The best books about Leeds (United Kingdom)

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

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Book cover of City Lights: A Street Life

City Lights: A Street Life

By Keith Waterhouse,

Why this book?

Waterhouse was famous as a journalist, dramatist, and novelist. But this memoir of growing up in Leeds from the 1930s-50s brings the place and time completely alive. He didn’t have a privileged upbringing, by any means, and Waterhouse captures the day-to-day of poor areas and estates, and well as the magic of the city centre. The novel Billy Liar brought him fame, and while the location was unnamed, it was the Leeds he’d known, right down to the funeral home where he worked after leaving school. Waterhouse innately understood Leeds and its people, and they jump off the page –…

From the list:

The best books on Leeds as it was

Book cover of A Local Habitation (Life And Times, Volume 1: 1918-1940)

A Local Habitation (Life And Times, Volume 1: 1918-1940)

By Richard Hoggart,

Why this book?

Another memoir, but very different to Waterhouse. An academic, Hoggart had already drawn on his Leeds childhood for the seminal text, The Uses of Literacy. This expands on that, fleshing out the bones of the other work. It paints a broader picture of Leeds, overlapping a decade with City Lights. Hoggart has a prodigious memory, and while he can tend to paint the poor, working-class past with rosy colours sometimes, he certainly does evoke a time, seeing the events of the days through a child’s – and adolescent’s – eyes. He made good, going on to university, and…

From the list:

The best books on Leeds as it was

Book cover of To Prove I’m Not Forgot: Living And Dying In A Victorian City

To Prove I’m Not Forgot: Living And Dying In A Victorian City

By Sylvia M. Barnard,

Why this book?

This tells the story, not just of Beckett Street Cemetery, supposedly the oldest municipal cemetery in the UK, but more important of those buried there, both rich and poor (and there are plenty of both). It sits across the road from what was once Leeds Workhouse, and has its share of former inmates from there in unmarked graves. Poignantly, there’s are also many guinea graves, where several are buried on top of each other, names listed on a headstone, all for a guinea (just over a pound). In its tales, this becomes a 19th-century social history of Leeds – there’s…

From the list:

The best books on Leeds as it was

Book cover of Images of Leeds 1850-1960

Images of Leeds 1850-1960

By Peter Brears,

Why this book?

Another book of photos? Yes, because these, spanning 110 years, capture the changing face of Leeds. So many of the places in these images have gone, just like the faces caught by the camera. Most of the yards and courts, the ginnels that made up the fabric of old Leeds. If Riboud acutely observed the city in 1954, this book illustrates how it reached that point. One image, a view of part of Lower Briggate in the early 1860s, might easily have come from a century earlier, with the low, bowed, battered roofs of the buildings. Another, of slums about…

From the list:

The best books on Leeds as it was

Book cover of A Lasting Moment: Marc Riboud Photographs Leeds 1954 and 2004

A Lasting Moment: Marc Riboud Photographs Leeds 1954 and 2004

By Marc Riboud,

Why this book?

Riboud was already famous when he first arrived in Leeds to document the city in 1954. What his black and white images startlingly portray, though, is a place that could easily still be in the 19th century. He doesn’t go for the great and the good, but searches out ordinary people and children playing in the streets. It’s life among emotional and physical rubble, a contrast to the shiny, bright colours 50 years later (and now also a part of history as time speeds by). It’s searing, starkly beautiful, and the essay by Leeds-born playwright Caryl Phillips adds another…

From the list:

The best books on Leeds as it was

Book cover of There Was a Time: James Brown, the Chitlin' Circuit, and Me

There Was a Time: James Brown, the Chitlin' Circuit, and Me

By Alan Leeds,

Why this book?

Alan Leeds does a wonderful job presenting his eyewitness experiences as part of the James Brown entourage in the 1960s and beyond. The reader can’t wait to find out what happens next in the riveting story he presents of Soul Brother No. 1, the “hardest working man in show business.” It’s a fascinating tale, which presents Brown as an innovative musical force, determined artist, forceful businessman, and unpredictable personality. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the Chitlin’ Circuit when soul music was taking off as a dynamic new genre—as recalled by a young, Jewish kid from Queens who joined James Brown’s…

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