Three D.C. History Books to Get For Christmas

We frequently receive emails asking for book recommendations. So, we’ll write up a quick post and refer all future inquiries to this post.

If you have any recommendations that you’d like to add, please share them in the comments below.

1. Capital Losses: A Cultural History of Washington’s Destroyed Buildings

James Goode is the godfather of all things DC history. His two books Capital Losses and Best Addresses are the two coffee table books you have to have. Allow yourself plenty of time to get lost in these books, because they are each nearly 600 pages and weigh about 35 pounds (okay, only one of those statements is true).

We’re picking the former book because it highlights all the lost buildings of our city, which were sadly demolished in the name of urban progress. Buy yourself (or your loved one) this book for Christmas, sit back with a glass of wine (or DC Brau) and enjoy your new book.

Buy it online for about $40 here.

2. Lost Washington, D.C.

If Goode is the godfather of local history, John DeFerrari would be the … consigliere? Okay, mafia references aside, this is a great book by John that makes a great Christmas stocking stuffer. Lost Washington, D.C. is another book dedicated to the buildings and places that no longer stand. Much like Goode’s book, it will make you sad that they’re gone, but it’s a gem of a book with some terrific stories.

You can get the book on Amazon for $15 in paperback, or less than $10 for your Kindle.

3. Mark Twain in Washington, D.C: The Adventures of a Capital Correspondent

Picking a third one was difficult, because there are far more than three great books about local history. I picked John Muller’s book because the time period is fascinating, and the main subject — Mark Twain — is someone many people love and read growing up.

Samuel Clemens (aka, Mark Twain) spent some time here in Washington, and Muller’s book — Mark Twain in Washington, D.C.: The Adventures of a Capital Correspondent — tells the tales of his time in our city.

Buy it on Amazon for $15 or $10 for the Kindle version.

Both Garrett Peck and Paul K. Williams have several interesting books about Washington, D.C. history as well, so make sure you check those two out as well.

About Tom

Tom founded Ghosts of DC on January 4th, 2012 as a blog to uncover the lost and untold history of Washington, D.C. He has lived in the city for over a decade and loves exploring every corner of the District.
  • Blaine Sheldon

    What about a book recommendation for history around hidden buildings/infrastructure in our city that still stand?

  • sarah

    david brinkley’s “washington goes to war” is just incredible. several years old, but a really fascinating portrait of life in DC in the run-up to WWII.

  • Where to start?

    1. The new edition of Kathryn Smith’s “Washington at Home”, with long descriptive and historical essays of many of DC’s neighborhoods.

    2. The reprint edition of Charles Francis Weller’s “Neglected Neighbors”, the classic 1909 muckraking book of the DC alley system, with 100 photographs and a list of all the alleys and their street locations. The worst slums of Washington used to be enclosed within the blocks of some of the city’s most fashionable neighborhoods, providing a sort of “diversity” that we’d never find today. This book is the Washington counterpart to Jacob Riis’s “How The Other Half Lives”, which centered on New York’s Lower East Side.

    3. Marvin Caplan’s “Farther Along: A Civil Rights Memoir”, the recollections of the founder of Neighbors, Inc., the anti-blockbusting organization that began in Petworth and Shepard’s Park and spread to other parts of Northwest DC.

    4. Alison Stewart’s “First Class” The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black High School”. A terrific book that goes from the mid-19th century up to the present, and doesn’t pull any punches.

    5. Blair Ruble’s “Washington’s U Street: A Biography”, a first rate history of the street that’s seen it all and done it all.

    6. Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer’s “Washington Confidential”, a 1951 runaway bestselling “expose” of Washington’s seamier sides. The attitudes are outdated to say the least, but it’s still one of the more entertaining and specifically LOCAL books that’s ever been written about Washington the city.

    Many more, but you can’t go wrong with any of these.