Jan Morris' 6 favorite books about New York

The celebrated author recommends works by Francis Spufford, Weegee, and more

Jan Morris.
(Image credit: David Hurn)

Jan Morris' new book, Battleship Yamato, tells the story of World War II's most powerful warship. Below, the celebrated Welsh-born historian, travel writer, and author of Manhattan '45 names six favorite books about her favorite American metropolis.

Delirious New York by Rem Koolhaas (Monacelli, $35).

The book that launched the Dutch architect's renown is a wonderfully eccentric and influential analysis of the physical and symbolic development of New York City. Illustrated with paintings, photographs, plans, and imaginative propositions, it amounts to a dashing manifesto of Manhattanism.

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Golden Hill by Francis Spufford (Scribner, $17).

Published in 2016, this brilliant first novel by a much-admired nonfiction writer includes an extraordinarily vivid reconstruction of the city in the last years of British rule.

Naked City by Weegee (Da Capo, $17.50).

A celebrated New York photographer portrays his city with its figurative clothes off. Arthur “Weegee” Fellig (1899-1968) was famous for capturing scenes of crime and violence, and most of the pictures in this 1945 book were taken at night. But they are so infused with humor, sympathy, and understanding that they demonstrate a profound love for the city and its people.

The New York Kid's Book (out of print).

Nearly 170 contributors, many of them eminent, were featured in this 1979 anthology. A compendium of essays, photos, jokes, poems, and puzzles, it was distributed free to the children's rooms of libraries throughout New York.

The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky (Random House, $17).

By no means a joke, The Big Oyster is a scholarly analysis of the importance of the local oyster beds in the development of New York, from their first exploitation in the 18th century to their destruction by pollution in the 1920s. The book is rich in social and culinary history and includes many maps and other illustrations, so that no shell is left unturned.

The New York Pop-Up Book edited by Marie Salerno and Arthur Gelb (out of print).

A commemorative book published to mark the 100th anniversary of the unification of New York's five boroughs, The New York Pop-Up Book contains all manner of cut-outs, snippets, and incidental notes. Featuring contributions from E.L. Doctorow, Tom Wolfe, Wynton Marsalis, and others, it brings to life the goings-on of New York from its beginnings to today.

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