75 books like The Fires

By Joe Flood,

Here are 75 books that The Fires fans have personally recommended if you like The Fires. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome

Karen Levy Author Of Data Driven: Truckers, Technology, and the New Workplace Surveillance

From my list on human stories about technology.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a sociologist, and I study how technology shapes and is shaped by people. I love my job because I am endlessly fascinated by why people do the things they do, and how our cultures, traditions, and knowledge affect how we interact with technology in our daily lives. I picked these books because they all tell fascinating stories about how different communities of people have designed, used, or been affected by technological tools.

Karen's book list on human stories about technology

Karen Levy Why did Karen love this book?

This is one of those books that you have to read either alone or among tolerant friends, because every few pages you’ll be moved to read some bit of it aloud to everyone around you. Alondra Nelson is a brilliant sociologist of science and technology, and this book tells the story of how genetic science and racial politics intersect, sometimes in surprising ways. I love how this book intertwines cultural and political history with clear-eyed analysis of genomics, genealogy, and the life sciences—it’s a great example of how to write about the human stakes of scientific research and innovation.

By Alondra Nelson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Social Life of DNA as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


A Favorite Book of 2016, Wall Street Journal
2017 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Nonfiction (Finalist)
2017 Day of Common Learning Selection, Seattle Pacific University
2020 Diana Forsythe Prize (Honorable Mention)
2020 Best Books of the Year, Writers' Trust of Canada

The unexpected story of how genetic testing is affecting race in America
We know DNA is a master key that unlocks medical and forensic secrets, but its genealogical life is both revelatory and endlessly fascinating. Tracing genealogy is now the second-most popular hobby amongst Americans, as well as the second-most visited online category. This billion-dollar industry has spawned popular television…


Book cover of Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo

Karen Levy Author Of Data Driven: Truckers, Technology, and the New Workplace Surveillance

From my list on human stories about technology.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a sociologist, and I study how technology shapes and is shaped by people. I love my job because I am endlessly fascinated by why people do the things they do, and how our cultures, traditions, and knowledge affect how we interact with technology in our daily lives. I picked these books because they all tell fascinating stories about how different communities of people have designed, used, or been affected by technological tools.

Karen's book list on human stories about technology

Karen Levy Why did Karen love this book?

I think I’m on my third or fourth copy of this book, because I keep giving it away! This is an absolutely stunning, gorgeously illustrated book about the spacesuits worn by Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong during the moon landing. The bid to design the suits was won by the Playtex Corporation—the lingerie company!—over a bunch of industrial materials suppliers, because Playtex knew how to design for the body in ways the other firms didn’t. The book is organized into twenty-one chapters, in homage to the twenty-one layers of the spacesuit, and it’s a thing of beauty. It weaves together the history of aeronautics, the politics of the Space Race, technology design, and mid-century fashion so seamlessly, and makes you think about each of these topics differently.

By Nicholas de Monchaux,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the lunar surface in July of 1969, they wore spacesuits made by Playtex: 21 layers of fabric, each with a distinct yet interrelated function, custom-sewn for them by seamstresses whose usual work was fashioning bras and girdles. This book is the story of that spacesuit. It is a story of the triumph over the military-industrial complex by the International Latex Corporation, best known by its consumer brand of "Playtex" - a victory of elegant softness over engineered hardness, of adaptation over cybernetics.

Playtex's spacesuit went up against hard armor-like spacesuits designed by…


Book cover of The Shabbat Elevator and other Sabbath Subterfuges: An Unorthodox Essay on Circumventing Custom and Jewish Character

Karen Levy Author Of Data Driven: Truckers, Technology, and the New Workplace Surveillance

From my list on human stories about technology.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a sociologist, and I study how technology shapes and is shaped by people. I love my job because I am endlessly fascinated by why people do the things they do, and how our cultures, traditions, and knowledge affect how we interact with technology in our daily lives. I picked these books because they all tell fascinating stories about how different communities of people have designed, used, or been affected by technological tools.

Karen's book list on human stories about technology

Karen Levy Why did Karen love this book?

Everyone who knows me has at some point had to hear me recount at least one anecdote from this book! Dundes was a professor of folklore, and this book is about all the ways Orthodox Jews navigate the prohibitions of the Sabbath. It includes a lot of incredible history about how technology plays a role in helping people do what they need to do without technically breaking the rules—like the Shabbat elevator in the title, which stops automatically at every floor in a building so that observant Jews don’t have to press a button to operate the elevator (which is prohibited). This book changed how I think about automation, and it’s so richly and respectfully written. One of my all-time favorites.

