The most recommended books about urban sprawl

Who picked these books? Meet our 9 experts.

9 authors created a book list connected to urban sprawl, and here are their favorite urban sprawl books.
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Concrete Desert

By Jon Talton,

Book cover of Concrete Desert

Carl and Jane Bock Author Of Day of the Jaguar: An Arizona Borderlands Mystery

From the list on mysteries about the American Southwest.

Who are we?

Deserts are inherently mysterious places. This likely explains why so many good mystery novels have been set in them. We spent better than forty years doing field work in the American Southwest, and we have found mystery novels based in this region among the very best. All good mystery novels must have strong plots and memorable characters, but to us an equally important component is setting. Jane is a botanist with expertise in the use of plant evidence in solving murder cases. Carl is a vertebrate zoologist and conservation biologist. Upon retirement we began writing mysteries. Some are set in the desert grasslands of Arizona, and all are inspired by the southwestern authors we have selected as our favorites.     

Carl's book list on mysteries about the American Southwest

Why did Carl love this book?

David Mapstone is a failed PhD academic who comes home to Phoenix, Arizona, where an old friend with the sheriff’s department takes pity and finds him a job solving cold cases. It turns out he’s good at it, but he is less successful in coping with the urban sprawl that has nearly obliterated the best parts of his hometown. In Concrete Desert, the first in Talton’s series, Mapstone reconnects with an old flame when she asks him to solve the mystery of her missing sister. While doing so, he stumbles on an eerie connection with an unsolved mystery from forty years earlier. We especially liked this book and the whole series because of the author’s skillful depiction of the old and the new, and the best and the worst, of a city in the process of gobbling up an American desert. 

By Jon Talton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

At loose ends, David Mapstone gets an assignment from a friend in the sheriff's office - go through the old "unsolved" files and clear them out one way or another. David doesn't expect to find any connection to the present or anything personal in any of these ancient cases. But when an old girlfriend turns up at his door asking him to help find her missing sister and the sister is later found murdered. David is atonished to see that her killing so closely parallels a 40-year-old case that it cannot be a coincidence.

What's in a Name? Talking about Urban Peripheries

By Richard Harris (editor), Charles Vorms (editor),

Book cover of What's in a Name? Talking about Urban Peripheries

Carl Abbott Author Of Suburbs: A Very Short Introduction

From the list on suburbs around the world.

Who am I?

I was a suburban kid in Knoxville, Tennessee and Dayton, Ohio and didn’t see much wrong with my neighborhood. As someone who then grew up to write and teach about the history of cities and city planning, I’ve long been struck by the mismatch between high-brow scorn for “suburbia” and the everyday experience of people who live in suburban communities. This short book is an effort to show how the world became suburban and what that meant to people in the different corners of the world—and maybe to put in a plug for my suburban Meadow Hills and College Hill neighborhoods. 

Carl's book list on suburbs around the world

Why did Carl love this book?

If you are a word nerd like me, this is for you.

Every country has its own way of naming its suburbs, and often more than one way. Do-it-yourself settlements in the desert around Lima, Peru were barriadas until the government decided that pueblos jovenes or “young towns” sounds better.

Turkish gecekondu for new neighborhoods translates as “built over night.” The bidonvilles of North Africa are literally “tin can towns.” I won’t kid you, the chapters are written by academics, but they take you on a tour of improvised settlements around the world.

By Richard Harris (editor), Charles Vorms (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What's in a Name? Talking about Urban Peripheries as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Borgata', 'favela', 'periurbain', and 'suburb' are but a few of the different terms used throughout the world that refer specifically to communities that develop on the periphery of urban centres. In What's in a Name? editors Richard Harris and Charlotte Vorms have gathered together experts from around the world in order to provide a truly global framework for the study of the urban periphery. Rather than view these distinct communities through the lens of the western notion of urban sprawl, the contributors focus on the variety of everyday terms that are used, together with their connotations. This volume explores the…


By Robert Bruegmann,

Book cover of Sprawl: A Compact History

William A. Fischel Author Of Zoning Rules! The Economics of Land Use Regulation

From the list on why zoning isn’t as boring as you think.

Who am I?

When I studied urban economics at Princeton in the 1970s, theoretical models of urban form were all the rage. Political barriers to urban development such as zoning were dismissed as irrelevant. But as I read more about it, zoning appeared to be the foremost concern of both developers and community members. My service on the Hanover, New Hampshire zoning board made me appreciate why homeowners are so concerned about what happens in their neighborhood. NIMBYs—neighbors who cry “not in my backyard”—are not evil people; they are worried “homevoters” (owners who vote to protect their homes) who cannot diversify their oversized investment. Zoning reforms won’t succeed without addressing their anxieties. 

