The best books about Baltimore

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Baltimore and why they recommend each book.

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I Got a Monster

By Baynard Woods, Brandon Soderberg,

Book cover of I Got a Monster: The Rise and Fall of America's Most Corrupt Police Squad

In The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Streets, David Simon, also an author of nonfiction books about Baltimore, depicted Baltimore cops as Sisyphean figures trying to fight an endless wave of crime and failing. Baynard Woods and Brandon Soderberg tell a much less positive story about the police. They examine an elite unit called the Gun Trace Task Force which became, under its leader Wayne Jenkins, a criminal syndicate. Using their badges as weapons, these police officers robbed drug dealers of tens of thousands of dollars, planted weapons and evidence, and terrorized Black Baltimore residents.

As media pundits were wringing their hands about whether Baltimore’s people had gone out of control when they rioted after Freddie Gray’s death, we learn that these cops were literally robbing prescription drugs to sell them on the street. Even if you’re suspicious about the role of police in inner-city communities, this book…


Who am I?

As a cultural historian of 20th century America, I’m fascinated by how culture is used to rebel against the status quo and how the status quo fights back. In my first book, Class Acts: Young Men and the Rise of Lifestyle, I looked at greasers, hippies, and white hip hop lovers to understand how they used style and fashion to push back against being white and middle class. In Come and Be Shocked: Baltimore Beyond John Waters and The Wire, I went beyond looking at how individuals shape their identity to thinking about how artists and city leaders shape the identity of a place. Can artists counter the efforts of cities to create sanitized images of themselves?


I wrote...

Come and Be Shocked: Baltimore Beyond John Waters and the Wire

By Mary Rizzo,

Book cover of Come and Be Shocked: Baltimore Beyond John Waters and the Wire

What is my book about?

Is Baltimore Charm City or Bodymore? Is it the pastel-colored dream of the musical Hairspray or the grim tragedy of The Wire? Unlike other cities of its size, Baltimore has been the setting for an astonishing number of cultural texts, from John Waters movies to Anne Tyler novels. As a cultural historian, I wondered how these images shaped and reflected Baltimore’s history from the 1950s to today. What I found was that politics and culture are intertwined more than most of us realize. Policymakers and cultural creators battled over defining the meaning of Baltimore. But this isn’t only a story about culture, it’s also about race.

Charm City and Bodymore are not only slogans but also reflect the hyper segregation of the city. As I show, the representations of Charm City define it through white working-class eccentricity, while Bodymore is depicted as a dangerous place where people of color reside, with material effects on the real neighborhoods that can be connected to each idea.

She's Such A Bright Girl

By Petula Caesar,

Book cover of She's Such A Bright Girl: An American Story

In this memoir, Petula talks about the light-skin privilege and pain she suffered through growing up in the 70s and 80s in Paterson, New Jersey and Baltimore, Maryland with a dark-skinned mother and a light-skinned father. Her father, Walter, raised her to be as “White” as possible by neglecting her Black heritage which caused her to have a huge identity crisis.


Who am I?

I am African American, so colorism is part of living on this planet as a Black person because it’s a byproduct of racism. I am also the mother of a “mixed” child. Her father is White. I am brown-skinned and my daughter is light-skinned and looks racially ambiguous. Since she was a newborn, people have made colorist and racist remarks toward us. The Half Series – When Black People Look White was written based on real-life experiences.


I wrote...

The Half Series: When Black People Look White

By Dangerous Lee, Katie Burrell (narrator), Jonathan R. Miller (narrator), Lisa Thornton (narrator), Jerian Dimattei (narrator), Leon Scott Baxter (narrator), Lisa Chase Patterson (narrator), Carolyn Battle-Cochrane (narrator), Kate and Jenni (narrator)

Book cover of The Half Series: When Black People Look White

What is my book about?

The Half Series - When Black People Look White focuses on the colorism that biracial, mixed, and multi-ethnic people deal with as well as how they see themselves. Features interviews, first-person accounts, fun facts, and discussions about the children of Michael Jackson.

On Middle Ground

By Eric L. Goldstein, Deborah R. Weiner,

Book cover of On Middle Ground: A History of the Jews of Baltimore

Goldstein’s and Weiner’s history of Jews of Baltimore is an unconventional account of this border city. Jews in Baltimore were definitely located in the middle between white Christians on the one hand and Blacks on the other. The book does not flinch from uncovering just what this middle ground meant, how the antisemitism that pervaded Baltimore propelled some Jews toward conservatism (including the support of slavery) and others toward progressivism (including abolition). At the same time, the book explores the rich diversity of Jewish religious life in the city that parallels Jewish participation in building important elements of Baltimore’s economy. I loved learning about a city that was new to me.


