Post Overview: Roundup of the Best Books About New York City
If you’re looking for the best books about New York City you’ve come to the right place. I am a bookworm in every sense of the word, and the only thing I love more in my hometown.
As such, I’ve practically read every book about New York City that exists. I didn’t want all this knowledge to go to waste, so I thought it be fun to share my personal list of the best books about NYC. Without further ado, let’s get to it.
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Best Books About New York City
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10 Best NYC Coffee Table Books
Humans of New York
Brandon Stanton started out originally trying to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers, however it was only once he began talking to his subjects that he grasped the powerful and unique narratives that are the lives of New Yorkers. He began adding quotes and small anecdotes to their portraits and the rest is history.
Humans of New York has gone on to become one of the first blogs to truly break into the mainstream. Now we have a physical copy that finds its home well on a coffee table. It’s a casual read, and one of the best books about New York City and its people, that can be taken in little by little.
Pick up a copy of Humans of New York
Pretty City New York
Siobhan Ferguson has curated beautiful Instagram feeds that inspire and encourage us to take in the beauty of every day life. From street corners to green spaces, there is naturally occurring artistry all around us. Pretty City New York is a vibrant representation of the Big Apple and has readers engaged with every page flip, excited to see more.
The Pretty Cities series also has books on London and Dublin, as well as coloring books. Similar to scrolling on a smartphone, these coffee table books are easy to pick up and flip through. Among the best books about New York City, Pretty City New York is a visual masterpiece.
Pick up your copy of Pretty City New York
New York City in Stride
New York City in Stride provides a colorful locals guide to seeing New York City’s best attractions and hidden gems. There are neighborhood guides, informing readers about what to see where and pointing out experiences that might have been missed otherwise. The best books about New York City often feel like a conversation between the reader and a their friend in the city, and the authors of New York City in Stride were able to do that beautifully.
Watercolor paintings make this an engaging and easy read which is both helpful and entertaining. It’s far from the monotonous and overwhelming maps and brochures that are typical in tourism, New York City in Stride makes visiting the city more digestible.
Pick up your copy of New York City in Stride
New York in Color
There are iconic colors in New York City, like taxi-cab yellow and stop sign red, but it doesn’t just stop there. New York in Color is a book that organizes the the city in an array of beautiful and cohesive shades that show that just because this is the concrete jungle it is not necessarily the gray, concrete jungle.
Walking the streets of New York City there are pockets of vibrant and dynamic color, it just takes looking for it to find it. In a beautiful collection of images, New York in Color helps readers escape the dullness of routine. Author Nichole Robertson has brought us one of the best books about New York City by way of vibrant and striking images.
Pick up your copy of New York in Color
New York: An Illustrated History
It’s been 398 years since the Dutch first arrived to New York, and a lot has happened in those nearly 4 centuries. New York: An Illustrated History showcases the radical changes New York has gone through in transforming itself into what feels like the center of the universe. One of the best books about New York City, this also serves as companion to the PBS series by the same name.
Pictures and accounts follow the evolution of New York from the first arrival of the Dutch, to its role in the Revolutionary War, to becoming the beating heart of the global economy. There’s also been a revised version since it’s original publishing that adds the tragic events of 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis as well as COVID-19.
Pick up your copy of New York: An Illustrated History
New York in Bloom
There are few places as magical as New York City during cherry blossom season, and New York in Bloom captures that and so much more. Whether it’s a corner bodega’s flower arrangements or the blooms in Central Park, photographer & author Georgianna Lane magically captures the magic of flowering New York City.
In a collection of photos that inspire those afar to visit and New Yorkers to see their city for all its glory, New York in Bloom is one of the best books about New York City.
Pick up your copy of New York in Bloom
Bricks & Brownstones
Charles Lockwood first published Bricks & Brownstones: The New York Row House in 1972 and its since become one of the most beloved books about New York City. The book explained the history behind the iconic New York City homes.
Not only does author Charles Lockwood dive into the architecture and design, there are also more than 250 photographs of the beloved buildings that showcase their charm. Whether its covered in winter snow, or clouded by spring blooms, New York City’s brownstones are what a lot of New Yorkers think of when they think of home.
Pick up your copy of Bricks & Brownstones
An American Renaissance: Beaux-Arts Architecture in New York City
My wife and I were standing outside the MET once and got to talking about how, “they don’t design buildings like this anymore” and that got me thinking about architecture. When we got home I found one of the best books about New York City, An American Renaissance: Beaux-Arts Architecture in New York City.
