Want to travel to NYC but can’t PHYSICALLY get there any time soon? If so then check out this EPIC list of the best books about NYC.
Not only am I a long time NYC local (and by NYC local I mean 30+ years), but I’m an avid reader who always loves a good book about one of my all-time fave cities in the world…New York City (DUH. I think the title kind of gave it away).
So, forget (or as we say in NYC “forgeddabout”) about the crowds, steer clear of the giant piles of garbage, avoid the ridiculously large rats the size of house cats (seriously, they really are that big), and cannonball into a good read instead.
Trust me, you’ll get most of the joys of traveling to NYC but without the high price tag and that ever-looming sense of dread that you might be about to commit one of these wicked awful NYC travel mistakes.
However, enough chitty chat. Because you know what? You’re a beyond busy human who is has a lot to do and is more than ready to pursue through this list of the 30+ best books about NYC.
Therefore, let’s throw caution to the wind and explore this amazing NYC reading list right now!
***If you’re really into reading, you can also shop for books at the amazing Brooklyn Book Festival. It’s easily one of the best free events in NYC during the fall.***
Dear wonderful, beautiful, and oh-so-amazing reader (Yup, I lay it on thick for my dozens of fans). Since I am incapable of making it rain money, there’s a high probability (like 99.999%) that this post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more information. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.
Books about NYC – Adult Novels
1. The Catcher in the Rye (1951) by J.D. Salinger
Real talk? This is one of those books about NYC that you probably already read in high school (or at least perused through the cliff notes version if you weren’t all that academically inclined).
But honestly? It’s a wicked awesome book that definitely deserves a second read – especially if, like me, it’s been a solid 20 years since you graduated high school.
And no, you should not be doing math of any kind right now to try and figure out my age.
Anyway, just in case you’ve never actually read this iconic book cover to cover, The Catcher in the Rye is a mildly controversial tale about Holden Caulfield – a young, sixteen-year-old boy in (full of lots of angst) who explores New York City.
Full of plot twists that relate to ideas about identity and belonging, this novel follows Holden’s journey as he leaves Pencey Preparatory in Pennsylvania and hides out in NYC for a couple of days.
Therefore, do expect a wealth of guest appearances from some of the most iconic landmarks in Manhattan.
Because you know, your boy Holden just HAS to visit a nightclub in Greenwich Village, spend some time at Grand Central Terminal, and even see the iconic Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall.
There’s also a lot of worrying about the ducks at Central Park. which is why NYC makes more than a mere guest appearance in this immortal novel.
All in all though, this is one of the best books about NYC on this list and is not to be overlooked by any and all avid book lovers.
Price: $6.82 (Get this book now)!
2. The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Look! Another one of those epic books about NYC that you totally read in high school.
Come on, you know you did! Because I distinctly remember cracking open this gem of a literary classic more than once in my eleventh grade English class.
But, just in case it’s been a while and you need a quick synopsis, The Great Gatsby will take you all the way back to NYC circa the roaring twenties – when flapper dresses reigned supreme and when booze were served for breakfast, lunch, AND dinner (even though Prohibition was in full effect).
Yup, you’ll frolic over to West Egg, Long Island, and learn how to party like a rockstar with Nick Carraway, a Midwesterner who is relatively new to the city when he arrives in 1922.
In search of the American dream, Nick is a wannabe writer who is quickly shown the ropes, as it were, by his cousin Daisy Buchanan and by the mysterious millionaire, Jay Gatsby, who lives right next door.
As the story unfolds, you’ll learn more about Daisy and Jay Gatsby’s unique relationship, in addition to a great deal of info about the social history of New York.
There’s also a fair bit of love, loss, and tragedy thrown in for good measure. So, one of those “great” American novels that definitely isn’t a snooze fest.
Price: $8.74 (Get this book now!)
3. New York: The Novel (2009) by Edward Rutherfurd
This book is one hell of a whirlwind.
And that’s with a CAPITAL “w” since this novel takes you through the entire history of New York City – from the island’s settlement by European colonists (when NYC was just an itty bitty fishing village) all the way to ye olde 2009, when New York: The Novel was first published.
Along the way, you’ll learn why NYC became an immortal center of trade and commerce, understand how the city was affected by the Civil War, experience the great excesses of the Gilded Age, discover the hardships of immigrant life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, learn about the massive crime wave that nearly crippled the city in the 1970s and read about its latest rebirth in the 1990s.
Plus, even if you’re not all that into history, it’s still a super interesting read since the author uses fictional families (mixed in with a few real ones) to help expertly recreate a perfect vision of the past for you.
I also love that the people mentioned throughout the book represent a vast crosssection of New York society,
So, rich and poor, immigrant and native New Yorker? Well, they’re all given equal storytime here as personal prosperity rises and falls with the overall wellbeing of the city.
Sprinkle in some exciting battle scenes, a touch of romance, a smidgeon of personal hardships, and some overwhelming triumphs and you have one hell of a beautiful novel.
A piece of writing that exquisitely captures the true essence of New York within its multitude of pages.
