These 59 Books About New York City Were Recommended To Anyone Who Was Considering Working For The City
In 1936 New York librarian Rebecca Rankin was asked to compile a list of books with good stories which have New York as a background by the Municipal Service Commission. Along with Miriam Mayer of the Municipal Library, the two came up with a list of hundreds of good books that they would recommend to anyone considering working for the city.
“There are several hundred of them including novels, stories and biographies. From the more complete list, we have selected 59 titles which may be considered really interesting and which would probably appeal to the average New Yorker who is preparing for promotion civil service examination.
Almost every side of New York, political, industrial, social, criminal, romantic, historical, financial, artistic, immigrant, police, fire, journalistic, racial or legal, is shown in these different exciting tales.
With each book we include a note sufficiently long to describe the type of story so that the prospective reader may choose the one of most interest to him. We are of the opinion that the man or woman choosing civil service as a career will find these tales about their city, or at least with New York as the setting for the story, of immediate interest.”
Rebecca Rankin, would later write two fine books about New York: New York Advancing (1936) and New York The World’s Capital City (1948)
When looking over this list, it is a bit surprising that so few of the books are recognized today. Most are out of print, with a few exceptions such as Asbury’s The Gangs of New York & Dos Pasos’ Manhattan Transfer. I have read a fair number of these books. Therefore, I think this list is a good starting point for learning about New York pre-World War II.
There are quite a few titles I’ve never heard of, such as, Louis Pink’s biography of Mayor Gaynor and Garet Garrett’s Cinder Buggy, a novel which is set in Pennsylvania? There must be a New York angle to that one.
Rankin said for the list of 59, they tried to pick books that were more recent. All the books picked were published between 1917 and 1936 with two exceptions; The Honorable Peter Stirling, 1894 and The Confessions of Artemas Quibble. 1911, another two books that I am unfamiliar with.
One major author that wrote about New York who was omitted from the list was O. Henry (William Sydney Porter), the prodigious short fiction writer. When asked why she left Henry off she replied, “Most persons have read his work anyway.” A strange excuse for a glaring omission. I’d be very interested in seeing the complete list which recommended hundreds of books about the city. I’ve yet to locate it.
Below is Rankin and Mayer’s list.
Stories About New York Compiled by Miriam Mayer, The Municipal Reference Library
Bromfield, Louis. 24 Hours. 1930. An ill-assorted group of six guests in the New York apartment of Hector Champion-the author follows them to the real secret interest of their lives
Brush, Katharine. Young Man of Manhattan. 1929. A story of two young newspaper people.
Cahan, Abraham. Rise of David Levinsky. 1917. A novel on a favorite American theme, the amassing of great wealth • . . an authentic picture of the clothing industry in New York City.
Chambers, Robert W. The Man They Hanged. 1926. A sympathetic rendering of the story of Captain Kid which pictures him a brave and kindly soul, who lived an honored figure in old New York.
Dos Passos, John. Manhattan Transfer. 1933. A novel presenting a kaleidoscopic view of various types of life in New York City.
Ford, Paul Leicester. The Honorable Peter Stirling. 1894. At the little triangular park at Worth and Park streets that marks the site of what was once the Five Points. Peter Stirling, about 1874, made friends with the tenement house children and took the first step toward the achievement of his career.
Garrett, Garet. Cinder Buggy. 1923. A dramatization of the iron and steel industry with Pennsylvania as setting of the story.
Hughes, Rupert. Within These Walls. 1933. Story of building the Croton watershed. Introduces the Croton water supply.
Kelland, C. B. Hard Money. 1930. Story of Jan VanHorn who came to New York in the early years of the nineteenth century. He became a well known banker.
Kelland, C. B. Jealous House. 1934. Around the figure of Jan VanHorn is woven a story of the social and financial development of New York beginning in the days of Ward McAllister and ending in 1914.
Poole, Ernest. His Family. 1917. The multiple personality of New York City is seen through the varied characters of the daughters in this novel, each of whom lives in a different New York.
Powell, Dawn. Turn, Magic Wheel. 1936. This is a story that could happen nowhere else but in New York City. The drama is told against a background of contemporary New York.
Riesenberg, Felix. East Side, West Side. 1927. An epic of Manhattan.
Train, Arthur. The Confessions of Artemas Quibble. 1911. The ingenious and unvarnished history of Artemas Quibble, Esq., one time practitioner in the New York Criminal Courts.
Winslow, Thyra. Picture Frames; A collection of short stories containing one, “A cycle of Manhattan,” p. 96-173. 1927. A Cycle of Manhattan is an excellent word picture of an immigrant family that settled in New York. Their rapid rise to success and wealth and its effect upon the different members of the family makes interesting reading. The story moves in a circle with the family starting their American career in the Village, moving up the ladder until they own a town house and a home in the country and finally coming around almost to where they started from, with one son renting an art studio in an old building, their first New York home.
Asbury, Herbert. Gangs of New York, 1928. An informal history of the underworld; a book of immense interest.
Asbury, Herbert. Ye Olde Fire Laddies. 1930. Stories of fire-fighting and firemen in old New York.
Bercovici, Konrad. Manhattan Side-Show. 1931. Stories about New York.
