The best books about New York City

58 authors have picked their favorite books about New York City and why they recommend each book. Soon, you will be able to filter this list by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to discover books.

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Book cover of Life Is a Wheel: Memoirs of a Bike-Riding Obituarist

Life Is a Wheel: Memoirs of a Bike-Riding Obituarist

By Bruce Weber,

Why this book?

Weber was for many years the lead obituary writer for The New York Times, hence the somewhat odd subtitle of this wry chronicle of a bicycle journey from Oregon to New York City. Weber has a sardonic wit that may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

From the list:

The best books on bicycles and cycling

Book cover of Summer in Williamsburg

Summer in Williamsburg

By Daniel Fuchs,

Why this book?

An immersive, impressionistic snapshot of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as it was in the 1920s and early 1930s, when it was known not for hipsters, craft beer, and creative facial hair but as a Jewish slum rife with yentas and gangsters. Fuchs published this book in 1934 and swiftly followed it up with two more novels, Homage to Blenholt and Low Company. The books didn’t sell, but Fuchs catapulted himself out of the ghetto and into a respectable West Coast life as a Hollywood screenwriter. Only after Fuchs had all but stopped writing fiction did these early books receive a warm…

From the list:

The best books about coming of age in New York City

Book cover of Open City

Open City

By Teju Cole,

Why this book?

This is a novel about a man who wanders ruminatively around New York a couple of years after the 2008 financial crisis. One of the reasons it works, I think, is because everything we see about New York, every person we meet or interaction we overhear or street we observe, is through the eyes of the story’s narrator. Getting to know him means getting to know the city, and vice versa. He has a relationship with New York, which is charged and at times deceptive, which felt true, if nothing else.

From the list:

The best books on Post-9/11 New York City

Book cover of To Stand and Fight: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Postwar New York City

To Stand and Fight: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Postwar New York City

By Martha Biondi,

Why this book?

Biondi does not just examine the little-known history of police brutality against black New Yorkers. It is a history of how black New Yorkers, over decades, challenged abuse at the hands of “New York’s finest.” The black challenge to police brutality has been fierce, especially as New York City’s black communities grew. But the anti-police brutality campaign has also been extremely difficult.
From the list:

The best books on race and policing

Book cover of Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City

Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City

By Carla L. Peterson,

Why this book?

Part history, part memoir, part detective story, the capacious, impeccably researched Black Gotham depicts an author’s engagement with her own ancestry, as she traces her family’s achievements in nineteenth-century New York City. Starting with the name and a family story about one great-grandfather, Peterson weaves a vibrant tapestry that details the lives of a community of elite Black New Yorkers who attended schools, started businesses, generated national conventions, and lived cosmopolitan lives. In addition to chronicling the lives of these accomplished ancestors, Peterson offers a compelling meditation on the determination and creativity required to excavate the lives of Black…

From the list:

The best books about 19th-century Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class

Book cover of Stories of Freedom in Black New York

Stories of Freedom in Black New York

By Shane White,

Why this book?

This beautifully written history focuses on another nineteenth-century Black New Yorker who defies expectations and deserves our attention. Like Educated for Freedom and Black Gotham, White’s story places us in historical moments surrounding the 1827 law ending slavery in New York State. White puts us on the vibrant, noisy, streets of the city, inviting us to see both hope and defiance in how Black people dressed, how they walked down the street, and what they did at the theater. At the center of this history emerges James Hewlett, a man whose life is worthy of at least one feature…

From the list:

The best books about 19th-century Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class

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