Price: $17.99 (Get this book now!)
4. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958) by Truman Capote
Want to live the luxe life on New York’s exceptionally posh Upper East Side? Then swan dive into Truman Capote’s famous novella.
Because before Gossip Girl was even a thought in anyone’s mind, there was Breakfast at Tiffany’s. A classic tale about Holly Golightly, a young society girl who spends her mornings at Tiffany & Co. and her evenings getting wined and dined by some of the richest men in the city.
Told through the perspective of an unnamed, male writer who moves into the same brownstone as Holly during WWII, we learn more about this slightly eccentric character as the relationship between the two develops.
Like the fact that she throws lavish parties with large swaths of wealthy men in attendance or that she earns money by ferrying correspondence between an imprisoned mobster and his lawyer.
Eventually, the narrator falls head over heels in love with Holly, who is unable to return his affections since she is having a secret affair with another man. A relationship that abruptly ends when she is caught, and arrested for, carrying information on future drug shipments for the aforementioned gangster/
As shenanigans ensue, Holly flees to Brazil and we are left to wonder if she ever really did find true happiness.
Overall, it’s a fun and fantastical read, with several surprisingly insightful words from Holly herself, that shows exactly how the “other half” really lives in the city that never sleeps.
A work of fiction that looks at the internal struggle we all have between an intrinsic need for stability and the neverending desire for freedom.
Price: $11.59 (Get this book now!)
5. American Psycho (1991) by Bret Easton Ellis
If you find yourself craving a bit of murderous mayhem, then this is one of those books about NYC that is totally for you!
Besides, you’re probably already at least a little bit familiar with the storyline behind American Psycho since it was made into a super nifty movie starring none other than, the legend himself, Christian Bale (insert copious amounts of drool here).
However, just in case you somehow missed out on all the serial killer awesomeness that is this book and film, this story follows a man by the name of Patrick Bateman.
He’s a young, wealthy, investment banker who lives in NYC during the epic financial boom that was the late 1980s.
This story is also told through first-person narrative, so you’ll get a sneak peek into his less than ordinary life as he works on Wall Street by day and gives into his neverending homicidal tendencies at night.
So yeah, to say that this book will have you on the edge of your seat is a total understatement.
Because it’s brimming over with fast-paced Wall Street chaos and upper-class New York opulence (you’ll read about a lot of beyond rich stockbrokers trying to get even richer) that perfectly embodies the insanity of New York City’s famous financial district.
Price: $11.69 (Get this book now!)
6. The New York Trilogy (1987) by Paul Auster
In the market for an intriguing murder mystery series that consists of not one, not two, but three different books about NYC?
If so then meet your latest addiction, The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster (it consists of the City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room)
Originally written in 1987, this series follows the exploits of Daniel Quinn, a man who is part detective, part fiction writer – a fact that totally changes when he receives a mysterious call one night that forces him to become an impromptu private eye.
Accordingly, Daniel finds himself lured onto the ever-illusive streets of New York, where he attempts to crack a seemingly unsolvable case that has more layers than a flipping onion.
I’m not going to give too much away here because I want you to actually READ the books, but I pinkie promise that this series is infinitely more interesting than your traditional murder mystery.
It’s also quite nuanced and filled with a ton of suspense and hidden irony that any avid reader will totally appreciate.
PS: If you want to read this series you MUST start with book one. Otherwise, you won’t know who the characters are and will have exactly no idea what the hell is going on since the storyline change dramatically throughout the books.
Price: $17.99 for all three books (Get the series together since it’s WAY cheaper than buying the books individually)
7. The New York Stories of Henry James (2005) by Henry James
If you don’t really want to sit down and read an entire novel, then this is one of those books about NYC that is totally for you.
Because The New York Stories of Henry James is actually a set of nine different short stories that are all written by, you guessed it, Henry James.
Yeah, he basically grew up here (in the 1840s and 50s) and wrote an entire collection of stores all about the big apple and his internal struggles to make sense of this ever-changing metropolis.
Therefore, if you’re not quite sure what to expect from your visit to NYC and want someone who can kind of set the scene for you as it were, then this novel will be your bag baby (Anyone digging the lame Austen Powers pun here? No? Okay, quickly moving on).
FYI, these stories were also all written at different times throughout his career. Therefore, each tale has a totally unique style about it (everything from comedy to drama) that reveals a wealth of incredibly different perspectives about the city.
And while they’re all good, “Washington Square” is probably the best of the bunch since this story is considered by many to be the author’s most accomplished work of literature (“The Jolly Corner” was also awesome and creepy AF while “An International Episode was just straight-up funny).
But, don’t take my word for it. Check this book out now and swan dive into stories like:
- The Story of a Masterpiece
- A Most Extraordinary Case
- Crawford’s Consistency
- An International Episode
- The Impressions of a Cousin
- The Jolly Corner
- Washington Square
- Crapy Cornelia
- A Round of Visits
Price: $22.95 (Get this book now!)
8. A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010) by Jennifer Egan
What, find yourself inexplicably drawn to NYC’s totally rad music scene? If so then check out this little gem of a literary wonder.