Corsi, Edward. In the Shadow of Liberty. 1935. Chronicle of Ellis Island told by an immigrant American who later became U. S. Commissioner of Immigration at Ellis Island.
Crump, Irving, and John W. Newton, Our Police. 1935. Every phase of police work is covered in this book-a visit to the line-up-stirring episodes in New York Harbor with the marine police-traffic control-rifle squad, etc.
Dougherty, Thomas F., and Paul W. Kearney. Fire. 1931. A book which includes many adventures along with good advice for fire emergencies.
Hellinger, Mark The Ten Million. 1934. A collection of short stories and sketches written by a New York newspaper columnist.
Hickey, John J. Our Police Guardians. 1925. History of the Police Department of The City of New York.
Hurst, Fannie. Humoresque. 1920. Eight vivid stories of Jewish life in New York City.
Johnson, James Weldon. Black Manhattan. 1930. The Negro on Manhattan Island.
Lavine, Emanuel H. Cheese it-the Cops! 1936. Graft and politics in the Police Department as told by a police reporter.
Lavine, Emanuel H. “Gimme.” 1931. An interesting collection of incidents that show how politicians get rich.
Lavine, Emanuel H. Third Degree. 1934. A detailed expose of police brutality.
Lynch, Denis Tilden. “Boss” Tweed. 1927. The story of a grim generation; the famous Tweed Ring of New York City.
Mackaye, Milton. The Tin Box Parade. 1934. A lively review of New York City politics.
Markey, Morris. Manhattan Reporter. 1935. Stories of murder, cock fights, beggars, foundling asylums, ambulance doctoring, etc., are only a few of the things seen and reported by Mr. Markey.
O’Brien, Frank. Murder Mysteries of New York. 1932. True murder stories of yesterday in New York.
Train, Arthur. Tutt and Mr. Tutt. 1920. Short stories of the legal battles of Tutt and Mr. Tutt who win very often by observing the spirit rather than the letter of the law.
Walker, Stanley. City Editor. 1934. An informal survey of newspaper work of a large newspaper in New York City.
Walker, Stanley. Night Club Era. 1933. Story of the changes in gay life of New York of the past decade and a quarter.
Walker, Stanley. Mrs. Astor’s Horse. 1935. Chapters on persons in the limelight during the past fifteen years.
Wallis, J. H. The Politician; His Habits, Outcries and Protective Coloring. 1935. A textbook for office seekers; setting forth infallible guides to political success.
Willemse, Cornelius W. Behind the Green Lights. 1931. Detective stories by a member of the New York City Police Department; an autobiography which shows the actual methods of the policeman and detective which the ordinary citizen knows little about.
Willemse, Cornelius W. A Cop Remembers. 1933. Stories by a member of the New York Police Department.
Baldwin, Charles C. Stanford White. 1931. Biography of famous New York architect.
Bobbie, Dorothie. DeWitt Clinton. 1933. A biography of a man who had many abilities. The name of DeWitt Clinton is closely associated with the history of both the City and State of New York.
Carlson, Oliver, and Ernest Sutherland Bates. Hearst ; Lord of San Simeon. 1936. Biography of William Randolph Hearst.
Duncan, William Cary. The Amazing Madame Jumel. 1935. A famous character of “Little Old New York,” Her history was romantic, eventful, and ahead in many respects of the most exciting novel.
Flick, Ella M. E. Chaplain Duffy of the Sixty-ninth Regiment, New York. 1935. The outstanding American Chaplain of the World War.
Gribetz, Louis J., and Joseph McKaye, Jimmie Walker: The Story of a Personality. 1932. A portrait of Walker’s personality as disclosed by certain phases of his life and activities,
Hylan, John Francis. Autobiography of John Francis Hylan. 1922. Mayor of the City of New York.
Klein, Henry H. My Last Fifty Years. 1935. An autobiographical history of “Inside” New York.
Lawes, Lewis E. Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing. 1932. Present day conditions at Sing Sing.
The Mirrors of Wall Street. 1933. Portraits of thirteen famous men of finance.
Moskowitz, Henry. Alfred E. Smith. 1924. An American career.
Nevins, Allan, Abram S. Hewitt ; With Some Account of Peter Cooper. 1935. The most interesting chapters are those on the founding of Cooper Union and on the vigorous and independent services of Mr. Hewitt as Mayor of New York.
Pink, Louis Heaton, Gaynor : The Tammany Mayor Who Swallowed the Tiger. 1931. Lawyer, judge, philosopher.
Rosebault, Charles J. When Dana Was The Sun. 1931. A story of personal journalism.
Smith, Alfred E. Up To Now. 1929. The life and opinions of Al Smith told by himself in characteristic forthright style.
Smith, Arthur D. Howden. John Jacob Astor: Landlord of New York. 1929. This book gives much information concerning the development of New York City.
Steffens, Lincoln. :Autobiography (2 volumes). 1931. Contains interesting chapters on New York City,
Stoddard, Lathrop. Master of Manhattan. 1931. The life of Richard Croker.
Wald, Lillian I). Windows on Henry street. 1934. Settlement work in New York.
Winkler, John K. Morgan the magnificent. 1930. The life of J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913).