Pittsburgh is one of America's greatest cities, there is no question about that. We have an incredible history, amazing sports teams, an exploding food scene, many local celebrities, and just about everything else you could ask for in a city.
As it is our quest to discover all of these aspects of Pittsburgh, we've recently turned to reading any and all Pittsburgh related books we could get our hands on to learn more about the city we call home.
The following are some of our favorites that we think you should definitely check out!
Pittsburgh: The Story of an American City
When we picked up Pittsburgh: The Story of an American City, we thought it would be a small, 150 or so page paperback book with the highlights of this city's vast history.
Clearly we didn't read the description.
This book is a hardback behemoth that is more like a college textbook than an easy ready guide. It is hundreds of pages covering in great detail the history of Pittsburgh from its founding to the mid-1990s (its most recent publication date).
I would be remiss to call this book anything other than the definitive guide to all things Pittsburgh history, as it is truly just that. If you're looking for a compendium of all things Pittsburgh to reference any minute detail of the city's history, this one is a good start. Just be warned, this one may take you several months to get through!
Pittsburgh Drinks: A History of Cocktails, Nightlife & Bartending Tradition
If you fancy yourself a cocktail buff like I do, then Pittsburgh Drinks is the book for you. This one traces the roots of cocktail culture in Pittsburgh from the turn of the century through prohibition, its repeal, and through the various trends in the decades that followed.
Although this book is a bit shorter than I would've liked, it more than makes up for it in its usefulness. You see, a good chunk of this book is actually cocktail recipes from throughout Pittsburgh's history. Some have fallen out of style, some are in style by bartenders from many local cocktail bars and restaurants, and all of them are delicious.
You have to be a special kind of cocktail addict to try and make most, as many recipes are a bit unusual, but for those who are in it like I am, you know who you are and this one shouldn't be missed.
The Whiskey Rebellion and the Rebirth of Rye
The Whiskey Rebellion and the Rebirth of Rye is written by the folks from Wigle Whiskey. The short book goes into fairly great detail about the events of the whiskey rebellion and fills in many gaps that other books gloss over.
This amounts to roughly a third of the book, and the remaining chapters segue into how the whiskey rebellion had a small hand in shaping the steel city the way we know today and culminates in the modern revival of whiskey.
We'll be the first to re-emphasize that this book is short (I read it in one sitting), but it does offer a unique look into the region's distilling history you likely haven't read anywhere else. As a bonus, the last few pages of this one features cocktail recipes, with many specially created by Wigle and other local bartenders, keeping us picking this one up time and time again.
Images of America Series
If you like looking at old photographs of Pittsburgh you will love the Images of America series of books. There are dozens of books in this series including books for many of the different neighborhoods as well as topical ones like Pittsburgh's Bridges and Pittsburgh's Mansions. We particularly enjoyed browsing the Allegheny City edition as we live in the North Side, and the Lawrenceville edition as it is interesting to see how the neighborhood has transformed incredibly from its initial heyday to its 20th-century decline and recent revival.
The series also has detailed books into individual aspects of Pittsburgh's history, like Brewing in Greater Pittsburgh which covers the history of brewing in the region over the decades!
Although there are some extended captions on the photographs and some introductory texts for each chapter, these books are mostly composed of photographs which makes them great for browsing the history of your favorite Pittsburgh neighborhood.
Meet You in Hell
No matter what your take is on the steel industry in Pittsburgh, there is no dispute that two of the most historic players were Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. Their efforts into building the steel industry not only made them some of the richest men in the world during their time, but also laid the groundwork for Pittsburgh to become the city that it is today.
Meet You In Hell recounts the history of these two men, whose strong business partnership dissolved into one of the most bitter rivalries the world has ever known. The book does a fantastic job giving an impartial look (as best it can, at least) at how these two came together and the dealings that drove them apart forever, and is a must read for anyone looking to dive into Pittsburgh's rich history.
Andrew Carnegie's Autobiography
The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie and his Essay on the Gospel of Wealth gives a personal look into the events of Andrew Carnegie's life that saw him go from being a poor immigrant to becoming the richest industrial tycoon of his time.
As the book is written by Carnegie himself, it takes on a very personal tone that highlights many of his successes and partnerships while glossing over other important (and otherwise negative) details of Carnegie's life. For example, Frick, Carnegie's once business partner turned bitter enemy, is not even mentioned once, and the details on how Carnegie got into many industries in his life almost always boils down to “an opportunity presented itself” in most cases- which as anyone can attest to, is never that simple.
As such, those who are familiar with Carnegie's legacy may be turned off by such omissions. However, if this book is read in tandem with Meet You In Hell, you can get a better appreciation of Carnegie's legacy both from his point of view and through a historian's lens.
A word of warning, however, is that Carnegie's writing is very dry and matter-of-fact on topics that are important to him (but not necessarily important to the reader), so it makes for a very rough read at times and even the most interested may find themselves skipping some of the chapters.
The Names of Pittsburgh
If you've lived in Pittsburgh for any length of time, you've probably noticed how many different streets, buildings, and neighborhoods are named after the same people and things. But who are these people and things? Find the answers to these questions in The Names of Pittsburgh and start impressing all your friends and loved ones with your knowledge. This book is easy to pick up and scan to find the name origin of neighborhoods, bridges, parks, landmarks, hospitals, universities, sports teams, and even the call letters for TV and radio stations.
