36 books directly related to New Jersey 📚

All 36 New Jersey books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II

By Robert Kurson,

Book cover of Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II

Why this book?

Back before extreme sports were a thing, people found personal ways to test themselves. In this case, we have guys from New Jersey who did scuba diving to depths that were the edge of both human physiology and the technology of the time, while exploring sunken wrecks over 200 feet below the surface. For fun. Then they tripped over a lost Nazi submarine. Off the coast of New Jersey.  

It sounds like the worst kind of B-movie nonsense, but it’s true. Two of the men become driven to not only document the submarine’s provenance as an actual German vessel, but to identify it and contact the relatives of the perished soldiers. From wild-men who crawled inside sunken passenger liners for kicks, they became dedicated researchers determined to bring closure to those left behind, regardless of the risk to themselves.   


This is New Jersey from High Point to Cape May

By John T. Cunningham,

Book cover of This is New Jersey from High Point to Cape May

Why this book?

John Cunningham Was a journalist who became a historian -- and a great one. The World War II veteran and Newark Evening News columnist wrote innumerable books about his native state, and they were all great. Perhaps his most significant contribution to the state’s story was This is New Jersey, a classic which has remained in print since its initial publication in 1953.

Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey

By Henry Charlton Beck,

Book cover of Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey

Why this book?

Folklore is not history, nor is history folklore, but they often intersect. Henry Charlton Beck, a journalist who became an Episcopal priest and who wrote a series of New Jersey folklife classics, began his career with this volume, stories of abandoned iron forges, villages, and forgotten legends in the state’s iconic Pinelands. Rutgers University Press reprinted Beck’s books, beginning with this book in 1961.

New Jersey and the Rebellion: A History of the Services of the Troops and People of New Jersey in Aid of the Union Cause

By John Young Foster,

Book cover of New Jersey and the Rebellion: A History of the Services of the Troops and People of New Jersey in Aid of the Union Cause

Why this book?

There are a lot of legends regarding New Jersey and its role in the Civil War, including bogus stories that the state was considering joining the Confederacy. This book was the first attempt at relating the actual story of the state and the war. While it can be criticized in some respects, it is largely correct, and details the history of each of New Jersey’s units in the conflict. It is an invaluable starting point and a resource for anyone writing about the state and its role in the Civil War.

Encyclopedia of New Jersey

By Maxine N. Lurie (editor), Marc Mappen (editor),

Book cover of Encyclopedia of New Jersey

Why this book?

The ultimate New Jersey reference book. This publication is, without doubt, an essential title on the bookshelf of any New Jersey oriented author. With over 3,000 articles by experts in their fields of study, supplemented by illustrations and maps, it tells a comprehensive story of the state, including that it was the site of the first intercollegiate football game, and the first vote cast by an African American. If you have a question on New Jersey, you need this book, which has been cited as an outstanding reference work by the New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance.

The Big Book of the Dead

By Marion Winik,

Book cover of The Big Book of the Dead

Why this book?

The premise is simple but ingenious. Winik catalogs the lives and deaths of people she’s known throughout her life, some well, others hardly at all. Each entry is no longer than a page or two, and her writing is stark and unruffled, creating moments of dark humor. She never glorifies the departed, yet her emotion buzzes below the surface. And you immediately wonder how your own page or two might go.


16 Words: William Carlos Williams and the Red Wheelbarrow

By Lisa Rogers, Chuck Groenink (illustrator),

Book cover of 16 Words: William Carlos Williams and the Red Wheelbarrow

Why this book?

Every poem has a story about how it came to be, and readers will enjoy the story of “The Red Wheelbarrow,” one of William Carlos Williams’ most beloved poems. The text is engaging and fun, and the colorful illustrations highlight the story well. This a must-read for children and adults alike!


Girl Waits with Gun

By Amy Stewart,

Book cover of Girl Waits with Gun

Why this book?

Okay, this one is a stretch because it takes place during the years just prior to the Roaring Twenties. But it’s such a winner, I couldn’t resist including it. Stewart is a gifted writer and her research is impeccable. I was fascinated to learn that, unlike the fictional characters in the books mentioned above, the three Kopp sisters were very real. Constance Kopp was New Jersey’s first female deputy sheriff and her sisters led similarly unusual lives for their time. Her notes at the end where she explains her research are, for me, as entertaining as the story itself. So far the Kopp sisters have seven books, and I’m betting that the eighth will push the timeline into the 1920s. Do not miss this marvelously entertaining historical series! 


