Exploring travel books prior to embarking on a trip is an exciting part of the planning process. If you have a penchant for knowledge and wish to delve deep into your destination’s local history, culture, and its inhabitants, these books will provide you with fresh perspectives on Boston.
Although this list of 12 books is not exhaustive, it will undoubtedly give you a head start. We have included Amazon links (#ad) for your convenience, and you will often find used copies available for a nominal price. Please note that Boston Discovery Guide earns from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate.
Also, don’t forget to check out our recommendations for Boston travel guidebooks and cookbooks by renowned Boston chefs.
1. Boston’s Downtown Movie Palaces
By Arthur Singer and Ron Goodman, 2011
Boston boasts the largest collection of preserved and restored historic theaters in the United States. Many of these opulent movie “palaces” originated over a century ago.
Part of a series exploring movie palaces across America, Boston’s Downtown Movie Palaces unveils captivating insights into the art, architecture, and histories of these entertainment venues. Thanks to Boston’s diligent restoration efforts, numerous theaters, such as the Wang Theatre, Colonial Theatre, and Modern Theatre, have endured and continue to thrive.
The book also features exceptional historic photographs that provide a striking contrast to the current state of these theaters. For updated pictures, refer to our Boston Theaters article or take the Wang Theatre tour for an immersive experience.
2. Boston’s Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in Beantown
By Luke O’Neil, 2011
Dive bars, the beloved no-frills gathering spots that were once synonymous with Boston’s gritty landscape, are now endangered due to escalating real estate prices and evolving expectations.
For an authentic glimpse into Boston’s bygone era, Boston’s Best Dive Bars presents a comprehensive list of 90 remaining taverns where you can relive the city’s yesteryears. Brimming with history, camaraderie, and memorable moments, these watering holes deserve exploration before they vanish entirely.
A helpful tip for visiting any recommended drinking establishment from this book: conduct a quick Google search to verify its existence.
3. Boston Sites and Insights
By Susan Wilson and Susan Carolyn Wilson, 2004
Much of our knowledge about Boston’s historical events from previous centuries stems from eye-witness accounts preserved in journals, letters, newspapers, and even vintage photographs. However, individual perspectives and contradictory testimonies often make it challenging to discern the truth amidst historical narratives.
Boston Sites and Insights shines a light on major historical sites and attractions in Boston. Notably, the authors, a mother-daughter duo, extensively cite original sources. In instances where eye-witness reports or records diverge, they provide transparent explanations.
Consequently, this book diverges from the widely accepted stories found in many other books about Boston, presenting a refreshing take on famous sites, historical events, and the authentic stories behind them.
4. Amazing Tales from the Boston Red Sox Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Red Sox Stories Ever Told
By Jim Prime and Bill Nowlin, 2017
A must-read for avid Red Sox fans, Amazing Tales from the Boston Red Sox Dugout lives up to its title’s promise. This enthralling collection features captivating anecdotes and stories from players, managers, and sports writers who have been associated with the Red Sox franchise. Their tales, narrated in their own words, offer a captivating insight into the team’s history.
Prepare for a journey through time with legendary figures such as Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Joe Cronin, Bobby Doerr, Wade Boggs, Jim Rice, Jason Varitek, Dustin Pedroia, and the iconic “Big Papi,” David Ortiz. Whether you are a devoted fan seeking hours of entertainment or in search of a cherished gift for a fellow enthusiast, this book guarantees immense joy.
5. Boston: An Illustrated Journey Through History
By Jonathan M. Beagle, 2013
Crafted by a knowledgeable Boston historian, this exquisite coffee table book transports you on a captivating visual exploration of Boston’s renowned neighborhoods, showcasing their rich historical and cultural landmarks through a collection of stunning photographs.
