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Book Recommendations

  • 1.  Book Recommendations

    Posted 08-03-2018 08:42

    Hello all!

    I have a little non-work related question … a little fun day Friday as we head into the last month of summer!

    Wondering if any of you have any good reads of the historic fiction/non-fiction variety-preferably about places!

    I just finished reading with my book club, The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis, which took place in the 1950s in NYC at the Barbizon Hotel. I wasn't super into the book, but it was fun to visit the ACTUAL Barbizon Hotel when I was on a recent visit to NYC!


    (inquiry minds at my office want to know too, we have a work book club and our first book was about one of our National Treasures, the Panama Hotel in Seattle, the book The Hotel on Bitter and Sweet, which we all enjoyed!)

    Colleen Danz
    Forum Marketing Manager
    National Trust for Historic Preservation
    Washington DC

  • 2.  RE: Book Recommendations

    Posted 08-04-2018 12:30
    If you like history -- and I assume most preservation-people do! -- you'll probably enjoy most of Sinclair Lewis's novels. My all-time favorite is Main Street, published  c. 1922. It is wonderful -- about a small town woman who can't get her friends/neighbors enthused about "improving" the town, (I could immediately relate.) It's funny, sad, profound, and very evocative  of its time and place -- small town 1920s America. I have read it numerous times over my adulthood, and like it more, and see more in it, each time
    For non-fiction, and a slightly different look at architecture and its preservation, I really liked Stewart Brand's How Buildings Learn.
    This was a great question. I hope others weigh in too!

    Ginny MacKenzie-Magan
    Tomales CA

  • 3.  RE: Book Recommendations

    Posted 08-04-2018 14:58
    I am currently reading The Great Halifax Explosion by John U. Bacon. More of a documentary along the lines of Erik Larsen's Dead Wake. Both are excellent!

    Ilene Tyler FAIA,LEED
    Ilene R Tyler, LLC
    Ann Arbor MI

  • 4.  RE: Book Recommendations

    Posted 08-04-2018 22:41
    This book is not specifically about places but it is one of the most amazing books I've read. The Warmth of Other Suns is based on oral histories and covers three individuals and their families' departure from the South.  It covers decades of their histories.  I learned so much and think of these people often.  Also, look into Wendell Berry and his books about Port William, Ky.

    Do you know about 
    Flagstaff Townsite Historic Properties Community Land Trust
     Townsite CLT exists for "Promoting historic preservation and community investment with permanently affordable owner-occupied homes."  
    Townsite CLT 
    and display your support
  TCLT is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

  • 5.  RE: Book Recommendations

    Posted 08-05-2018 12:50
    Tales of the City by Maupin

    Jim Sparks
    Sparks Architecture
    Glasgow KY

  • 6.  RE: Book Recommendations

    Posted 08-05-2018 20:00

    Hello Fellow Preservationists,


    Kathleen Ernst ( writes award-winning mysteries, historical fiction, and non-fiction for adults and young readers.  Her work has earned an Emmy, and nominations for an Edgar Allan Poe and multiple Agatha Christie awards.


    My favorite is the Chloe Ellefson mystery series.  Ernst stages her books in historic sites where our heroine, a museum curator, gets herself entangled in murder and mysteries of times gone by.  Book nine is due to be released in early October where she finds a body hidden in a century-old bake oven of one of the buildings situated in Heritage Hill Historical Park, Green Bay Wisconsin.


    The books are light, suspenseful and weave the story in an out of historical and current day events.  The coolest thing is visiting these places and walking right alongside of Chloe as she learns about herself and perhaps some things that are best forgotten.


    • Mary Beth Volmer

    President, Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands Celebrating 10 Years!

      Plum and Pilot Islands:  Where History and Nature Meet at the Door!




  • 7.  RE: Book Recommendations

    Posted 08-06-2018 09:27
    Thanks, All!
    I compiled the responses so far below so that they're in one place.
    I love the suggestion for Tales of the City bc it's set in San Francisco. I work on the PastForward conference team here at the Trust and I try to read a book about the city we're going to be in (last year it was Devil in the White City before Chicago, in Houston I read The After Party, before DC I read The Georgetown Set, and for Savannah I re-read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil). Being that we're going to be in San Francisco this fall I've been looking for a good San Francisco read so will definitely add that to my list!