Glow

By Megan E. Bryant,

Book cover of Glow

Why this book?

When I decided I wanted to read more and write about the Radium Girls, this was the only novel I could find featuring them. It is an accessible, young adult novel with a dual timeline. A contemporary young woman discovers a painting at a thrift shop that reveals glow-in-the-dark elements. The story of a fictional early dial painter is told alongside the struggle of the main protagonist in today’s world.


Forever...

By Judy Blume,

Book cover of Forever...

Why this book?

Written in 1975, Forever is still going strong. The love story of 18-year-old Katherine and her boyfriend Michael and their first introduction to sex is real and intense. In the aftermath, separated by distance, Katherine struggles to come to terms with the fact that she is also attracted to Theo her tennis instructor, and that being her first physical partner does not necessarily make Michael her “forever.” A true mature coming-of-age romance.


The Season of You & Me

By Robin Constantine,

Book cover of The Season of You & Me

Why this book?

Set at the Jersey Shore, this book by fellow New Jersey native Robin Constantine, is my book’s soul sister (right down to the cover) and Robin is my kindred author spirit. We both write about our home state, rock bands, and first loves in a way that only Jersey girls can. By chance, I read this book while vacationing in Cape May, the town that formed the template for the backdrop of this wonderful love story, which made both experiences even more memorable. Needless to say, I was thrilled when Robin invited me to do a book signing with her in her hometown of Bayonne, New Jersey at an amazing indie bookstore called The Little Boho Bookshop.


The Reminders

By Val Emmich,

Book cover of The Reminders

Why this book?

I was honored to read an early draft of this novel by fellow human and Jerseyite, Val Emmich, and was immediately taken with the voice of Joan, a 10-year-old girl with a special condition that gives her the ability to remember everything, but is afraid of being forgotten. To remedy that, she wants to win a prestigious songwriting contest by writing a song that makes people both want to dance and cry (two of the strongest feelings in her opinion). So she strikes a deal with Gavin, an adult songwriter who she believes can help her make that happen. Jersey City is the primary setting for this novel, a city that along with its many other charms, offers spectacular views of the New York City skyline. 


Drag Queens and Beauty Queens: Contesting Femininity in the World's Playground

By Laurie Greene,

Book cover of Drag Queens and Beauty Queens: Contesting Femininity in the World's Playground

Why this book?

Drag pageantry owes a lot to Miss America, especially an Atlantic City pageant called Miss’d America. Greene documents the symbiotic relationship between the Atlantic City gayborhood that spawned this contest and the Miss America Pageant, where many gay locals worked as stylists, dancers, and on production crews behind the scenes. Launched in 1993, Miss’d America unified this community in response to the AIDS crisis and offered an alternative pageant for people who’d missed the real deal. Greene couches Miss’d America in the context of Atlantic City’s fascinating drag history going back to the turn of the century (because what better runway than the Atlantic City Boardwalk?), describing, for example, men who swanned along wearing “trick pants, pale purple hose, tan shoes with two-inch soles and lavender neckties” in 1925. 


On the Road

By Jack Kerouac,

Book cover of On the Road

Why this book?

On the Road by King of the Beats—Jack Kerouac—is where it all began for me. Looking for ways to escape the dreary inner-city council estate I grew up on, books such as, On the Road, served to both inspire me and satisfy the need for escapism in my life. I read this great book when I was fifteen, and saying that it changed my life is an understatement! Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise crisscrossing America on endless car journeys, with some of the best topographical writing you’ll ever read. These epic trips conjured up enticing images that encouraged me to firstly, travel, and secondly to then write about my own experiences on the road.


Blue Highways: A Journey into America

By William Least Heat-Moon,

Book cover of Blue Highways: A Journey into America

Why this book?

Considered a travel writing classic, this book derived from a series of major changes to William Least Heat-Moon. After separating from his wife and losing his job as an English professor, he decided to drive alone in 1978 along the back roads of America, the roadways that are usually marked in blue on maps. He met an array of characters that could fill a novel, from an evangelical hitchhiker to a rural Nevada call girl. And it was all true, unlike novelized classics such as Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.


Zeppelin Hindenburg: An Illustrated History of LZ-129

By Dan Grossman, Cheryl Ganz, Patrick Russell

Book cover of Zeppelin Hindenburg: An Illustrated History of LZ-129

Why this book?

