Skip to main content

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.





Popular posts from this blog

The Company of Nature: Walking With Butterflies in Fort Tryon Park

If wandering the empty urban canyons feels a little lonely and depressing, a better idea would be to head to the nearest park. This past Saturday, a day that was sunny but not too hot, Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan turned out to be the perfect place to not only satisfy wanderlust but to rediscover the company of nature. Butterflies were there. Hundreds of butterflies - Tiger Swallowtails, Monarch Butterflies, Black Swallowtails, Cabbage White Butterflies, and Silver Spotted Skippers, among them. Moths, too, although I have not yet learned their names.  The Heather Garden is situated just beyond the entrance to Fort Tryon Park. With seasonal plantings, the garden is always a serene spot.  Observing butterflies involves watching their interaction with blooming flowers and shrubs. The Tiger Swallowtails are easy to find and found here in significant numbers. Just look for the Butterfly Bushes. The Cabbage White Butterflies are here in abundance, too, though not as showy as the swallow…

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers.

Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.  

Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been frequently occupied, as in Occupied, with crowds protesting police violence. This week, NYPD officers in riot gear remove…

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

Update: As of March 12, 2020, many New York arts institutions have temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 public health crisis. Please see this post for announcements of reopenings.

Several museums in New York City are open on Mondays, including MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney.

This list has been expanded to include free or pay-what-you-wish hours.


American Museum of Natural History Central Park West and 79th Street
See the post, Big Things to See at the American Museum of Natural History.
Cooper Hewitt
2 East 91st St.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 1071 Fifth Ave

Jewish Museum 1109 Fifth Ave

Metropolitan Museum of Art 100 Fifth Avenue
See the post 25 Things To Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Met Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park is also open 7 days a week from March - October.

Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Avenue

MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art), 11 West 53 Street: * Also, consult the post 25 Things To Do Near the Museum of Modern…

The City Turned Inside Out: A Walk from Battery Park to Fulton Street

While the cast of HAMILTON sings “The World Turned Upside Down,” New Yorkers could easily hum along to “The City Turned Inside Out” this summer. (not a real song) Where once a city’s important work took place indoors - within the soaring office buildings, famous restaurants, legendary museums, and storied performance halls, the COVID-19 epidemic has literally turned the residents outdoors. 

At least it’s summer in the city, when spending time outdoors is common and pleasant enough. Still, the city remains strange this summer of 2020. 

With the absence of tourists, and with office workers connecting virtually from home, many of the city’s main attractions aren’t attracting many visitors. A walk from the Battery to Fulton Street on a pleasant Thursday afternoon bore this out. 

It’s uplifting to at least find plants that are alive and happy. Thanks to the city’s gardeners and landscapers, the city parks are looking particularly lush and splendid this summer. The grounds of Battery Park feel…

A Weekend Walk on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

Imagine strolling from town to town near the eastern shores of the Hudson River, walking a well-trodden path lined with trees and stately architecture and with easy access to cafes, local shops, and train stations for an easy ride home. Imagine a weekend when the sun is bright and the sun is warm, and many other people - but not too many - are out enjoying the same weather and the same stroll. Such were the pleasures on a recent Sunday, in the latter part of this unseasonal winter, along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail not too far north from New York City.


The Old Croton Aqueduct, the system that once delivered fresh water from the Croton River to New York City, was a huge and complex marvel of engineering. The trail sits on top of the aqueduct system. This post describes a walk along just a section of the trail, the one that begins at the Keeper’s House in Dobbs Ferry and ends in Irvington.


First, catch a Metro-North Hudson line train to Dobbs Ferry, a village in southern Westchester C…

NYC Re-openings and Travel Advice

As the pandemic crisis improves in New York State, several NYC attractions are scheduling their re-openings. What will open, and how will you get there? This list will be updated following official announcements.
UPDATED August 7, 2020. With the state of New York currently ahead of the class in the pandemic outbreak across the US, many favorite local destinations have started to reopen. The rollout is designed to be gradual, with geographic regions advancing according to a fixed set of metrics. 
New York City, the hardest hit area in the first months of the crisis, entered Phase 4 on Monday, July 20. The local exception: indoors of malls, restaurants, and cultural institutions.