    Colleen Danz
    Forum Marketing Manager
    National Trust for Historic Preservation
    Washington DC

  • 8.  RE: Book Recommendations

    Posted 08-06-2018 11:05
    Oooh, @Colleen Danz, great thread- I'm looking forward to reading these! Thank you everyone for your great recommendations.

    I would guess that a lot of us have already read this, but Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson is so good. ​I would be very willing to re-read it if it makes the cut.

    Moira Nadal
    National Trust for Historic Preservation
    Washington DC

  • 9.  RE: Book Recommendations

    Posted 08-07-2018 09:36

    Colleen –


    I am a big believer in travel-themed reading!  The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett was a perfect read the last time I was in SF.  Not only is it a page-turner thriller, but it perfectly captures the grit and neighborhood character of 1940s SF.


    Elizabeth Rosin


    Rosin Preservation, LLC

    1712 Holmes

    Kansas City, MO  64108




  • 10.  RE: Book Recommendations

    Posted 08-06-2018 09:34

    One of my all-time favorites is Imagining the Past: East Hampton Histories by T.H. Breen.


    How we make history--and what we then make of it--is engagingly dramatized in T. H. Breen's portrait of a 350-year-old American community faced with the costs of its "progress." In the particulars of one town's struggle to check development and save its natural environment, Breen shows how our sense of history reflects our ever-changing self-perceptions and hopes for the future.

    Breen first went to East Hampton, the celebrated Long Island resort town, to write about the Mulford Farmstead, a picturesque saltbox dating from the 1680s. Through his research, he came across a fascinating cast of local characters, past and present, who contributed to, invented, and reinvented the town's history. Breen's work also drew him into contemporary local affairs: factionalism among residents, zoning disputes, and debates over resource management. Driving these heated issues, Breen found, were some dearly held notions about a harmonious, agrarian past that conflicted with what he had come to know about the divisiveness and opportunism of East Hampton's early days.

    Imagining the Past is about the interplay between some of the East Hampton histories Breen encountered: the "official" histories of many generations, the myths and oral traditions, and the curious stories that Breen, as an outsider, discerned in the town's rich holdings of artifacts and documents. With a warm yet wry regard for human nature, Breen obliges us to confront our pasts in all their complexities and ironies, no matter how unsettling or inconvenient the experience.


    Harry Klinkhamer

    Historical Resources Manager

    City of Venice



    Venice Museum & Archives

    City of Venice


    Cities need old buildings so badly it is probably

    impossible for vigorous streets and districts to

    grow without them....

    – Jane Jacobs from The Death and Life of Great American Cities

  • 11.  RE: Book Recommendations

    Posted 08-06-2018 10:02
    Apparently, my first reply wasn't to the entire discussion.

    Ken Follett's Century Trilogy and his Pillars of the Earth Trilogy.  The places in these novels are just as important as the main characters.  All of his novels are well researched.  The Century Trilogy follows five families (American, Welsh, German, English, and Russian) throughout the 20th century and the cities and countries are contemporaneous of the characters.

    Jennifer K. Bailey
    Historic Preservation Specialist
    Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office
    Oklahoma City, OK

  • 12.  RE: Book Recommendations

    Posted 08-06-2018 11:54
    I just finished The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams- it's based on a fictional island, but the author is really great at creating as sense of a place (She's got a number of jazz age books set in NYC and Cocoa Beach, in Florida). She also wrote (with Karen White and Lauren Willig) The Forgotten Room, which tells three stories at different time periods in the same building.

    Diana Maxwell
    Washington DC


  • 13.  RE: Book Recommendations

    Posted 08-06-2018 12:05
    I have to recommend "Death Comes for the Archbishop" by Willa Cather.  A spare and beautiful book that captures the essence of New Mexico - its powerful landscape and beautiful people.