William's book list on why zoning isn’t as boring as you think

Why did William love this book?

An architectural historian motivated by simple curiosity concludes that sprawl is not new and is a worldwide phenomenon. Highbrow critics have always condemned suburbanization until the next generation ends up living in it and trying to preserve it against further suburbanization. Bruegmann’s wide-ranging book is a sprightly send-up of the anti-sprawl sentiments throughout history and across the globe. Greenbelts to contain sprawl turn out to be especially toxic to sensible urban development. 

By Robert Bruegmann,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

As anyone who has flown into Los Angeles at dusk or Houston at midday knows, urban areas today defy traditional notions of what a city is. Our old definitions of urban, suburban, and rural fail to capture the complexity of these vast regions with their superhighways, subdivisions, industrial areas, office parks, and resort areas pushing far out into the countryside. Detractors call it sprawl and assert that it is economically inefficient, socially inequitable, environmentally irresponsible, and aesthetically ugly. Robert Bruegmann calls it a logical consequence of economic growth and the democratization of society, with benefits that urban planners have failed…

Book cover of The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism

Nancy C. Unger Author Of Beyond Nature's Housekeepers: American Women in Environmental History

From the list on American environmental history.

Who am I?

History is my passion as well as my profession. I love a good story! When I was teaching courses in environmental history and women’s history, I kept noticing the intriguing intersections, which inspired me to write Beyond Nature’s Housekeepers. Most of my work focuses on the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (1877-1920) and includes two award-winning biographies, Fighting Bob La Follette and Belle La Follette Progressive Era Reformer. I’m also the co-editor of A Companion to the Gilded Age and Progressive Era and have written dozens of op-eds and give public talks (some of which can be found in the C-SPAN online library and on YouTube). 

Nancy's book list on American environmental history

Why did Nancy love this book?

Adam Rome examines an underappreciated topic in environmental history: the environmental costs of the ever-growing American suburbs. Mass migration to the suburbs coincided with the rise of the environmental movement. That convergence was followed by political controversy, and ultimately codes, regulations, and guidelines. Rome is a great storyteller who reveals important shifts in growth management and environmental policy. 

By Adam Ward Rome,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The concern today about suburban sprawl is not new. In the decades after World War II, the spread of tract-house construction changed the nature of millions of acres of land, and a variety of Americans began to protest against the environmental costs of suburban development. By the mid-1960s, indeed, many of the critics were attempting to institutionalize an urban land ethic. The Bulldozer in the Countryside was the first scholarly work to analyze the successes and failures of the varied efforts to address the environmental consequences of suburban growth from 1945 to 1970. For scholars and students of American history,…

North Country

By Karen Lloyd (editor),

Book cover of North Country: An anthology of landscape and nature

Irfan Shah Author Of Where Lay My Homeward Path: Selected Short Stories by Edward Thomas

From the list on nature-writing with humans at the center.

Who am I?

I am a writer and researcher from North Yorkshire, England. Although I’ve written extensively on pre-cinema history (for example, I co-wrote the BAFTA long-listed documentary, The First Film) I have also researched little-known stories connected with the natural world, particularly the beautiful Yorkshire Moors, where I live. My upcoming travelogue The Witches’ Way will combine nature-writing with original historical research, and will be published by Open Space Books in the Autumn. I have long been an admirer of the poetry of Edward Thomas – bringing his long-forgotten fiction to a new audience has been a real passion project of mine.

Irfan's book list on nature-writing with humans at the center

Why did Irfan love this book?

This is similar to Wild Isles – a vast celebration of nature incorporating fiction, non-fiction, and poetry – but this time with its focus on the beautiful wild North of Britain.

It’s exciting to see so many different aspects of the area brought out and the inclusion of lesser-known contemporary writers such as Katie Hale, Loren Cafferty, and Graham Mort alongside greats such as William Wordsworth and Charlotte Brontë. 

So often neglected, so often stereotyped, the North is viewed here by those that know it, through clear eyes but with understandable adoration. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the moors, the dark green and grey wilds inhabited by curlew, kite, and hare.

This is the place where the Brontës created their epic romances and where contemporary writers sought solace during lockdown. The land continues to be a source of inspiration and it is gratifying to see it celebrated in this…

By Karen Lloyd (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Curlews give their liquid, burbling call, a call of pure happiness, the music of the fells." Ella Pontefract, 1936, Wensleydale

The North of England abounds with beauty, from unspoiled beaches in Northumberland to the dramatic Lakeland Fells, for so long celebrated by writers and artists. Wide estuaries, winding rivers, sheer cliffs, rushing waterfalls, ancient woodland, limestone pavements, and miles of hedgerows and drystone walls sustainably built and rebuilt over centuries - all form part of its rich heritage.

