13 Great Books for Skyscraper Enthusiasts

Favorite Books for Anyone Who Loves Tall Buildings

skyline of various shaped skyscrapers behind two-story homes along the shore
Skyscrapers in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Francois Nel/Getty Images (cropped)

Ever since the late 1800s when the first skyscrapers appeared in Chicago, tall buildings have inspired awe and fascination around the world. The books listed here not only pay tribute to every variety of skyscraper, including Classical, Art Deco, Expressionist, Modernist, and Postmodernist, but also to the architects who conceived them.

In 2013, architectural historian Judith Dupré revised and updated her popular book. Why so popular? Not only is it thoroughly researched, well-written, and beautifully presented, it also is a huge book, measuring  18.2 inches long. That's from your waist to your chin, folks!  It's a tall book for a towering subject. 

Dupré also explores the process of skyscraper building in her 2016 book One World Trade Center: Biography of the Building. This 300 page "biography" is said to be the definitive story of the skyscraper-building process — an interesting and complex story of commerce and recovery after the 9-11-01 terrorist attacks in New York City.

Skyscraper photos of historic buildings can be black-and-white dull or amazingly colorful as we think about the truly awesome challenge of designing and constructing the early tall buildings. Historian Carl W. Condit (1914-1997) and Professor Sarah Bradford Landau have given us a fascinating look at the history of New York's tall buildings and the building boom in Manhattan in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The authors argue for New York's place as the home of the first skyscraper, noting that the 1870 Equitable Life Assurance Building, with its skeletal frame and elevators, was finished before the 1871 Chicago fire that spurred the growth of fire-resistant buildings in that city. Published in 1996 by Yale University Press, Rise of the New York Skyscraper: 1865-1913 may be slightly academic in parts, but the engineering history shines through.

Of all the historic tall buildings, the 1885 Home Insurance Building in Chicago is often considered to be the first skyscraper ever built. In this little book, preservationist Leslie Hudson has gathered together vintage postcards to help us explore Chicago's skyscraper era — an interesting approach to presenting history..

What are the tallest buildings in the world? Since the start of the 21st century, the list has been in constant flux. Here's a good roundup of skyscrapers at the start of the "new millennium," the year 2000, with information about developments in form, character, and technology. Authors John Zukowsky and Martha Thorne were both curators at the Art Institute of Chicago at the time of publication.

Skyscrapers are getting higher and higher all over New York City. You may have run into self-described "flaneur" Eric Peter Nash as he leads groups of tourists around some of the most historic neighborhoods in Manhattan. Along with the work of photographer Norman McGrath, Nash offers us with 100 years of New York's most interesting and important tall buildings. Seventy-five skyscrapers are photographed and presented with a history of each building and quotes from the architects. Already in its 3rd edition from Princeton Architectural Press, Manhattan Skyscrapers reminds us to look up when we're in the Big Apple.

This book reminds us that architecture does not stand apart from society. The skyscraper, in particular, is the type of building that not only inspires architects, but also the people who build them, live and work in them, film them, and the daredevils who climb them. Author George H. Douglas was an English professor for over three decades at the University of Illinois. When professors retire, they have the time to thinks and write about skyscrapers.

William Aiken Starrett's 1928 publication is available to read for free online, but Nabu Press has reproduced the work as a testament to its historic timelessness.

Dr. Kate Ascher knows infrastructure, and she wants to tell you all about what she knows. Also the author of the 2007 book The Works: Anatomy of a City, Professor Ascher in 2013 tackled the infrastructure of the tall building with over 200 pages of illustrations and diagrams. Both books are published by Penguin.

 

Subtitled, "The AIG Building & the Architecture of Wall Street," this book by Daniel Abramson and Carol Willis looks at the four major towers in New York City's financial district in Lower Manhattan. Published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2000, Skyscraper Rivals examines the financial, geographical, and historical forces that brought these buildings into being — before 9-11-2001.

This spiral-bound oversized book by Eric Howeler and Jeannie Meejin Yoon takes 27 of the world's most famous skyscrapers, scales them equally, and cuts them into three pieces that can be recombined to make 15,625 new buildings of your own design. Although Princeton Architectural Press is not promoting this as a children's book, it may be more accessible to youngsters than some of their other publications. Nevertheless, builders of all ages will be entertained and enlightened. 

As architecture critic of The New York Times in 1981, Paul Goldberger took on thoroughly understanding the American skyscraper. As a history and commentary of this peculiar form of architecture, The Skyscraper was Goldberger's second book in a long career of observing, thinking, and writing. Twenty years later, when we looked at skyscrapers differently, this fine author wrote the text for The World Trade Center Remembered.

Other books by Goldberger include Why Architecture Matters, 2011, and Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry, 2015.

Who Built That? Skyscrapers: An Introduction to Skyscrapers and Their Architects by Didier Cornille is supposed to be for 7 to 12 year-olds, but the 2014 publication just might be everyone's favorite book of from Princeton Architectural Press.

Can you be obsessed with skyscrapers? Is it possible to go extreme skyscrapering? The German team of writer Dirk Stichweh and photographer Jörg Machirus seems to be that crazy about New York City. This 2016 Prestel publication is their second — they started out in 2009 with New York Skyscrapers. Now well-practiced, the team gained access to rooftops and vantage points that most people don't even know exist. This skyscraper book gives you New York City via German engineering.

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Craven, Jackie. "13 Great Books for Skyscraper Enthusiasts." ThoughtCo, Oct. 25, 2017, thoughtco.com/great-books-for-skyscraper-enthusiasts-177825. Craven, Jackie. (2017, October 25). 13 Great Books for Skyscraper Enthusiasts. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/great-books-for-skyscraper-enthusiasts-177825 Craven, Jackie. "13 Great Books for Skyscraper Enthusiasts." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/great-books-for-skyscraper-enthusiasts-177825 (accessed November 25, 2017).