    Leslie Colley
    Development Officer
    Ohkay Owingeh Housing Authority
    Ohkay Owingeh, NM

  • 14.  RE: Book Recommendations

    Posted 08-06-2018 13:14
    Italo Calvino - Invisible Cities

    Shawn Evans
    Santa Fe NM

  • 15.  RE: Book Recommendations

    Posted 08-07-2018 12:40
    I love this post idea and am always looking for new book recommendations!

    The first one that came to my mind is  The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.  It is actually a work of non-fiction but it reads more like a fiction book.  It is set in early 1890s Chicago and revolves around two plot lines - the building of the Chicago Columbian Exposition and the exploits of H.H.Holmes, a serial killer.  A lot of the book revolves around the planing and building of the fair which I found fascinating.  It left me very disappointed that so little is left of the Fair because it was described in such vivid detail I was left wanting to go experience it.

    Melinda Shah
    Architect / Vice President
    Schooley Caldwell
    Columbus OH

  • 16.  RE: Book Recommendations

    Posted 08-07-2018 20:30
    1. The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites
    A quick and easy read, this text will give you a greater appreciation of food from all parts of American history. With each chapter being dedicated to a different morsel, you will enjoy the ability to pick up and quickly learn something new.
    2. The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman Whose Discoveries Changed the World
    If you are interested in dinosaurs or women's history, you will love The Fossil Hunter! It delves into the ways religion, socieconomic discrimination, and disregard for a woman's worth played a role in the establishment of paleontology. You will gain a greater understanding of who Mary Anning was and why she sold seashells by the seashore.
    3. The Tattooed Lady: A History 
    Women have struggled for ownership of their bodies for centuries. This book discusses how the history of tattoos are interwoven into women developing careers for themselves through body modification, specifically through carnival work.

    You can find more book recommendations from me in this guest blog for Historicorps

    Sarah Marsom
    Heritage Resource Consultant
    Tiny Activist Project

  • 17.  RE: Book Recommendations

    Posted 08-08-2018 09:34
    I'm SO enjoying this thread -- So. Many. Books. So little time! I really don't know where to start!
    Thanks, all, so many great suggestions.
    I've compiled the list to-date so all recommendations are in one post:

    Colleen Danz
    Forum Marketing Manager
    National Trust for Historic Preservation
    Washington DC

  • 18.  RE: Book Recommendations

    Posted 08-09-2018 09:56
    ​This is a really great thread. So many books to add to my list! I have Devil in the White City, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet.

    I'd like to recommend The Secret Lives of Buildings: From the Ruins of the Parthenon to the Vegas Strip in Thirteen Stories by Edward Hollis. The stories behind the structures are downright fascinating!


    Lawana Holland-Moore
    Program Assistant, African American Cultural Heritage Fund
    National Trust for Historic Preservation
    Washington DC

  • 19.  RE: Book Recommendations

    Posted 08-10-2018 09:40
    Two I'd like to add are The Color of Law, by Richard Rothstein, on the history of government policies that shaped residential racial segregation, and The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks, by Donald Harington, which recounts the (fictional) lives and buildings of a family over several generations.

    Elaine Lund
    City of Tampa
    Tampa FL

  • 20.  RE: Book Recommendations

    Posted 08-10-2018 12:54

    What a fun idea for a thread!  I'd love to hear what other books your club chooses.

    One of my favorite reads last year was Tim Gautreaux's new short story collection Signals.  One story in particular stood out called "Idols." While I won't spoil the story, it is a tale of a man coming home to take over a once grand family home that is now terribly deteriorated.

    I recommend all of Gautreaux's books.  He has written some beautiful novels, and fans of true crime(which is all that seems to be on TV right now!) would probably really like The Missing, a mystery about a stolen child that is a real page turner.

    Kate Kenwright
    Historic Preservation Specialist
    The L'Enfant Trust
    Washington DC

  • 21.  RE: Book Recommendations

    Posted 08-13-2018 10:51
    Updating the collection of book recommendations (again!) I have to stop at the public library on my way home tonight to pick up a few books from this list that just came in!
    Thanks for so many great suggestions.

    Colleen Danz
    Forum Marketing Manager
    National Trust for Historic Preservation
    Washington DC