By Alan Dundes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Shabbat Elevator and other Sabbath Subterfuges as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

There are literally hundreds if not thousands of books written about Judaism and Jews, but this book is unlike any previously published. It focuses on the topic of 'circumventing custom' with special emphasis on the ingenious ways Orthodox (and other) Jews have devised to avoid breaking the extensive list of activities forbidden on the Sabbath. After examining the sources of Sabbath observance as set forth in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and rabbinical writings, some of the most salient forms of circumvention are described. These include: riding a special Shabbat elevator, unscrewing the lightbulb in the refrigerator, constructing an…


Book cover of The Joy of Keeping Score: How Scoring the Game Has Influenced and Enhanced the History of Baseball

Karen Levy Author Of Data Driven: Truckers, Technology, and the New Workplace Surveillance

From my list on human stories about technology.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a sociologist, and I study how technology shapes and is shaped by people. I love my job because I am endlessly fascinated by why people do the things they do, and how our cultures, traditions, and knowledge affect how we interact with technology in our daily lives. I picked these books because they all tell fascinating stories about how different communities of people have designed, used, or been affected by technological tools.

Karen's book list on human stories about technology

Karen Levy Why did Karen love this book?

A book about pencil-and-paper baseball scorekeeping might seem like an odd one to include on a list about technology! But that’s precisely the point: even though by-hand scoring seems like an unnecessary relic in the digital age, this book so beautifully explains why people do it anyway, and how much richness and storytelling and personality there can be in a practice that, at first glance, seems like it might just be rote transcription. Recording data isn’t a science—it can be an art, a tradition, and a joy unto itself.

By Paul Dickson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The history of scorekeeping, practical scoring techniques, notable scorekeeping blunders and idiosyncrasies, facsimiles of famous scorecards, and more-it’s all here in this “celebration of one of baseball’s most divine and unique pleasures” (USA Today Baseball Weekly).


Book cover of The Bread Givers

Georgina Hickey Author Of Breaking the Gender Code: Women and Urban Public Space in the Twentieth-Century United States

From my list on women in the city.

Why am I passionate about this?

My day job is teaching U.S. history, particularly courses on urban history, social movements, and race and gender. It is women’s experiences in cities, however, that have driven much of my historical research and sparked my curiosity about how people understand–and shape–the world around them. Lots of people talk about what women need and what they should be doing, but fewer have been willing to hear what women have to say about their own lives and recognize their resiliency. I hope that this kind of listening to the past will help us build more inclusive cities in the future.

Georgina's book list on women in the city

Georgina Hickey Why did Georgina love this book?

This 1925 autobiographical novel dropped me into the middle of New York’s Lower East Side Jewish neighborhoods in the early 20th century. The main character has a life of substantial struggle with and against her family, employers, landlords, and an American society that seems intent on erasing her.

While the book has elements of both a classic immigrant story and a coming-of-age tale, I love how it reveals the realities of urban living for a young immigrant woman. The pace and practices of making a home in a too-small space, getting by on minimal resources, scrumming for work, and avoiding harassment fill this book’s chapters. As a social and cultural historian, reading about daily activities–both struggles and joys–in a different time and place helps fire my imagination about not just what happened but how it might have felt to experience it.  

By Anzia Yezierska,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Bread Givers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1925, Anzia Yezierska's "Bread Givers" is the tale of a young Jewish-American immigrant woman and her struggle to control her own destiny in Manhattan's Lower East Side at the turn of the century. The novel is based in large part on Yezierska's own life experiences immigrating from Poland as a child and growing up in New York City in an Orthodox Jewish family. "Bread Givers" centers on the story of its main character, Sara Smolinsky, who lives with her older sisters and parents in a poor tenement in the Lower East Side. The Smolinsky family is destitute…


Book cover of Bad Behavior: Stories

Tobsha Learner Author Of Quiver

From my list on for when familiarity sets in.

Why am I passionate about this?