A magnificently illustrated guide to the Hindenburg, written and compiled by three airship experts, this book is an amazing resource, not just for its selection of extremely rare photos but for the depth of knowledge that’s contained within. I would say that if you’re going to buy a single book specifically about the Hindenburg, I’d make it this one. It’ll tell you pretty much everything you need to impress people at parties while also introducing you to the Wide World of Zeppelin.


Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City

By Nelson Johnson,

Book cover of Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City

Why this book?

Most people were drawn to this work because of the HBO television series of the same name. While there was, to be kind, a great deal of exaggeration in the series, Johnson’s thorough research for the book provides an accurate and fascinating account of the history of Atlantic City and its legendary political boss Enoch “Nucky” Johnson.

Plum Lucky: A Stephanie Plum Between the Numbers Novel

By Janet Evanovich,

Book cover of Plum Lucky: A Stephanie Plum Between the Numbers Novel

Why this book?

Janet has a penchant for coming up with the craziest and most outrageous scenes with her characters who go around investigating strange cases as bounty hunters. This is a short and sweet holiday version based on the original Stephanie Plum series. Every book features explosions, mishaps, romantic hookups, and epic failures. She makes me laugh every time, and I don’t feel as bad about having an old car, small apartment, empty fridge, or lack of romance. Totally worth it.


The Chance to Fly

By Ali Stroker,

Book cover of The Chance to Fly

Why this book?

Another wonderful drama club romance! Thirteen-year-old Nat braves big moves for her passions, which include musical theater, friends, and one certain boy who happens to be one of my favorite literary love interests. Both authors are actors (Stoker the first actress to appear on Broadway in a wheelchair) and the authenticity of their experiences shines through on every page.


Open and Shut (The Andy Carpenter Series, 1)

By David Rosenfelt,

Book cover of Open and Shut (The Andy Carpenter Series, 1)

Why this book?

I love this series that features Andy Carpenter, a defense attorney, and his golden retriever Tara. I enjoy the realistic and procedural portions of the book concerning the legal case, this one involving Andy’s father from years ago. Andy’s dad was the District Attorney on Andy’s current death row appeals case, which creates an interesting conflict—the first of many in this exciting case. I think I’m drawn to it because of Andy’s connection to his dad. My dad and I bat around ideas when I’m writing my mysteries, since he’s been in law enforcement for decades. 

I also like the subplot of learning more about Andy, his history, and family, since it makes his character feel more realistic and the addition of his golden retriever makes it a must-read for me. 


One for the Money

By Janet Evanovich,

Book cover of One for the Money

Why this book?

Can any guide to the Best Humorous Murder Mysteries be complete without Janet Evanovich? If you are unfamiliar with her books, joyfully murderous mirth is coming straight at you by the barrelful, via 30 Stephanie Plum novels. Stephanie lives in an extraordinary neighborhood, where law enforcers, Mafia types, goodies, baddies, peeps-crazy-in-a-good-way, bonkers-in-a-bad-way, and all stops in between, are crammed cheek by jowl.

In the first book One for the Money out-of-work Stephanie becomes a Bounty Hunter. We meet her nutcase Nan and her crazy family,  and follow her as she learns her dangerous new job via laugh-out-loud captures! Too much cussing to be a true cozy, but Evanovich novels have all the best features of the cozy mystery. Having met Stephanie and her clan, likely you’ll keep coming back for more.


Eleven on Top

By Janet Evanovich,

Book cover of Eleven on Top

Why this book?

I love Janet Evanovich’s writing and the entire Stephanie Plum series, but this book is my favorite. I laugh-cried more than once (making family members back out of the room slowly, sure I’d finally lost my mind), ignored all other obligations as I read it in one sitting, and developed a real crush on a fictional character (Team Ranger). I love that Stephanie Plum is such an endearing and well-rounded character. She does some badass things, makes a lot of (often gross) mistakes, has a big heart, and gets to have an enviable love life all while figuring out how to be an independent woman who, however blundering, saves herself. It’s fun, sexy, and hilarious.


American Pastoral

By Philip Roth,

Book cover of American Pastoral

Why this book?

