The most recommended Coney Island books

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10 authors created a book list connected to Coney Island, and here are their favorite Coney Island books.
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Book cover of Beneath a Blazing Sky

JuliAnne Sisung Author Of Curse of the Damselfly

From my list on unconventional, courageous women.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I was a child, my mother and I shared and discussed Zane Grey books. I loved his portrayal of the past and read every one. My obsession with historical fiction grew, and I wrote my first draft of Elephant in the Room at age sixteen. I’m stuck in the period between 1875 and 1940 because of the simplicity driving life as well as the complexity of larger events changing the world. Wilder, Steinbeck, Twain, all picked me off my feet and set me down in their shoes. I’m not able to remove them. I write about courageous women because we are, whether it’s expressed or is in waiting.  

JuliAnne's book list on unconventional, courageous women

JuliAnne Sisung Why did JuliAnne love this book?

McKinley, the tiny monkey, helps Piper sell peanuts at Coney Island and is the only constant in her young life. Her mother rides bareback for the circus and takes in beastly men. Her father, a determined bachelor, refuses to give her a stable home but eventually saves her from reform school, a probability due to her penchant for fighting and shooting guns.  

The tale takes her from Coney to Manhattan to live with her wealthy aunt, on to college, and then to war-torn Belgium. Treachery and brutality follow Piper’s footsteps, and she faces obstacles with the same kind of headlong determination she used as a child; her fists and pluck.  

I loved the fast pace and detailed descriptions, expressive language, and surprising but believable events.

By Amanda Hughes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Beneath a Blazing Sky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The dawning of the Twentieth Century, and it is a world in chaos. Raised on Coney Island among scoundrels, cheats, and dreamers, Piper Albrecht is apprenticed to violence at an early age. Not until she is rescued by her aunt and moves to the elegant Upper East Side of Manhattan does she experience a different life, the life of a well-educated, forward-thinking young woman. But the roller coaster ride is far from over. After building the most fashionable millinery house in America, Piper spearheads relief efforts in Belgium during The Great War, bringing food to civilians trapped behind enemy lines.…


Book cover of Sodom By the Sea an Affectionate History of Coney Island

Dawn Raffel Author Of The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies

From my list on historic Coney Island.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m the author of five books, the most recent of which is The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies. The “doctor” ran infant incubator sideshows for forty years at Coney Island (among other places) where the public would pay to view tiny preemies. Bizarre as it seems, and despite Martin Couney’s many fabrications, he was the rightful father of American neonatology, not only getting rich but also saving thousands of children when the medical establishment couldn’t or wouldn’t do it: Some of his patients are still alive. During my years of research, I needed to immerse myself in the history and culture of America’s trippiest, naughtiest seaside playground, with its amusement parks, freak shows, sideshows, hijinks, and hanky panky. (Sigmund Freud reportedly said that Coney Island was the only thing of interest to him in America). Along with many trips to Coney Island as it is today, including the Coney Island Museum, these were the books that really helped me feel it. 

Dawn's book list on historic Coney Island

Dawn Raffel Why did Dawn love this book?

Known as “the people’s playground,” Coney Island was also affectionately dubbed “sodom by the sea.” This thick volume, published in 1941, offers a history going all the way back to 1830, affording a sweeping view of Coney Island’s risque, criminal, glamorous, delightful, glittering, and sometimes seedy past. It includes a splendid few pages about my subject, Dr. Couney, which were no doubt approved by the self-inventing showman himself—co-author Ranson was among his favorite newspaper reporters. 

By Oliver Pilat, Jo Ranson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sodom By the Sea an Affectionate History of Coney Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sodom by the sea;: An affectionate history of Coney Island [Jan 01, 1943] Pilat, Oliver


Book cover of Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008

Dawn Raffel Author Of The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies

From my list on historic Coney Island.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m the author of five books, the most recent of which is The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies. The “doctor” ran infant incubator sideshows for forty years at Coney Island (among other places) where the public would pay to view tiny preemies. Bizarre as it seems, and despite Martin Couney’s many fabrications, he was the rightful father of American neonatology, not only getting rich but also saving thousands of children when the medical establishment couldn’t or wouldn’t do it: Some of his patients are still alive. During my years of research, I needed to immerse myself in the history and culture of America’s trippiest, naughtiest seaside playground, with its amusement parks, freak shows, sideshows, hijinks, and hanky panky. (Sigmund Freud reportedly said that Coney Island was the only thing of interest to him in America). Along with many trips to Coney Island as it is today, including the Coney Island Museum, these were the books that really helped me feel it. 

