11.15.2009

A Literary Holiday Gift Guide: Best New Books on New York, New York

Not surprisingly, New York as a subject generates a lot of books. Each year the shelves in the New York section of bookstores become overcrowded with new books about the city, each one adding something different to a vast body of city literature. This year the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's voyage to the New World inspired several new books on New York's Dutch heritage, many of them accompanying exhibitions at area museums. In addition, the Lincoln Bicentennial (1809-2009) brought new attention to the role of New York in creating the circumstances for his Presidency. And as always, New York's position in the creative arts and food culture insures that writers will always find new stories to tell about artists and chefs in the city.

The number of new tourist guide books alone continues to grow, each providing the visitor with a new angle on the city. In selecting the best New York-centered books for this holiday gift guide, I decided to leave off the guide books, although many are quite good, because they tend to have a short shelf life. Nevertheless, the list of recommended New York-centered books is large and impressive, just like the city.

All the books listed below were published in 2009. Price quoted is the publisher's retail price. The images of Fifth Avenue are from November 2009. And now for your shopping pleasure - Walking Off the Big Apple's recommended books on New York.

NONFICTION

Appetite City: A Culinary History of New YorkAppetite City: A Culinary History of New York by William Grimes (North Point Press, 2009). $30. Former New York Times restaurant critic explains why New York became such a foodie town and why residents continue to be obsessed with food.

Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-time Eater by Frank Bruni (Penguin, 2009). $25.95. Those who enjoyed reading Bruni's restaurant reviews for The New York Times will be interested in his long struggle with his weight and self image.

The City Out My Window: 63 Views of New York by Matteo Pericoli (Simon & Schuster, 2003). $21.99. What do New Yorkers see when they look out their windows? An intimate view of the city through the drawings of artist Matteo Pericoli, with celebrities pointing out the sights from their windows. With an introduction by architecture critic Paul Goldberger.

Dutch New York: The Roots of Hudson Valley Culture by Robert Panetta. (Co-published with Hudson River Museum, 2009) $29.95. Henry Hudson's voyage 400 years ago spawned several excellent books this year. This collection of scholarly essays looks at the Dutch in the Hudson River Valley through chronological frames from 1609, 1709, 1809, 1909, and 2009.

Dutch New York, between East and West: The World of Margrieta van Varick (Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design & Culture)Dutch New York, between East and West: The World of Margrieta van Varick (Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design & Culture) (Yale University Press, 2009). $75. Fascinating story of a Dutch woman who came to New York with her husband in 1686 and set up shop in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

Free for All: Joe Papp, The Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told by Kenneth Turan (Doubleday, 2009). $39.95. Turan began a similar book over twenty years ago, but a falling out with Papp derailed the project. Now, the story can be told, with many interviews with friends of Papp and their stories of the New York Shakespeare Festival and the Public Theater.

Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City by Michelle Nevius and James Nevius. (Free Press, 2009). $16.95. Fascinating history of New York City by two knowledgeable veteran guides, with fourteen history-themed walking tours.

The Jazz Loft Project: Photographs and Tapes of W. Eugene Smith from 821 Sixth Avenue, 1957-1965The Jazz Loft Project: Photographs and Tapes of W. Eugene Smith from 821 Sixth Avenue, 1957-1965 by Sam Stephenson (Knopf, 2009). $40. Release date is November 24, 2009. From 1957 to 1965, Smith created the largest body of work in his career, taking pictures of the jazz scene in the flower district from the perspective of his apartment. The work adds a significant amount of knowledge about the vibrant jazz scene in 1950s and 1960s New York. Written by the man who discovered the jazz loft photographs.


The Kingdom of New York: Knights, Knaves, Billionaires, and Beauties in the City of Big Shots by The New York Observer. (Harper, 2009). $35. Twenty years of insights, stories, and observations about the trends and stories of the city from the writers of the Observer.

Legacy: The Preservation of Wilderness in New York City Parks, Photographs by Joel Meyerowitz (Aperture, 2009). $65. The photographer who has often made New York his subject, especially in his haunting images following September 11, was commissioned by the New York Department of Parks & Recreation to take images of the areas of wilderness within New York's parks. The images are on display at the Museum of the City of New York through March 7, 2010.

Lincoln and New York by Harold Holzer ( Philip Wilson Publishers, 2009). $50. Abraham Lincoln's career took its dramatic turn toward the Presidency with his famous speech at Cooper Union, but there's far more to the story of Lincoln and the city. Based on an important exhibition at the New-York Historical Society of original artifacts.

Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City by Eric W. Sanderson (author) and Markley Boyer (illustrator) (Abrams 2009). $40. Seeing the images and reading the story about the new world Henry Hudson found 400 years ago will forever change the way you look at New York City. An important project that reached across several different mediums raised awareness about the continuities in New York life. Read more about the 2009 exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York here.