Yeah, it’s easily one of the best books about NYC since it gives you an inside look at NYC’s ever-intriguing rock and roll scene as you meet people like Bennie, an aging former punk rocker/record executive, and Sasha, a passionate but troubled young woman that he employs.
Just be forewarned. You will NEED to pay close attention since this national bestseller does bounce around in time between the late 60s, the present, and the not-so-distant future.
It’s also a really neat read since each chapter of the book could be like this awesome little stand-alone story that is set in NYC, with a variety of different characters trying to decipher this crazy little thing called life.
Additionally, I kind of love that this novel attempts to be fairly realistic since some of the characters inadvertently self-destruct before they can make it big in the uber-glam microcosm that is rock and roll.
Others struggle with their own sense of identity as tastes change and they become a distant musical memory in the every changing landscape of pop culture.
So, if you’re desperately seeking a wicked good read that requires a little bit of brainpower, then look no further than A Visit from the Goon Squad, you voracious reader you.
Price: $12.69 (Get this book now!)
9. Motherless Brooklyn (1999) by Jonathan Lethem
You know what they say right? No…sleep…til Brooklyn!
Okay, in all seriousness though. Let’s put my ridiculous Beastie Boys references to one side for just a moment and talk about the awesomeness that is Motherless Brooklyn.
It’s a fictional crime novel that is set in 1950s era Brooklyn and that follows the exploits of Lionel Essrog, an orphan with Tourette syndrome who works for the ‘King of Brooklyn’, mobster Frank Minna.
Yeah, Frank runs a slightly sketchy combo limousine/detective agency and eventually gets fatally stabbed by one of the not-so-Goodfellas in this story (Get it? I made a funny!).
As a result, Lionel is forced to crack the case – and all while managing the multitude of challenges that are associated with his unique medical condition.
Seriously, talking is hard enough for him let alone interviewing potential witnesses.
Add in a colleague who lands in jail, two other colleagues who try and steal Lionel’s position, and a mobster’s wife (Frak’s widow) who skips town after the murder, and you have one hella good thriller.
So, grab a fairtrade soy latte, put on your best Hipster-chic flannel, and rock a wicked awesome pair of Buddy Holly glasses.
Because this classic who-done-it du jour is gonna pole vault you into the ever trendy, always interesting, and slightly weird borough of Brooklyn, NY.
Price: $11.99 (Get this book now!)
10. The Best of Everything (1958) by Rona Jaffe
Before Sex and the City and literary classics like The Bell Jar, there was this gem of a novel that is easily one of the best books about NYC on this list.
Entitled The Best of Everything, this touching and exquisitely hilarious tale is a story about five young women who work for a publishing company in New York City.
Set in the 1950s, this novel was actually pretty damn shocking at the time of its initial publication since it follows the ups and downs of these incredibly relatable women’s lives, as they struggle with abortion, stalking, adultery, and pre-marital sex.
You’ll also love that although this is one of the best books about New York City that is almost sixty years old, it’s still exceptionally relevant since it features a unique cast of characters that include:
- Caroline – An Ivey Leaguer who wants to move up from the typing pool to the editor’s office
- April – A naïve country girl who reinvents herself as the woman every man wants upon her arrival in New York
- Gregg – A free-spirited actress who wants to settle down
- And more!
Yeah, I won’t give the whole plot away since you should definitely go out and read one of the best books about NYC for yourself.
11. Other Fiction Books About NYC for Adults
- The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2001) by Michael Chabon – Like comic books? If so then THIS is the novel for you.! Believe it or not, it actually won a Pulitzer Prize and follows the adventures of, not surprisingly, Kavalier and Clay. See, the year is 1939. And an escape artist by the name of Joe Kavalier smuggles himself out of Hitler’s Prague and eventually ends up in Brooklyn with his cousin Sammy Clay. Together, the two men craft a variety of different comics that embody the very best of America’s golden age of comics. Yup, a super fun, wonderfully whimsical book that you are sure to fall in love with.
- The Group (1963) by Mary McCarthy – This hit bestseller is about eight young women who graduate from Vassar (known as “the group”) in 1933. A week later, they all meet again to celebrate the wedding of Kay Strong before finally heading out into the “real world”. This novel then follows each of their triumphs and crushing heartbreaks as they develop careers, get married, discover their sexuality, and enter into motherhood. It’s a touching and incredibly authentic portrayal of everyday life as some of the friends drift apart and others endure betrayals, infidelities, and sometimes even madness. Eventually, tragedy will once again unite the women and force them to reevaluate their lives and what is truly important.
- So Little Time by John Marquand – Set in pre-WW II America, this exciting novel follows the journey of Jeffrey Wilson, a father, and editor who splits his time between Manhattan, Hollywood, and New England. As the story unfolds, Wilson begins to feel anxious, isolated, and alone as he worries about his son potentially being called to fight – especially since he himself fought in WW I and remembers that hardship all too well. Eventually, he reflects on his own life and the series of dreams that remain forever unrealized. Unable to change his own past, he offers his son the one piece of advice that young people just can’t understand, time is running out.
