The best books about the Bronx

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

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Bronx Primitive

By Kate Simon,

Book cover of Bronx Primitive: Portraits in a Childhood

In this evocative memoir, the first in a series of three and a New York Times 1982 best book of the year, Simon, a travel writer, captures the world of an immigrant child growing up in the Bronx in the 1920s. Their fathers were harsh disciplinarians; mothers knew abortion to be the most effective birth control; and daughters saw poor scores in math crush their dreams. A story of triumph over the odds, of female rebellion, and of the many ways of learning, this memoir evokes a bygone world that also feels very contemporary.


Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

America's Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today

By Pamela S. Nadell,

Book cover of America's Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today

What is my book about?

What does it mean to be a Jewish woman in America? In a gripping historical narrative, Pamela S. Nadell weaves together the stories of a diverse group of extraordinary people--from the colonial-era matriarch Grace Nathan and her great-granddaughter, poet Emma Lazarus, to labor organizer Bessie Hillman and the great justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to scores of other activists, workers, wives, and mothers who helped carve out a Jewish American identity.

The twin threads binding these women together, she argues, are a strong sense of self and a resolute commitment to making the world a better place. Nadell recounts how Jewish women have been at the forefront of causes for centuries, fighting for suffrage, trade unions, civil rights, and feminism, and hoisting banners for Jewish rights around the world. Informed by shared values of America's founding and Jewish identity, these women's lives have left deep footprints in the history of the nation they call home.

We Are Your Sons

By Robert Meeropol, Michael Meeropol,

Book cover of We Are Your Sons: The Legacy of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg

This book was written in 1975 by the two Rosenberg children left orphaned after their parents were executed. Relying on Schneir as well as their own research, they also powerfully argued that their parents were innocent. Even though later disclosures would contradict this conclusion, the book is a moving and fascinating document that tells the previously secret story of whatever happened to the two Rosenberg boys—aged 10 and 6 at the time of their parents' death—whose parents had seemingly sacrificed their lives for a political cause. It turns out that the boys had quietly been adopted by a politically progressive New York family, the Meeropols, and then successfully pursued academic careers, gottten married, and had children of their own.


Who am I?

The executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg seem so distant that it is jarring for me to contemplate that I was born in 1960, only seven years after their deaths. Growing up Jewish, I often heard the Rosenberg case invoked as an example of anti-Semitism. But it was not until I was an undergraduate history major that I read the scholarly literature about the Rosenbergs and subscribed to the newsletter of the Committee to Reopen the Rosenberg Case. My ongoing interest in the case helps me remind students about two crucial points: ongoing historical scholarship gets us closer to the “truth” but we may never know what “actually” happened. Which is OK.


I wrote...

The Good Doctor: A Father, a Son, and the Evolution of Medical Ethics

By Barron H. Lerner,

Book cover of The Good Doctor: A Father, a Son, and the Evolution of Medical Ethics

What is my book about?

The Good Doctor is my effort to contrast the “old” medical ethics of my father, an infectious diseases physician from the 1950s to the 1990s, with the “new” medical ethics that I learned in medical school and have practiced since. My father was an unabashed paternalist, thinking he knew what was best for his patients. While undoubtedly a remarkable and revered physician, he nevertheless made many choices that would be deplored today, including orchestrating the care of his relatives and even physically interfering with the resuscitation of a patient he thought should die.

Today, autonomy, in which patients make their own medical decisions, has become paramount—and with good reason. But we have also lost the passionate, patient-centered type of medicine that exemplified my father’s career.    

Straight Up or on the Rocks

By William Grimes,

Book cover of Straight Up or on the Rocks: The Story of the American Cocktail

Order a Martini (straight up, or with ice chiming against the glass), then settle with this charming book and the “quintessential cocktail” that merits its own chapter in the imbiber’s US history tour. Grimes wears learning lightly while pointing out the cultural vagaries over four centuries of pleasurable distillation, brewing, and fermentation. Who knew the American Revolution was first fomented in 1700s village taverns? Or that the familiar Gilded Age “Bronx” (named by the Waldorf-Astoria’s master mixologist) was the very first cocktail to use fruit juice?

Author Grimes chides the 1960s Yuppies (a.k.a. young urban professionals) for purist insistence on “imported beer” and “the rarest of single-malt Scotches,” but concludes the country and the cocktail survived and are all the better for it. He gets no argument from me!


Who am I?

