Last summer my boyfriend and I road tripped across the US as we moved ourselves and our stuff from New York City to San Diego. Going in to the trip, I wanted to read books about places we were traveling to, but, unfortunately, life got in the way. Over the past year I’ve discovered several books about places we traveled through and I wanted to share them! Since the 4th of July is all about Sea to Shining Sea (and is shockingly coming up next week), I thought now would be a great time to share this list with you.
New York City
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
As someone who lived in New York in their early twenties, I absolutely loved this book! When people ask me if they should read it, my response is always “Do you love New York?” because if you don’t this book is not right for you. Sweetbitter is very New York-y but also a great coming of age novel full of amazing passages. I read this one on my kindle and highlighted so many paragraphs full of beautiful prose. This is the only fiction on this list – I thought it would be best to start with something light!
Synopsis from Goodreads: Newly arrived in New York City, twenty-two-year-old Tess lands a job as a “backwaiter” at a celebrated downtown Manhattan restaurant. What follows is the story of her education: in champagne and cocaine, love and lust, dive bars and fine dining rooms, as she learns to navigate the chaotic, enchanting, punishing life she has chosen. As her appetites awaken—for food and wine, but also for knowledge, experience, and belonging—Tess finds herself helplessly drawn into a darkly alluring love triangle. In Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler deftly conjures with heart-stopping accuracy the nonstop and high-adrenaline world of the restaurant industry and evokes the infinite possibilities, the unbearable beauty, and the fragility and brutality of being young in New York.
Playing Through the Whistle by S.L. Price
If there’s one thing I want you to know about Pittsburgh, as a native Pittsburgher, it’s how much we love our football team. While the Steelers are the life of the city, our football culture actually starts much younger — particularly in the neighborhood of Aliquippa. Playing Through the Whistle is a book about that team and sheds light on a lot of Pittsburgh history!
Synopsis from Goodreads: In the early twentieth century, down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, the Jones & Laughlin Steel Company built one of the largest mills in the world and a town to go with it. Aliquippa was a beacon and a melting pot, pulling in thousands of families from Europe and the Jim Crow south. The J&L mill, though dirty and dangerous, offered a chance at a better life. It produced the steel that built American cities and won World War II and even became something of a workers’ paradise. But then, in the 1980’s, the steel industry cratered. The mill closed. Crime rose and crack hit big.
But another industry grew in Aliquippa. The town didn’t just make steel; it made elite football players, from Mike Ditka to Ty Law to Darrelle Revis. Pro football was born in Western Pennsylvania, and few places churned out talent like Aliquippa. Despite its troubles—maybe even because of them—Aliquippa became legendary for producing football greatness. A masterpiece of narrative journalism, Playing Through the Whistletells the remarkable story of Aliquippa and through it, the larger history of American industry, sports, and life. Like football, it will make you marvel, wince, cry, and cheer.
Boomtown by Sam Anderson
OK, I admit it, Oklahoma City is not directly on the route. When we drove this route, we cut through Kansas City, but I don’t have any books on Kansas City, so I’m going to ask you to take a slight detour on this trip!
Boomtown is the FANTASTICAL SAGA of Oklahoma City. The subtitle highlights “its chaotic founding, its purloined basketball team, and the dream of becoming a world-class metropolis. What more do you need? (This one is out 8/21 from Crown Publishing)
Synopsis from Goodreads: Anderson reports on the amazing revitalization that has occurred over the course of the last 20 years, starting with Oklahoma City’s adoption of the MAPS program; he’ll show how the city’s colorful leaders–its mayor, police chief, and a few local celebrities–have built up an unassuming city into a thriving urban center, full of artists, musicians, and, of course, sports fans. Anderson will track the dramatic story of how a consortium of business leaders purchased the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics, brought it to Oklahoma City, and renamed the team the Thunder. Sam Presti, the charismatic young GM of the Thunder, has turned the team–which includes Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook–from scrappy underdogs to elite champions in less than five years.
Where the Water Goes by David Owen
Little known (or maybe this is just me) fact: The Colorado River starts in Boulder, CO. On our trip we spent a day in Boulder, a couple days in Denver, and then continued through western Colorado where the I-70 took us across the Colorado river multiple times.