- Another Country (1992) by James Baldwin – A gripping tale set in 1950s Greenwich Village, Harlem, and France, among other places. It’s an emotionally intense book that examines controversial topics like sex, racism, and politics by stripping away uncontrollable factors like gender and race. It seeks to understand emotions that are at the core of every human experience, love and hatred, and beautifully describes the many spaces we inhabit.
Books About NYC – Adult Non-Fiction
12. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (1974) by Robert A. Caro
Umm…this is one of those books about NYC that actually received a Pulitzer Prize.
Therefore, clearly it’s more than a little good and an absolute MUST read for anyone planning a trip to New York.
However, just in case you’d like to know what The Power Broker is actually about, it chronicles the life and service that Robert Moses gave to NYC, Long Island, Rockland County, and Westchester County.
That’s why it’s a pretty interesting biography that follows Robert Moses’ incredible rise to power and examines how he totally reshaped the entire landscape of the city (both figuratively and literally) – and all without ever actually being ELECTED to any public office I might add.
What, no clue who Robert Moses was? Well, he was an extremely important public figure who held office for more than 44 years throughout the mid-20th century.
So important in fact that he was THE single most powerful man in the state of New York and was hobnobbing it up with historical legends like Alfred E. Smith, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Fiorello La Guardia, and Nelson Rockefeller.
In fact, he was responsible for the construction of so many important buildings, that his nickname quickly became, “master builder” since architectural marvels like the Verrazano Narrows Bridge were constructed during his time in power (in total he spent more than $27 billion on NYC building projects).
At least until his reputation was totally destroyed by the press and his power was unceremoniously taken away by a one, Nelson Rockefeller.
So yeah, in addition to being a really good read, this book will give you valuable insight into the crazy amount of work that actually went into the construction of some of the city’s most notable landmarks.
That’s why, if you’re a history enthusiast of even the smallest magnitude, then this is the book for YOU!.
Price: $23.40 (Get this book now!)
13. Here is New York (1949) by E.B. White
Honestly, I had no idea that E.B. White wrote something other than children’s literature.
More than that though, it’s actually one of those really good books about NYC. It’s also short so if you’re not looking for a Moby Dick level long book then this one is for you.
Because this book is kind of like a personal essay. Only, it’s one that you actually want to read since White’s childlike spirit and impeccable command of the English language totally shine through.
He also shares his undying love for the city since Here is New York is centered around an article that he wrote for Holiday magazine.
That’s why, if you’re planning your first visit to NYC, then this book is a total MUST read.
It’s basically just the perfect introduction to NYC since it enables you to experience the city the way locals do (think of it as one GIANT love letter to NYC).
It will also open your eyes to the simultaneous beauty and grit of this chaotic place – allowing you to appreciate this exquisite metropolis even more than you already do.
Price: $14.95 (Get this book now!)
14. The Encyclopedia of New York (2020) edited by Kenneth T. Jackson
History nerds of the world rejoice! Because THIS, my fact loving friend, is the book of your dreams.
Yup, this one of those books that is brimming over with a ton of interesting facts about NYC – including up to date information on everything from pop culture to top photo spots to a catalog of revolutionary ideas that were first started in the big apple.
No, really! Swan dive into this book right now and you’ll find a ton of different info on things like the history fo the city’s skyline, a list of the best observation decks in the city, the history of punk music, and more!
I mean, did you know that NYC was once a tiny trading post (in 1624) that eventually became an epicenter for intellectual and technological innovation?
So much so that the elevator (constructed inside Cooper Union in 1853), Q-tips (created by a Polish immigrant named Leo Gerstenzang in 1923), General Tso’s chicken (created for American tastes in the 1970s), and Scrabble (developed in Jackson Heights in 1931) were all invented here back in the day!
And that’s just the beginning since The Encyclopedia of New York literally has everything you could ever want to know about the city that ever sleeps.
Because between fascinating origin stories and useful travel guides, this book really does have it all..and then some since you’ll discover something uniquely New York on every single page.
Therefore, whether you’re a permanent resident, a virtual traveler, an NYC newcomer, or something in between, this book absolutely will have something for you to love.
Price: $16.99 (Get this book now!)
15. A History of New York in 101 Objects (2016) by Sam Roberts
In this delightfully quirky book, Sam Roberts explains the entire history of the city through a detailed account of 101 different items that are totally and utterly New York.
And, added bonus? There are actually vibrant, beyond gorgeous photos of every single object hidden away inside this gem of a book.
Also, just as an FYI, that’s something I don’t usually say about non-fiction since I’m more of a fiction kind of girl.
But seriously, this book is beyond awesome and just so damn innovative since it was inspired by A History of the World in 100 Objects and an article that Sam Roberts wrote for the New York Times.
Apparently, he chose fifty items that essentially told the story of New York and wrote an article about them.
However, he got so many additional suggestions from readers, that he extended the list to include the 101 items that are now featured in this thin slice of literary awesome.