Nightclubs and country clubs figured in my father’s business distributing snack foods in post-WWII “Steel City,” Pittsburgh, where I was served “Shirley Temple” cocktails in martini glasses alongside my parents’ Manhattans. (To my five- and six-year-old eye, the trophy was the maraschino cherry.) Decades later, teaching American literature in the university, my interest deepened in Jack London’s writing, and my book on him demanded close attention to the history of US cocktails and other drinks. London’s memoir, John Barleycorn, frankly details his drinking and eventual capture by alcohol. As a scholar-researcher, I was “captured” by the backstory of US cocktail culture.


I wrote...

Gilded Age Cocktails: History, Lore, and Recipes from America's Golden Age

By Cecelia Tichi,

Book cover of Gilded Age Cocktails: History, Lore, and Recipes from America's Golden Age

What is my book about?

America’s Golden Age of Cocktails jibed with the dawn of the telephone, electric lights, and the airplane. In the post-Civil War decades, bartenders’ innovations gave rise to the Manhattan, the Martini, and myriad other drinks popular to this day. Suddenly, ice was no longer a cheating bartender’s dilution, but an asset to chill whiskey, rum, or gin beverages compounded with flavorings, juices, and fruit garnishes that pleased both eye and palate. The new mixed drinks flourished at barrooms, sporting events, luncheons, balls, reunions, and on railroad cars, yachts, and ocean liners.

Cocktails honored America’s cities, celebrities, tycoons, scamps, and scoundrels. Colleges had signature drinks, and actresses were toasted with cocktails compounded in tribute to their starring roles on stage. The Temperance Movement warned against these demonic drinks, but cocktails stirred or shaken won the day.

Tyrell

By Coe Booth,

Book cover of Tyrell

Booth is an extraordinary writer and Tyrell is her signature story. Tyrell is a young man living under incredible pressure with a family that needs him to have both feet on the ground. But he's always on the verge of going the wrong way. Will the need for fast money put him in prison like his father? Booth is in complete command of her characters, story and pacing here. A marvelous book that will make you grateful for your own choices in life.


Who am I?

I spent 16 years teaching in NYC public schools, six of them on Rikers Island the world's biggest jail where I helped incarcerated teens improve their reading and writing skills. That experience helped to launch me on my own writing career. The job of the author? To hold up a mirror to society and reflect upon the page what the reader may not have experienced yet or missed seeing in the world outside the borders of a book.


I wrote...

The Great G.O.A.T. Debate: The Best of the Best in Everything from Sports to Science

By Paul Volponi,

Book cover of The Great G.O.A.T. Debate: The Best of the Best in Everything from Sports to Science

What is my book about?

I’m so incredibly proud of my 15th book for young adults. The idea behind it is very simple. In every school I visit, I hear students debating one another — Who’s the greatest basketball player of all time? Greatest rapper? Greatest video game? Greatest sci-fi franchise? Greatest rock band? So I wrote a book that lets students debate those topics. But, while those students are investigating their favorite categories, they’ll also be exposed to these unexpected debates —Who’s the greatest scientist of all time? Greatest architect? Greatest philosopher? Greatest mathematician? Greatest chess player? Greatest jazz soloist? Greatest composer? Greatest writer? Oh, yes, it also teaches students the basic strategies of debate and how to put forth a strong argument for their candidate as the G.O.A.T. of a particular category.

Bigfoot in the Bronx

By Hunter Shea,

Book cover of Bigfoot in the Bronx

A good friend and fellow writer introduced me to Hunter Shea at a brewpub in New York City, and I quickly discovered he was a titan in the realm of creature features. The Jersey Devil, a mutated megalodon, the Loch Ness monster… Shea loves his cryptids!

Hurling the ultimate wilderness creature into the urban jungle was inspired, and this story is just as fun as you’d expect. Packed with humor and over-the-top mayhem, this book is a hoot and I tore through it in a day.


Who am I?

My writer’s journey has been circuitous. Originally, I’d intended to become a screenwriter, until I was bitten by the acting bug. Appearing often in film, television, and on Broadway, I found myself drawn to audiobook narration. After so much exposure to so many genres from so many authors, I decided to return to writing. Zombie Bigfoot is a novelization of a screenplay of mine, inspired by SkyMall magazine I read during a scuba diving trip. One page had a Bigfoot garden statue… the adjacent page had a garden flagstone with a zombie coming up out of the ground. I looked at those two images and thought: “How has nobody done this?”


I wrote...

Zombie Bigfoot

By Nick Sullivan,

Book cover of Zombie Bigfoot

What is my book about?

The truth is out there... and it will eat your face. "Bigfoot is real." That’s what Sarah’s father told her before his academic disgrace and untimely death. Now, primatologist Dr. Sarah Bishop is eager to restore her father’s good name. Survival show host Russ Cloud is just as eager to boost his plummeting ratings. They’ll both have a shot at redemption when they find themselves hired by eccentric billionaire Cameron Carson. After a series of his publicity stunts end in spectacular failure, Carson has a plan to redeem his tarnished image: capture a live Sasquatch.

