The best books about neighbourhoods

19 authors have picked their favorite books about neighbourhoods and why they recommend each book.

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Divergent Social Worlds

By Ruth D. Peterson, Lauren J. Krivo,

Book cover of Divergent Social Worlds: Neighborhood Crime and the Racial-Spatial Divide

Peterson and Krivo meticulously demonstrate how residential segregation creates and maintains inequality in neighborhood crime rates using data from their groundbreaking National Neighborhood Crime Study. Using a nationally representative sample, the authors provide a more comprehensive picture of the social conditions underlying neighborhood crime and violence than has ever before been drawn.

Who am I?

My mother was the child of immigrants from Finland with grade-school educations who grew up in a small Alaskan town with no roads in or out. She came down to the “lower 48” during the Second World War to work her way through the University of Washington, where she met my father. He was a multigenerational American with two college-educated parents. His mother graduated from Whitman College in 1919 and looked down on my mother as a child of poorly educated immigrants. She was also openly hostile toward Catholics, Blacks, and Jews and probably didn’t think much of Finns either. Witnessing my grandmother’s disdain for minorities and the poor including my mother, I learned about racism and class prejudice firsthand. But I am my mother’s son, and I resented my grandmother’s self-satisfied posturing. Therefore I’ve always been on the side of the underdog and made it my business to learn all that I could about how inequalities are produced and perpetuated in the United States, and to do all I can to make the world a fairer, more egalitarian place.

I wrote...

American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass

By Douglas S. Massey, Nancy A. Denton,

Book cover of American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass

What is my book about?

American Apartheid describes how Black residential segregation was created during the first seven decades of the 20th century by powerful white actors in the public and private sectors, who collectively worked to isolate black in-migrants within ghettos for purposes of exclusion and exploitation. As a result, high levels of segregation prevailed throughout metropolitan America as of 1980.

Public policies enacted during the 1930s institutionalized the discriminatory of realtors and lenders, ensuring that Blacks were confined to recognized Black neighborhoods and that these were cut off from capital and credit to guarantee their decline. As Black poverty rates increased during the 1970s and 1980s, segregation served to concentrate deprivation spatially to create a supremely disadvantaged context that acted to perpetuate black poverty over the life course and across the generations, giving rise to what in the 1980s was known as the “urban underclass.”

Neighborhood Tokyo

By Theodore C. Bestor,

Book cover of Neighborhood Tokyo

Theodore Bestor carries the neighborhood theme forward into the boom years of the 1980s.  Based on ethnographic fieldwork between 1979 and 1981, Bestor pulls apart the deep web of social, economic, and political relationships which hold neighborhoods and communities together despite being submerged in the enormity of Tokyo.  He uncovers actors, institutions, and customs which facilitated modernization while sustaining a veneer of tradition.  At it core, Bestor’s neighborhood revealed a social and cultural inventiveness that enabled its communities to engage with and benefit from unprecedented social change.

Who am I?

I am a comparative urban specialist who came to Japanese urban history through my aspiration to place Russian urban studies within a comparative context.  Several Japanese and Western Japan specialists encouraged me to advance this exploration by examining capitalist industrial urbanization in Japan.  Historians and political scientists -- particularly at Kyoto National University -- provided a platform for me to expand my engagement with Japanese urbanization; relations which have continued for some three decades.  More recently, I included Kabuki in The Muse of Urban Delirium, a collection of essays that seeks answers to the challenges of urban diversity, conflict, and creativity using various performing arts – opera, dance, theater, music – as windows onto urban life.

I wrote...

Second Metropolis: Pragmatic Pluralism in Gilded Age Chicago, Silver Age Moscow, and Meiji Osaka

By Blair A. Ruble,

Book cover of Second Metropolis: Pragmatic Pluralism in Gilded Age Chicago, Silver Age Moscow, and Meiji Osaka

What is my book about?

Second Metropolis compares North America's, Russia's, and Japan's "second cities"--Chicago, Moscow, and Osaka—at the height of their capitalist industrial expansion between 1870 and 1920.  The book discloses the extent to which social fragmentation, frequently viewed as an obstacle to democratic development, fostered a "pragmatic pluralism" that nurtured pluralistic public policies. Such policies are explored through six case studies that illustrate how even those with massive political and economic power were stymied by the complexity of their communities. These three cities, though the products of very different nations and cultures, shared an important experience of inclusive politics during an era of extraordinary growth and social diversity.

