Top 65 Must-Have Urbanist Books for the Holidaze

post structural booksA week or two ago, we put out a call to the writers for their favorite urban books. We got quite a few responses, and I figured it might make a good shopping list for the holiday consumption season. So here goes. May it serve you well:

(Editor’s note: Instead of linking each title to, we encourage you to walk, bus, bike or drive down the street to your local independent bookseller and ask for them there. Here’s a map on Indiebound of several dozen bookstores within fifty miles of the Twin Cities. Moon Palace, at 33rd Street and Minnehaha in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis, is a personal favorite.)

Andy Singer

The Power Broker, Robert Caro

Energy and Equity, Ivan Illich

…those are the only “Perfect” books I’ve read. On the next tier are books I’ve liked that had parts that were well written and informative. Here’s a few random ones–

Getting There: The Epic Battle Between Road and Rail in the American Century, Stephen Goddard

Asphalt Nation, Jane Holtz Kay

For Love of the Automobile, Wolfgang Sachs

The introduction to Public Transit and Land Use Policy by Boris Pushkarev and Jeffrey Zupan is very cool. It’s a brief history of density, going back to ancient times, including some fascinating stuff about New York. The rest of the book looks at optimal density levels for different kinds of transit.

Jamie Lincoln Kitman’s Secret History of Lead was a 33-page (almost book-length) feature article he wrote for The Nation that’s a pretty amazing case study of one of the truly evil things GM did (when it was owned by the DuPont Brothers)– Developing, popularizing and making a fortune off of Tetraethyl Lead as a gasoline additive (knowing that it was toxic). It shows you how companies buy off government, surgeon generals, etc …and manage to establish themselves and their products, no matter how horrible those products might be. You can read most of it on line at–

Sean Daniel Hayford O’Leary

Five of my faves:

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do, Tom Vanderbilt

Effective Cycling, John Forester

Suburban Nation, Andres Duany, et al

Cities for People, Jan Gehl

Learning from Las Vegas, Robert Venturi

Walker Angell

My list:

  • Jane Jacobs
  • Geography Of Nowhere
  • In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist
  • Jorwerd: The Death of the Village in Late 20th Century Europe.
  • Thoughts on Building Strong Towns
  • Amsterdam: A brief life of the city
  • The Hundred Foot Journey: A Novel
  • What Matters?: Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth
  • An Italian Home – Settling by Lake Como
  • Travel as a Political Act
  • Police Unbound: Corruption, Abuse, and Heroism by the Boys in Blue
  • Out of Character: Surprising Truths about …
  • Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design

Surprisingly, it was harder than I thought to narrow it down. And this doesn’t include soon to be read City Cycling, Village Effect, Transportation Experience, Dead End, How to Study Public Life, Saved: How An English Village …, People Habitat, The End of the Suburbs, World Class Transportation System, Street Design, and I think one or two others.

Lindsey Meek

1. AASHTO Green Book

2. MNDOT State Aid Standards for Highway Design.


Alex Cecchini

My list (in no particular order):

– Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life… (der)

NACTO Urban Street Design Guide

High Cost of Free Parking (book? tome?)

Human Transit, Jarrett Walker)

– Twin Cities by Trolley

– Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do

– Zoned Out: Regulation, Markets, and Choices in Transportation and Metropolitan Land Use

– Walkable City

– Happy City

– Lost Twin Cities

I enjoy more technical reads (and have been spending a considerable amount of time reading technical research lately) for the hard policy-wonk stuff they bring, but also the softer stuff that appeals to human nature (even if much of it is fuzzy to define and sometimes gets over-used by advocates of a certain cause/design/etc).

Laura Kling

In no particular order…

  1. Where the Sidewalk Ends, Shel Silverstein
  2. Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck
  3. Voices of Rondo: Oral Histories of Saint Paul’s Historic Black Community, edited by Kate Cavett
  4. The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs
  5. The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson
  6. The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape, James Howard Kunstler
  7. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert D. Putnam.
  8. Urban Bikeway Design Guide, NACTO
  9. Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, Novella Carpenter
  10. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States, Kenneth T. Jackson

Laura Eash

Books to add to the list:

The High Cost of Free Parking

How to Lie with Maps

Walkable City


Apple Pie and Enchiladas: Latino Newcomers in the Rural Midwest

Ken Avidor

Why We Drive, Andy Singer

The Power Broker, Robert Caro

Energy and Equity, Ivan Illich

The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs (Dark Age Ahead is good too).

Divorce Your Car, Katie Alvord.

Internal Combustion, Edwin Black

Transportation for Livable Cities, Vukan Vuchic

Geography of Nowhere, J.H. Kunstler (“KunstlerCast” by Kunstler & Duncan Crary is a good book, too)

All That We Share, Jay Walljasper

Toward the Livable City, Emilie Buchwald editor

The Suburbanization of New York, Jerilou & Kingsley Hammet, editors

PS. You’re also welcome to peruse the “ bibliography” or David’s post on five must-read books for more ideas.

man with books

Bill Lindeke

About Bill Lindeke

Pronouns: he/him

Bill Lindeke has writing blogging about sidewalks and cities since 2005, ever since he read Jane Jacobs. He is a lecturer in Urban Studies at the University of Minnesota Geography Department, the Cityscape columnist at Minnpost, and has written multiple books on local urban history. He was born in Minneapolis, but has spent most of his time in St Paul. Check out Twitter @BillLindeke or on Facebook.