I was fascinated to learn about everything that went in to creating such captivating facades. Not only do readers learn about the design styles, we learn about the folks who designed and commissioned the epic buildings New Yorkers gawk at in todays age.
Pick up your copy of An American Renaissance: Beaux-Arts Architecture in New York City
All the Buildings in New York: That I’ve Drawn So Far
James Gulliver Hancock’s colorful portrayals of New York City’s iconic buildings find a home in All the Buildings in New York: That I’ve Drawn So Far. The collection of drawings are organized, neighborhood by neighborhood and don’t only focus on the staples of the city skyline. Although not a native New Yorker, Hancock does New York justice with his playful renditions and has gifted readers with one of the best books about New York City.
Pick up your copy of All the Buildings in New York: That I’ve Drawn So Far
Bill Cunningham: On the Street: Five Decades of Iconic Photography
Bill Cunningham was a longtime photographer for The New York Times and helped popularize the candid, fashion street photography often associated with New York City. In On the Street: Five Decades of Street Photography readers will get to see New York fashion from the 70’s to the 2010’s, all from a maestro’s point of view. There are also photos included that were never published in The Times, making this one of the best books about New York City and its fashion.
Pick up your copy of Bill Cunningham: On the Street: Five Decades of Iconic Photography
10 Best History Books About New York City
A History of New York in 101 Objects
A relatively easy and quick read, A History of New York in 101 Objects is author’s Sam Roberts unique way of telling the story of NYC. By using items as obviously associated with New York like a bagel, along with less known items like beads from the African Burial Ground, Roberts is able to tell a comprehensive but digestible history of NYC. Different vessels come together in one of the best history books about New York City to tell the story of the greatest city on earth.
Pick up your copy of A History of New York in 101 Objects
Here is New York
Author E.B. White is perhaps best known for Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, however his walking narration Here is New York is among the best books about New York City. In it, White captures the heart and soul of New York City and translates it to every-day readers regardless of where they find themselves. He describes the magic that makes New York, New York, and although it was published nearly 75 years ago there’s a timelessness to the spirit of New York City and its inhabitants. Although White had moved out of New York City at the time of it’s publishing, Here is New York is quite possibly the greatest love letter ever written to the City that Never Sleeps.
Pick up your copy of Here is New York
The New York Nobody Knows
In order to write the book, The New York Nobody Knows, William B. Helmreich walked more than 6,000 miles through all five boroughs over the course of four years. Being a professor of sociology he was able to gain insight on a deeper level than the common traveler, and writes it into one of the books about New York City. By scouting every nook in New York City Helmreich was able to meet New Yorkers from all different backgrounds and ethnicities, searching for the stories that make New York the epic metropolis it is.
Pick up your copy of The New York Nobody Knows
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York
Many New Yorkers don’t immediately recognize the name Robert Moses, but his fingerprints can be found all over New York City. Having held 12 official titles at the same time, to say he was influential would be an understatement. Robert Caro published the biography in 1974, and its gone on to win multiple awards including a Pulitzer Prize. By telling the life story of Moses, Caro simoltaneously tells the story of New York City. Readers will gain a deeper understanding of urban development, sociology as well as politics. This award winning biography is one of the best books about New York City and a beloved favorite to many people all around the world.
Pick up your copy of The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York
The Great Bridge
If I asked Americans to name iconic structures in NYC, I wouldn’t get far before people started mentioning the Brooklyn Bridge. The Great Bridge is a deep dive into one of the most famous bridges in the world. At the time of its construction, The Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world. In The Great Bridge author David McCullough has written a biography of sorts, but instead of a person it’s a biography of the Brooklyn Bridge and one of the best books about New York City.
Pick up your copy of The Great Bridge
The Women Who Made New York
It’s easy to read all about the great things men did for New York City in a textbook, however rarely is that the full picture. Julie Scelfo has written one of the best books about New York City history by shining a spotlight on the women who were artists, engineers and icons who helped make New York the greatest city in America. Along with striking illustrations by Hallie Heald, The Women Who Made New York is an insight into not only New York City’s history, but on the women who made it what it is today.
Pick up your copy of The Women Who Made New York
The Island at the Center of the World
It’s easy to forget that before New York was an English colony, it was first a Dutch colony. The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America is a mouthful of a title, but sums up perfectly what readers will learn about in one of the best books about New York City to be written. In the 1960’s archivists in the New York State Library found 12,000 pages of previously unknown documents, letters and court cases from the time the Dutch ruled Manhattan. Author Russell Shorto used the pages to write a captivating narrative of New York before it actually became New York.
