One planner’s guide to non-fiction books about specific cities

Nearly every city has at least one unique story to tell about itself and some cities are filled with many interesting ones. The story(ies) may be due to conflict or upheaval, its unique culture or geography, a natural or human caused disaster, tremendous population growth, economic decline, or a myriad of other reasons. It’s the author’s job to find those fascinating tidbits and then bring them to life on the pages of a book.

The following list contains nonfiction books about specific cities from around the globe that I have read to date and my rating for each. I have also provided the rating from Goodreads as a comparison and in parenthesis are the number of people who rated the book on Goodreads as of May 18, 2021, or the date later books are added. As you can see, there is a huge range [from 1 (me) to more than 65,000]. As additional publications are read, the rating(s) will be added.

My perfect book about a specific city isn’t a cerebral read that fills pages upon pages with data and/or bland minutia. As a result, several books that have fairly high ratings on Goodreads do not get particularly good ratings from me (see below). In my personal opinion, an especially good non-fiction book should be compelling and almost read like a novel, not a research paper, nor a diary.

As a reader, I want to learn about the heart and soul of the city; what makes its citizens tick; what makes that place interesting or truly unique unto itself; what accounts for its survival through wars or disasters; what humorous and insightful stories can be told; and what lessons can that city provide to other communities around the world.

I hope this list is helpful to anyone who is as fascinated as I am about the urban condition in all its complexities and eccentricities.


Note 1: The list does not include travel guides like those published by Fodor’s, Frommer’s, Rick Steves, or Lonely Planet; city encyclopedias; pictorials; architectural guides; or similar style publications. Travelogues are included.

Note 2: Links are provided to* for books that were especially insightful and/or interesting to this reader. *A small commission is earned from purchases that are made using these links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Note 3: My rating does not guarantee that everyone (or anyone) will feel the same way about these books as I did. These ratings just reflect my reaction to each of these books.


FIVE STAR RATINGS BY ME (Listed in alphabetical order)

A River and Its City – The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans = Goodreads: 3.86 (59)

Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City = Goodreads 4.38 (7,459)

Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity = Goodreads: 3.81 (351)

Hiroshima = Goodreads: 3.99 (65,206)

If Venice Dies = Goodreads: 3.93 (181)

In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist = Goodreads: 3.75 (808)

Istanbul: Memories and the City = Goodreads: 3.80 (16,832)

Luxury and Rubble: Civility and Dispossession in the New Saigon = Goodreads: 4.44 (16)

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found = Goodreads: 3.93 (10,194)

Memphis Mayhem: The Story of the Music that Shook Up the World = Goodreads: 4.00 (17)

Spanish Colonial Tucson: A Demographic History = Goodreads: 5.00 (3)

Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 = Goodreads: 4.30 (30,297)

The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad = Goodreads: 3.86 (527)

The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States = Goodreads: 4.38 (984)

The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination, and the Invention of Los Angeles = Goodreads: 4.13 (1,277)

The Silent Traveller in Edinburgh = Goodreads: 3.90 (52)

The West Bank of Greater New Orleans: A Historical Geography = Goodreads: 4.75 (8)

FOUR STAR RATINGS BY ME (Listed in alphabetical order)

Amsterdam: A Brief Life of the City = Goodreads: 3.84 (1,343)

Barcelona = Goodreads: 3.83 (1,312)

Come Here to Me: Dublin’s Other History = Goodreads: 4.09 (6)

Crossroads at Clarksdale: The Black Freedom Struggle in the Mississippi Delta After World War II = Goodreads: 4.17 (23)

Durban in a Word: Contrasts and Colours in Ethekwini = Goodreads: 4.00 (1)

First Stop in the New World: Mexico City, the Capital of the 21st Century = Goodreads: 3.86 (585)

Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City = Goodreads: 3.61 (3,262)

Indianapolis: The Story of a City = Goodreads: 4.00 (1) – The first specific city book I read!

Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi = Goodreads: 3.80 (523)

Inventing Los Alamos: The Growth of an Atomic Community = Goodreads: 3.65 (31)

Mediterranean Crossroads: Marseille and Modern Architecture = Goodreads: 3.67 (6)

Moscow 1941: A City and Its People at War = Goodreads: 3.86 (527)

Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West = Goodreads: 4.22 (2,842)

Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams = Goodreads: 3.80 (343)

Reimagining Detroit: Opportunities for Redefining an American City = Goodreads: 3.62 (136)

The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans = Goodreads 3.78 (487)

The Search for a Vanishing Beijing = Goodreads: 3.25 (8)

The Making of Classical Edinburgh = Goodreads: 4.45 (11)

This Gulf of Fire: The Great Lisbon Earthquake and Its Aftermath = Goodreads: 3.84 (202)

THREE STAR RATINGS BY ME (Listed in alphabetical order)

Detroit: Race and Uneven Development = Goodreads: 3.54 (13)

It Came From Memphis – 25th Anniversary Edition = Goodreads: 4.22 (18)

From Boro to Bilbao: An Englishman in Bilbao = Goodreads : 4.60 (5)

The Silent Traveller in Oxford = Goodreads: 3.62 (24)

Uprooted: How Breslau Became Wroclaw During the Century of Expulsion = Goodreads – 4.49 (69)

TWO STAR RATINGS BY ME (Listed in alphabetical order)

Kiev Diary: A Reluctant Missionary’s Story = Goodreads: 4.00 (3) – added 5/22/21

ONE STAR RATINGS BY ME (Listed in alphabetical order)

Aleppo: The Rise and Fall of Syria’s Great Merchant City = Goodreads: 3.51 (91)



Everything Now: Lessons from the City-State of Los Angeles

Palms Springs: History of a Desert Playground

Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere

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