This has been an extremely challenging year for the Big Apple, and while we’ve turned the corner on the pandemic, the city’s future isn’t entirely clear. I’ve been on a bit of a “Bad Old Days of NYC” kick this summer, reading about other chaotic times in the city’s recent past. Here are three classics.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City 

Jonathan Mahler (Picador) 

In 1977, New York was in the grip of the murderer known as Son of Sam, terrifying residents with the violence and randomness of his crimes. A citywide power outage in July — which set off days of arson and looting that would lead to the largest mass arrest in city history — and an ongoing baseball battle between Yankee slugger Reggie Jackson and team manager Billy Martin made for a tense, uneasy year in the metropolis. 

Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics 

Kim Phillips-Fein (Metropolitan Books) 

In 1975, New York City was on the brink of fiscal collapse. Few believed it could happen — wasn’t a city like New York too big to fail? But as weeks went by, bankruptcy seemed like it was inevitable. In this strangely riveting read, Phillips-Fein takes the reader behind the scenes, giving a look into the boardroom and backroom deals that were made to save the city. 

The Savage City: Race, Murder and a Generation on the Edge 

TJ English (William Morrow Paperbacks) 

In August of 1963, two twentysomething women were brutally killed in their Upper East Side apartment, a crime that would become known as the “Career Girl Murders.” A young black man named George Whitmore Jr. would be falsely accused of that murder and other crimes. Whitmore’s story is interwoven with that of a corrupt NYPD cop and a militant Black Panther in this fascinating read. 

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