Dawn's book list on historic Coney Island

Dawn Raffel Why did Dawn love this book?

Created in conjunction with a 2015 exhibition, this volume is a visual feast -- a tribute to the way Coney Island inspired artists and endures as part of the public imagination. Paintings, drawings, posters, artifacts, and photographs spanning 1861-2008 fill its pages; artists include Diane Arbus, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Red Grooms, and many others. Accompanying essays explore the seaside resort’s cultural significance.

By Robin Jaffee Frank,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A captivating look at Coney Island and its iconic place in the history of American art

Called "America's playground," Coney Island is a world-famous resort and national cultural symbol that has inspired music, literature, and films. This groundbreaking book is the first to look at the site's enduring status as inspiration for artists throughout the ages, from its inception as an elite seaside resort in the mid-19th century, to its evolution into an entertainment mecca for the masses, with the eventual closing of its iconic amusement park, Astroland, in 2008 after decades of urban decline. How artists chose to portray…


Book cover of The Electric Michelangelo

Stephen Gallagher Author Of The Bedlam Detective

From my list on reality charged with energy of the dark fantastic.

Why am I passionate about this?

They say that we begin by imitating what we love and find our personal themes in the process, and that’s certainly been true for me. I grew up reading horror and fantasy and now I write realistic fiction with something deeper and darker always throbbing under the surface. My subjects can be contemporary, like Nightmare, with Angel or The Spirit Box, but I’ve had some of my biggest critical successes with historical fiction. I’ve had parallel career paths in books and TV, each often crossing with the other, but it’s in the novels and short stories that you’ll find me uniquely invested.

Stephen's book list on reality charged with energy of the dark fantastic

Stephen Gallagher Why did Stephen love this book?

Sarah Hall is a phenomenal writer and this is the novel that got me hooked. The Electric Michaelangelo of the title is tattoo artist Cy Parks, a man whose heart, art, and the love of his life are all inextricably entangled. The narrative charts his journey from a Morecambe childhood to a tattoo booth on Coney Island and back again, and it’s another take on the kind of Sideshow Gothic that I love. Hall writes accessible award-worthy novels in prose that’s stripped of any pretentiousness. After reading this and then her debut novel Haweswater I just order whatever she publishes, sight unseen.

By Sarah Hall,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On the windswept front of Morecambe Bay, Cy Parks spends his childhood years first in a guest house for consumptives run by his mother and then as apprentice to alcoholic tattoo-artist Eliot Riley. Thirsty for new experiences, he departs for America and finds himself in the riotous world of the Coney Island boardwalk, where he sets up his own business as 'The Electric Michelangelo'. In this carnival environment of roller-coasters and freak-shows, Cy becomes enamoured with Grace, a mysterious immigrant and circus performer who commissions him to cover her entire body in tattooed eyes.

Hugely atmospheric, exotic and familiar, The…


Book cover of The Light of Luna Park

Connie Hertzberg Mayo Author Of The Sharp Edge of Mercy

From my list on historical fiction with rockstar nurses.

Why am I passionate about this?

My mother went back to school for her PhD in Anatomy when I was a pre-teen. During the summers of my high school years I worked with her in her lab, and let me tell you, you see your mother in a new light when you see her dissect a rat. Though I didn’t go into medicine, anyone raised in our household learned an impressive amount of biology just sitting around the dinner table. Consequently, I’ve always loved fiction with a medical bent. My mother was also the one to introduce me to historical fiction, so perhaps I was fated to write a historical novel with a nurse protagonist.

Connie's book list on historical fiction with rockstar nurses

Connie Hertzberg Mayo Why did Connie love this book?

A dual-time story written by a Vanderbilt undergraduate (!), this is the story of a nurse at the Coney Island incubator “exhibit” where premature babies were brought because hospitals did not want to invest in this new technology (yes, this really happened). In 1926, Nurse Anderson takes a failing baby there with intentions of returning it to the parents, and a special education teacher in the 1950s has a connection to that fateful decision. Another fascinating piece of history that is not well known.

By Addison Armstrong,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Light of Luna Park as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the spirit of The Orphan Train and Before We Were Yours, a historical debut about a nurse who chooses to save a baby's life, and risks her own in the process, exploring the ties of motherhood and the little-known history of Coney Island and America's first incubators.

A nurse's choice. A daughter's search for answers.

New York City, 1926. Nurse Althea Anderson's heart is near breaking when she witnesses another premature baby die at Bellevue Hospital. So when she reads an article detailing the amazing survival rates of babies treated in incubators in an exhibit at Luna Park, Coney…


Book cover of The Next Girl

Carla Louise Robinson Author Of You Know You Want It: Caitlin drank. And flirted. And kissed him. And went back to his place. What did she expect? Popcorn and pillowfights?

