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The best L.A. books? Let's make a list (Part 2, nonfiction)

October 04, 2011|By Christopher Reynolds | Los Angeles Times staff writer
  • There are a lot of L.A. books out there. When people talk about the best, these are some of the contenders.
There are a lot of L.A. books out there. When people talk about the best, these… (Christopher Reynolds /…)

We need your L.A. book picks – not just great books but books that will clue a newcomer in to this place, physically and socially, its past, present and future.  As part of our ever-growing Southern California Close-Ups project, we’re pulling together a list of volumes that speak volumes about Los Angeles – maybe 50 books, maybe more.

We've already opened fiction debate on a previous  post (see below). Now, here are the beginnings of our nonfiction list, in no particular order. Please weigh in on what you think we’ve overlooked or overestimated. And bear in mind, we're limiting ourselves to one book per author -- a tough break for Mike Davis and Kevin Starr, but pretty much good news for everybody else.

1. Reyner Banham: "Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies" (1971).

2. Mike Davis: "Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster" (2000) or “City of Quartz: Excavating the Future of Los Angeles” (1990).

3. Carey McWilliams: "Southern California Country: An Island on the Land" (1946), later retitled “Southern California: An Island on the Land.”

4. Leonard and Dale Pitt: "Los Angeles A to Z: An Encyclopedia of the City and County" (1997).

5. Borislav Stanic: “Los Angeles Attractions” (2008).

6. David Gebhard and Robert Winter: “An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles” (revised edition 2003).

7. Esther McCoy: “Five California Architects” (1960).

8.  Jim Heimann, editor:  “Los Angeles: Portrait of a City,” (2009). Pictorial history of the city, with more than 500 images and essays by Heimann, Kevin Starr and David Ulin.

9. Kevin Starr: “Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963” (2009). Any volume in Starr’s cycle of California history would be a candidate, but this one covers Los Angeles at length during a busy time. 

10. D.J. Waldie: "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" (1996).

11. Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry: “Helter Skelter” (1974).

12. Otto Friedrich: “City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940's" (1986).

13. Neal Gabler: “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood” (1989).

14. Luis J. Rodriguez: “Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.” (1993).

15. Norman M. Klein: “The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory" (1997).

16. Introduction by David Kipen: “Los Angeles in the 1930s: The WPA Guide to the City of Angels” (republished in 2011).

17. Jonathan Gold: "Counter Intelligence" (most recent edition 2000).

18. Anthony Lovett and Matt Maranian: “L.A. Bizarro: The all-New Insider’s Guide to the Obscure, the Absurd, and the Perverse in Los Angeles” (most recent edition 2009).

19. John W. Robinson with Doug Christiansen: “Trails of the Angeles: 100 Hikes in the San Gabriels” (most recent edition 2005).

Then again, what about some of these? Marc Reisner’s “Cadillac Desert.” David Rieff’s “Los Angeles: Capital of the Third World.” "The Ethnic Quilt: Population Diversity in Southern California," edited by James Paul Allen and Eugene Turner. And what about suburbanist William Fulton, or Kevin Roderick, bard of Wilshire Boulevard and the San Fernando Valley?

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