Twelve Essential Reads About Greenwich Village and the East Village

Twelve Essential Reads About Greenwich Village and the East Village

Looking for a great read about Greenwich Village or the East Village? Check out this list of always essential classics, and scroll to the bottom for a list of websites of local independent bookstores where you may be able to order these or other fine reading material.


The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Modern Library) by Jane Jacobs - Hardcover - 1993-02-09 - from Ergodebooks and

Perhaps the most influential book ever written on city planning and historic preservation. The author’s assault on the reigning orthodoxies is expressed through a lovingly detailed portrait of life on Hudson Street in the Village.

JUST KIDS by Patti Smith.

Just Kids - Wikipedia

A lyrical account of traversing the city when very young, in the late 1960s and 70s, before becoming a musician and poet.  There was “a thick psychedelic atmosphere” on St. Mark’s Place, breakfast for two cost fifty cents at Waverly Diner, and “one could still feel the characters of Henry James and the presence of the author himself” in Washington Square.

KAFKA WAS THE RAGE: A Greenwich Village Memoir by Anatole Broyard.

Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir by Anatole Broyard

The author took Meyer Schapiro’s art history classes at The New School and hung out with other writers at the San Remo. He opened a secondhand bookshop on Cornelia Street in 1946, a time when “there were people in the Village who had more books than money.”

HERE IS NEW YORK by E. B. White.

Here is New York: E.B. White: Books

This pocket-sized book was published in 1948, but still remains a perceptive and loving evocation of the city.  It’s also prescient; the author notes that “The intimation of mortality is part of New York now … in the black headlines of the latest edition.”

CITY ON A GRID: How New York Became New York by Gerard Koeppel.

City on a Grid: How New York Became New York: Koeppel, Gerard ...

The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 – which mapped the street grid of Manhattan – was created in the Village, on the corner of Christopher Street.  “If Manhattan has a subconscious, it’s the angular numbered street plan that, for two centuries, has informed the island’s destiny.”

A FIERCE RADIANCE by Lauren Belfer. A Fierce Radiance: A Novel (P.S.) (9780061252525 ...

This suspenseful novel is a medical thriller that takes place during World War II, when the earliest trials of a miraculous new drug were underway.  The narrator is a Life magazine journalist following this race to develop life-saving antibiotics – with  background stories of blackmail, espionage, love, and the Village.  The medication is of course penicillin.

ST. MARK’S IS DEAD by Ada Calhoun. St. Marks Is Dead: The Many Lives of America's Hippest ...

A vivid history of perhaps the most idiosyncratic street in the East Village. The author, who grew up on St. Mark’s Place, traces its origins as a Dutch farm in the 17th century, to the artistic and political movements over the decades.  James Fenimore Cooper, Leon Trotsky, Allan Ginsburg, Andy Warhol, and E.V. Grieve are all part of its story.

THE DIARIES OF DAWN POWELL 1931-1965 edited by Tim Page.


The Diaries of Dawn Powell 1931-1965

Engaging journals of a writer known for her satirical novels.  “The Village is my creative oxygen,” Powell noted in her diary pages, describing her peregrinations to Village speakeasies and cafes. The Wicked Pavilion is known as her Hotel Lafayette book, just as The Golden Spur is caller her Cedar Tavern novel.


Washington Square - Kindle edition by Henry James. Literature ...

A heartbreaking story with complex moral questions. Much of the drama – in which a guileless young woman is dominated by her father – takes place in a handsome red brick house, “solid and honorable,” on the north side of the Square.  Henry James was born just steps away from here, on Washington Place.


Ninth Street Women' Shines a Welcome New Light on New York's ...

The sub-title says it all – Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art. These remarkable, bold artists carved paths for themselves in the competitive male-dominated world of Abstract Expressionism.

THE POWER BROKER: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro.

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York: Caro ...

This monumental biography chronicles the life and times of the legendary public-works czar, while doubling as an extraordinary history of politics and planning in 20th century New York.  Every New Yorker should read this classic. (It’s true that it has more than a thousand pages, but perhaps you finally have time to read long books.)

