The most recommended books about Philadelphia

Who picked these books? Meet our 89 experts.

89 authors created a book list connected to Philadelphia, and here are their favorite Philadelphia books.
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Book cover of 2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas

Deena Lee Davis Author Of Class A Felony

From my list on that I couldn't put down.

Who am I?

When I was in third grade, I received a note from a boy that stated, “I like you. Terry.” I learned that just a few words were necessary to convey emotion and that every word in a story needs to have purpose. I earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Indiana University and remembered Terry’s note. These are my favorite books. They get to the point and take me on an adventure. I’ve studied them and written my debut novel in such fashion. In addition to my novel, I’ve published many non-fiction human interest stories, short prose, and poems. I credit any awards or recognition I have received to four words from Terry.  

Deena's book list on that I couldn't put down

Deena Lee Davis Why did Deena love this book?

Madeleine is a nine-year-old girl with big dreams to sing jazz at the Cat’s Pajamas, and she’ll let nothing stop her from attaining this goal. This book simply cannot be put down. As the time crept toward 2 A.M., the tension built. I laughed and I loved and rooted for Madeleine to make her debut.  

By Marie-Helene Bertino,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An enchanting novel about one day in the lives of three unforgettable characters as they search for love, music, and hope on the snow-covered streets of Philadelphia.
Madeleine Altimari is a smart-mouthed, rebellious nine-year-old who also happens to be an aspiring jazz singer. Still mourning the recent death of her mother, and caring for her grief-stricken father, she doesn’t realize that on the eve of Christmas Eve she is about to have the most extraordinary day—and night—of her life. After bravely facing down mean-spirited classmates and rejection at school, Madeleine doggedly searches for Philadelphia's legendary jazz club The Cat's Pajamas,…

Book cover of I'm Not Holding Your Coat: My Bruises-and-All Memoir of Punk Rock Rebellion

Jen B. Larson Author Of Hit Girls: Women of Punk in the USA, 1975-1983

From my list on music and memoirs about rule-breaking women.

Who am I?

In 2011, when my all-girl garage band began gigging around Chicago, I couldn’t tell you how many times I heard people call us “riot grrrl.” We weren’t riot grrrls; we were far too late for the movement. But for so many people, riot grrrl was the only reference point they had for scary, brash female musicians. The truth is, women were involved in the movement’s origins in every part of the world. I believe we must understand that riot grrrls weren’t the first women of punk. My book Hit Girls: Women of Punk in the USA, 1975-1983 details the stories of lesser-known but highly influential women who helped create punk and its adjacent genres.

Jen's book list on music and memoirs about rule-breaking women

Jen B. Larson Why did Jen love this book?

I’m a sucker for memoirs. And English teachers. Nancy is both. She teaches language arts at a public school in Massachusetts. But most importantly, she can tell a story. The book is a series of memories from the Philly and Boston hardcore scenes in the early ‘80s. It’s hard to put down, and it’s a really necessary account that tells of all the ways women were present and participating in what has always been referred to as a movement of exclusive, testosterone-induced navel-gazing. 

By Nancy Barile,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I'm Not Holding Your Coat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From disenchanted Catholic schoolgirl and glam maniac to instigator on the 1980s hardcore punk scene, Nancy Barile discovered freedom at a time when punk music was new and dangerous. She made her place behind the boards and right in the front row as insurgents such as SSD, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys and Black Flag wrote new rules and made history. She survived punk riots and urban decay, ran the streets with outcasts, and ultimately found true love as she fought for fairness and found her purpose. "Thank God we had girls like Nancy back then to keep things…

Book cover of Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo's Philadelphia and Populist Politics

Kyle Burke Author Of Revolutionaries for the Right: Anticommunist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare in the Cold War

From my list on the history of American conservatism.

Who am I?

I’m a professor of modern US and global history at Hartwick College in upstate New York. I have been reading and researching the history of conservative and right-wing movements in the United States and the wider world for almost two decades. My first book, Revolutionaries for the Right: Anticommunist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare in the Cold War, was published by University of North Carolina Press in 2018. My articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in Jacobin, Diplomatic History, Terrorism and Political Science, H-War, and H-Diplo. I’m currently at work on two projects: a history of the transatlantic white power movement and a film documentary about the short-lived white supremacist nation of Rhodesia and its contemporary legacies.

Kyle's book list on the history of American conservatism

Kyle Burke Why did Kyle love this book?

As the modern conservative movement gained ground, many working-class white, ethnic voters, especially in struggling Northern and Midwestern cities joined its ranks, even as they continued to vote for Democrats in local elections. Blue-Collar Conservatism explores how that happened by focusing on the divisive tenure of Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo.

