Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Lives of Cities

We recently read Graham Robb's Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris, which is a "series of stories about the Paris you never knew" [from the library catalog], starring Napoleon Bonaparte, Proust, Baron Haussmann, and others; London also has its own biography, by Peter Ackroyd. This made us wonder, did cities in the United States also have their own biographies? We thought of Erik Larson's Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America would probably count, but we thought we might be able to find more books that told the histories of cities, either in a biography form or through the window of one particular era in the life of the city.  Here's some of the titles we came up with:

San Francisco

Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love by David Talbot


City of Scoundrels: The Twelve Days of Disaster that Gave Birth to Modern Chicago by Gary Krist

The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream by Thomas Dyja


Detroit: A Biography by Scott Martelle

Los Angeles

L.A. '56: A Devil in the City of Angels by Joel Engel

A Bright and Guilty Place: Murder, Corruption, and L.A.'s Scandalous Coming of Age by Richard Rayner


The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story by Lily Koppel

New York

Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America by Sam Roberts

Good Guys, Wiseguys, and Putting Up Buildings: A Life in Construction by Samuel C. Florman

Eat the City: A Tale of the Fishers, Trappers, Hunters, Foragers, Slaughterers, Butchers, Farmers, Poultry Minders, Sugar Refiners, Cane Cutters, Beekeepers, Winemakers, and Brewers Who Built New York by Robin Shulman

Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life by Evan Hughes

The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars by Paul Collins

Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts

Lox, Stocks, and Backstage Broadway: Iconic Trades of New York City by Nancy Groce


Rebound!: Basketball, Busing, Larry Bird, and the Rebirth of Boston by Michael Connelly  [eBook]


A House on Fire: The Rise and Fall of Philadelphia Soul by John A. Jackson

Washington, D.C.

First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America's First Black Public High School by Alison Stewart

Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 by Jefferson Morley


Outlaw: Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and the Renegades of Nashville by Michael Streissguth

Air Castle of the South: WSM and the Making of Music City by Craig Havighurst

St. Louis

Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America's Kings of Beer by William Knoedelseder


Seven Fires: The Urban Infernos that Reshaped America by Peter Charles Hoffer

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

Dead Cities and Other Tales by Mike Davis

And don't forget Albuquerque!  You can find books under the subject heading Albuquerque (N.M.) - Description and travel, and if that's not enough, try a subject search of just Albuquerque (N.M.) to get even more titles! Also try the subject Santa Fe N M for more local history.


LW said...

Got to get Pittsburgh onto the list with Annie Dillard's American Childhood, which would almost count as a Pittsburgh biography within Dillard's own autobiography. Those of us from near Pittsburgh recognize a lot of names and places, and it's beautifully written. Also, Marcia Davenport's The Valley of Decision: A Novel of Steel is a great story of Pittsburgh and the steel industry in novel form. It doesn't sound especially compelling -- although you have to love the subtitle, but it was hard to put down, as you get into the various characters' stories and interconnections.

LW said...

I know this is a U.S. list, but I have to get in a plug for Tiziano Scarpa's Venice Is a Fish: A Sensual Guide. It's not exactly a biography of Venice, but it's got many quirky biographical and lyrical characteristics with sections on the experiences over the centuries of feet, legs, hearts, hands, faces, ears, mouths, noses, and eyes in this watery city that so spurs the imagination.