Local History Books

If you’re interested in learning about New Orleans history then I cannot recommend these books enough:

The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans” by Lawrence N. Powell

This work summarizes New Orleans’ history from its swampy origins to statehood.

Bienville’s Dilemma: A Historical Geography of New Orleans” by Richard Campanella

Campanella’s book details the historical geography of the city, its formation, the manipulation of the environment, the consequences of Katrina, and the future of the city.

Building the Devil’s Empire: French Colonial New Orleans” by Shannon Lee Dawdy

This book is a comprehensive history of French New Orleans from its emergence in 1718 to the French Rebellion of 1768, which temporarily ousted the Spanish colonial government.

The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square” by Ned Sublette

Sublette focuses on the emergence of New Orleans by the French and up until the Louisiana Purchase, focusing primarily on Spanish Louisiana.  The book also helps readers understand the economic and cultural basis of the city, which as anyone knows, is heavy on music.

Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children: . . . and Other Streets of New Orleans!” by John Chase

This work is a detailed and fascinating account of the history of some of the city’s most interesting streets.

For fun – “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole – reading this comedic book is a rite of passage for all Yats, and provides a better glimpse of New Orleans than most history books.

Other than those favorites of mine, I recommend, in no particular ranking, the following as well:

French and Spanish era:

  • “Bienville: Father of Louisiana”
  • “The Cajuns: A People of Story of Exile and Triumph”
  • “Iberville’s Gulf Journals”
  • “Millionaire” (about John Law)


  • “The Pirates Lafitte”
  • “A Wilderness So Immense”
  • “The Legacy of John McDonogh”
  • “Intimate Enemies”
  • “Twelve Years a Slave”
  • “Creoles”
  • “Lincoln in New Orleans”
  • “Inventing New Orleans: Writings of Lafcadio Hearn”
  • “Vestiges of Grandeur: Plantations of Louisiana’s River Road”


  •  “Creole New Orleans: Race and Americanization”
  • “A Terrible Thunder: The Story of the New Orleans Sniper”
  • “Mafia Kingfish”
  • “Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans”
  • “The Last Madam: A Life In The New Orleans Underworld”
  • “Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America”
  • “Creole World: Photographs of New Orleans and the Latin Caribbean Sphere”
  • “The Cabildo on Jackson Square”


  • “Bourbon Street: A History”
  • “New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writings from the City”


  • “We as Free People, Plessey vs Ferguson”
  • “Free People of Color”
  • “A New Orleans Voudou Priestess: The Legend and Reality of Marie Laveau”
  • “New Orleans After the Promises: Poverty Citizenship, and the Search for the Great Society”
  • “Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market”
  • “Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth-Century”
  • “The Sugar Masters: Planters and Slaves in Louisiana’s Cane World, 1820-1860”
  • “Louisiana Sugar Plantations During the Civil War”
  • “American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt”


  • “New Orleans Architecture Vol. II: Cemeteries”
  • “Southern Comfort: the Garden District of New Orleans”
  • “Along the River Road”


  • “Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas”
  • “Geographies of New Orleans: Urban Fabrics Before the Storm”
  • “Mapping Louisiana: Five Hundred Years of Maps”


  • “Gumbo Ya-Ya: A Collection of Louisiana Folk Tales”
  • “Why New Orleans Matters”
  • “Where We Know: New Orleans As Home”
  • “Women and New Orleans”
  • “Eat Dat New Orleans: A Guide to the Unique Food Culture of the Crescent City”

On Katrina:

  • “1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina”
  • “City of Refuge”
  • “The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast”
  • “The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina”
  • “Breach of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near Death of a Great American City”
  • “Zeitoun”
  • “Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death, and Life in New Orleans”

Try to stay away from “Beautiful Crescent: A History of New Orleans” because it does contain factual errors and has not been updated, besides the chapter on the Spanish era thanks to local efforts, for decades.  It skips important details instrumental in understanding the city’s complex history.

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