Top 10 books to read

By Laura Taylor, Associate Professor
MES Planning Program Coordinator

1. Building Suburbia – Dolores Hayden

2. Design with Nature – Ian McHarg

3. Uncommon Ground – William Cronon

4. Politics of Nature: How to bring the sciences into democracy – Bruno Latour

5. Nature – Noel Castree

6. Ways of Seeing – John Berge

7. A Clearing in the Distance – Witold Rybczynski

8. Cities & Natural Processes – Michael Hough

9. Cities for People – Jan Gehl

10. Site Planning – Gary Hack and Kevin Lynch


Check out Roger Keil’s “Football Team of Sub/urban Books in 2013… These books are certainly critical in the sense that they defy mainstream understandings of urban issues. They are, in that sense, also critical for understanding the urban world in which we live today and the world towards which we are moving.”

Politics of Urbanism: Seeing Like A City

– Toronto: Transformations in a City and Its Region

– Miami: Mistress of the Americas

– Genealogie und Gegenwart der “unternehmerischen Stadt”: Neoliberales Regieren in Frankfurt am Main

– Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City

– Implosions/Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization

For the complete list check out Keil’s List


Pain Free Planning Reads

By J. Rosie Tighe
Assistant Professor, Geography & Planning, Appalachian State University


The Urban Villagers – Herbert J. Gans

Herbert Gans’ study of Italian Americans in Boston’s West End is one of the classics of contemporary sociology A first-hand account of life in an inner city neighborhood, it is a systematic and sensitive analysis of working-class culture and of the politicians, planners and other outside professionals who affect it.

Wrestling With Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City – Anthony Flint

The sign of a good writer is when readers find the villain sympathetic. That’s just what Anthony Flint accomplishes for Robert Moses in Wrestling With Moses. While the story is a page turning tale of Jane Jacobs’ unlikely win over New York’s power broker, the ending is bittersweet, summed up best in this sentence, from pg. 178; “Large-scale projects that Moses had proposed would never again succeed without public scrutiny and consent.” Did Jacobs open the doors for an era of NIMBYism? Can Moses’ history as a destroyer of neighborhoods be forgiven in balance of his other successes, like the string of public parks he successfully created in wealthier neighborhoods around New York? Flint goes to great pains to get the details right, and the story flows effortlessly.

“The Most Segregated City In America”: City Planning And Civil Rights In Birmingham, 1920-1980 – Charles E. Connerly

“In Birmingham, you would be living in a community where the white man’s long-lived tyranny had cowed your people, led them to abandon hope, and developed in them a false sense of inferiority…you would be living, in fact, in the most segregated city in America.” Martin Luther King Jr.’s insightful words resonate throughout “The Most Segregated City in America”: City Planning and Civil Rights in Birmingham, 1920-1980, written by Charles Connerly, professor of urban and regional planning at Florida State University. “At its roots,” writes Connerly, “city planning is about controlling the land — most directly about what uses the land is put to — but also, at least indirectly, about who gets to live on the land and where.” Thus begins a chronicle of tangible urban planning policies, mostly spurred by racism, that had a direct impact on the civil rights of blacks in Birmingham throughout much of the 20th century — policies often replicated across the country with equally detrimental effects to blacks’ quality of life.

There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in The Other America – Alex Kotlowitz

There Are No Children Here, the true story of brothers Lafeyette and Pharoah Rivers, ages 11 and 9 at the start, brings home the horror of trying to make it in a violence-ridden public housing project. The boys live in a gang-plagued war zone on Chicago’s West Side, literally learning how to dodge bullets the way kids in the suburbs learn to chase baseballs. “If I grow up, I’d like to be a bus driver,” says Lafeyette at one point. That’s if, not when — spoken with the complete innocence of a child. The book’s title comes from a comment made by the brothers’ mother as she and author Alex Kotlowitz contemplate the challenges of living in such a hostile environment: “There are no children here,” she says. “They’ve seen too much to be children.” This book humanizes the problem of inner-city pathology, makes readers care about Lafeyette and Pharoah more than they may expect to, and offers a sliver of hope buried deep within a world of chaos.

Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families – J. Anthony Lukas

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the American Book Award, this book examines school integration in Boston from the vantage points of three families one black and two white. PW stated that Common Ground is “highly readable and brings us as close as we are likely to get to the average person’s experiences of urban racial tensions.”