Who am I?

I grew up in New York City on the corner of 16th Street and 7th Avenue in an apartment on the 11th floor. I loved the city’s pace, diversity, and freedom. So, I decided to study New York Jews, to learn about them from not just from census records and institutional reports but also from interviews. After publishing my first book, I followed New York Jews as they moved to other cities, especially Miami and Los Angeles. Recently, I’ve been intrigued by what is often called street photography and the ways photographs let you see all sorts of details that potentially tell a story. 


I wrote...

Urban Origins of American Judaism

By Deborah Dash Moore,

Book cover of Urban Origins of American Judaism

What is my book about?

Jewish immigrants to the United States landed in cities just as they began to grow. Starting with a string of colonial cities along the east coast, Judaism took root among the diversity of urban America. In three succinct chapters, Urban Origins of American Judaism tells the story of the emergence of synagogues in all their variety, the impact of Jewish street culture on religious life, and finally, the power of photographs to shape spiritual memory.

The Best Game Ever

By Mark Bowden,

Book cover of The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL

I’m a big fan of bestselling author, journalist, and incredible researcher Mark Bowden, but this is easily his least well-known work. For those not up for the 1000+ pages of Guests of the Ayatollah or Killing Pablo (the basis for the Netflix series Narcos) or the staggering intensity of his true war tale Blackhawk Down, this is a more digestible choice. It simultaneously showcases three very different things about sports in America. First, how the NFL ascended to primacy using the new medium of television to surpass baseball and become the most popular sport. Secondly, how nationally televised sporting events became an integral part of our social fabric and the biggest broadcasts of any kind. Finally, for football fans, Bowden explains the seismic transition in the passing game, elevating the sport from an art to a science.


Who am I?

As a New York Times Bestselling author, award-winning journalist, and visiting professor at Dartmouth College, who has written for the biggest newspapers and magazines worldwide, I look for interesting untold stories for my books. As a result, I spent the past five years researching the topic of sports fandom, what makes people fans, and how it affects them and our society.


I wrote...

Fans: How Watching Sports Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Understanding

By Larry Olmsted,

Book cover of Fans: How Watching Sports Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Understanding

What is my book about?

200 million Americans and billions more worldwide are sports fans, more than belong to any organized religion or any other collective group. Sports fandom is simply the biggest social structure on earth. So, what does fandom do to us, to our brains, our health, our perceptions, our relationships, careers, and such? What does it do to society, affecting tolerance, racism, politics, the peace process and international relations? What vital roles has sports fandom played in history? How does it, again and again, provide post-traumatic healing for communities, cities, and entire countries after natural and manmade disasters? 

I have deeply researched all these angles, using very current scientific research, and found the effects of sports fandom in our lives to be overwhelmingly positive. In the spectator sports equation, more than 99.9% of participants are fans, yet thousands of books have been written on athletes, teams, and coaches, with virtually nothing else on fans.

Baltimore Revisited

By P. Nicole King (editor), Kate Drabinski (editor), Joshua Clark Davis (editor)

Book cover of Baltimore Revisited: Stories of Inequality and Resistance in a U.S. City

The history that matters most to me is the history that can help explain the world we live in now. The editors of Baltimore Revisited, a collection of brilliant essays about the city, takes that to heart. Fascinating chapters trace the War on Drugs back to the 1910s, when the city outlawed cocaine, examine how Johns Hopkins University’s growth has displaced Black residents for decades, and surprise us with the fact that Maryland was home to the longest-running movie censorship board in the country (which only closed shop in 1981). More than curiosities, though, these authors reveal how race, gender, sexuality, and class have affected Baltimore.

Most importantly, the book focuses on how everyday people fought back against discrimination through acts as varied as pickets against segregation to dancing in gay bars. The book is good history, yes, but also a call to action. 


Who am I?

As a cultural historian of 20th century America, I’m fascinated by how culture is used to rebel against the status quo and how the status quo fights back. In my first book, Class Acts: Young Men and the Rise of Lifestyle, I looked at greasers, hippies, and white hip hop lovers to understand how they used style and fashion to push back against being white and middle class. In Come and Be Shocked: Baltimore Beyond John Waters and The Wire, I went beyond looking at how individuals shape their identity to thinking about how artists and city leaders shape the identity of a place. Can artists counter the efforts of cities to create sanitized images of themselves?


I wrote...