Openings     
Phase 4 began in NYC on July 20. Stay outside! (Forward.ny.gov) NO indoor dining!
• Restaurants: Consult this NYC Department of Transportation map (updated link) for restaurants currently open in NYC. 
• Outdoor dining has been extended through October 31. 
• On July 1, city beaches opened for swimming.
•…

Starstruck at MoMA

(Update July 31, 2020. Please note: After reopening in 2019, MoMA is currently closed as a result of the pandemic. MoMA has not announced its reopening.) 
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Midtown Manhattan is undergoing a significant renovation and expansion that will increase gallery space by thirty percent upon completion in 2019. In the midst of renovation and following a long hot summer, the museum may currently look a little rough around the edges and even disorienting for longtime patrons. For starters, you’ll need to enter the museum on W. 54th Street instead of W. 53rd Street while the work is taking place, and the museum store is now currently on the second floor next to the coffee bar which has also moved.


This state of affairs didn’t stop visitors on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend from making a pilgrimage to the museum to gaze at treasures of modern art. In an age of quickly disposable digital imagery, the original and cherished works still exude their aura. Ironically,…

Delacroix’s Cats

Following its record-breaking debut at the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the blockbuster Delacroix exhibit has opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. While not all of the works could travel, as some are intrinsic to the Louvre, the big cats made the trip to the city. For the Delacroix exhibit poster, the Met has selected Young Tiger Playing with Its Mother, the artist’s great and surprising painting from 1830, as the signature and defining work of the exhibition.


Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798–1863), known as the leading Romantic painter of his era, loved cats. His many notebooks show preparatory sketches of lions, tigers, and several charming domestic cats. The big cats, for the most part, made it into big paintings. At 52 x 76.6 in. (130 x 195 cm), Young Tiger Playing with Its Mother, 1830, is astonishingly large for an animal painting of his time, a size normally devoted to a history painting. His most famous work, La Liberté guidant le peuple, dates from the same year.�…

From Manhattan to the Bronx: A Walk Over the Henry Hudson Bridge to Henry Hudson Park

At the tiptop of Manhattan Island, Inwood Hill Park offers picturesque views of the Hudson River. For one of the best views, follow the marker at Shorakkopoch Rock (see map at the end of the post), the legendary place where Peter Minuit was said to have bought the island for 60 guilders, and follow the ridge up the slope. The path leads gently higher and higher, with views of the Salt Marsh down below and then the underside of the Henry Hudson Bridge above. This spot along the ridge is well known among birders, as the height and the proximity to the Hudson River allow access to treetops and places where birds like to go. 

Keep going around the bend and past the bridge. A few spots of open pavement at the edge of the hill provide good views of the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge, a swing bridge that carries train traffic to and from Penn Station. The bridge was recently upgraded. On the opposite shore of Spuyten Duyvil Creek, you’ll likely see Metro-North trains coming round the bend, either he…

The Most Beautiful Bridge in the World

Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier (1887 - 1965), the leading proponent of the International Style of modern architecture, visited NYC on several occasions in the 1930s and 1940s, and he made much to say about the skyscraper city. He didn’t think much of the faux tops of the tall buildings nor did he care about the haphazard city planning, but he did fall madly in love with one particular bridge: 
"The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson is the most beautiful bridge in the world. Made of cables and steel beams, it gleams in the sky like a reversed arch. It is blessed. It is the only seat of grace in the disordered city. It is painted an aluminum color and, between water and sky, you see nothing but the bent cord supported by two steel towers. When your car moves up the ramp the two towers rise so high that it brings you happiness; their structure is so pure, so resolute, so regular that here, finally, steel architecture seems to laugh. The car reaches an unexpectedly wide apro…