GREENWICH VILLAGE STORIES: A Collection of Memories, edited by Judith Stonehill.

Greenwich Village Stories: A Collection of Memories - Rizzoli New York

A love letter to Greenwich Village, written by artists, writers, musicians, restaurateurs, and other neighborhood habitues who each share a favorite memory of this beloved place. The sixty stories in this collection of Village memories are exuberant, poignant, original, and vivid-perfectly capturing the essence of the Village.

Every corner of the Village is represented in the book: recollections of jazz clubs and existentialism on Bleecker Street, rock music at St. Mark’s Place, folk singers in Washington Square Park. There are stories of Hans Hofmann teaching modern art on 8th Street and Lotte Lenya performing in The Threepenny Opera on Christopher Street. Decades later, Brooke Shields muses on renovating a brownstone and finding history behind its walls; and Mario Batali lyrically describes a Sunday morning walk through the food markets of Bleecker Street. The stories are complemented by a wide range of photographs by iconic figures such as Allen Ginsberg, Rudy Burckhardt, Berenice Abbott, Saul Leiter, Ruth Orkin, and Weegee. Paintings depict elegant red-brick facades and raffish Hudson River piers, now restored; theater posters spotlight Karen Finley and John Leguizamo. This is a book for those who are already beguiled by the Village as well as those just discovering this fabled place.

Order from Greenwich Village Stories Village Preservation here — all proceeds support our work.  See below for a list if local independent bookstores where you can seek to purchase these and other fine books.

Special thanks to Judith Stonehill for compiling this list and writing the descriptions.

Websites of some local independent bookstores:

Left Bank Books, LLC

Welcome to the website of Left Bank Books, LLC

Mercer Street Books For Better Used Books & Vinyl

We’re now in our 30th year. We’re filled to the gunnels with used and out-of-print books in almost any imaginable subject. We have LPS, too. Everyone here is a writer in some field or other, so one of us is bound to have found things you’re looking for.

Language Classes & Travel Bookstore in NYC | Idlewild Books

Idlewild Books is an independent bookstore in NYC, specializing in travel books and language classes. Call us at 212.414.8888 for more information.

Bravo’s Book Nook at The Players Theatre

Copyright ©Bravo’s Book Nook at The Players Theatre

St Marks – Printed Matter

Printed Matter is thrilled to have a new home in the East Village on the corner of St Marks Place and 2nd Avenue. Printed Matter / St. Marks is housed on the first floor of the non-profit contemporary arts institution Swiss Institute.

Book Club

We remain operational in a very limited capacity during the outbreak in NYC. This means you can support us by: Ordering books online – we ship books nationally! $2.50 for a single book and $1+ for each additional book. Over $60 ships free!

Strand Book Store: New, Used, Rare and Out-of-Print Books

Strand Book Store, New York City booklovers treasure trove – home to 18 miles of books. New books, used books, rare books, out of print books, art books, and children’s books since 1927.

BGSQD | The Bureau of General Services – Queer Division

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Bureau is closed until further notice. We hope to reschedule our late March and April events once we are able to reopen. Stay tuned! The NYC Queer Comic Fair enters its 4th year with a Kickstarter funded in one hour!

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Andrew Berman

Andrew Berman has been the Executive Director of Village Preservation since 2002.

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2 comments on “Twelve Essential Reads About Greenwich Village and the East Village
  1. Andrew Berman Michael Usyk and Jane Heil says:

    Thanks!! They all look great, esp. “Ninth Street Women.” Here are two we have in our apartment that aren’t on your list: Alan CHurchill’s
    “Improper Bohemians,” and “Greenwich Village: Culture and Counterculture,” by Rick Beard and Leslie Cohen Berlowitz. Also, how about “Rebels on Eighth Street: Juliana Force and the Whitney Museum of American Art” by Avis Berman.

    • Andrew Berman Andrew Berman says:

      Thanks so much for these. Those are great books —- any list that would really do this subject justice would have to be miles long!

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