My first book was Quiver, a collection of erotic short stories. I wrote it to immortalize the hedonism of Sydney in the 1990s, wanting to show a nonjudgmental, joyful side. The fact that it touched a lot of people compelled me to write two more collections Tremble and Yearn – each exploring different themes: Tremble is an erotic re-imagining of various root myths, whilst Yearn has more historical and fantastical elements. I interweave all the characters in the stories throughout the whole collections. Humor is also important to me when it comes to the ironies and emotions around sex, the other aspect is gender power play and all the sublime reversals that can encapsulate. 

Tobsha's book list on for when familiarity sets in

Tobsha Learner Why did Tobsha love this book?

This collection of short stories is really about how sexual desire and social ambition can lead to all sorts of compromising and bizarre situations. I originally was drawn to it because I’d loved the film Secretary based on one of the short stories in the collection. I related to it because it is nearly all from a young female P.O.V – a kind of potpourri of trying to make it in NY in the 1980s. It's the perfect illustration of how powerful short story as a form can be in terms encapsulate an event, mood, and era – It also showed me how fictionalized memoir can be a good source of material and that if the book is really well-observed it never dates. 

By Mary Gaitskill,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Mary Gaitskill's tales of desire and dislocation in 1980s New York caused a sensation with their frank, caustic portrayals of men and women's inner lives. As her characters have sex, try and fail to connect, play power games and inflict myriad cruelties on each other, she skewers urban life with precision and candour.

'Stubbornly original, with a sort of rhythm and fine moments that flatten you out when you don't expect it, these stories are a pleasure to read' Alice Munro

'An air of Pinteresque menace hangs over these people's social exchanges like black funereal bunting ... Gaitskill writes with…


Book cover of Jews Without Money

Andrew Ridker Author Of Hope

From my list on Jewish life in America.

Why am I passionate about this?

As an American, a Jew, and a novelist—though not necessarily in that order—I’ve always been interested in Jewish-American literature, and the Jewish-American experience in general. What was it like for the first Jews in America? What accounted for their success? What were the costs of assimilation? And where are they—we—headed? These books are a great starting point for anyone looking for answers to these questions. But be warned: in keeping with the Jewish tradition, they often answer those questions with more questions. Not, to quote the Jewish sage Jerry Seinfeld, that there’s anything wrong with that.

Andrew's book list on Jewish life in America

Andrew Ridker Why did Andrew love this book?

If you’ve read all 783 pages of World of Our Fathers and are still looking for more about early Jewish-American life in New York—or just something more immediate—this is the book for you.

An autobiographical fever-dream of a novel, Jews Without Money is a vivid, violent, look at the life of the Jewish slum kids whose parents emigrated to America. A lifelong communist, Gold only wrote one novel, but it anticipates the hallucinatory fiction of writers like Denis Johnson by half a century.

At once entirely Jewish and entirely American, Jews Without Money gives an unvarnished first-person glimpse into the surreal world of turn-of-the-century New York. 

By Michael Gold,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Jews Without Money as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As a writer and political activist in early-twentieth-century America, Michael Gold was an important presence on the American cultural scene for more than three decades. Beginning in the 1920s his was a powerful journalistic voice for social change and human rights, and Jews Without Money--the author's only novel--is a passionate record of the times. First published in 1930, this fictionalized autobiography offered an unusually candid look at the thieves, gangsters, and ordinary citizens who struggled against brutal odds in lower East Side Manhattan. Like Henry Roth's Call It Sleep and Abraham Cahan's The Rise and Fall of David Levinsky, Jews…


Book cover of Lush Life

Chris Pavone Author Of Two Nights in Lisbon

From my list on suspense that is actually about something bigger.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love crime fiction—mysteries, thrillers, espionage, you name it, plots and puzzles that excite and confound and ultimately gratify. I also love the non-genre called literary fiction, sharply observed and beautifully written books that move me, and leave me with a slightly better understanding of humanity. And I think the sweetest spot of all is the intersection of the two, with sparkling prose, fully realized characters, and interesting settings combined with an insistent, credible plot that makes it a matter of urgency to turn the page, presenting the exquisite dilemma of wanting to race through the excitement but also the opposite urge to slow down and enjoy it all.

Chris' book list on suspense that is actually about something bigger

Chris Pavone Why did Chris love this book?