Elected as a Democrat in 1971, Rizzo was the first former police commissioner to serve as Philly's mayor, and he gained election by harping on “law and order” issues and opposing civil rights reforms in schools, housing, and workplaces, harnessing white claims that such policies were unearned and unfair. In this cauldron of resentment and resistance, historian Tim Lombardo shows, blue-collar whites began to reject the promises of liberalism.

By Timothy J. Lombardo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Blue-Collar Conservatism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The postwar United States has experienced many forms of populist politics, none more consequential than that of the blue-collar white ethnics who brought figures like Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump to the White House. Blue-Collar Conservatism traces the rise of this little-understood, easily caricatured variant of populism by presenting a nuanced portrait of the supporters of Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo.
In 1971, Frank Rizzo became the first former police commissioner elected mayor of a major American city. Despite serving as a Democrat, Rizzo cultivated his base of support by calling for "law and order" and opposing programs like public housing,…

The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

Book cover of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

Ashley Rubin Author Of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

New book alert!

Who am I?

I have been captivated by the study of prisons since my early college years. The fact that prisons are so new in human history still feels mind-blowing to me. I used to think that prisons have just always been around, but when you realize they are actually new, that has major implications. This is nowhere more clear than at the beginning: how hard it was to get to the point where prisons made sense to people, to agree on how prisons should be designed and managed, and to keep on the same path when prisons very quickly started to fail. It’s still puzzling to me.

Ashley's book list on the origins of American prisons

What is my book about?

What were America's first prisons like? How did penal reformers, prison administrators, and politicians deal with the challenges of confining human beings in long-term captivity as punishment--what they saw as a humane intervention?

The Deviant Prison centers on one early prison: Eastern State Penitentiary. Built in Philadelphia, one of the leading cities for penal reform, Eastern ultimately defied national norms and was the subject of intense international criticism.

The Deviant Prison traces the rise and fall of Eastern's unique "Pennsylvania System" of solitary confinement and explores how and why Eastern's administrators kept the system going, despite great personal cost to themselves. Anyone interested in history, prisons, and criminal justice will find something to enjoy in this book.

The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

What is this book about?

Early nineteenth-century American prisons followed one of two dominant models: the Auburn system, in which prisoners performed factory-style labor by day and were placed in solitary confinement at night, and the Pennsylvania system, where prisoners faced 24-hour solitary confinement for the duration of their sentences. By the close of the Civil War, the majority of prisons in the United States had adopted the Auburn system - the only exception was Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, making it the subject of much criticism and a fascinating outlier. Using the Eastern State Penitentiary as a case study, The Deviant Prison brings to light…

Book cover of Receiving Erin's Children: Philadelphia, Liverpool, and the Irish Famine Migration, 1845-1855

Frank Parker Author Of A Purgatory of Misery: How Victorian Liberals Turned a Crisis into a Disaster

From my list on helping you understand the Irish potato famine.

Who am I?

A friend with Parkinson's Disease requested my help in his attempts to understand the famine and its impact on his ancestors in County Clare. Once I began reading the material he brought me I was impelled to discover more. I had already researched and written about an earlier period in Irish history - the Anglo-Norman invasion - and it seemed that everything that happened on both sides of the Irish Sea in the centuries that followed was instrumental in making the famine such a disaster. Our book is the result.

Frank's book list on helping you understand the Irish potato famine

Frank Parker Why did Frank love this book?

This is a book for members of the Irish diaspora. It tells of the experiences of your ancestors as they fled the conditions prevailing in their homeland.

Often single members of families whose objective was to earn money they could send back to Ireland in order to enable those family members left behind to follow. Too often the welcome they found, after travelling in appalling conditions as human cargo in ships unsuitable for the purpose, was not as warm as they had expected.

A story relevant today as we grapple with the problems created by modern migration from war- and/or famine-ravaged areas of the modern world, often still undertaken in unsuitable boats.

By J. Matthew Gallman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Receiving Erin's Children as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Between 1845 and 1855, 2 million Irish men and women fled their famine-ravaged homeland, many to settle in large British and American cities that were already wrestling with a complex array of urban problems. In this innovative work of comparative urban history, Matthew Gallman looks at how two cities, Philadelphia and Liverpool, met the challenges raised by the influx of immigrants. Gallman examines how citizens and policymakers in Philadelphia and Liverpool dealt with such issues as poverty, disease, poor sanitation, crime, sectarian conflict, and juvenile delinquency. By considering how two cities of comparable population and dimensions responded to similar challenges,…

Book cover of The Mischianza

Sherrie DeMorrow Author Of The Elder Rose

From my list on fiction connected to the American Revolution.

Who am I?