Mapping New YorkMapping New York by Black Dog Publishing, Editor (2009). $49.95. A compilation of historical maps and imaginative ones. A cartographer's dream, but the gorgeous book should appeal to anyone with an appreciation for New York and the beauty of maps.

Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan (Clarkson Potter, 2009). $40. How to make ramen noodles sing and fried chicken fly, from the master restaurateur and chef from the popular restaurant, along with New York Times food writer Meehan.

New York, Line by Line: From Broadway to the Battery by Robinson (Universe, 2009). $19.95. Charming, charming, smart illustrations of the city by a German illustrator on his visit to New York.

The New York Times' Book of New York: Stories of the People, the Streets, and the Life of the City Past and Present by James Barron (Editor), NY Times (Editor), Anna Quindlen (Introduction) (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2009). $27.95. From the city's major paper, over 200 articles and many illustrations recounting the major events and trends in the city's history.

New York 400: A Visual History of America's Greatest City with Images from The Museum of the City of New YorkNew York 400: A Visual History of America's Greatest City with Images from The Museum of the City of New York by The Museum of the City of New York (Running Press, 2009). $40. Based on the exhibition at the museum celebrating the 400th anniversary of Hudson's voyage to the "island at the center of the world," a visual history encompassing landmarks and everyday life.

New York 1930: Architecture and Urbanism Between the Two World WarsNew York 1930: Architecture and Urbanism Between the Two World Wars by Robert A.M. Stern, Gregory F. Gilmartin, and Thomas Mellins (Rizzoli, 2009). $95. An important volume in a serious about the architectural history of New York, the weighty book takes on the era of the skyscrapers, art deco, and the landmark project of the Great Depression - Rockefeller Center. 600 illustrations.

Only in New York: An Exploration of the World's Most Fascinating, Frustrating and Irrepressible City by Sam Roberts (St. Martin's Press, 2009). $23. 99 Urban affairs correspondent for The New York Times assembles 40 of his popular podcasts on a variety of city subjects - from doormen to the city's quirky politics.

Only in New York: Photographs from LOOK Magazine by Donald Albrecht and Thomas Mellins (The Monacelli Press, 2009). $50. Drawn from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York, two hundred photographs from the classic postwar magazine show off the sophisticated New York of the 1940s and 1950s.

Seeing Central Park: The Official Guide to the World's Greatest Urban Park by Sara Cedar Miller (Abrams, 2009). $19.95. The official historian and photographer of Central Park Conservancy shows us inside the richly diverse universe of New York's famous park.

Taschen's New YorkTaschen's New York by Angelika Taschen, editor, with Paul Ober, photographer (Taschen, 2009). $39.99. Classic New York delis, City Bakery, shopping at Tiffany's and trendy hotels like The Bowery and Maritime make the cut in this sumptuous coffee table book by the art historian and powerhouse editor and publisher.

Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System---And Failed by Andrew Ross Sorkin (Viking, 2009). $32.95. A New York Times reporter and columnist puts together the memorable story of the collapse of Wall Street.

Twenty Minutes in Manhattan by Michael Sorkin (Reaktion Books, 2009). $27. Architecture critic and CUNY professor closely analyzes the daily commute from his Greenwich Village apartment to his studio in Tribeca, examining the ways history, culture, and politics affect the minutia of our everyday lives.

FICTION

Chronic CityChronic City by Jonathan Lethem (Doubleday, 2009). $27.95. Story of two friends, a former child star living off residuals and a messy pop critic, set on the Upper East Side. A billionaire mayor presides over the fictitious mysteries of Manhattan.

Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow (Random House, 2009). $26. Two close brothers grow up in a Fifth Avenue mansion, gradually phasing out the outside world over many decades of the twentieth century. Reviewed in Walking Off the Big Apple.

Invisible by Paul Auster (Henry Holt and Co., 2009). $25. According to the November 12, 2009 review in The New York Times, "the finest novel Paul Auster has ever written." Story centers on a poetry student, Adam Walker, at Columbia University in the spring of 1967.

New York: The Novel New York: The Novel by Edward Rutherfurd (Doubleday, 2009). $30. A sweeping history of 880 pages in the style of James Michener novels by the author of London: The Novel.

The Rags of Time by Maureen Howard (Viking, 2009). $26.95. A novel of an aging woman on the Upper West Side looking back on a dying culture.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple along Fifth Avenue from November 2009: top to bottom, steps of The Metropolitan Museum of Art; window at Bergdorf Goodman; tree at Rockefeller Center behind scaffolding; window at Henri Bendel; sidewalk in front of Cartier.

Disclosure: Walking Off the Big Apple is an Amazon Affiliate and earns a commission from the sale of books linked here.
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