Experience the enchanting beauty of the Victorian Back Bay neighborhood with its splendid Public Garden and Old South Church, witness the majesty of the USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”) in Charlestown, immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, and the Aquarium in the Downtown Waterfront, marvel at the iconic Fenway Park nestled in the Fenway neighborhood, and discover the grandeur of Beacon Hill with its African Meeting Hall and gold-domed Massachusetts State House. And this is just the beginning, as there is much more to behold within its pages.
What adds to the allure of this book is the author’s engaging commentary, providing you with a perfect introduction to Boston or serving as a delightful keepsake to commemorate your visit.
6. Boston’s Public Parks and Gardens: A Complete Illustrated Guidebook
By Richard J. Berenson and Jon Marcus, 2002
Delve into the fascinating world of Boston’s parks and gardens with this informative volume that unveils the historical development of these green spaces and showcases the delights they offer today.
While focusing primarily on Boston’s renowned “Emerald Necklace,” a chain of interconnected parks designed by the celebrated landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead in the 19th century, the book also features a section on other notable areas such as the Esplanade, Boston beaches, and even Olmstead’s own Brookline residence on the outskirts of the city.
Highlights of this guidebook include an abundance of excellent photographs and user-friendly maps, ensuring a visually enriching and easily navigable reading experience.
It is worth noting that the book was published in 2002, so it does not cover the recent additions of the Rose Kennedy Greenway and improvements to Harborwalk. However, it provides comprehensive coverage of all other aspects you may seek.
7. Dark Tide: Unveiling the Truth Behind the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919
By Stephen Puleo, 2003
Ranked among Boston’s most catastrophic disasters, the Great Molasses Flood that occurred in the Italian North End is the focus of this gripping and engrossing account by Stephen Puleo. Set in the early 20th century, the book draws on extensive research from primary sources, unraveling the real causes behind the tragedy that had long been obscured by unfounded blame on Italian anarchists.
Within the pages of Dark Tide, Puleo reveals a narrative that not only uncovers the truth but also provides an in-depth exploration of Boston life during that era. It examines the social and economic structures, class and ethnic conflicts, and offers vivid portrayals of daily life within one of Boston’s most captivating and vibrant historic neighborhoods.
Of particular fascination is the author’s exploration of the intricate interplay between fear, paranoia, real-life events, and self-interest, which coalesce into a toxic concoction. The book comes highly recommended, shedding light on a remarkable slice of Boston’s history.
8. The Gardner Heist: Unraveling the Mystery of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft
By Ulrich Bose, 2009
Set aside a snowy February weekend or a rainy June day to immerse yourself in The Gardner Heist, a non-fiction thriller that will captivate you from start to finish.
Centered on the audacious 1990 theft of 13 priceless paintings, including works by Rembrandt and Vermeer, from Boston’s renowned Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Fenway, this book unveils the gripping tale of the thieves who posed as Boston police officers and executed one of the most significant art heists in history. The ensuing manhunt, marked by countless dead ends, forms the backdrop of this enthralling story.
Author Ulrich Boser, a contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report, initially reported on the crime but soon became an obsessed amateur detective himself after inheriting the files of a fine arts adjuster who had been haunted by the unsolved case until his death. Boser’s pursuit of leads leads him into the dark underbelly of the art world and organized crime, a perilous journey that ultimately forces him to step back for his own safety.
However, not before he presents compelling evidence and identifies a possible suspect, allowing readers to form their own opinions. Only time will tell if this remarkable crime will ever be solved.
A perfect gift for enthusiasts of mystery and thrillers.
9. Historic Boston in Four Seasons: A Photographic Impression
By Samuel Chamberlain, 1938
With a concise yet evocative 73 pages, this petite gem primarily consists of black and white photographs accompanied by insightful captions. Although out of print, used copies can often be found online, albeit with a slight yellowing due to age.
Historic Boston captures the essence of “old Boston” throughout the changing seasons. What makes it truly special is the opportunity to witness these very same places in the present day. From the Massachusetts State House and the Old Granary Burial Ground to Boston Common, Paul Revere’s House, the U.S.S. Constitution, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Rose Garden, and the Swan Boats, this book invites you to carry it along during your visit, allowing you to witness firsthand how little has changed in over 70 years.