Our favorite section is the neighborhoods section; it provides some incredible historical photographs of different neighborhoods as well as a Pittsburgh map showing the location of all the neighborhoods.
Pittsburgh Steps is a pocket book that would fit in well with the Images of America series if it was photo based instead of being mostly text.
This one focuses on all the wonderful staircases in Pittsburgh, all 739 of them, and dives down deep into their intricacies and nuances.
The book itself is just over 100 pages and is an easy read in one or two sittings, but is best suited for those who are really into the city (like us) as every day readers may not get as much of its matter-of-fact approach to the topic. But if you like a good walk among the cities stairs, this one will certainly give you many ideas on the next staircase to tackle!
60 Hikes Within 60 Miles
60 Hikes in 60 Miles is a national hiking guidebook series which features editions from cities all over the country. The Pittsburgh edition includes a selection of unique hikes as close to home as the Three Rivers Heritage Trails, McConnell's Mill State Park, Ohiopyle, and more. What we like best about this guidebook is that it is very easy to pick it up, find a trail, and after reading just a few pages you'll know what to expect including how to get to the trail head, what the trail terrain is like, what sites you'll see along the trail, the elevation change, and more. As a result, we're making it a mission of ours to try every hike featured in this book in the coming months and years.
Our only downside to this particular book is that was last updated in 2006 and could stand an update, but still is full of great ideas and tons of useful information for those who love the great outdoors in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh Dad: Everything Your Dad Has Said to You
For those who live in Pittsburgh, you probably have come across a few (hundred) Yinzers over the years, or maybe are a part of a Yinzer family yourself. The hit YouTube series Pittsburgh Dad came into being to share the humor that comes with all things related to being a Yinzer, and their first book, Pittsburgh Dad: Everything Your Dad Has Said to You, is a collection of their funniest one-liners from the series.
Our recommendation for this book varies based on how much you understand Yinzer culture. If you are part of a Yinzer family, or are a huge fan of Pittsburgh Dad, you'll be laughing your head off as you read through the great one-liners with that iconic Yinzer voice in your head. For those who have no idea what we're talking about, we recommend you sit down and watch a few hours of Pittsburgh Dad before diving into this one. This is one you truly must understand before reading the book, or else the humor will be lost on you.
Just Watch the Game
John Steigerwald lives, breathes, and dreams sports, and his quasi-memoir, Just Watch the Game, covers the highlights and low lights from his career in sports media- in and out of Pittsburgh.
This one is considered a must-read for sports lovers in the city, but we felt it fell flat with more of a you-had-to-have-been-there style that misses the mark. Throw in random political discourse that seems out of place for a sports book, and this one should only be read by those who love Steigerwald's career and want to learn even more about what got him there, big stories from his day, and more.
For everyone else, do what the title suggests and just watch the game.
Classic ‘Burgh: The 50 Greatest Collegiate Games in Pittsburgh Sports History
In a way, 50 Greatest Collegiate Games is a much like Just Watch the Game Above in that it is written for the die-hard sports fans in the city (armchair sports fans need not apply here).
The book counts down 50 of the all-time great sporting matchups in the city- including some impressive college football matchups all the way to secondary sports at nearby universities over the last 90 some years. Some break the list in the 50s for simply being a Cinderella run unlike any in the school's history, and others, like those in the Top 10, featuring all-star players that went on to be NFL or NBA greats performing last second miracle wins.
I only say that this one is for the die-hards because, to be quite honest, I found myself thumbing through and stopping at big rivalries, last-minute wins, and any involving my own alma mater (so about a third of the book). But this is not a fault of a book, but rather my only mild interest in the topic at large.
Silent Spring is a book that was ahead of its time during its early 1960s release. Rachel Carson took on the pesticide and fertilizer industries to prove just how bad the chemicals were in every day life, with case studies, facts, and science that most people simply didn't understand.
In a way, a book like this would likely be ignored in today's culture, but in her day it was ground-breaking that resulted in major changes throughout the country- including the later founding of the EPA and institution of the Clean Water Act.
This one is best appreciated by those who have a science background, but is a great historical reference from one of the Pittsburgh region's most influential natives.
TrailGuide (for the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal Towpath)
At its core, TrailGuide for the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal Towpath is an in-depth reference book. It is quite detail oriented with all of the things you need to know about riding the trail between Pittsburgh and Washington DC.
As we are planning a trip to do this ourselves in the near future, we picked up a copy of the book.
This one is admittedly best suited for those who are planning on riding the trail this calendar year (a new edition is released for each season, after all) and the book dives down deep into things you can see at various mile markers, frequently asked questions, detours and closures scheduled for the year, and more.
The best part about this guidebook is that sales benefit the trail organizations who help keep the trails looking their best! So if you're looking to learn more about the GAP and support a great organization, this guidebook is well worth the price.
More Books to Be Added Soon
As with most guides on Discover the Burgh, this list is ever-expanding as we find more city books that are worthy of your attention. So if your favorite is not on this list, don't worry, it may be soon!
Do you have a favorite Pittsburgh book to recommend? If so, comment below to let us know about it!
Looking for more Pittsburgh products? Check out our Pittsburgh shopping guide which features our favorite Burgh themed products!