Come and Be Shocked: Baltimore Beyond John Waters and the Wire

By Mary Rizzo,

Book cover of Come and Be Shocked: Baltimore Beyond John Waters and the Wire

What is my book about?

Is Baltimore Charm City or Bodymore? Is it the pastel-colored dream of the musical Hairspray or the grim tragedy of The Wire? Unlike other cities of its size, Baltimore has been the setting for an astonishing number of cultural texts, from John Waters movies to Anne Tyler novels. As a cultural historian, I wondered how these images shaped and reflected Baltimore’s history from the 1950s to today. What I found was that politics and culture are intertwined more than most of us realize. Policymakers and cultural creators battled over defining the meaning of Baltimore. But this isn’t only a story about culture, it’s also about race.

Charm City and Bodymore are not only slogans but also reflect the hyper segregation of the city. As I show, the representations of Charm City define it through white working-class eccentricity, while Bodymore is depicted as a dangerous place where people of color reside, with material effects on the real neighborhoods that can be connected to each idea.

Edgar Gets Ready for Bed

By Jennifer Adams, Ron Stucki (illustrator),

Book cover of Edgar Gets Ready for Bed

I am from Baltimore, where famous spooky writer Edgar Allan Poe lived and died right outside a bar I used to go to in my twenties (a few centuries before I ever went there!). Our football team is even named after his famous poem, "The Raven," and its mascots are named Edgar, Allan, and Poe. So of course I love this adorable book about a tiny raven who just won’t go to bed! Stucki’s illustrations make a kind of scary animal—a raven—very appealing to little kids. And everyone can relate to a kid not wanting to go to bed! There is a whole series of books by this duo covering different Poe stories, if you want a very literary Halloween.


Who am I?

I am a huge fan of Halloween and love decorating my porch to greet our neighborhood kids. This past year I gave away a couple dozen copies of my own picture books along with candy, which was a huge hit. I live in Baltimore with my family, including my silly, spooky kid, and love animals, especially dogs and horses. This past Halloween, my daughter wanted to dress up as a dentist, of all things, so my husband and I went along dressed up as giant teeth. She never got the irony of asking for candy while dressed as a dentist. We’ll have to wait until she is older for that. 


I wrote...

Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat

By Tracy C. Gold, Nancy Leschnikoff (illustrator),

Book cover of Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat

What is my book about?

An adorable rhyming Halloween book with educational nonfiction elements woven in, perfect for classrooms and libraries!

Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me lots of bugs to eat! Follow along as a young bat takes flight on Halloween night and eats lots of delicious bugs along the way! Includes educational back matter with lots of fun facts about bats and their favorite insects.

The Stolen Village

By Des Ekin,

Book cover of The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates

In 1631, the small fishing village of Baltimore in West Cork, Ireland, was attacked by Algerian pirates. About 100 villagers were carried away to a life of slavery. Known as “the Sack of Baltimore,” it was considered the most devastating Islamic invasion in Ireland or England. Yet, greed, politics and intrigue played major roles in the event that had little to do with pirates. Written by a journalist, this book reveals the struggles and dangers faced in by ordinary people in Early Modern times.


Who am I?

Nancy Blanton is an American author of Irish descent. She’s written three award-winning Irish historical novels and has a fourth underway. A former journalist, her focus on the 17th century derives from a history lesson about Oliver Cromwell, weariness of Tudor stories, decades of enlightening research, and a little help from supportive friends in County Cork.


I wrote...

When Starlings Fly as One

By Nancy Blanton,

Book cover of When Starlings Fly as One

What is my book about?

Based on a true story of the 1641 Rebellion and Ireland's longest siege, When Starlings Fly as One is not a classic hero’s journey, but a story of war, struggle, spirit, and survival—a story of two sides.

Secretive and often bold, Merel de Vries seeks only escape from the English nobility she serves. When Rathbarry Castle is besieged by rising Irish clans, she faces an impossible choice: allegiance to owner Sir Arthur Freke, loyalty to new-found love Tynan O’Daly, and inner yearnings belonging to her alone. Merel insists she can help—but no one will listen. When opportunity comes, can she truly do what her spirit urges? Or, will a sudden betrayal change everything?

Not in My Neighborhood

By Antero Pietila,

Book cover of Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City

A former journalist, Antero Pietila delves into the history of Baltimore’s battles over housing and race since the 1880s. He shows how racism and antisemitism shaped who could live where in Baltimore, eventually consigning working-class Black people to disintegrating neighborhoods in the inner city. Where this book is especially good is on the history of blockbusting in the 1950s and 1960s.