My Papi Has a Motorcycle

By Isabel Quintero, Zeke Peña (illustrator),

Book cover of My Papi Has a Motorcycle

My Papi Has a Motorcycle is a unique look at not just a father-daughter relationship, but at how they connect with their whole community. My own dad had a motorcycle, and from waiting for him to get home from work, to slipping that big helmet on, to holding onto him tightly as we flew down the streets, I connected with this story and the bond between father and daughter. A special outing with Dad, or Papi, is always a treat, and this book brings that to life.

Who am I?

As a picture book author and mom, I am constantly inspired by the world around me. I love watching my children, and I love how they adore their dad and he adores them in return. So many of my stories have been inspired by their interactions. While I am no expert on fatherhood, I have been fortunate to have had a loving dad who played “Monster in the Middle,” who took us for rides on his motorcycle, and reminded us that we could accomplish anything we put our mind to. I love books that remind us of the power of a loving father-child relationship and hope you, too, will be lifted by these joyful stories.

I wrote...

Help Wanted, Must Love Books

By Janet Sumner Johnson, Courtney Dawson (illustrator),

Book cover of Help Wanted, Must Love Books

What is my book about?

Shailey loves bedtime, especially reading with her dad. But her dad starts a new job, and it gets in the way of their bedtime routine. So Shailey takes action! She fires her dad, posts a Help Wanted sign, and starts interviews immediately. She is thrilled when her favorite characters from fairytales line up to apply. But Sleeping Beauty can't stay awake, the Gingerbread Man steals her book, and Snow White brings along her whole team.

Shailey is running out of options. Is bedtime ruined forever?

My Beijing

By Nie Jun,

Book cover of My Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder

This utterly charming collection of short stories by acclaimed cartoonist Nie Jun offers an insider’s glimpse into the alleys (hutong) of a Beijing neighborhood. Originally written for a Chinese audience, the book portrays a community that is quintessentially “old Beijing” and will be sweetly recognizable to anyone fortunate enough to have lived there in decades past: we see not only famous landmarks peeping out from behind the curved tile roofs of the classic courtyard-house (siheyuan) architecture, but also the green pillar mailboxes, low wooden courtyard chairs, bicycle repair stands, outdoor water spigots and washbasins, colorfully dressed old ladies dancing in the public square, and other authentic details that a book written for an international audience might not think to include.

The stories revolve around a young girl with an almost mystical connection to her quirky grandfather and are full of the kind of “everyday wonder” that…

Who am I?

I'm a historian of modern China who specializes in the history of science. My professional life revolves around teaching history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and writing academic books and articles—but my not-so-secret dream has always been to write for children. For the past decade, I've been a regular visitor to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Encouraged by a chance meeting with a publisher’s representative attending an event at the Carle, I decided to distill my academic book, Red Revolution, Green Revolution: Scientific Farming in Socialist China, into a children’s story. I’m proud that my fans now include elementary-school students…and at least one professional historian has admitted he read the kids’ version first! 

I wrote...

Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean: Remembering Chinese Scientist Pu Zhelong's Work for Sustainable Farming

By Sigrid Schmalzer, Melanie Linden Chan (illustrator),

Book cover of Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean: Remembering Chinese Scientist Pu Zhelong's Work for Sustainable Farming

What is my book about?

Moth and Wasp tells the story of a real Chinese scientist, Pu Zhelong, through the eyes of a fictional village boy—a composite character I created from people I interviewed who grew up in China during the Mao era (1949-1976). Melanie Chan’s illustrations bring the narrator’s memories to life while incorporating traditional Chinese folk art and elements of the Chinese written language.

Pu Zhelong was an insect scientist committed to serving the people by finding environmentally friendly and affordable ways to control agricultural pests. He personified the best of Maoist science, summed up in the phrase “bringing together soil and ocean”—that is, combining Chinese knowledge rooted in the countryside and Western scientific learning from overseas. In Moth and Wasp, the villagers are initially skeptical of Professor Pu’s proposal to breed and release parasitic wasps, natural enemies of the moths that destroy the rice plants. But the city-born scientist wins them over with his willingness to get his hands and feet dirty for the sake of protecting the crops. 

Barrio America

By A.K. Sandoval-Strausz,

Book cover of Barrio America: How Latino Immigrants Saved the American City

Sandoval-Strausz examines Latino neighborhoods in Chicago and Dallas to explain “How Latino Immigrants Saved the American City.” Along the way, he illuminates federal policies and private industries that together damaged cities. These include U.S. immigration policies that combined with economic conditions in Mexico and Central America to spur Latino immigration while creating obstacles to legal settlement within the U.SExplaining everything from international labor flows to urban architectural styles to the politics of gentrification, Barrio America is also an implicit account of how Latinos became “white.” Also recommended is anything by Arlene Davila, whose specialty is understanding the implications of neoliberalism on Latino communities.

