Take a Look, It's In a Book: Our 10 Favorite Books About DC (Or That Are Set in the District)
A continuing series about awesome social distance activities in DC to keep you entertained during the outbreak and inspired to keep daydreaming about your next adventure in the Nation's capital.
You know how you also said you'd read more if you had the time? Well. . .
Whether you were born in the District, moved here decades ago, or just arrived, you might be curious to learn more about the city beyond the well-worn cliches. Books take you places, even new corners of your own backyard. Through their pages you get to explore a place, revealing hidden layers and new chapters.
A lot of books have been written about DC, but there's more to know about than just Watergate. So what should you read if you really want to understand the place?
We're put together our 10 favorite books about DC (or that are set here) that reveal its other personalities, dynamic history and characters; a few are simply just good ole comfort reads. So find your library card or order a copy from a local bookstore, and settle in for a good read. It's going to be awhile . . .
1. A Fool's Errand: Creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the Age of Bush, Obama and Trump by Lonnie G. Bunch III
Founding Director Lonnie Bunch's deeply personal tale of the triumphs and challenges of bringing the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture to life.
2. Frederick Douglass in Washington, DC: The Lion of Anacostia by John Muller
The remarkable journey of Frederick Douglass from fugitive slave to famed orator and author is well recorded. Yet little has been written about Douglass's final years in Washington, D.C. Journalist John Muller explores how Douglass spent the last eighteen years of his life professionally and personally in his home, Cedar Hill, in Anacostia. Through meticulous research, Muller has created a fresh and intimate portrait of Frederick Douglass of Anacostia.
3. The Beat: Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C. by Kip Lornell and Charles C. Stephensen, Jr.
The Beat! was the first book to explore the musical, social, and cultural phenomenon of go-go music. The authors place go-go within black popular music made since the middle 1970s―a period during which hip-hop has predominated. This styling reflects the District's African American heritage. Its super-charged drumming and vocal combinations of hip-hop, funk, and soul evolved and still thrive on the streets of Washington, DC, and in neighboring Prince George's County.
PRO TIP: Tune into GoGo Radio Live, a 24-hour all Go-Go music Internet radio station for all the grooves! And once it re-opens, visit the DC Public Library’s thoroughly awesome Go-Go Archive for more book recommendations, recorded panel discussions, and of course, Go Go music.
4. DC Jazz: A New Book about Jazz Music in Washington, DC by Maurice Jackson and Blair Ruble
Noted historians Maurice Jackson and Blair Ruble, editors of this book, present a collection of original and fascinating stories about the DC jazz scene throughout its history, including a portrait of the cultural hotbed of Seventh and U Streets, the role of jazz in desegregating the city, a portrait of the great Edward “Duke” Ellington’s time in DC, notable women in DC jazz, and the seminal contributions of the University of District of Columbia and Howard University to the scene.
5. The Smithsonian Castle and The Seneca Quarry by Garrett Peck
British scientist James Smithson left a fortune to a country that he loved, but never visited, that was founded the Smithsonian Institution and built the Smithsonian Castle. Located on prime real estate on the National Mall, getting the iconic red brick for the building from the Seneca Quarry was almost a bust many times over. This is the untold story of the Smithsonian Castle, the Quarry and the emancipated slaves who toiled there and how they all came together to build an American institution.
6. The Great Society Subway: A History of Washington Metro by Zachary M. Schrag
Metro is key to DC’s development, and Schrag details its creation. Great background for its dysfunctions. Schrag scrutinizes the Metro project from its earliest days, including general planning, routes, station architecture, funding decisions, land-use impacts, and the behavior of Metro riders. The story of the Great Society Subway sheds light on the development of metropolitan Washington, postwar urban policy, and the promises and limits of rail transit in American cities.
7. Hope Never Dies: An Obama/Biden Mystery by Andrew Shaffer
Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama team up in this high-stakes thriller that combines a mystery worthy of Watson and Holmes with the laugh-out-loud bromantic chemistry of Lethal Weapon’s Murtaugh and Riggs.
8. The Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos
Esquire has called George Pelecanos “the poet laureate of the DC crime world.” Many of his 20 books are in the genre of detective fiction and set primarily in his hometown of Washington, D.C. In The Man Who Came Uptown, a man getting out of jail emerges into a city transformed. DC natives and long-termers will readily identify with the shifting perspective of living in a gentrifying city.
9. Murder In . . . (series) by Margaret Truman Daniel
Margaret Truman Daniel, daughter of the 33rd president, authored 30+ Capital Crime mysteries that let us into the corridors of power and privilege, and poverty and pageantry, in the nation's capital. Titles include Murder in the White House, Murder on Capitol Hill and Murder in the Supreme Court.
10. The Newcomers: A Novel by Jennifer Close
A brilliantly funny novel about ambition and marriage, The Newcomers tells the story of a young wife who follows her husband and his political dreams to Washington, D.C., a city of idealism, gossip, and complicated friendships among the young aspiring elite.
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