And although I 100% do npt want to give it all away, some of the items mentioned include:
- The Flushing Remonstrance – a 1657 petition for religious freedom and the inspiration for the First Amendment to the Constitution.
- The Bagel – First created in the early 1900s, it is now a quintessential New York food (DUH).
- “I Love NY” Logo – Created by Milton Glaser for a 1977 tourism campaign, it has become one of the most iconic symbols of NYC…ever.
- Beads from the African Burial Ground – Believe it or not, slavery was totally legal in New York until 1827. As a result, many people were buried in the city’s African Burial Ground, which was eventually closed in 1792.
So, grab this book, discover a wealth of fun factoids, and enjoy one of the few, encyclopedia-like books that is actually a whole hell of a lot of fun to read.
Price: $20.28 (Get this book now!)
16. The Island at the Center of the World (2015) by Russell Shorto
Meet, New Netherland. The Dutch Colony that emerged in the New York area even before the pilgrims came on over and joined the Colonial America party.
Centered around the groundbreaking principles of tolerance and fundamental human rights for all, this colony, and the Dutch settlers who inhabited it, helped shape the development of New York and the United States as a whole.
That’s why, if these historical topics seem even a little bit interesting to you, then definitely pick up a copy of The Island at the Center of the World.
Because author Russel Sorto does an excellent job of dispelling prevailing myths about New Amsterdam and providing a fascinating account of what the settlement was actually like before it was purchased by the British in 1664.
And with special emphasis on the word “fascinating”.
I mean, even though this book is incredibly well-researched and centered around more than 12,000 pages of historical records, it’s still insanely interesting and presents a wealth of engaging information that makes you want to continue reading.
That’s why if you want to learn more about an uber-cosmopolitan settlement that predated the thirteen colonies. A place where people from all over the world lived together and valued things like free trade, rights for all, and religious freedom, then this is the book for you.
Also, be on the lookout for a wicked awesome lawyer by the name of Adriaen van der Donck. Yeah, he’s basically like this super snazzy American patriot that history totally forgot about since he came in to direct with Peter Stuyvesant, the more than a little authoritarian director of the Dutch colony.
However, it’s important to understand these two men since their thoughts about life helped lay the foundation for the ethos behind modern-day American society.
Price: $12.29 (Get this book today!)
17. The Other Islands of New York City (1996) by Sharon Seitz and Stuart Miller
Written by two journalists and New York residents, The Other Islands of New York City details the 42 different islands that form the archipelago of New York.
Often forgotten by modern-day New Yorkers, these islands fall within the confines of the city and have a complex and fascinating history that is well documented within this unique read.
You’ll also get practical information on how to visit each of these unique places in New York and uncover a series of fun stories, facinting facts, and intriguing legends – all of which are perfectly complemented by a series of 50 different black and white photos and maps.
So, prepare to uncover hidden truths about Ellis Island, discover how infamous Rikers Island came into being, and learn why North Brother Island was the site of Typhoid Mary’s confinement for nearly 30 years.
Heck, you might even learn a thing or two about the social evolution of the city and how NYC’s political climate and population demographics affected the development of these incredible landmasses.
And added bonus? You’ll receive expert tips on some fantastic NYC day trips that will take you to all of the best nature trails and historical military outposts in the tri-state area.
Price: $18.85 (Get this book now!)
18. Gotham (2000) by Mike Wallace
Once a veritable paradise brimming over with tall grasses, expansive stands of walnut trees, and large groups of otters in every river imaginable, New York City has long since become the metropolis to end all metropolises.
An iconic mega city where millions of Americans hurry about their busy lives and stand in awe of ever-looming landmarks like the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.
However, very people actually understand how New York City transformed into the immortal city that we know and love today.
And that’s where Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace step in. They have created Gotham, one of the best books about NYC that is fully illustrated (three cheers for pictures that give us a break from all those LONG words) and that details the entire history of the city, all the way up until 1898.
Trust me, it’s an incredibly varied, fast-paced narrative that examines important historical events like the Indian tribes around Manna-hata (present-day Manhattan), Peter Stuyvesant’s regime, various Indian wars, the Revolutionary War, British occupation, the formation of the five boroughs in 1898, and more.
It’s also WAY more than a local history since this book examines the social development of a city and shows how it accurately reflects the identity of an entire nation.
So, prepare for one hella epic read as you’re introduced to a wonderfully diverse cast of historical characters, including Clement Moore (he saved Greenwich Village from the city’s street-grid plan); Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Boss Tweed (and his arch-nemesis, cartoonist Thomas Nast), Theodore Roosevelt (then police commissioner), John Jacob Astor, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and William Randolph Hearst, just to name a few.
And, FYI, this book was so well-received that a sequel, entitled Greater Gotham, was actually written about the slightly shorter history of NYC between 1898 and 1919. Yeah, it’s a pretty stellar read that closely follows the mass development of NYC in the first two decades of the 20th century.
Price: $31.45 (Get this book now!)
19. The New York Nobody Knows (2015) by William B. Helmreich
What I absolutely love about this book is that it’s a totally personal account of NYC that any local can relate to.