Richard Price’s propulsive plots revolve around crime, but the novels are always about something much bigger, and Lush Life merges many of his favorite themes into one masterpiece: ambition and compromise, race and class, gentrification and crime, the push-and-pull of a city’s progressive leanings against reactionary forces for law and order and property values. Price’s city is constructed on a bedrock of conflict between those who’ve come to New York struggling to create art, those who were born here struggling to get by, and the cops struggling to hold the middle, in a spectacular kaleidoscope of a downtown scene at the turn of the millennium, of hipsters and gangsters, housing projects and trendy restaurants, all these subcultures clashing in one microcosm of urban life.

By Richard Price,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'So, what do you do?' Whenever people asked him, Eric Cash used to have a dozen answers. Artist, actor, screenwriter But now he's thirty-five years old and he's still living on the Lower East Side, still in the restaurant business, still serving the people he wanted to be. What does Eric do? He manages. Not like Ike Marcus. Ike was young, good-looking, people liked him. Ask him what he did, he wouldn't say tending bar. He was going places - until two street kids stepped up to him and Eric one night and pulled a gun. At least, that's Eric's…


Book cover of All-Of-A-Kind Family

Pamela S. Nadell Author Of America's Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today

From my list on memoirs through the voices of women.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a professor of history and Jewish studies at American University and author of America’s Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today, winner of the National Jewish Book Award – 2019 Jewish Book of the Year. Since childhood I have been reading stories of women’s lives and tales set in Jewish communities across time and space. Yet, the voices that so often best evoke the past are those captured on the pages of great memoirs.

Pamela's book list on memoirs through the voices of women

Pamela S. Nadell Why did Pamela love this book?

In 1951, Sydney Taylor invented the memorable Brenners—papa, mama, five sisters, and baby brother—a Jewish family on the Lower East Side in turn-of-the-century New York. Taylor’s words and Helen John’s illustrations in this book, the first in a series, set the scene. A calendar in the parlor announced that it was 1912. Tenements lined city streets. When I read these novels as a child, I did not yet know that they were closely based on Taylor’s own life. When the entire series was republished in 2014, I quipped: I became a Jewish historian because of these books. 

By Sydney Taylor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked All-Of-A-Kind Family as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Meet the All-of-a-Kind  Family -- Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie -- who live with their parents in New York City at the turn of the century.

Together they share adventures that find them searching for hidden buttons while dusting Mama's front parlor and visiting with the peddlers in Papa's shop on rainy days. The girls enjoy doing everything together, especially when it involves holidays and surprises.

But no one could have prepared them for the biggest surprise of all!


Book cover of Unterzakhn

Jennifer S. Brown Author Of Modern Girls

From my list on unplanned pregnancy.

Why am I passionate about this?

Two things are true about me: I’m fascinated by the early twentieth century and I'm a diehard feminist. My grandfather nurtured my love of the 1920s and 1930s by introducing me to Dorothy Parker, John O’Hara, Ella Fitzgerald, and The New Yorker. My mother, a petite woman who can wield a welder like few others, encouraged the development of my feminist sensibilities. These two parts came together when my father offhandedly mentioned that his grandmother had an unplanned pregnancy during the Great Depression. As I researched reproductive issues through the years, my fascination for the topic grew. Each of the books here takes a different view of how to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. 

Jennifer's book list on unplanned pregnancy

Jennifer S. Brown Why did Jennifer love this book?

No graphic novel has ever blown me away like Unterzakhn (which means “underthings” in Yiddish). The story takes place in the early 1900s on the Lower East Side of New York, and the black-and-white bold strokes illustrate the bleakness of the lives of the new immigrants. Twin sisters find themselves taking roaringly divergent paths: one works in a whorehouse before becoming a star of the stage; the other assists the “lady-doctor,” from whom she learns about birth control and abortion. With strong feminist themes, I found it impossible not to root for both sisters. This is the only graphic novel whose ending made me cry.

By Leela Corman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A mesmerizing, heartbreaking graphic novel of immigrant life on New York’s Lower East Side at the turn of the twentieth century, as seen through the eyes of twin sisters whose lives take radically and tragically different paths.
 
For six-year-old Esther and Fanya, the teeming streets of New York’s Lower East Side circa 1910 are both a fascinating playground and a place where life’s lessons are learned quickly and often cruelly. In drawings that capture both the tumult and the telling details of that street life, Unterzakhn (Yiddish for “Underthings”) tells the story of these sisters: as wide-eyed little girls absorbing…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in New York City, the Lower East Side, and presidential biography?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about New York City, the Lower East Side, and presidential biography.

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