Sometimes the problems we face blow up with such force they become public, and the image we strived forthe one that says all is fine, we’re doing very well, thank youis shattered forever. That’s what happens to the Swedethe protagonist in American Pastoralwhen his precious, stuttering daughter Merry grows into an anti-Vietnam war zealot and dynamites a rural post office in their quiet New Jersey town. Roth’s prose is distinctive. The arguments between the Swede and his daughter will make you feel like you’re behind a curtain in their living room. When all is said and done, you’ll think about America and Americans, and about yourself, your family, and your beliefs. Some of it may be painful; all of it will be worthwhile.


Rainbow Minerals of Franklin/Sterling Hill, New Jersey: A Color Portfolio of Minerals from the Fluorescent Mineral Capitol of the World

By Robert W. Jones, David Grigsby (photographer),

Book cover of Rainbow Minerals of Franklin/Sterling Hill, New Jersey: A Color Portfolio of Minerals from the Fluorescent Mineral Capitol of the World

Why this book?

Rainbow Minerals is the best bargain for $6.95 by Bob Jones (printed by Tom Warren). It can be tougher to find, but is sometimes available on eBay. It has a small group of color photos.


Jernigan

By David Gates,

Book cover of Jernigan

Why this book?

Being lured into another world by a strong first-person voice turns a book into a wide-open door, and I love going through strange doors. This one opens onto a richly detailed middle-class mess who’s also an exceptional host, recently widowed alcoholic single-parent Peter Jernigan. He takes us on a ride through suburban New Jersey as passengers in his mind, narrating his life’s unravelling with brutal whimsy and humour. This was one of the most helpless relationships I’ve had with a character in a book. A privilege and a reminder of the balancing act we all face.


The Wishbones

By Tom Perrotta,

Book cover of The Wishbones

Why this book?

Everything about this book screams New Jersey. The setting, the voice, the colorful cast of characters surrounding the main character, Dave Raymond, a guitarist for a wedding band called The Wishbones with a serious case of arrested development. Musicians and those on the cusp of marrying one (like I was when I first read this novel) will fall in love with this book for all its humor and quirky charms. I’ve read and loved every one of Tom Perrotta’s novels and short story collections, but this is the book that inspired me to proudly embrace my inner Jersey girl when I finally decided to write my first novel.


Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

By Judy Blume,

Book cover of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

Why this book?

This groundbreaking book is the reason I wanted to write for teens long before the “young adult” genre existed. Judy Blume, who hails from Elizabeth, New Jersey, inspired me to become the kind of adult and author who never forgot what it was like to be a kid. I first read this coming-of-age story in fifth grade and from the very first sentence,12-year-old Margaret spoke to me. Her worries about growing up and experiencing the mental and physical changes foisted upon her by puberty were also my worries. Her hopes were my hopes. And it didn’t hurt that she lived in a New Jersey suburb, just like me. This book taught me about the intangible quality of voice in writing. All of us YA authors owe Judy Blume a huge debt for showing us the way and arguably inventing an entire genre.


Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale

By Holly Black,

Book cover of Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale

Why this book?

I’ll admit, I read this one a long time ago, but I remember it dragging me along into the wee hours of the morning and sparking my imagination. It was this series that filled my daydream reserve long before I knew how to put those dreams down onto paper. Holly Black was definitely one of those authors who inspired me to write. 


Travels with Charley in Search of America

By John Steinbeck,

Book cover of Travels with Charley in Search of America

Why this book?

My most formative moments in life came about when I was traveling. I have always had a passion for exploring new and fascinating places. My curiosity has not always worked to my benefit, as a stint in the Foreign Legion proved, but I still live my life with a wanderlust and a mild addiction to adventure. My passion for travel and adventure stemmed from my reading habits. The best travel books open the window to novel perspectives on life, people, and attitudes. Join me. 

To hear the voice of the real USA, to smell the grass and the trees, to see the colors and the light—these were John Steinbeck's goals as he set out, at the age of fifty-eight, to rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years. Along the way, he reflects on the American character, racial hostility, the particular form of American loneliness he finds almost everywhere, and the unexpected kindness of strangers.


Division Street: America

By Studs Terkel,

Book cover of Division Street: America

Why this book?

The oral historian and radioman Studs Turkel takes us around American without leaving his Chicago via Division Street America. Sparsely contextualized by his interstitial commentary, Turkel exercises his embracing interviewing skills to bring poignant stories of the non-celebrity class into sharp, relevant focus. This same type of unornamented approach earned a Nobel Prize in literature for Belarussian journalist Svetlana Alexievich and her Chernobyl.