Pietila introduces us to the real estate agents who preyed on Black people desperate to move out of slums and shows us how they panicked white people into selling their houses cheaply to get out before Black people moved in. Pietila draws connections between this history and the more recent example of speculators who lured Baltimore residents into subprime mortgages. Baltimore successfully sued Wells Fargo for discriminatory lending in 2012.


Who am I?

As a cultural historian of 20th century America, I’m fascinated by how culture is used to rebel against the status quo and how the status quo fights back. In my first book, Class Acts: Young Men and the Rise of Lifestyle, I looked at greasers, hippies, and white hip hop lovers to understand how they used style and fashion to push back against being white and middle class. In Come and Be Shocked: Baltimore Beyond John Waters and The Wire, I went beyond looking at how individuals shape their identity to thinking about how artists and city leaders shape the identity of a place. Can artists counter the efforts of cities to create sanitized images of themselves?


I wrote...

Come and Be Shocked: Baltimore Beyond John Waters and the Wire

By Mary Rizzo,

Book cover of Come and Be Shocked: Baltimore Beyond John Waters and the Wire

What is my book about?

Is Baltimore Charm City or Bodymore? Is it the pastel-colored dream of the musical Hairspray or the grim tragedy of The Wire? Unlike other cities of its size, Baltimore has been the setting for an astonishing number of cultural texts, from John Waters movies to Anne Tyler novels. As a cultural historian, I wondered how these images shaped and reflected Baltimore’s history from the 1950s to today. What I found was that politics and culture are intertwined more than most of us realize. Policymakers and cultural creators battled over defining the meaning of Baltimore. But this isn’t only a story about culture, it’s also about race.

Charm City and Bodymore are not only slogans but also reflect the hyper segregation of the city. As I show, the representations of Charm City define it through white working-class eccentricity, while Bodymore is depicted as a dangerous place where people of color reside, with material effects on the real neighborhoods that can be connected to each idea.

The Accidental Tourist

By Anne Tyler,

Book cover of The Accidental Tourist

Anne Tyler’s books are all filled with a deep understanding every life, no matter how small it may appear, has value and meaning. Ms. Tyler has great compassion for all her characters. I have several favorites among her many novels, but chose this one to recommend here because it is a story of love found amid the wreckage circumstances sometimes create for us, and is thus a story of hope.


Who am I?

I have always found that uplifting stories—in which kindness is more powerful than cruelty, and love and friendship blossom in unexpected and even tragic circumstances—give one hope, and hope is the foundation of resilience. Such stories can be set in familiar, comforting places, or new adventurous locales. My own experiences in Uganda, and my husband’s anti-corruption work were the inspiration for one of the locales of my novel about Bennett.


I wrote...

The Best Thing About Bennett

By Irene Wittig,

Book cover of The Best Thing About Bennett

What is my book about?

An inspiring contemporary novel that follows a socially isolated middle-aged woman who, through chance encounters and the trip of a lifetime, finds the courage to break out of her shell.

In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle

By Madeleine Blais,

Book cover of In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle

While this book mirrors the template of Darcy Frey’s book and my own, following a high school basketball team through an entire season, the setting—an upper-class, genteel community of white suburbanites in Amherst, Massachusetts—is a world away from that of those stories, and, most importantly, the athletes are female. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author, through her elegant writing, brings a piercing understanding of the obstacles these girls face in the wake of Title IX as they prove their toughness, perseverance, and abilities in a sport traditionally dominated by men. 


Who am I?

I’m a narrative nonfiction writer whose subjects range from politics to professional football, from racial conflict to environmental destruction, from inner-city public education to social justice to spinal cord injury. The settings for my books range from the Galapagos Islands to the swamps of rural Florida, to Arctic Alaska. I typically live with and among my subjects for months at a time, portraying their lives in an intimately personal way.


I wrote...

Eagle Blue: A Team, a Tribe, and a High School Basketball Season in Arctic Alaska

By Michael D'Orso,

Book cover of Eagle Blue: A Team, a Tribe, and a High School Basketball Season in Arctic Alaska

What is my book about?

In October of 2004, I flew from my home in Norfolk, Virginia, to the tiny Arctic village of Fort Yukon, Alaska, where I rented a small cabin and spent the next six months climbing into the day-to-day lives of the community’s indigenous Native population while shadowing the village’s boys high school basketball team through the course of an entire season as they, their families, and their neighbors faced a myriad of challenges (poverty, inadequate schooling, alcoholism, suicide, teen pregnancy, and the loss of their traditional culture) while clinging to the one thing that gives their community hope and pulls together most of the state’s 200 “bush” villages: the game of basketball.

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