Yet, upon closer examination, you may notice the absence of certain elements. Trinity Church stands unaccompanied by the towering John Hancock Tower, the Custom House Tower remains untouched by the skyscrapers of the Financial District, and the Charles River flows without the presence of Storrow Drive. Most strikingly, the streets appear devoid of traffic, providing a captivating glimpse into a bygone era.
A perfect gift for those embarking on a new chapter in the city.
10. Boston Then and Now: A Captivating Visual Journey
By Patrick L. Kennedy, 2016
Immerse yourself in this enchanting coffee table book that presents a stunning collection of new and vintage photographs, juxtaposing famous Boston landmarks, neighborhoods, attractions, and locations as they appeared in the past and as they stand today in all their modern glory.
While many of Boston’s iconic historical and cultural landmarks have endured the test of time, the surroundings that envelop them have undergone profound transformations. Witness the enduring presence of Paul Revere’s house in the North End neighborhood, standing steadfast across the ages as the neighborhood evolved around it. Discover the remarkable metamorphosis of Quincy Market, where original structures persist amidst radical change.
In some instances, such as the elevated Central Artery highway removed by the “Big Dig” project and replaced by the Rose Kennedy Greenway, the changes are truly transformative.
Whether you acquire this book as a means to preserve cherished memories or to explore the city’s evolution over centuries, it promises an abundance of visual delights and thought-provoking comparisons.
11. Historic Taverns of Boston: A Definitive Guide to 370 Years of Tavern History
By Gavin R. Nathan, 2006
Embark on a captivating journey through nearly four centuries of Boston’s beer culture with this meticulously researched and eloquently written account. Discover intriguing facts, such as the Puritans’ arrival on the Arbella, laden with 10,000 gallons of beer, and unravel the significant role taverns played during the Revolution.
Delving into the depths of Boston’s past, author Gavin R. Nathan unveils the captivating history of taverns in this enthralling guidebook. Immerse yourself in the love affair between Boston and beer, gaining insight into the city’s beer-drinking traditions and the pivotal role taverns played in shaping its history.
From the first sip of beer brought by the Puritans on their voyage to the New World aboard the Arbella, to the intriguing accounts of taverns during the Revolution, this book offers a wealth of knowledge. But it doesn’t stop at mere history—Nathan goes the extra mile by providing easy-to-follow recipes, allowing you to recreate the exact drinks that quenched the thirst of the early colonists.
This book offers a unique perspective on both past and present, forever altering your perception of taverns. Discover the rich tapestry of Boston’s beer heritage and gain a deeper understanding of this beloved city.
A wonderful gift for beer enthusiasts and history buffs alike.
12. Old Landmarks and Illustrious Figures of Boston
By Samuel Adams Drake, 1873
Immerse yourself in the vibrant tapestry of Boston’s early days through this meticulously researched volume. With an unwavering commitment to accuracy, Samuel Adams Drake utilizes a wealth of original source materials—ranging from court documents and journals to legal papers and letters—to breathe life into the people, events, and history of the city’s earliest years.
In his preface, dated October 22, 1872, Drake expresses his concern about the rapid disappearance of old landmarks and his desire to pinpoint the precise locations of historical events. However, fate dealt a cruel blow to his efforts when the Great Fire of November 10 and 11 decimated a significant part of old Boston, erasing many of the landmarks and events he had painstakingly documented. A second preface acknowledges this tragic loss, expressing gratitude that the Old South Meeting House and the Old State House were spared.
If you possess an interest in the history of Boston’s places and people and don’t mind the slightly antiquated language, this book promises a captivating journey. Far more accurate than the quick summaries found in guidebooks, Drake’s work draws from original sources, allowing for a more profound understanding of Boston’s rich history.
Highly recommended for those seeking an authentic and comprehensive exploration of Boston’s past.