Who am I?

I never read much urban history until I wrote one. For me, the problem was that most urban histories felt repetitive – they presented the same story over and over, just set in different locations. This was because most narrated the results of deeper, structural shifts (in spheres such as federal strategies of home finance, technological developments, demographic shifts, the rise or decline of manufacturing, political realignments, etc.) without sufficiently illuminating the causes. Regardless of whether they focus on Las Vegas or Philadelphia or Chicago or Dallas, each of these books – which I am presenting in order of publication date, not quality, as they are all excellent – will leave you smarter about the forces that shape our cities.  

I wrote...

Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America

By Beryl Satter,

Book cover of Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America

What is my book about?

In this powerful book, Beryl Satter identifies the true causes of the city's black slums and the ruin of urban neighborhoods throughout the country: not, as some have argued, black pathology, the culture of poverty, or white flight, but a widespread and institutionalized system of legal and financial exploitation.

In Satter's riveting account of a city in crisis, unscrupulous lawyers, slumlords, and speculators are pitched against religious reformers, community organizers, and an impassioned attorney who launched a crusade against the profiteers―the author's father, Mark J. Satter. Satter shows the interlocking forces at work in their oppression: the discriminatory practices of the banking industry; the federal policies that created the country's shameful "dual housing market"; the economic anxieties that fueled white violence; and the tempting profits to be made by preying on the city's most vulnerable population.

A Good Night Walk

By Elisha Cooper,

Book cover of A Good Night Walk

A good goodnight book slows things down, quiets down the room and the people in it. This book does just that. When nap-time and bedtime were frequent and important in our home we really loved this book. You go for a walk and when you are back home you are ready for bed. Decrescendo. 

Who am I?

I write and illustrate picture books. Before I was a father I just thought of the picture book as my chosen art form. When I became a dad, I saw first-hand how important picture books are in the lives of young children and the people who read to them. They become family friends. For the youngest kids, bedtime and nap-time are rituals performed many times a day, which means those books get read over and over. In doing so, I found some favorites that I still enjoy reading today, even if I am reading to myself!   

I wrote...

Wild Honey from the Moon

By Kenneth Kraegel,

Book cover of Wild Honey from the Moon

What is my book about?

On a cold winter's eve, deep in the woods, a mother shrew frets about her sick young son. His head is hot and his feet are cold, and there is only one known cure: wild honey from the moon. Mother Shrew does not stop to wonder how she will make such an impossible journey. Instead, she grabs her umbrella, gives her darling son a final kiss, and sets out.

Along the way, Mother Shrew encounters one obstacle after another, from a malevolent owl to a herd of restless wild horses to an island humming with angry bees. But she is a mother on a mission and she shall not be deterred.

A Man Called Ove

By Fredrik Backman,

Book cover of A Man Called Ove

I love how this touching novel blends humor with poignancy as we experience the power of community and intergenerational relationships to lure cantankerous Ove away from his desire to harm himself. As a recent widower and a stickler for routine and order, Ove’s new young neighbors interrupt all his plans and routines to change the course of his lonely life with their chatty friendliness and inability to be dissuaded by his standoffishness. Through the author’s sympathetic rendering, Ove appears with all the complexities of a person who has been battered by life and fallen into loneliness. His story is a cautionary tale for us all.

Who am I?

Because of the presence of my four beloved grandparents throughout my growing up years, (all four of my grandparents even attended my wedding), I’ve always enjoyed relationships with older people. My comfort with older people translates into my friendships where many of the women in my life are quite a bit older than me. These intergenerational relationships offer wisdom and experience that informs my own life. I hold an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and have written one novel for adults and one for middle-grade readers. My past jobs include being a television engineer, an adjunct professor, and a publishing professional.

I wrote...

The Forgotten Life of Eva Gordon

By Linda MacKillop,

Book cover of The Forgotten Life of Eva Gordon

What is my book about?

Eva wants to run away from her life—if only she could remember how. Failing memory has forced Eva Gordon to move in with her granddaughter, Breezy, but Eva hates the bustle of Boston. She just wants to move back to quiet Cape Cod and be left alone. Then Breezy announces she's getting married, and they'll be moving to her new husband's rundown family farm, where he lives with an elderly uncle. 

It's all too much for Eva, but as her desire for privacy collides with her worsening memory, Eva finds herself in a poignant, hilarious, and intergenerational rescue effort to save her from herself. Can an unlikely cast of misfit characters step in to woo Eva from self-imposed isolation?

