New York City

Which books to read to learn about New York City, according to its press corps

July 19, 2019 Noah Goldberg
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There’s no better place to learn than Twitter. Just kidding. But in this case, Twitter helped.

A Brooklyn Eagle reporter (me) asked for recommendations from the Twitterverse on books to read to understand modern New York — other than Robert Caro’s “The Power Broker.” And Twitter led us (me) to another land, somewhere far, far away, where character limits don’t exist.

So, here’s what to read if you’re looking to understand this modern metropolis, according to New York City reporters.

‘Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics’

By Kim Phillips-Fein

Image courtesy of Metropolitan Books
Image courtesy of Metropolitan Books

“As a newcomer to New York City politics, Fear City helped me better understand the inner workings of city government and how certain dynamics play out (like the long-honored tradition of the mayor and comptroller butting heads). Even though the book doesn’t delve into redlining and other elements that contributed to city problems in the 1970s, it was an easy read and gives me better historical context for when I need to report on politics.”

Amanda Eisenberg, health care reporter at POLITICO New York

‘Rudy! An Investigative Biography Of Rudy Giuliani’

By Wayne Barrett

Image courtesy of Basic Books
Image courtesy of Basic Books

“This is a great book for anyone who needs a lesson on the recent history of power, politics, prejudice and policing in New York City and State. So many of the key figures and secondary characters are still prominent in New York City and beyond: Giuliani is defending Trump; stop-and-frisk Commissioner Bill Bratton is still weighing in on NYC politics; former Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew is a CUNY president. Even Andrew Cuomo makes a few cameos as liaison for his dad.”

— David Brand, managing editor at the Queens Daily Eagle

‘When Brooklyn Was Queer’

By Hugh Ryan

Image courtesy of St. Martin's Press
Image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press

“When Brooklyn Was Queer was a total crash course for me in Brooklyn’s queer history pre-Stonewall. It’s full of incredibly brave people who expressed their sexuality before there was widely accepted language to describe it. (And, like today, up against the full force of governments and law enforcement.) You can tell, in every sentence, how excited Ryan was to uncover these stories.”

Emma Whitford, freelance reporter

‘City for Sale: Ed Koch and the Betrayal of New York’

By Jack Newfield  and Wayne Barrett 

Image courtesy of Harper Collins
Image courtesy of Harper Collins

“‘City for Sale’ is a richly detailed and smartly written accounting of how one of the most charismatic men to ever be New York City mayor turned a blind eye as his friends and close political allies auctioned off whole swaths of municipal government.”

Nolan Hicks, city hall reporter at New York Post

‘The Encyclopedia of New York City’

By Kenneth Jackson

Image Courtesy of Yale University Press
Image Courtesy of Yale University Press

“I really love Kenneth Jackson’s Encyclopedias of New York City. They are so detailed, and surprisingly absorbing, though I guess not light beach reading.”

Liz Benjamin, former host of Capital Tonight, Spectrum News

Further reading:

Noah tries to quench his thirst for New York City knowledge. Eagle photo by Sara Bosworth
Me, trying to quench my thirst for New York City knowledge. Eagle photo by Sara Bosworth

If you’re not satiated by those, try one of these — all of which came highly recommended from the New York City Twitterverse:

  • “Ladies and Gentlemen: The Bronx is Burning” by Jonathan Mahler
  • “Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul” by Jeremiah Ross
  • “Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York” by Luc Sante
  • “The Great Rent Wars: New York, 1917-1929” by Robert Fogelson
  • “Rats: Observations on the history and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants” by Robert Sullivan
  • “The Future of Us All: Race and Neighborhood Politics in New York City” by Roger Sanjek
  • “City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York” by Tyler Anbinder
  • “The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America” by Russell Shorto
  • “Empire City: New York Through the Centuries” by Kenneth Jackson and David Dunbar
  • “In Transit: Transit Workers Union in New York City” by Joshua Freeman
  • “Working-Class New York: Life and Labor Since World War II” by Joshua Freeman
  • “I, Koch: A Decidedly Unauthorized Biography of the Mayor of New York City, Edward I. Koch” by Arthur Browne
  • “Diaries of Mario Cuomo: The Campaign for Governor” by Mario Cuomo
  • “Union Power and New York: Victor Gotbaum and District Council 37” by Jewel Bellush
  • “Den of Thieves” by James Stewart
  • “Black Corona: Race and the Politics of Place in an Urban Community” by Steven Gregory
  • “Blue Blood” by Edward Conlon
  • “Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America” by Donald L. Miller
  • “The Power of the Mayor: David Dinkins 1990-1993” by Chris McNickle
  • “Bloomberg: A Billionaire’s Ambition” by Chris McNickle
  • “Modern New York: The Life and Economics of a City” by Greg David

Have more suggestions? Leave ’em in the comments.

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