Combining Crichton-esque action-adventure with creature feature horror, outlandish characters, and a healthy dose of humor, Zombie Bigfoot will leave you panting for more.

Miracle Moments in New York Yankees History

By David Fischer,

Book cover of Miracle Moments in New York Yankees History: The Turning Points, the Memorable Games, the Incredible Records

Fischer’s Miracle Moments in New York Yankees History is aptly divided into five parts, the first of which—“Birth of a Dynasty”—is the most relevant for the current topic. It covers the “Hilltop Highlander” years (1903-1913), the Yankees’ decade at the Polo Grounds as tenants of their arch-rival, the National League’s New York Giants (1913-1922), the sale of the Yankees to Ruppert and Huston (1914-1915), the acquisition of Babe Ruth (1919-1920), and their move to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and their first World Series title (1923). But Fischer’s Miracle Moments has much more to offer than these early days as it provides a panoramic view of the entire Yankees’ franchise from 1903 to the present. 


Who am I?

I grew up a Yankee fan during the Mickey Mantle era, traveling to the Bronx in my uncle’s canary-yellow Chrysler Imperial. Those early experiences set me on a trajectory to want to play baseball every chance I got, starting with Little League and ending up on my high school’s varsity squad. Fortunately, my high school was in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where my family had moved in 1962, the same year that the Yankees began playing their pre-season games in the city, which meant when I wasn’t playing baseball at school, I was hanging around Ft. Lauderdale Stadium watching the Yankees. Yes, the Pinstripe Nation was in my blood. 


I wrote...

The Men Who Made the Yankees: The Odyssey of the World's Greatest Baseball Team from Baltimore to the Bronx

By W. Nikola-Lisa,

Book cover of The Men Who Made the Yankees: The Odyssey of the World's Greatest Baseball Team from Baltimore to the Bronx

What is my book about?

The Men Who Made the Yankees traces the rise of the New York Yankees from the origin of the American League to the Yankees’ first world championship title in 1923. The Men Who Made the Yankees focuses on a handful of club owners and the political and financial pressures that dramatically shaped the arrival of an American League franchise in New York City. 

A baseball enthusiast from a young age, Mr. Nikola-Lisa is also the author of Dear Frank: Babe Ruth, the Red Sox, and the Great War, a work of historical fiction set in Boston during the waning days of the first world war, and the forthcoming The Things He Could Have Been, or The Almost True Story of Babe Ruth.

Lila

By Rose Ross,

Book cover of Lila

Lila tells the story of two WW11 survivor families whose daughters are born on the same day in a Displaced Persons Camp, who immigrate to the United States around the same time, and take apartments in the same building in the South Bronx, New York. The immigrant neighborhood, full of busybody characters, is beautifully rendered. Everyone expects the two girls to be as close as sisters, their lives and fates happily intertwined. However, their growing-up years veer into dangerous territory. While one family manages to establish a home of love and caring, the other morphs into a den of dysfunction and perversion. Upending everyone’s expectations, the two girls embark on a path of jealousy and hatred. As secrets are revealed, their paths diverge, ending in tragedy. The novel is a shattering portrait of how trauma of the Holocaust and inherited trauma passed on to the next generation can destroy lives.


Who am I?

As the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, I have experienced, observed, and researched inherited trauma. I have also noticed the dearth of works of fiction that focus on the second generation. I believe it is time for the voices of the second generation to be heard, and for the issues facing us to be explored.


I wrote...

Escaping the Whale: The Holocaust is over. But is it ever over for the next generation?

By Ruth Rotkowitz,

Book cover of Escaping the Whale: The Holocaust is over. But is it ever over for the next generation?

What is my book about?

This novel features an adult daughter of Holocaust survivors who struggles with her legacy of inherited trauma and desperately tries to lead a ‘normal’ life in 1980 New York. Due to the stigma attached to mental illness, she feels unable to share her pain with anyone else and puts on a desperate act of normalcy, despite her fears of ‘demons’ hiding out in her closet to torment her. With the backdrop of the Iranian hostage crisis combined with a series of crises at the school where she is a guidance counselor, dealing with teen pregnancy, teen suicide, toxic relationships, and mental illness, she reaches a breaking point. No longer able to suppress her demons, she feels she must flee her life in order to find a path to healing. Will flight and physical escape be her answer?