I have had an interest in history for over 30 years. My main interest was the American Revolutionary and the Federalist/War of 1812 eras. I like these periods because they were intriguing, fun, and informative as to what happened before and how a nation grew and developed. I found this more engaging when I visited the various locations of battlefields, houses, and legal buildings (all of Washington DC is an example). It helped me to understand the mammoth task of the individuals trying to make something out of a fledging former British colony, into one of the more formidable powerhouses in modern society. It's a wonder that I now live in the mother country!

Sherrie's book list on fiction connected to the American Revolution

Sherrie DeMorrow Why did Sherrie love this book?

This story concerns a family from the Revolutionary period, going to a re-enactment ball of the Mischianza. This was originally a party given by the British troops in Philadelphia for General Howe. It turns out this family, the Nelsons, are navigating through the modern day, as though they really were from the 18th century (and are playfully shocked at the modern conveniences), but are themselves re-enactors. The narrative has the quirk of being written in the style of the period. Good book, because it is like Back to the Future, with the Future already in situ.

By Henry Misrock,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A family of Revolutionary War patriots recently uprooted from their eighteenth century graves mix with modern Americans to the merry confoundment of both! A hilarious, unique sci-fi fantasy

Book cover of Beat Cop to Top Cop: A Tale of Three Cities

Wes Denham

From my list on crime and criminal justice.

Who am I?

I write books and newspaper columns on criminal justice and criminal defense. As an investigator for criminal defense attorneys, I spent years in the jails and prisons of Florida and Georgia interviewing felony defendants—murderers, child molesters, con men, robbers, drug dealers, whores, wife beaters, and shooters for hire. Some were insane; most weren’t. My interest is personal as well as professional. I live in Police Zone 1, the most dangerous area of my city. It’s a place where kids and church ladies can distinguish a Chinese AK from a Glock nine by sound alone. It’s a place where I carry an extra-large can of pepper spray and a combat knife, just to walk the dog!

Wes' book list on crime and criminal justice

Wes Denham Why did Wes love this book?

As chief of the Philadelphia Police Department, Timoney ended the notorious practice of “juking” crime statistics to soothe politicians. For example, if you want to lower the murder rate, just book the killers on “manslaughter! This book is by the third of brilliant cops who reformed the NYPD. Compare what they did in 1990 to the current misrule and chaos in the Big Apple and I can truly say to you, “Read it and weep!”

By John F. Timoney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Beat Cop to Top Cop as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Born in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood of Dublin, John F. Timoney moved to New York with his family in 1961. Not long after graduating from high school in the Bronx, he entered the New York City Police Department, quickly rising through the ranks to become the youngest four-star chief in the history of that department. Timoney and the rest of the command assembled under Police Commissioner Bill Bratton implemented a number of radical strategies, protocols, and management systems, including CompStat, that led to historic declines in nearly every category of crime. In 1998, Mayor Ed Rendell of Philadelphia hired Timoney as…

Book cover of Long Bright River

Natalie Pompilio Author Of Walking Philadelphia: 30 Walking Tours Exploring Art, Architecture, History, and Little-Known Gems

From my list on fiction set in the City of Brotherly Love.

Who am I?

My usual answer, when someone asks me where I live in Philadelphia, is: “Have you seen the Rocky movies, where he’s running through that open fruit/vegetable market? I’m three blocks from there.” I’ve called Philadelphia home for more than 20 years. I’m clearly a big fan, having now written four books about the city. I include a reference to the city’s most famous fictional character in my children’s alphabet book Philadelphia A to Z. In More Philadelphia Murals and the Stories They Tell, I got to tell stories about the country’s largest public art program. In This Used To Be Philadelphia, I told the then and now stories of dozens of city locations.

Natalie's book list on fiction set in the City of Brotherly Love

Natalie Pompilio Why did Natalie love this book?

I can’t even tell you how many times in many years working for newspapers that I rushed out after hearing a body had been found in an empty house or neglected alley. In almost every case, I would arrive to have police officers tell me, “No story here. No homicide. Just another overdose.” The newspaper didn’t tally overdose deaths as it did murders, even if many fatalities are linked to heroin that has been mixed with fentanyl without the users’ knowledge. It’s very rare for those who sell the killer substance to face homicide charges. 

The city is basically another character in this book. While the opioid epidemic had touched communities across the country, Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood is widely acknowledged as a disaster zone. A 2018 New York Times article called Kensington is the largest open-air narcotics market on the east coast. 

The plot centers on Philadelphia police officer Mickey…

By Liz Moore,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Long Bright River as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?





"[Moore’s] careful balance of the hard-bitten with the heartfelt is what elevates Long Bright River from entertaining page-turner to a book that makes you want to call someone you love.” – The New York Times Book Review
"This is police procedural and a thriller par excellence, one in which the city of Philadelphia itself is a character (think Boston and Mystic River). But it’s…

Book cover of Live to See the Day: Coming of Age in American Poverty

Marybeth Gasman Author Of Doing the Right Thing: How Colleges and Universities Can Undo Systemic Racism in Faculty Hiring

From Marybeth's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Historian Public Scholar World Traveler Mother Lover of life

Marybeth's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Marybeth Gasman Why did Marybeth love this book?

