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Recommended books on
New Orleans' music and culture

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When there's a city whose history and culture is as rich as New Orleans', people are going to be inspired to write about it. Novels, poems, photographs, histories, essays, folk tales, cookery ... there are oodles of books on my fair city, and I seem to have bought lots of 'em. Ever try dealing with large book collections when you have to move? Yeesh.

So, for your own personal edification (and to strain the backs of your movers if you ever have to move), here's a list of some of my favorite books about New Orleans.

We've made it easy, safe and secure to purchase any of these books online through links to Amazon.com Books, "Earth's largest bookstore", with over 1 million titles on hand. Click any highlighted book title to order it through Amazon.com. If a title I recommend is not available through Amazon.com, I'll try to include mail-order information.

[History and Culture] [Music] [Novels] [Photography] [Politics]

Don't forget to browse through the cookbooks and the books on Cajun culture as well.


Okay, first thing ya gotta do if you want a book about touring New Orleans is to GET THIS ONE!

Herczog, Mary. Frommer's Guide to New Orleans '99.
Frommer's '99 for New Orleans has been completely rewritten by it's principal author and editor Mary Herczog, a friend of mine from L.A. who loves New Orleans and who would live there if it weren't for July and August. It's a great tourist's guide, and probably couldn't be better if it were written by a native. And that's what else is great about it -- a lot of it was written by natives, friends of Mary's that she enlisted to help with the project, like Marc and Ann Savoy, Ben Sandmel, Nicholas Payton ... and me! I wrote 12 restaurant reviews for it (expanded versions of Gumbo Pages reviews), plus she was kind enough to include my Red Beans and Rice recipe from right here in these very pages. Woohoo! It's totally cool. Buy two.

History and Culture

Cable, George Washington. The Grandissimes: A Story of Creole Life

Castellanos, Henry C. New Orleans As It Was: Episodes of Louisiana Life.

Chase, John Churchill. Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children and Other Streets of New Orleans.
John Chase was a beloved figure in recent New Orleans history. He was a marvelous cartoonist, and his political cartoons for The Times-Picayune and WDSU-TV are legendary, along with his character of "The Little Man". Chase also wrote this definitive and delightful history of the city as told through the history of its streets and street names. In its umpteenth printing since the Fifties, this book is indispensible.

Conrad, Barnaby III. Absinthe: History in a Bottle.
New Orleans was a hotbed of absinthe consumption, and that legacy is still visible in the French Quarter's Old Absinthe Bar, on Bourbon Street. One hundred forty-four proof, notoriously addictive, and the drug of choice for 19th-century poets and Storyville madams, absinthe is gaining bootleg popularity after almost a century of being banned. Due to popular demand, this book is back in a new paperback edition. 60 color photos. 100 illustrations.

Davis, Lyle, Edward Dreyer and Robert Tallant. Gumbo Ya-Ya: A Collection of Louisiana Folk Tales.
A classic, extremely rich collection of folk tales from New Orleans and surrounding parishes of Louisiana, from tales of street criers and voodoo in the Crescent City to the "treasure lights" of the bayous.

Leavitt, Mel. A Short History of New Orleans.
Mel Leavitt is another legend in New Orleans, as a broadcaster, longtime host of "Quiz Bowl" on local public television, and as a writer and historian. This brief but excellent book is another entertaining history of an entertaining city.

Leavitt, Mel. Great Characters of New Orleans.
Throughout history and certainly today, New Orleans is a city of characters, or "carricktas", as one might say in Yat. Read about some of the more colorful ones on another delightfull Leavitt tome.

Saxon, Lyle with Edward Dreyer and Robert Tallant. Gumbo Ya-Ya: A Collection of Louisiana Folk Tales
One of the definitive books on Louisiana folklore, if not the definitive one. In print for decades, this books takes you from Creole street cries and voodoo practices to the stories and lore of the Cajuns. Watch out for the treasure lights!