Cutting for Stone

By Abraham Verghese,

Book cover of Cutting for Stone

This sweeping historical novel took me from Addis Ababa to New York. It gave me insight to the missionary medics and the political landscape of Ethiopia. Marion and his conjoined twin brother Shavia are the central characters in this multigenerational saga. After their mother’s death and the father’s disappearance they were orphaned. Marion’s quest is to find the identity of his biological father which takes us to New York where Marion, like his father, is a renowned surgeon. The reason the novel remains one of favorites is that there are many levels to the story, historical and philosophical, it's also emotive and wise with a cast of unforgettable characters. 


Who am I?

I’m fascinated with our familial, political, and cultural legacies, particularly events that displaced or forced immigration upon its people. Being Irish, we are dispersed to the four corners of the earth and often, I think about the millions of Irish immigrants who fled our shores to start again in a different country with a different culture and my imagination comes alive at the sights and changes they saw and how they had to adapt. I’ve written four historical fiction novels. One is based solely in Ireland, the others are based between Ireland and Jamaica, New York, and the American West. All of my novels are multigenerational.


I wrote...

The Tide Between Us

By Olive Collins,

Book cover of The Tide Between Us

What is my book about?

1821: A cargo of Irish children is deported to the cane fields of Jamaica. 1991: Their story is uncovered. Bestselling author Olive Collins “brings history to life in this mesmerizing epic spanning 5 generations and 170 years,” The Post.

Becoming Maria

By Sonia Manzano,

Book cover of Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx

Manzano played Maria for more than 40 years on Sesame Street, but this isn’t a book about that show. A sort of next-gen, nonfiction companion to Dominicana, it tells the story of Manzano’s hard-knock childhood in the South Bronx, and how her gifts as an actor and storyteller propelled her out of a rough neighborhood and troubled home (her father physically abused her mother.) Manzano doesn’t paper over the anger she felt and still feels about the systemic forces that ghettoized Hispanic kids like her. But she succeeds in offering hope and modeling Nuyorican success to latter-day versions of her young self.


Who am I?

“You spend your first 18 years as a sponge and the rest of your life using those early years as material.” Martin Short said this to me when I collaborated with him on his memoir, I Must Say: My Life As a Humble Comedy Legend. My own writing bears this out. My nonfiction books The United States of Arugula and Sunny Days are not first-person books, but they examine two significant cultural movements that defined my formative years: the American food revolution led by the likes of Julia Child and Alice Waters and the children’s-TV revolution defined by Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Much of my journalism finds me chasing down the cultural figures who captured and shaped my young imagination, e.g., Sly Stone, Johnny Cash, Charles Schulz.


I wrote...

Sunny Days: The Children's Television Revolution That Changed America

By David Kamp,

Book cover of Sunny Days: The Children's Television Revolution That Changed America

What is my book about?

I was a member of the first class of Sesame Street graduates—kids who were preschoolers in November 1969, when the program premiered. The further away I got from this formative era, the more I realized that it was a unique time in which childhood and children’s television were completely reinvented. Programs such as Sesame Street, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, The Electric Company, Schoolhouse Rock!, Zoom, and Free to Be... You and Me weren’t just TV shows. Together, they constituted a social movement. They respected the emotional intelligence and interior lives of children.

Sunny Days is my attempt to capture this era with joy, humor, and a suggestion that we can hit such noble heights again.

A Contract With God

By Will Eisner,

Book cover of A Contract With God

Will Eisner not only invented the term “Graphic Novel” but he innovated much of the art and craft of comix. He is one of the pioneers whom I have studied to learn how comix work. Contract is also amazing because it deals with Jewish New York of the mid 20th century which is where my parents grew up. I connect to the tales of how to balance being American while celebrating my Jewish heritage, and the many challenges that came with living amongst other cultures in the “Melting Pot."


Who am I?

My love of comics and characters goes back to when I was very young. I remember falling in love with Snoopy to the point that I would draw a snoopy head on my worksheets in first grade, and my teacher knew it was from me! Once I got older, and began exploring my Jewish heritage in a more mature way, I was astounded by how many deep and meaningful stories I kept encountering. It was my natural inclination to retell these stories in a comic book format. Part of my mission was to find like minded souls who had a love for comix and a love for Jewish stories.


I wrote...

The Book of Secrets

By Mat Tonti,

Book cover of The Book of Secrets

What is my book about?

When a strange book of stories arrives from their beloved missing grandparents, siblings Ben and Rose must dive into the book for clues that will help them in their search for their grandparents. But they are not the only ones searching... Who is the strange creature called the Doughlem who shows up in each of the stories? What other dark forces find the book to be so important? And as more and more characters from the book start showing up in real life, Ben and Rose start to wonder if the book is coming to life, or if they are getting lost in the story.

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