From Carla's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Teacher Historian Animal lover Bibliophile Dog lover

Carla's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Carla Louise Robinson Why did Carla love this book?

I loved The Next Girl because I resonated with the main character, Billie, so much.

All of Pip Drysdale’s books are fast-paced, making her novels difficult to put down at the best of times, but reading Billie’s inner monologue and understanding her motivations, all I could think is, "Oh, gosh, I would probably do this, and this would be how I die."

I could understand her determination to protect another woman from danger; and in a sense, it helped me heal a little from my own past. 

Not only did I identify with Billie, but I was so obsessed with this book that I finished it in a day – I even read it while having a long bath! Some books just can’t be put down, and this is one of them.

By Pip Drysdale,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For fans of The Perfect Girlfriend, The Flight Attendant, and Promising Young Woman, a compulsively readable suspense novel about a woman who will stop at nothing to expose the dark secrets of a powerful man—with shocking results.

A bad day at work. A drunken night. A rogue Instagram follow. That’s all it takes to ruin a life...but whose life will be ruined?

When Billie wakes up in a strange guy’s bed, her first thought is: What happened last night? She can’t even remember meeting him. And how the hell did she get to Coney Island?

Then reality bites and the…


Book cover of Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century

Nancy C. Unger Author Of Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer

From my list on the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.

Why am I passionate about this?

I study the Gilded Age and Progressive Era because it has so many practical applications for the present.  As we face our own Gilded Age of enormous technological achievements paired with ongoing problems stemming from what Bob La Follette called “the encroachment of the powerful few upon the rights of the many,” why reinvent the wheel?  What worked for progressive reformers in their struggles to create a more equitable and just society?  What didn’t work, and why? To help answer those questions I wrote Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer and Belle La Follette: Progressive Era Reformer, and co-edited A Companion to the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.

Nancy's book list on the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

Nancy C. Unger Why did Nancy love this book?

This short book, filled with delightful illustrations, is so much fun that you don’t immediately notice that it’s a powerful history of how urbanization and industrialization led to a new mass culture. The particular focus is on the rise of the amusement park, and the controversies that arose over how people “should” spend their leisure time and discretionary income. When the Russian revolutionary Maxim Gory toured Coney Island in 1907, he concluded that in America, amusement (rather than religion) had become the opiate of the masses. This book, a classic, remains relevant, inspiring thoughtful analysis concerning the ongoing power of the leisure industry and its impact on how people think, live, and spend their money. 

By John F. Kasson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Amusing the Million as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Coney Island: the name still resonates with a sense of racy Brooklyn excitement, the echo of beach-front popular entertainment before World War I. Amusing the Million examines the historical context in which Coney Island made its reputation as an amusement park and shows how America's changing social and economic conditions formed the basis of a new mass culture. Exploring it afresh in this way, John Kasson shows Coney Island no longer as the object of nostalgia but as a harbinger of modernity--and the many photographs, lithographs, engravings, and other reproductions with which he amplifies his text support this lively thesis.


Book cover of Requiem for a Dream

Craig McGuire Author Of Carmine and the 13th Avenue Boys: Surviving Brooklyn's Colombo Mob

From my list on diving deep into the dark side of Brooklyn.

Why am I passionate about this?

It’s no wonder South Brooklyn, in the latter half of the last century, is the setting for so many remarkable dramas for both page and screen. In fact, when legendary former NYPD Detective Thomas Dades offered to make introductions to a Colombo Crime Family associate who cooperated with the federal government, I leapt at the opportunity. I was born in Greenpoint in 1971 and grew up on 16th Avenue in the heart of Bensonhurst. It’s not just South Brooklyn’s raw, urban chaotic physical setting, but the sheer volatility of this period in time, where so many transformational trends of the larger culture were evident, and some even epi-centered.

Craig's book list on diving deep into the dark side of Brooklyn

Craig McGuire Why did Craig love this book?

Hubert Selby Jr. delivers another dark indictment of life along the outer shores of South Brooklyn, in the form of both this 1978 novel and the grim 2000 film Darren Aronofsky film adaptation (co-written with Selby, with a cameo as prison guard).

The characters of this disturbing drama are as marginalized as the bleak 1970s backdrop they infect. Selby’s prose holds us by the back of the neck as his characters descend down awful spirals of addiction: Sara Goldfarb with her diet pills, and her son Harry, his girlfriend Marion, and his best friend Tyrone, all heroin addicts. Electroconvulsive therapy, reluctant prostitution, and amputation abound, harrowing hallmarks you’d expect from Selby.

