The best urban history books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about urban history 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 Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place

Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place

By John R. Logan, Harvey Molotch,

Why this book?

If you want to understand gentrification, read this book. The authors unpack the municipal power dynamics that fuel that process, but that is only part of what Logan and Molotch uncover in their brilliant sociological analysis of urban space. Their distinction between the use-value and the exchange value of real estate, their dissection of how city elites transform cities into “growth machines,” and their overall, devastating attack on the claim that “growth” is always good, make this book as relevant today as when it was first published in 1987.  

From the list:

The best books on urban history

Book cover of Neighborhood and Nation in Tokyo, 1905-1937

Neighborhood and Nation in Tokyo, 1905-1937

By Sally Ann Hastings,

Why this book?

Cities often look quite different from the bottom up than from the top down. The practical demands of making cities work often rest on the shoulders of the most local of officials.  Consequently, neighborhood officialdom often engages with citizens and residents more openly, even in authoritarian systems. Such engagement may hold the seeds of future democratic change. Hastings’ study of Honjo Ward and other proletarian Tokyo districts before World War II reveals a surprisingly robust participatory political and cultural environment across the early twentieth century.

From the list:

The best books for understanding Japanese urban history

Book cover of A History of Tokyo 1867-1989: From EDO to Showa: The Emergence of the World's Greatest City

A History of Tokyo 1867-1989: From EDO to Showa: The Emergence of the World's Greatest City

By Edward G. Seidensticker,

Why this book?

This new edition combines under one cover Edward Seidensticker’s colossal Low City: Tokyo from Edo to the Earthquake and Tokyo Rising.  Few cities have been so fortunate as to have such erudite-yet-accessible books written about them; by an outsider, no less. A towering figure on late twentieth-century Japanese studies and letters, Seidensticker arrived in Tokyo weeks after General Douglas MacArthur had assumed control of the country. His work on major twentieth-century Japanese writers earned him graduate degrees and faculty appointments at major American universities; his freelance writing on Japanese life extended the reach of his work well beyond the…

From the list:

The best books for understanding Japanese urban history

Book cover of Neighborhood Tokyo

Neighborhood Tokyo

By Theodore C. Bestor,

Why this book?

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.

From the list:

The best books for understanding Japanese urban history

Book cover of Atlas Historique De Kyôto: Analyse Spatiale des Systèms de Mémoire D’une Ville, de Son Architecture et de Son Paysage Urbain

Atlas Historique De Kyôto: Analyse Spatiale des Systèms de Mémoire D’une Ville, de Son Architecture et de Son Paysage Urbain

By Nicolas Fiévé,

Why this book?

Only an organization with the deep pockets of UNESCO could have supported and produced this magnificent historical atlas of Kyoto, covering more than 15 centuries of urban development through comprehensive data connected to stunning and informative maps analyzed by two dozen leading historians, urbanists, architects, and cartographers.  As site to more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than almost any other city, Kyoto has drawn UNESCO engagement across several decades. This volume captured that work at the beginning of the twenty-first century through essays arranged chronologically drawing on the built environment to trace Kyoto’s physical, economic, cultural, and political evolution. The spectacular…

From the list:

The best books for understanding Japanese urban history

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