Street Corner Society: The Social Structure of an Italian Slum – William Foote Whyte

Street Corner Society is one of a handful of works that can justifiably be called classics of sociological research. William Foote Whyte’s account of the Italian American slum he called “Cornerville”—Boston’s North End—has been the model for urban ethnography for fifty years. By mapping the intricate social worlds of street gangs and “corner boys,” Whyte was among the first to demonstrate that a poor community need not be socially disorganized. His writing set a standard for vivid portrayals of real people in real situations. And his frank discussion of his methodology—participant observation—has served as an essential casebook in field research for generations of students and scholars.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America – Barbara Ehrenreich

Millions of Americans work full time, year round, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that a job — any job — can be the ticket to a better life. But how does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich left her home, took the cheapest lodgings she could find, and accepted whatever jobs she was offered. Moving from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, she worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, a nursing-home aide, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk. She lived in trailer parks and crumbling residential motels. Very quickly, she discovered that no job is truly “unskilled,” that even the lowliest occupations require exhausting mental and muscular effort. She also learned that one job is not enough; you need at least two if you want to live indoors.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America – Erik Larson

Not long after Jack the Ripper haunted the ill-lit streets of 1888 London, H.H. Holmes (born Herman Webster Mudgett) dispatched somewhere between 27 and 200 people, mostly single young women, in the churning new metropolis of Chicago; many of the murders occurred during (and exploited) the city’s finest moment, the World’s Fair of 1893. Larson’s breathtaking new history is a novelistic yet wholly factual account of the fair and the mass murderer who lurked within it. Bestselling author Larson (Isaac’s Storm) strikes a fine balance between the planning and execution of the vast fair and Holmes’s relentless, ghastly activities. The passages about Holmes are compelling and aptly claustrophobic; readers will be glad for the frequent escapes to the relative sanity of Holmes’s co-star, architect and fair overseer Daniel Hudson Burnham, who managed the thousands of workers and engineers who pulled the sprawling fair together 0n an astonishingly tight two-year schedule. A natural charlatan, Holmes exploited the inability of authorities to coordinate, creating a small commercial empire entirely on unpaid debts and constructing a personal cadaver-disposal system. This is, in effect, the nonfiction Alienist, or a sort of companion, which might be called Homicide, to Emile Durkheim’s Suicide. However, rather than anomie, Larson is most interested in industriousness and the new opportunities for mayhem afforded by the advent of widespread public anonymity. This book is everything popular history should be, meticulously recreating a rich, pre-automobile America on the cusp of modernity, in which the sale of “articulated” corpses was a semi-respectable trade and serial killers could go well-nigh unnoticed.

Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States – Kenneth T. Jackson

This first full-scale history of the development of the American suburb examines how “the good life” in America came to be equated with the a home of one’s own surrounded by a grassy yard and located far from the urban workplace. Integrating social history with economic and architectural analysis, and taking into account such factors as the availability of cheap land, inexpensive building methods, and rapid transportation, Kenneth Jackson chronicles the phenomenal growth of the American suburb from the middle of the 19th century to the present day.


Dreamland – Kevin Baker 

In a stunning work of imagination and memory, author Kevin Baker brings to mesmerizing life a vibrant, colorful, thrilling, and dangerous New York City in the earliest years of the twentieth century. A novel breathtaking in its scope and ambition, it is the epic saga of newcomers drawn to the promise of America—gangsters and laborers, hucksters and politicians, radicals, reformers, murderers, and sideshow oddities—whose stories of love, revenge, and tragedy interweave and shine in the artificial electric dazzle of a wondrous place called Dreamland.

The Given Day – Dennis Lehane 

Set in Boston at the end of the First World War, New York Times best-selling author Dennis Lehane’s long-awaited eighth novel unflinchingly captures the political and social unrest of a nation caught at the crossroads between past and future.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet – Jamie Ford 

In the opening pages of Jamie Ford’s stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II.


The Jungle – Upton Sinclair 

Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle is a vivid portrait of life and death in a turn-of-the-century American meat-packing factory. A grim indictment that led to government regulations of the food industry, The Jungle is Sinclair’s extraordinary contribution to literature and social reform.

The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression follows the western movement of one family and a nation in search of work and human dignity. Perhaps the most American of American classics. The novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of sharecroppers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, and changes in financial and agricultural industries. Due to their nearly hopeless situation, and in part because they were trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California. Along with thousands of other “Okies”, they sought jobs, land, dignity and a future.

urban villagers book cover

WreslingWithMosesCoverNo Children cover

Dreamland book cover

Given Day CoverHotel Bitter Sweet cover