Democracy in America

By Alexis de Tocqueville,

Book cover of Democracy in America

Why this book?

And no such list is complete without Alexis de Tocqueville's classic from the 19th century, Democracy in America. Weighing in just two pages short of Don Quixote's 937 (paperback both, the ECCO Grossman Quixote translation and the Penguin Gerald Bevan de Tocqueville edition), Tocqueville ponders a question most of us contemplate and plenty of us act on: "Why Americans are so restless in the midst of their prosperity..."


The Latin Deli: Telling the Lives of Barrio Women

By Judith Ortiz Cofer,

Book cover of The Latin Deli: Telling the Lives of Barrio Women

Why this book?

Nominated for a Pulitzer, Ortiz-Cofer’s book is an eclectic collection of poetry, creative nonfiction and fiction. She weaves these genres masterfully into a mosaic of diasporican life, especially from a woman’s perspective. Published in 1993, The Latin Deli breaks from the traditional, bleak picture of Puerto Rican urban life in the States. Growing up in Paterson, New Jersey, and then Georgia, Ortiz Cofer focuses on the more typical stories of growing up in a middle-class home and what she casts as the daily struggle “to consolidate my opposing cultural identities.” A subtextual element of the book is Ortiz Cofer’s developing identity as a Latina writer in a country that sees you as an “other.”  


Hardy/Friedland

By Greg Donahue,

Book cover of Hardy/Friedland

Why this book?

Greg Donahue uses a trove of archival audio to dive into how David Hardy, a Pulitzer-Prize-nominated reporter who was instrumental in integrating newsrooms, struck up an unlikely friendship with his most mysterious source, David Friedland—a lawyer, fraudster, and government witness whose pastimes include chess and hand-feeding sharks. After faking his own death in the Bahamas to avoid arrest, Friedland also became one of the FBI’s most-wanted fugitives. The dynamism of these two real-life characters kept drawing me in. As did the revealing, decades-old recordings and the author’s impressive framing of history.


Da Vinci's Cat

By Catherine Gilbert Murdock,

Book cover of Da Vinci's Cat

Why this book?

Da Vinci’s Cat is the right book for middle grade readers who like some magic and mystery along with their history. This book slips between present-day New Jersey, where Beatrice is having to spend the summer with her moms in boring suburbia instead of in Italy with her grandparents like she usually does, and 1511 Rome where Federico is held hostage in the Pope’s palace. It’s a wonderful melding of times and places. I really enjoyed the addition of the cat, Juno into the mix as well. Famous artists Michelangelo, Rafael, and Leonardo Da Vinci all make appearances in the book. A definite winner for the middle grade set.

Belzhar

By Meg Wolitzer,

Book cover of Belzhar

Why this book?

The intense, sometimes obsessive nature of teenage friendship is brought vividly to life when Jamaica (Jam) Gallahue is sent to a therapeutic boarding school because she is unable to get over the death of her boyfriend. Along with four other students, she’s assigned to a special English class that will only study the work of Sylvia Plath. They are expected to read, keep a journal, and “look out for one another.” The five quickly become close, meeting to talk about their traumatic experiences in a safe, imaginary space they call Belzhar. As their stories unfold, the book barrels toward an ending that is shocking, heartbreaking, and absolutely right on. If there’s such a thing as an emotional thriller, Belzhar fills the bill.


Moon Lake

By Joe R. Lansdale,

Book cover of Moon Lake

Why this book?

The action is set in the fictional east Texas town of New Long Lincoln, where Daniel Russell returns after a long absence. He was 13 when his father tried to kill them both by driving his car into Moon Lake. Now a drought has caused the lake to evaporate and the car’s been found, with the remains of Daniel’s father inside, as well as an extra body in the trunk. Daniel teams up with a childhood friend who’s become a police officer to untangle a web of old grudges and strange murders.

Drowned towns – ones that are deliberately submerged in order to build dams and reservoirs – fascinate me. There’s one in Sussex County, New Jersey, called Walpack. It was intended to be buried under a man-made lake in the nineteen-seventies, as part of a project to build a dam across the Delaware River. It was a cause célèbre in New Jersey when I was young. The dam was never built and Walpack became a near-ghost town. The fate of the original town of Long Lincoln, drowned to build a lake, is what piqued my interest in Moon Lake.