Pick up your copy of The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America
Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898
In an encyclopedic sized book, historians Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace take a deep dive into New York City from the time in which settlers first arrived to the late 19th century. Readers get an insight into the formative years of the Empire State and the people who lived here. The book is wonderfully written and reads like a story rather than a textbook, making this one of the best nonfiction books about New York City.
Pick up your copy of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898
The Encyclopedia of New York City
Okay before you run off thinking I’m placing a 6 inch thick, no picture having, college textbook about New York City on your desk I want you to know this book was actually curated by the editors at The New York Magazine. In fact – it’s not a traditional “encyclopedia”. The book is about the things New York City has made (or popularized). From beaver pelts to hip-hop, New York has been in the middle of nearly every major American success and The Encyclopedia of New York City touches on that and more making this one of the best books about New York City.
Pick up your copy of The Encyclopedia of New York City
Broadway: A History of New York City in Thirteen Miles
The street New Yorkers today call Broadway was once just a muddy trail that livestock and carts used to get from point a to point b. In today’s world though it’s associated with huge stores, apartment buildings, and restaurants galore.
In using Broadway as a vessel, author Fran Leadon is able to in a broader sense (pun intended) tell the story of New York City. There’s unique facts (like that Columbia University is built on the grounds of an old insane asylum) that forever changed the way I see the street I live only a block away from!The unique perspectives provided make it one of the best books about New York City
Pick up your copy of Broadway: A History of New York City in Thirteen Miles
5 Best Novels Based in New York City
The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby is a staple of American literature and follows the story of millionaire Jay Gatsby and his attempts of courting Daisy Buchanan. Set in and around New York City during the roaring 20’s, readers teleport to a world of rich excess. Alcohol, jazz and beautiful women surround Gatsby and thus the reader. For nearly 100 years The Great Gatsby has been among the best books set in New York City.
Pick up your copy of The Great Gatsby
The Catcher in the Rye
The Catcher in the Rye follows 16 year old protagonist Holden Caulfield after he runs away from his upscale boarding school. Holden spends 3 days alone in New York City, his hometown, but chooses not to go home to avoid his parents. Through his escapades readers gain a glimpse into his, and often our own, insecurities in growing up. In The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger has created a coming of age story that’s remained relatable for decades, and one of the best novels based in New York City.
Pick up your copy of The Catcher in the Rye
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal of Holly Golightly is what most people think of when they think of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but Truman Capote’s 1958 novella stands on its own merits as one of the best books set in New York City of all time. The book centers around a brownstone in the Upper East Side and its tenants, notably an unnamed narrator and Holly Golightly. There’s romance, lighthearted humor and a sense that’s omnipresent in New York City.
Pick up your copy of Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Jonathan Lethem has written my all-time favorite novel set in New York City, Motherless Brooklyn. In this book, readers follow an orphaned boy with Tourette syndrome who gets taken under the wing of an underworld tough guy. After his savior is killed, the boy has to play detective in his search for the person responsible. Lethem has written one of the best books set in New York City and readers are itching to keep reading.
Pick up your copy of Motherless Brooklyn
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Although it was first published in 1943, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn shines a light on themes that are still relevant today. It follows Francie Nolan, a young girl living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and details her life. Author Betty Smith touches on family drama, political differences, and poverty all through the eyes of a young girl whose losing her innocence and coming of age. Set in the early 20th century, readers get to enjoy one of the best and classic books set in New York City.
Pick up your copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Best books about New York City (Post Summary)
- Pretty City New York
- New York City in Stride
- Humans of New York
- New York in Color
- New York: An Illustrated History
- New York in Bloom
- Bricks & Brownstones
- An American Renaissance: Beaux-Arts Architecture in New York CityThe Women Who Made New York
- All the Buildings in New York (That I’ve Drawn So Far)
- Bill Cunningham: On the Street: Five Decades of Iconic Photography
- A History of New York in 101 Objects
- Here is New York
- The New York Nobody Knows
- The Power Broker
- The Great Bridge
- The Island at the Center of the World
- Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898
- The Encyclopedia of New York City
- Broadway: A History of New York City in Thirteen Miles
- The Great Gatsby
- The Catcher in the Rye
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s
- Motherless Brooklyn
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Yana Beltran says
These are some great reads! I love that not all the books are super long and boring. The photography books double as great gifts!
New York Simply says
We couldn’t agree more. Thanks for taking the time to comment!