And that’s probably because Wiliam B. Helmreich himself actually grew up in Manhattan, where he regularly played a game called, “Last Stop” with his father.
Yeah, they basically picked a subway line, rode it until the last stop (hence the name), got off the train, and then explored the surrounding neighborhood.
Seriously how cool is that? Why didn’t my parents play neat games like this with me?
Anyway, it was a totally unique game that fostered an eternal love for NYC-related exploration. So much so that William ended up walking along nearly every block of NYC, which is about 6,000 miles in total.
A journey that is chronicled in The New York Nobody Knows as the author walks along these not-so-mean streets and chats with hundreds of local New Yorkers from all across the globe.
People who are united by their constant struggle to understand a place that is forever changing and that always represents something different to every single resident.
Yup, just an all-around epic read that is truly unlike anything else on this list of the best books about NYC.
Price: $6.67 (Get this book now!)
20. Greater Gotham (2017) by Mike Wallace
The much-beloved sequel to the aforementioned Gotham, Greater Gotham is one of the best books about NYC that reveals the fascinating history behind the city that never sleeps between the years of1898 and 1919.
So, take a peek inside Greater Gotham to better understand the skyscraper-related economic boom of 1898, the Bankers’ Panic of 1907, and the city-wide, post-WWI depression.
Trust me, it’s a wonderfully intriguing read since the events detailed inside one of the best books about New York City will show you exactly how NYC transitioned from a national metropolis into a bustling center of economic development that was of worldwide importance.
Along the way, you’ll also learn how greed, immigrant dreams, and sheer ambition all worked together to shape the city we all know and love today.
21. AIA Guide to New York City: 5th Edition by Norval White, Elliot Willensky, and Fran Leadon
Love architecture? Then this is easily one of the best books about NYC for you! I mean, the AIA Guide to New York City is SOO good that it was first published in 1968 and is now in its fifth edition.
Hailed by many as the “definitive record of New York’s architectural heritage”, this is one of the best books about New York City for anyone who wants to learn more about all of the buildings that helped make NYC one of the greatest cities in the world.
So, use this riveting book to discover the unique architecture hidden away in all of the city’s five major boroughs, with a comprehensive overview of places that you 110% should visit – both historically and currently.
You’ll also enjoy a section about the World Trade Center, will learn about the recent development boom of the past decade, can marvel at enhanced photos. and can get up close and personal with buildings designed by legends like Frank Gehry, Norman Foster, and Renzo Piano.
That’s why, in total, you’ll have more than 3,000 jaw-dropping photos to stare at and upwards of detailed maps to go through as you swan dive into the utopia of awesomeness that is embodied in the structures of New York.
22. The Great Bridge (1983) by David McCullough
Honestly, even if you’ve never been to NYC then I’m sure you’ve at least heard of the Brooklyn Bridge. After all, it’s easily one of the most famous and instantly recognizable bridges in the entire world.
Which is why you NEED a copy of The Great Bridge – easily one of the best books about NYC out there. PERIOD.
Okay, I know the story behind the creation of a bridge may seem kind of dull as dishwater but I pinkie promise it’s not.
After all, expert wordsmith and historian David McCullough masterfully creates a compelling narrative that details the building of the world’s longest suspension bridge (at that time) in 1870.
Punctuated by greed, heroism, corruption,and brute force, this monumental tale unravels the mystery behind the establishment of one of the most iconic landmarks in New York City – at a time when most people were perpetually optimistic and felt that anything was possible.
So, check out one of the best books about New York City and learn how a bridge spanning the East River, between Manhattan and Brooklyn, came into being throughout the course of fourteen grueling years. Years when lives were lost, political careers were destroyed, and it felt like the bridge itself would never be completed.
23. Other Non-Fiction Books about NYC
- Up in the Old Hotel (1993) by Joseph Mitchell – Available for $18.00, this is a collection of four books that each chronicle the unique and fascinating lives of a wide array of unique New Yorkers – people like saloon-keepers, street preachers, bearded ladies, and more. Precise in accuracy, respectful in tone, and overflowing with humor, this book is sure to change the way you see any and all local New Yorkers.
- The Bowery Boys – Adventures in Old New York (2016) by Greg Young and Tom Meyers – Priced at $17.95 each, this is a written companion to the author’s popular podcast, which takes readers on an unconventional journey through some of New York’s most iconic neighborhoods. Filled with exciting stories, unique characters, and secret spots, this book will make it absolutely impossible to see places like Chinatown, Little Italy, Columbus Circle, Foley Square, The Bowery, Hell’s Kitchen, and Astor Place the same way again.
- New York Transit Authority Objects (2017) by Brian Kelley – Starting at $49.00 each, this book is a collection of photographs that document the unconventional beauty of the NYC public transporation system. Started with a series of photos of used MetroCards, Kelley quickly expanded his project to include pictures of 1860s era tokens, patches, matchbooks, timetables, etc. As a result, this exquisite book tells the 150-year-old story of the NYC Transit Authority through a neverending evolution in design.
- Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant Cookbook (2013) by Sandy Ingber – Priced at $18.99, this cookbook contains more than 100 different seafood recipes that have been used in Grand Central’s immortal, Oyster Bar restaurant -some of which date back all the way to 1913. Additionally, you’ll also enjoy a wealth of fun stories, historical factoids, and expert tips on buying and serving the best fish at home. Add in several historic photos and a wealth of beautiful food photography, and you have the perfect gift for any of the at-home chefs in your life.
- The Works: Anatomy of a City (2007) by Kate Ascher – If you’ve ever found yourself wondering exactly how things work, then this is one of the best books about NYC for you. Because author Kate Ascher takes you on a journey into the inner workings of any major citiy and explains exactly how urban infrastructure operates. Using well-written text that is perfectly complemented by exquisite graphics, Kate expertly explains all of the systems that help manage things like water, traffic, sewage, garbage, subways, electricity, and mail.
- Forgotten New York: Views of a Lost Metropolis (2006) by Kevin Walsh – Starting at $18.99 each, history enthusiasts can use this book to swan dive into 300 years of long-forgotten New York City history. Because from within these pages, you’ll be able to explore houses from the first Dutch settlers on Staten Island, the yellow brick roads of Brooklyn, the sidewalk clocks of Manhattan; the bishop’s crook lampposts in Queens; and a white elephant from da Bronx. Also included are easy-to-use maps and suggested itineraries that will help you discover a wealth of hidden gems that are scattered throughout all of NYC’s five boroughs.
- Just Kids (2010) by Patti Smith -This memoir, written by punk poet Patti Smith, chronicles her rise to fame and the time she spent in New York City throughout the 1960s and 70s. Equal parts funny and utterly poignant, this is one of the best books about NYC that is a moving tribute to New York City and to the love of her life, late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Bound by their excitement for life, the couple experience all that NYC has to offer, including Coney Island, 42nd Street, the Chelsea Hotel, and a round table at Max’s Kansas City with no less than Andy Warhol himself.
- The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1992) by Jane Jacobs – This number one bestseller examines the exceptional shortsightedness and insane level of pure arrogance that was ever-present when designing many of America’s major cities. It’s a fascinating book that helps readers better understand urban development and concepts like: what makes a street safe, what constitutes a neighborhood, and why some neighborhoods remain forever impoverished, It’s just an all-around awesome foundation from which we can truly understand the overall vitality of our world’s greatest cities.
- The Long-Winded Lady (1969) by Maeve Brennan – Between 1954 and 1981, Maeve Brennan used the pen name, “The Long-Winded Lady” to write various articles for The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” department. Those articles were then consolidated into this book, which features a collection of enchanting, heartfelt musings about life in New York. It’s an all-out celebration of NYC and provides a beautiful window into one author’s perception of the “most reckless, most ambitious, most confused, most comical, the saddest and coldest and most human of cities.”
Best Books About NYC for Kids
24. Eloise (1955) by Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight
Ummm… Who doesn’t want to be the ultra-rad, slightly spoiled, six-year-old girl, who gets to grow up in the Plaza Hotel?
Like hi, Eloise. Can your parents adopt me now? Please?
Because Eloise is living the proverbial dream as she explores Manhattan and goes on various throughout the city in this classic children’s book about New York City.
She’s also more than a little curious since she definitely knows everything about The Plaza and is interested in people…at least as long as they are not boring.
Yeah, this is just basically an all-around classic series of children’s books that were written in 1955 by nightclub singer Kay Thompson—who actually did live in the Plaza—and illustrated by Hilary Knight.
There are also a ton of books in the series so if your child likes one, then you can definitely buy several others. Just please be aware that these really picture books and not chapter books.
Therefore, they’re really geared towards younger children between the ages of 4 and 9.
They’re also super fun since even Eloise herself proudly proclaims:
“Henry James would want to study her. Queen Victoria would recognize her as an equal. The New York Jets would want to have her on their side. Lewis Carroll would love her (once he got over the initial shock).”
Price: Starting at $5.37 (Get this book now!)
25. Stuart Little (1945) by E.B. White
Aww, I used to love this book and have such fond memories of Stuart Little as a child!
However, just in case you weren’t a beyond devoted fan in your youth (like me), then you should probably know that this is one of those books about NYC that tells the amazing story of one incredible mouse, Stuart Little.
See, he is born into a family of humans, including his brother George and Snowbell the cat, who all find themselves living in New York City.
Equal parts shy, thoughtful, and adventurous, Stuart embarks upon the journey of a lifetime when he discovers that his friend Margot, a bird, is missing from her nest.
Determined to find out exactly what happened to his amazing friend, Stuart decides to leave home and gets into plenty of trouble along the way.
But will he find his long lost friend? Find out now in this beloved children’s classic, which was penned by none other than E.B. White himself.
Price: $7.99 (Get this book now!)
26. Harriet the Spy (1964) by Louise Fitzhugh
Harriet the Spy is a classic children’s story that follows the exploits of Harriet M. Welsch, an 11-year-old who happily spends her days spying on everyone around her.
