decade, landscape ecologist Eric Sanderson has been working to do just that. Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City is the astounding result of those efforts, reconstructing in words and images the wild island that millions now call home. By geographically matching an 18th-century map with one of the modern city, examining volumes of historic documents, and collecting and analyzing scientific data, Sanderson re-creates the forests of Times Square, the…


Book cover of Billionaires' Row: Tycoons, High Rollers, and the Epic Race to Build the World's Most Exclusive Skyscrapers

Jason M. Barr Author Of Cities in the Sky: The Quest to Build the World's Tallest Skyscrapers

From my list on real estate titans built New York skyline.

Why am I passionate about this?

As an economics professor, I’ve spent the past twenty years researching why cities build upward. Though I mostly look at cities through the lens of statistics and data, every building has a personal and dramatic story that exists behind the numbers. And no matter where you go in the world, great cities with their towering skyscrapers all owe a debt to New York—every city wants its own version of the Empire State Building to signal its economic might. New York is the world’s metropolis. As the (now cliché) song line goes, “If I can make there, I’ll make it anywhere,” is a true today as a century ago.

Jason's book list on real estate titans built New York skyline

Jason M. Barr Why did Jason love this book?

If you stroll through Central Park, as I frequently do, you can’t help but notice the string of supertall, superslim towers lording over Central Park South. Many New Yorkers decry them as creating excessive shadows and driving gentrification. However, viewing them from the park, you can see how they naturally fit into the Manhattan skyline—the skyline that created the world’s greatest city.

Katherine Clarke’s book chronicles the developers who brought forth these ultraluxury towers. It dramatically highlights the game of 3D chess these New York titans must play to realize their skyscraper dreams. Some win, and some lose—but that’s the striver’s tale in Gotham.

By Katherine Clarke,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A “thrilling” (Financial Times) fly-on-the-wall account of the ferocious ambition, greed, and one-upmanship behind the most expensive real estate in the world: the new Manhattan megatowers known as Billionaires’ Row—from a staff reporter at The Wall Street Journal

“Deeply informative, delightfully entertaining, and addictively readable.”—Diana B. Henriques, bestselling author of The Wizard of Lies

A CEO Magazine Best Book of the Year • Longlisted for the Financial Times and Schroders Business Book of the Year Award

To look south and skyward from Central Park these days is to gaze upon a physical manifestation of tens of billions of dollars in…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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

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

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