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Frederick Layton's profound influence in Milwaukee is captured in this elaborate 480-page tome.

10 essential books about Milwaukee

The local interest section in Milwaukee's bookshops are not overflowing with titles, it's true. But there are some good books that offer insights into our city and are essential reads for Milwaukeeans and also make great gifts for visitors, family and friends that have moved out of town and for yourself!

Here are some of them, in no particular order:

  1. "The Making of Milwaukee" by John Gurda (Milwaukee County Historical Society)
    Of course, Gurda's exhaustive, photo-filled history of the city from its earliest days to the dawn of the third millennium, is THE book about Milwaukee. It recently served as the basis for a five-hour mini-series broadcast on Milwaukee Public Television and narrated by Gurda himself.
  2. "Cream City Chronicles" by John Gurda (Wisconsin Historical Society Press)
    This book of newspaper columns penned by Gurda is a perfect complement to "The Making of Milwaukee." Instead of trying to tell it all, these essays focus on the interesting, the unique and the important. Fascinating tidbits that can be read sporadically or in one sitting.
  3. "Milwaukee Streets: The Stories Behind Their Names" by Carl Baehr (Cream City Press)
    From Abbott Avenue to Zellman Court, Baehr's encyclopedia of Milwaukee street name origins makes for fascinating reading. His research was exhaustive and his explanations will often dish up more information than you could have imagined existed.
  4. "The Heritage Guidebook" by H. Russell Zimmermann (Schwartz Bookshop)
    A. David Schwartz rescued this book from obscurity years ago and it is still readily available at bargain prices at Schwartz shops. The subtitle, "Landmarks and Historical Sites in Southeastern Wisconsin," pretty much says it all, but Zimmermann's work is the bible of Milwaukee architecture and is essential. It's out of print, but worth seeking out.
  5. "Silver Screens: A Pictorial History of Milwaukee's Movie Theaters" by Larry Widen and Judi Anderson (Wisconsin Historical Society Press)
    Originally published 20-odd years ago, this in-depth look at the movie theater business in Brew City is heavily illustrated and loaded with facts. Especially fun is the list of all theaters in the history of Milwaukee cinema at the back of the book, which was expanded and updated this year.
  6. "Built in Milwaukee" by Randy Garber (Dept. of City Development)
    The results of an in-depth survey of the city's buildings, this large-format paperback is required reading for fans of Milwaukee history, architecture and development. Alas, it's long out of print, so you'll have to troll online to find a copy or content yourself with borrowing it from the library.
  7. "Milwaukee's Bronzeville: 1900-1950" by Paul Geenen (Arcadia)
    Milwaukee author Paul Geenen, who has also written books about the Civil Rights movement and Sherman Park, charts the the migration of African-Americans to Milwaukee in the first half of the 20th century and though dozens of vintage photos shows what life what like in Bronzeville, along Walnut Street.
  8. "Layton's Legacy: A Historic American Art Collection, 1888-2013" by John Eastberg and Eric Vogel (Layton Art Collection, Inc.)
    Frederick Layton's profound influence in Milwaukee is captured in this elaborate 480-page tome, and with forewords by Dianne Macleod and Giles Waterfield. Distributed by University of Wisconsin Press, the book coincided with a series of 125th anniversary exhibitions at Milwaukee Art Museum. The gorgeous book draws heavily on a recently uncovered trove of Layton documents, including travel journals, family papers and old photographs.
  9. "Building Milwaukee City Hall" by Dennis Pajot (McFarlane)
    Author Dennis Pajot traces the story of the ideation and construction of Milwaukee's most recognizable landmark in this heavily researched and detailed book that offers a glimpse into Milwaukee history, architecture and politics. Until Bill O'Brien decides to publish his thesis on the architect, Pajot's book offers the most in-depth look at the work of City Hall designer Henry C. Koch.
  10. "Kids, Soda and Punk Rock" by Peter A. Flessas (blurb.com)
    Musician Flessas owned the legendary – and short-lived – all-ages Yano's punk rock club on Milwaukee Street in the 1980s. His heavily illustrated volume revisits the scene from that era. While it's not an exhaustive history of clubs or punk rock in Milwaukee, it's the kind of grass roots, focused look that reminds us that there are 8 million stories in the naked city.

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