For this trip to Coney Island, think more Warriors, less Woody Allen, and buckle up. It’s going to be a spectacularly gruesome ride.

Locations of interest: Coney Island Clam Bar; Brighton Beach Boardwalk; Surf Avenue Second-hand Shops; 3152 Brighton…

By Hubert Selby Jr.,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Requiem for a Dream as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Harry Goldfarb, heroin addict and son of lonely widow Sara, cares only about enjoying the good life with girlfriend Marion and best friend Tyrone C Love, and making the most of all the hash, poppers and dope they can get. Sara Goldfarb sits at home with the TV, dreaming of the life she could have and struggling with her own addictions - food and diet pills. But these four will pay a terrible price for the pleasures they believe they are entitled to. A passionate, heart-breaking tale of the crushing weight of hope and expectation, Requiem for a Dream is…


Book cover of A Touch of Romance

Emily E K Murdoch Author Of A Governess of Great Talents

From my list on falling in love with every time you read them.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been falling in love with love since before I can remember, and it’s been a wild adventure that’s taken me across thousands of miles, one rather splendid husband, and over forty books published. After hitting the USA Today Bestsellers list, I’ve become a full time author and spend at least 12 hours a day falling in love as a job. Each time I read a book, I discover a new way to fall in love—and I adore being able to recommend my favourite authors to new readers, so that they can discover them with me. 

Emily's book list on falling in love with every time you read them

Emily E K Murdoch Why did Emily love this book?

Love is love, so I always adore recommending historical romances that are queer positive. This series by Merry Farmer of four books (to date) are set in 1920s New York and have the most glorious M/M romances that you have ever read. If you’ve never read a gay romance before, trust me: you’re going to fall in love. 

By Merry Farmer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

He crossed the ocean to escape from love…

Journalist Marcus Albright did not run away from his London home when he accepted an assignment in New York City. His interest in writing a series of articles about the popular club scene of The Bowery has nothing to do with the disastrous end of a long-term relationship, or his desire to stay as far away from love and commitment that he possibly can. His only concern is enjoying the vibrancy and color that The Slippery Slope is famous for.

…but love has other plans…

Jasper Werther loves his wild, flamboyant life,…


Book cover of Good Old Coney Island: A Sentimental Journey Into the Past

Dawn Raffel Author Of The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies

From my list on historic Coney Island.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m the author of five books, the most recent of which is The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies. The “doctor” ran infant incubator sideshows for forty years at Coney Island (among other places) where the public would pay to view tiny preemies. Bizarre as it seems, and despite Martin Couney’s many fabrications, he was the rightful father of American neonatology, not only getting rich but also saving thousands of children when the medical establishment couldn’t or wouldn’t do it: Some of his patients are still alive. During my years of research, I needed to immerse myself in the history and culture of America’s trippiest, naughtiest seaside playground, with its amusement parks, freak shows, sideshows, hijinks, and hanky panky. (Sigmund Freud reportedly said that Coney Island was the only thing of interest to him in America). Along with many trips to Coney Island as it is today, including the Coney Island Museum, these were the books that really helped me feel it. 

Dawn's book list on historic Coney Island

Dawn Raffel Why did Dawn love this book?

First published in 1957 (and re-issued with a welcome epilogue by historian Michael P. Onorato), the book vividly portrays the storied seaside’s heyday. McCullough was Coney Island royalty: His grandfather was one of its earliest settlers, his uncle was among its greatest showmen, and his dad owned a dozen amusement-park shooting galleries. The family’s love of the place seeps through these pages (a sub-sub title reads “the most rambunctious, scandalous, rapscallion, splendiferous, pugnacious, spectacular, illustrious, prodigious, frolicsome island on earth”—which about sums it up).  Particularly moving is the heartbreaking fate of the show animals on the night of a tragic fire in 1911.

By Edo McCullough,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Good Old Coney Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Coney Island is more than a national institution: it was probably the most celebrated amusement resort in the world. This book, by a man whose family helped to build the Island's fantastic reputation, presents its lively and nostalgic history. Touched with sentiment, occasionally with acid, it is frank, outspoken, sometimes biting, but always imbued with humor.
This new edition of McCullough's book includes an introduction by Brian J. Cudahy, who has written extensively about New York's waterways and subways, and an epilogue by Michael P. Onorato, a retired history professor whose father managed Coney Island's famed Steeplechase Park from 1928…