The 13 Best Books on Skyscrapers

Skyscraper Architecture Books

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. Books on building skyscrapers can make anyone dream.

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Skyscrapers: A History of the World's Most Extraordinary Buildings

In 2013, architectural historian Judith Dupré revised and updated her popular book, Skyscrapers: A History of the World's Most Extraordinary Buildings. 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! 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. The story of 1 World Trade Center, the tallest skyscraper in the U.S., is like a biography of an important person.

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Rise of the New York Skyscraper, 1865-1913

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 of Rise of the New York Skyscraper, 1865-1913 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.

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Chicago Skyscrapers: Postcard History Series

Of all the historic tall buildings, the 1885 Home Insurance Building in Chicago is often considered to be the first skyscraper ever built. Chicago Skyscrapers: In Vintage Postcards celebrates the historic early architecture in this American city. 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.

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Skyscrapers: The New Millennium

tops of modern skyscrapers, one looking like a crystal and another looking like a bottle opener
Tops of Jinmao Tower and Shanghai World Financial Center. Wei Fang/Getty Images (cropped)

What are the tallest buildings in the world? Since the start of the 21st century, the list has been in constant flux. Skyscrapers: The New Millennium is 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.

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Manhattan Skyscrapers

Skyscrapers are getting higher and higher all over New York City. You may have run into the idle saunterer and self-described flâneur 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 a century worth of New York's most interesting and important tall buildings in the popular book Manhattan Skyscrapers. 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.

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Skyscrapers: A Social History of the Very Tall Building in America

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 and engineers, but also the steelworkers and finishers 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 think and write about what inspires them. Skyscrapers: A Social History Of The Very Tall Building In America explores what many experience only by the social history of the architecture thriller film.

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Skyscrapers and the Men Who Build Them

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. Immediately before the Great Depression, American cities were changing their skylines with buildings that became a race to the top of the skies. Skyscrapers and the Men Who Build Them is a book from that era, written for the layman from an engineer's point of view. The general public wanted to know how these strange tall buildings were built, stood up, and why don't they fall down.This book helped Americans become comfortable with tall buildings and the men who made them — and then the stock market crashed.

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The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, the Chicago-based internationally recognized authority on skyscraper heights, recommends The Heights as the go-to introduction to tall buildings, like a Skyscrapers 101 course. The book's author, 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.

A similar book is How to Build a Skyscraper by John Hill. As a writer and registered architect, Hill takes apart over 40 skyscrapers and shows us how they were built.

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Skyscraper Rivals

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.

The American International Building (AIG) is now known as 70 Pine Street. The building once dedicated to global insurance has been converted into luxury apartments and condos — in Lower Manhattan, you can live in history.

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1,001 Skyscrapers

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. 

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The Skyscraper

white haired man leaning back in chair on a stage
Architecture Writer Paul Goldberger. Kimberly White/Getty Images for Vanity Fair (cropped)

As a Pulitzer Prize winning architecture critic, Paul Goldberger has always been interested in understanding architecture's place within society. In 1986 he took on 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. Decades 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. Anyone with an interest in architecture should have an interest in what Goldberger has to say.

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Who Built That? Skyscrapers: An Introduction to Skyscrapers and Their Architects

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 from Princeton Architectural Press.

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NY Skyscrapers

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 by way of German engineering.

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Craven, Jackie. "The 13 Best Books on Skyscrapers." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Craven, Jackie. (2023, April 5). The 13 Best Books on Skyscrapers. Retrieved from Craven, Jackie. "The 13 Best Books on Skyscrapers." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).