I live in Philadelphia and have witnessed the extreme poverty, crime, and drug use in some parts of the city. I have also seen the Philadelphia public schools close up and the unevenness of opportunity in the city.

Goyal follows the lives of three Puerto Rican children living in the Kensington neighborhood of the city. Kensington is rough and plagued by drug use, crime, poverty, and failing public schools. Goyal writes with incredible empathy and care about the near-insurmountable challenges these children face.

Using ethnography, he details how the local, state, and federal policies fail these students and how our nation’s legacy of racism ensures that their children aren’t provided a childhood. I also grew up in another type of poverty – rural poverty – and remember feeling helpless as I watched people around me struggle, die, succumb to drugs, and end up in jail.

Although the environments are different,…

By Nikhil Goyal,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Live to See the Day as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An indelible portrait of three children struggling to survive in the poorest neighborhood of the poorest large city in America

Kensington, Philadelphia, is distinguished only by its poverty. It is home to Ryan, Giancarlos, and Emmanuel, three Puerto Rican children who live among the most marginalized families in the United States. This is the story of their coming-of-age, which is beset by violence―the violence of homelessness, hunger, incarceration, stray bullets, sexual and physical assault, the hypermasculine logic of the streets, and the drug trade. In Kensington, eighteenth birthdays are not rites of passage but statistical miracles.

One mistake drives Ryan…

Book cover of The Club Dumas

Dan Fesperman Author Of The Double Game

From my list on people obsessed by books.

Who am I?

Dan Fesperman has made a living by writing about dangerous and unseemly people and places since his days as a journalist, when he was a foreign correspondent for The Baltimore Sun. Now traveling on his own dime, his books draw upon his experiences in dozens of countries and three war zones. His novels have won two Dagger awards in the UK and the Dashiell Hammett Prize from the International Association of Crime Writers. His thirteenth novel, Winter Work, will be published in July by Knopf. He lives in Baltimore.

Dan's book list on people obsessed by books

Dan Fesperman Why did Dan love this book?

What's not to like when the main character is a self-styled "book detective" making his way through the hidden passages and darker alleys of the world of rare antiquarian books? Lucas Corso seeks to authenticate an old manuscript by Alexander Dumas, but his quest takes an eerie turn as the events and characters he encounters along the way begin to replicate those found in Dumas's fiction. This delightful 1993 novel was meta before meta was cool, and is deeply rewarding for any bibliophile.

By Arturo Perez-Reverte,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

#1 International Bestseller"A thriller of marvelous intricacy" (The New York Times Book Review), The Club Dumas is a provocative literary thriller that playfully pays tribute to classic tales of mystery and adventure.Lucas Corso is a book detective, a middle-aged mercenary hired to hunt down rare editions for wealthy and unscrupulous clients. When a well-known bibliophile is found dead, leaving behind part of the original manuscript of Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers, Corso is brought in to authenticate the fragment. He is soon drawn into a swirling plot involving devil worship, occult practices, and swashbuckling derring-do among a cast of characters…

Book cover of A Refuge Assured

Michelle Bennington Author Of Widow's Blush: A Widows & Shadows Mystery

From my list on traveling back in time.

Who am I?

I was an English major in college. In pursuing my love of books and language, I fell into a love of history. The passion for history began with author biographies as I tried to understand how the culture affected various authors’ writings. This is why my history strength resides in European history, because most of my favorite authors come from Europe. The more I read of the biographies, I often came across historical events I wasn’t knowledgeable about and so fell down a rabbit hole of historical research. The more I learn, the more I love history! 

Michelle's book list on traveling back in time

Michelle Bennington Why did Michelle love this book?

I loved this book! It’s about a lacemaker who escapes to America from Revolutionary France. Green is a recent find for me, but I want to read everything she writes now!

The prose was so beautifully written with such lush detail. As an author it was a wonderful study in setting. I learned through this book that lace was banned in Revolutionary France because of its association with the aristocracy. I was so fascinated with the idea that I had to research it further and write a blog about it.

By Jocelyn Green,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Lacemaker Vivienne Rivard never imagined her craft could threaten her life. Yet in revolutionary France, it is a death sentence when the nobility, and those associated with them, are forced to the guillotine. Vivienne flees to Philadelphia but finds the same dangers lurking in the French Quarter, as revolutionary sympathizers threaten the life of a young boy left in her care, who some suspect to be the Dauphin. Can the French settlement, Azilum, offer permanent refuge?

Militiaman Liam Delaney proudly served in the American Revolution, but now that the new government has imposed an oppressive tax that impacts his family,…