Many thanks to all of those who offered their own additions via comments and email to my impromptu “Philadelphia Bookshelf” over the past few days. I was gratified by the response, and the little men who keep track of these things tell me that the post last Wednesday was surprisingly popular, perhaps meeting a previously unmet need.
Suggestions included some important books about the sociology of the city, particularly E. Digby Baltzell’s Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia (The Free Press, 1979) and Sam Bass Warner’s The Private City: Philadelphia in Three Periods of Its Growth (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1968), both of them classics of their kind, I understand. But I was particularly pleased to note several books about race relations in Philadelphia down through the years. John Edgar Wideman’s novel Philadelphia Fire (1990, Henry Holt & Co.) was inspired by the disastrous MOVE debacle of 1985; another correspondent suggested this recent biography of the 19th-century Philadelphia civil rights leader Octavius Catto (an excellent brief video biography of Catto, produced by the good folks at HistoryMaking Productions, can be found here). Not to mention, of course, W.E.B. DuBois’ classic 1899 study The Philadelphia Negro. You can see all of the comments to that original post here.
A special note of thanks to Billy Penn, a web site and daily newsletter from Philadelphia’s public broadcaster WHYY. It was a mention on their newsletter that drew all of these excellent suggestions, and I should note that the Billy Penn project itself deserves your attention and support. As a current exile from the City of Brotherly Love, I find that it keeps me generously up-to-date on current events in my old home town. (For meditations on Philadelphia history itself, you can’t do better than Hidden City Philadelphia.) If like me you’re a former Philadelphian but remain one in spirit, you should sign up for the newsletter and drop a few pennies their way. I plan on doing so today.