Saxon, Lyle. Fabulous New Orleans

Saxon, Lyle. Old Louisiana

Smith, Michael P. Spirit World: Patterns in the Expressive Folk Culture of African-American New Orleans.
Smith is a marvelous photographer, renowned for his photographs of local musicians and culture, particulary the local African-American culture of New Orleans, unique in many ways and extremely rich. Here in this fascinating and gorgeous book, Smith examines the black spiritual churches of New Orleans and touches up on the culture of the black "Mardi Gras" Indian tribes, which he covers in greater detail in his next book.

Smith, Michael P. Mardi Gras Indians.
Perhaps belonging in the photography section because of the stunning beauty of Smith's color photographs, this is here because it's the first book to thoroughly examine the fascinating culture of the black Indians of New Orleans, often mistakenly called "Mardi Gras Indians", one of the most unique expressions of African-American folk culture still in existence. The Indians have to be seen to be believed; the costumes will knock you out. If you're ever in New Orleans, try to see them performing at Jazzfest, or before or during Mardi Gras. Spectacular.

Stall, Gasper J. "Buddy". Buddy Stall's Louisiana Potpourri.
Buddy Stall has been a popular local historian and speaker since I was a little kid, and probably before. He's very entertaining, and effortlessly conveys his love for his native city in his speaking engagements as well as his books. All are recommended.

Stall, Gasper J. "Buddy". Buddy Stall's New Orleans.
His classic book.

Stall, Gasper J. "Buddy" and Myron Tassin. Mardi Gras and Bacchus: Something Old, Something New

Stall, Gasper J. "Buddy". Proud, Peculiar New Orleans: The Inside Story.

Tallent, Robert. Voodoo In New Orleans.
Yes, it's real. No, sticking hatpins in dolls is a cliché. Read a fascinating history of this Haitian-born religion and its deep roots in New Orleans. It's said that the religion still has thousands of practitioners in the Crescent City.


Broven, John. Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans.
Englishman Broven, author of South to Louisiana, examines the heart and soul of New Orleans R&B, a must for any fan of the music.

Hannusch, Jeff. I Hear You Knocking: The Sound of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues.
Local music journalist Jeff "Almost Slim" Hannusch further examines the music that along with jazz made New Orleans famous, and influenced the entire genre as well. A must-read.


Toole, John Kennedy. A Confederacy of Dunces, hardcover. There's also a paperback edition available.
The definitive novel of New Orleans. The late John Kennedy Toole wrote this in the Sixties and committed suicide in 1969, and his mother got it published a decade later, with the help of novelist Walker Percy. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1980, and his mother (God help us) became a celebrity. This wild farce of a novel features one of the most memorable characters in local fiction, Ignatius J. Reilly, and perfectly captures local color, language, places and attitudes. Hilarious, and indispensible!


Delehanty, Randolph and Richard Sexton (photographer). New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence.
The lush, seductive, nostalgic elegance of New Orleans' streets, parks, and public buildings, as well as the fanciful, nuanced interiors of some of its most beautiful private home and gardens, are insightfully revealed in this comprehensive photographic homage to the "Venice of North America." 200 full-color photos.


Gill, James. Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans
Written by a veteran reporter from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, this is a fascinating look into the complex situation begat by the City Council's decree to desegregate private Carnival organizations ("krewes"), some of which were secret societies dating back to the Civil War.

Maginnis, John. The Last Hayride.
Maginnis is one of the top political reporters in Louisiana, covering with wit and insight the circus/zoo that is Louisiana politics. This title covers the Edwin Edwards/Dave Treen gubernatorial campaign, where the so-called "crook" unseated the incumbent (first Republican governor since Reconstruction) who had run on an honesty campaign. Very entertaining.

Maginnis, John. Cross to Bear.
Maginnis' coverage of the infamous 1991 Louisiana gubernatorial election, where the top contenders in the runoff were former governor Edwin Edwards and Ku Klux Klan "grand wizard" David Duke. In this election where phrases like "Vote for the crook, it's important" became popular, the goings-on are often so unbelievable that you'll shake your head in wonder. You can't make up stuff like this.

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Chuck Taggart (e-mail chuck)