Where the Water Goes was hands down one of my favorite books of 2017 and a book I reference frequently in daily life in Southern California. There is so much to learn about the way the Colorado River’s water is utilized and how it affects so many facets of society. Owen does a great job highlighting the politics – between the farmers and the city dwellers, between Arizona and California, and between the US and Canada – and also the natural side of taming the waters. I enjoyed this book from start to finish and have such a better understanding of the environment from Colorado to California!
Synopsis from Goodreads: The Colorado River is a crucial resource for a surprisingly large part of the United States, and every gallon that flows down it is owned or claimed by someone. David Owen traces all that water from the Colorado’s headwaters to its parched terminus, once a verdant wetland but now a million-acre desert. He takes readers on an adventure downriver, along a labyrinth of waterways, reservoirs, power plants, farms, fracking sites, ghost towns, and RV parks, to the spot near the U.S.–Mexico border where the river runs dry.
Water problems in the western United States can seem tantalizingly easy to solve: just turn off the fountains at the Bellagio, stop selling hay to China, ban golf, cut down the almond trees, and kill all the lawyers. But a closer look reveals a vast man-made ecosystem that is far more complex and more interesting than the headlines let on.
The Hoover Dam
The Profiteers by Sally Denton
While we’re on the topic of the Colorado River, why not make a stop at the Hoover Dam? The Hoover Dam is still one of the largest infrastructure projects in US History and while I may have picked this book up for the engineering aspect, I ended up learning so much about international relations. In my humble opinion, this book is a must read for all Americans.
Synopsis from Goodreads: The tale of the Bechtel family dynasty is a classic American business story. It begins with Warren A. “Dad” Bechtel, who led a consortium that constructed the Hoover Dam. From that auspicious start, the family and its eponymous company would go on to “build the world,” from the construction of airports in Hong Kong and Doha, to pipelines and tunnels in Alaska and Europe, to mining and energy operations around the globe.
Today Bechtel is one of the largest privately held corporations in the world, enriched and empowered by a long history of government contracts and the privatization of public works, made possible by an unprecedented revolving door between its San Francisco headquarters and Washington. Bechtel executives John McCone, Caspar Weinberger, and George P. Shultz segued from leadership at the company to positions as Director of the CIA, Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of State, respectively.
The Mirage Factory by Gary Krist
YOU MADE IT! The Pacific Ocean! Your sentiment is not unlike that of the early pioneers reaching Los Angeles for the first time 🙂 … which leads us to our last book, The Mirage Factory. This book tells the history of LA, predominantly from 1900 – 1920, by following the three pioneers who shaped LA in to what is today. Mulholland brought water to LA through a series of viaducts, Griffith brought the movie industry, and Aimee Semple McPherson brought the missionaries and created the identity of LA as a “spiritual” city. There is so much to learn here and amazing that it all happened in the same few decades! This book is a must if you’ve ever spent some time in LA — or even just dreamed of it!
Synopsis from Goodreads: Little more than a century ago, the southern coast of California was sleepy desert farmland. Then from it, nearly overnight, emerged one of the world’s largest and most iconic cities. The birth and evolution of Los Angeles–its seemingly impossible, meteoric rise–can be attributed largely to three ingenious but deeply flawed people. D.W. Griffith, the early film pioneer who first conceived of feature-length movies, gave Hollywood its industry. Aimee Semple McPherson, a young evangelist and radio preacher, infused the city with its spiritual identity as a hub for reinvention. And William Mulholland, an Irish immigrant turned ditch-digger turned autodidactic engineer, would design the massive aqueduct that made survival in the harsh climate feasible.
But while Mulholland, Griffith, and Semple McPherson were all masters of their craft, each would self-destruct in spectacular fashion. D.W. Griffith, led by his ballooning ego, would go on to produce a string of commercial failures; Semple McPherson would be crucified in the tabloids for fabricating an account of her own kidnapping; and a dam designed by Mulholland would fail just hours after he gave it a safety inspection.
Spanning from 1904 to 1930, The Mirage Factory is the enthralling tale of an improbable city and the people who willed it into existence by pushing the limits of human engineering and peddling fantasies.
I hope you liked this trip across the US! And for my US readers, enjoy the holiday next week!