But these are, too, contested and depleted landscapes. Today the curlew's call is isolated, and many other species are in decline. Industry,…


By Carolyn Steel,

Book cover of Sitopia: How Food Can Save the World

Elisabeth Luard Author Of The Old World Kitchen: The Rich Tradition of European Peasant Cooking

From Elisabeth's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Food writer Illustrator Artist Memoirist Novelist

Elisabeth's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Elisabeth love this book?

I was hooked from the very first page, when the author reports a brief conversation with a top-of-the-heap oil-man who thought the idea of a philosophical book about food ridiculous. Sitopia asks how the lessons learned from the past might be applied to the way we might live now.

Her first book, Hungry City, is a panoramic sweep of human history from hunter-gatherer cave-dwellers to urban sprawl, bringing an architect's understanding of the development of cities. The first book established the author's reputation as philosopher, cultural historian, and prizewinning food writer.

Booksellers don't know where to put her on the shelves. If Hungry City asks the questions, Sitopia (a made-up word from the Greek for food + place) looks for the answers.

This book is intelligent and brave - and she writes like a dream. 

By Carolyn Steel,

Why should I read it?

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

The City of To-morrow and Its Planning

By Le Corbusier, Frederick Etchells (translator),

Book cover of The City of To-morrow and Its Planning

Mary Soderstrom Author Of Concrete: From Ancient Origins to a Problematic Future

From the list on to design a workable, walkable, wonderful city.

Who am I?

I like to say I'm a born-again pedestrian. After a childhood in car-friendly Southern California, I moved first to the San Francisco Bay Area and then to Montreal. There I discovered the pleasures of living in walkable cities, and over the years I've explored them in a series of books about people, nature, and urban spaces in which the problems of spread-out, concrete-heavy cities take a front-row seat. The impact of the way we've built our cities over the last 100 years is becoming apparent, as carbon dioxide rises, driving climate changes. We must change the way we live, and the books I suggest give some insights about what to do and what not to do.

Mary's book list on to design a workable, walkable, wonderful city

Why did Mary love this book?

Read this book if you care about cities. True, you may want to throw it across the room at times (I did),  but it is one of the most influential books of the 20th century and you should know your enemies. Written shortly after World War I when automobiles were beginning to clog streets, its author Le Corbusier had good intentions. He thought narrow crowded streets should be replaced by apartment towers set on green lawns. He used concrete boldly, opened up the interiors of buildings so light could flood in, and insisted that residences be far away from industry and commerce. But while the model can work for luxury housing, it doesn't work when neighborhoods are destroyed to build these high-rise blocks, and separating work from home by automobile-only roads means urban sprawl. 

By Le Corbusier, Frederick Etchells (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The City of To-morrow and Its Planning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this 1929 classic, the great architect Le Corbusier turned from the design of houses to the planning of cities, surveying urban problems and venturing bold new solutions. The book shocked and thrilled a world already deep in the throes of the modern age.
Today it is revered as a work that, quite literally, helped to shape our world. Le Corbusier articulates concepts and ideas he would put to work in his city planning schemes for Algiers, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Barcelona, Geneva, Stockholm, and Antwerp, as well as schemes for a variety of structures from a…

The Little House

By Virginia Lee Burton,

Book cover of The Little House

Barbara Lehman Author Of Red Again

From the list on celebrating city life.

Who am I?

I especially love books for children that capture city life in a way that feels both unique and child scaled. I have set most of my books in cities because I love the story possibilities that exist in what are almost entirely human-made environments. Paradoxically, city settings make any kind of connection to the natural world or animals even more important. On this list are all books I feel show a particularly special aspect of city life for children.

Barbara's book list on celebrating city life

Why did Barbara love this book?

I cannot stop loving this book, which graphically depicts a city growing up around a small farm country cottage. While the storyline concerns the fate of the tiny house, the thrill is watching the steady mushrooming growth of vehicles, electric lines, street cars, street lamps, apartment buildings, elevated and subway trains, and finally skyscrapers as they surround the home before it is able to make its satisfying escape back to the country. The art is warm and cozy, befitting a book that has a gutsy cottage as the main character.

By Virginia Lee Burton,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Little House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Seventy-five years ago, Virginia Lee Burton created the Little House, and since then generations of readers have been enchanted by the story of this happy home and her journey from the pleasures of nature to the bustling city, and back again. In celebration of this beloved classic's seventy-fifth anniversary, this special edition features a beautiful set of window cling stickers - perfect for decorating your own "Little House" - and free downloadable audio (access code printed inside the book). AGES: 4 to 7 AUTHOR: Virginia Lee Burton (1909-1968) was the talented author and illustrator of some of the most enduring…