With her trusty notebook in hand, she writes down everything she knows about everyone she encounters, including all of her classmates and best friends.
However, things become a bit more challenging when Harriet eventually loses her notebook and all of her deepest secrets are revealed when it is finally recovered by the wrong person.
Can Harriet save her friendships and set everything right even after people have seen the true, although sometimes mean, things she has written about them?
Find out in this four-part book series, which expertly demonstrates just how powerful and hurtful a child’s words can be. Words that can also be used to heal old wounds if a person simply chooses to do so.
Price: $6.29 (Get this book now!)
27. When You Reach Me (2009) by Rebecca Stead
Not only was this book a 2009 Newbery Award-winner, but When You Reach Me is a fun and exciting novel about a brainiac by the name of Miranda,
See, she’s a late 70s era middle schooler (a latch key kid) from Manhattan who is trying to decipher a seemingly impossible mystery when she begins receiving messages from a mysterious sender who encourages her to write back.
Someone who knows everything about her and about events that haven’t even happened yet.
As Miranda continues to receive these mysterious messages, she becomes convinced that she can prevent a tragic death from happening..or can she?
Somehow, she must try to solve this incredible mystery while navigating the everyday hardships of life ( like her best friend Sal getting punched in the face and refusing to be her friend for what seems like no reason), discovering who she really is, and deciding who her true friends are.
All in all, this is a beautifully written novel that is set in New York. It also has a bit of time travel thrown in for added fun but is still able to address challenging topics like racism.
Price: $7.99 (Get this book now!)
28. Playground of My Mind (2017) by Julia Jacquette
Honestly, this is one of those books about NYC that is just as awesome for adults as it is for kids.
Yes, this 62-page graphic memoir is technically meant for children. However, the pictures and words shared throughout these pages are so well done (and moving AF) that I truly think most adults will enjoy this book as well.
However, just in case you’re not yet in the know, Playground of My Mind details the childhood of Julia Jacquette as she grew up in Manhattan throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
Throughout the book, Julia pays homage to the playgrounds of her childhood with stunning, vibrantly colorful paintings that beautifully mimic the multitude of exciting structures that adorned the play areas of Jacquette’s youth.
Areas that helped foster creative play, the development of a child’s imagination, and the use of modernist architecture in New York City play spaces (works by architects Richard Dattner, M. Paul Friedberg, Ross Ryan Jacquette in New York City, and Aldo van Eyck are also referenced in the book).
It was a time of tremendous social change and the author does a really nice job of articulating the nostalgia of a long-gone era while still expressing all of the emotional conflicts that arose during this difficult time of change.
Price: $50.00 (Get this book now!)
29. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1967) by E.L. Konigsburg
Winner of the Newberry Medal for children’s literature, this is an iconic series of children’s books about NYC that follows the fun and funny exploits of Claudia Kincaid, a young suburban girl who decides to run away.
But she doesn’t just go anywhere. Oh, hell to the no. Instead, her magical journey takes her to none other than the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A place that is warm, inviting, never dull, always comfortable, and insanely elegant.
And truth be told, she’s not really running away from anything, but rather running TO something beyond beautiful. She also couldn’t escape all on her own and decides to bring her younger brother Jamie with her.
Yup, it’s a feat so daring that it actually makes local headlines!
So, splash around in the central water fountain with Claudia and use this book to foster an early love of museums and art history in your child!
Price: $7.99 (Get your book today!)
30. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943) by Betty Smith
Honestly, this one of those iconic and best books about NYC that most people have probably at least heard of, if not read.
And for good reason, since A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is an inspiring coming of age story about Francie Nolan, the daughter of a first-generation Irish immigrant mother, and an American father, who lives in the slums of Williamsburg Brooklyn during the 20th century.
And trust me when I tell you, this Williamsburg is not the hipster mecca (artisanal fair trade coffee anyone?) that you know and love.
Instead, it’s the tale of an eleven-year girl (you’ll follow along with her life until she goes off to college) who struggles with day-to-day poverty and who learns how to better understand her parents and the relationship she has with them.
She also has to develop both courage and fortitude as she faces public scorn from neighbors about her family’s more than a little erratic behavior – especially since her father has an affinity for alcohol and her aunt likes to marry different people without actually getting officially divorced.
Equal parts inspiring, chaotic, and sometimes heart-wrenching, this book is brimming over with honesty and beautiful messages about the complicated relationships we have with family.
FYI, you’ll also, not surprisingly, read about a lot of trees along the way. That’s because the trees Francie sees in many of NYC’s vacant lots serve as a metaphor for perseverance and hope in the midst of great hardship.
Price: $15.99 (Get this book now!)
Additonal New York Resources You’ll Love
Well faithful reader, insert beyond magical jazz hands here because that just about concludes my list of the 30+ best books about NYC!
Tell me, what do you think? Did your favorite books about New York City make the list? If not then let me know in the comments below.
Also, you should (obviously) pin this post now so that you can read it again later!
Come on, you know you want to!