The Husbands

By Chandler Baker,

Book cover of The Husbands

A woman moves to a new neighborhood where all the wives are high-powered, and their husbands are… suspiciously helpful. How come none of them seem to mind doing all the chores?? And how much will our heroine — whose own husband isn’t pulling his weight — be willing to give up to join her successful neighbors? Baker’s novel is full of Stepford Wives-esque fun.

Who am I?

During the loneliness of the pandemic, I dreamed of group settings. Stuck in my apartment, I longed to lose myself in a community of people, or maybe to find myself in them. We’re all searching for that place where we belong, aren’t we? (Unless you’ve already found it, in which case: congratulations, and I’m jealous of you.) But when does a group that promises you belonging become something more sinister? I’m fascinated by groups that turn a bit (or a lot) cult-y — both in writing about them and reading about them.

I wrote...

A Special Place for Women

By Laura Hankin,

Book cover of A Special Place for Women

What is my book about?

A Special Place for Women is about Jillian, an undercover journalist who infiltrates a secret club for the tastemaker girlbosses of NYC. The members are rumored to be the Hot Female Illuminati, but their power and influence extend far beyond what Jillian imagined. As she’s sucked into their glamorous world and uncovers their shocking secrets, she’ll have to decide whether to expose them… or to join them. 

Not That I Could Tell

By Jessica Strawser,

Book cover of Not That I Could Tell

I once lived in a close-knit neighborhood similar to the one in which this novel is set, and I was entranced by the interplay between the variety of characters in this tale of domestic suspense. The story isn’t so much about the woman who disappears one night as it is about the perplexed bunch of girlfriends who are left behind. I relished the voyeuristic peek into the hidden dramas of the various neighbors’ personal and family lives—it made me feel like I was riding a silent drone through the ’burbs, swooping unseen through kitchens, bedrooms, and backyards, uncovering people’s secrets!

Who am I?

I was raised in a loving but strict Catholic family in the 1970s, when girls like me were still expected to grow up to become traditional wives and mothers, rather than go to college and pursue a career. In a Pre-Cana class intended to prepare me and my fiancé for marriage (it didn’t work so well, as evidenced by our rancorous divorce twelve years later), I learned the concept of “family of origin,” and the profound impact a person’s upbringing has on them as an adult. I became fascinated by the psychic baggage each of us carries around, and how it affects our personal relationships and life choices.

I wrote...


By Regina Buttner,

Book cover of Absolution

What is my book about?

When small-town Jeanie goes off to college, a predatory professor takes advantage of her naivete by drugging and date-raping her. Believing she was to blame for the assault, Jeanie conceals the resulting pregnancy from her old-school Catholic parents. She drops out of college, moves away, and marries the first nice guy she meets, in the desperate hope that devoting herself to marriage and motherhood will somehow absolve her from her sins.

But evidence of Jeanie’s previous pregnancy eventually surfaces, and her new husband’s pristine image of her is blown. As Greg’s shock deepens into violence and emotional abuse, Jeanie realizes she must finally confront the trauma in her past in order to save herself from a marriage that threatens to destroy her.

Around Our Way on Neighbors' Day

By Tameka Fryer Brown, Charlotte Riley-Webb (illustrator),

Book cover of Around Our Way on Neighbors' Day

You can’t read this book and not smile! This fun, rhythmic read by the lyrical Tameka Fryer Brown celebrates the bonds of a diverse urban community on Neighbors’ Day, and reminds us of the big and small ways neighbors show up for each other. Charlotte Riley-Webb‘s paintings swirl with energy to give a new dimension to Brown’s words.   

Who am I?

I write to spread joy and truth. As a proud Black mother living in a country with school districts that see Black stories as threats worth banning, amplifying these stories is crucial to the fight to help humanize us and retain the privilege of celebration and joy. When I wrote The Juneteenth Story, it was rooted in a conscious effort to balance my own joyous summertime memories of celebrating the holiday with the hard truths that established and evolved this holiday. This list includes a small sample of books about some of the many ways Black folks celebrate - enjoy.

I wrote...

The Juneteenth Story: Celebrating the End of Slavery in the United States

By Alliah L. Agostini,

Book cover of The Juneteenth Story: Celebrating the End of Slavery in the United States

What is my book about?

On June 19, 1865—more than two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation— enslaved Texans finally learned they were free. That day became a day of remembrance and celebration that changed and grew from year to year. With colorful illustrations and a timeline, The Juneteenth Story is an introductory history of Juneteenth for kids that details the evolution of the holiday commemorating the date the enslaved people of Texas first learned of their freedom.

Learn about the events that led to emancipation and why it took so long for enslaved people in Texas to hear the news. Hear about the first Juneteenth celebrations, and how Juneteenth continued to grow, develop, and endure through the centuries to become an official holiday in the United States in 2021.

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