The best books about Jacksonville

Welcome to The Jaxson's running list of 50+ of the best nonfiction books ever written about Jacksonville and the people who made it what it is today.

Looking to learn more about the history of our city? This list features some of The Jaxson’s favorites, covering topics ranging from the silent film era to the Great Fire to African American history. Many of these books can be found at Jacksonville book sellers including Chamblin Bookmine, Chamblin’s Uptown, San Marco Books, and BookMark Independent Bookstore.

A. Philip Randolph: A Biographical Portrait

Jervis Anderson, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1973 (first edition)

A leading figure in the early civil rights and labor movements, Asa Philip Randolph grew up on Jacksonville’s Eastside. He founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly black labor union, and in the 1940s fought hiring discrimination and segregation in the U.S. Military. In 1963 Philips and Bayard Rustin organized Martin Luther King’s March on Washington. Jervis Anderson’s biography includes a good history of Jacksonville from the perspective of a prominent citizen who lived there from 1891 to 1911.

Keeping the Faith: Race, Politics, and Social Development in Jacksonville, Florida, 1940-1970

Abel A. Bartley, Praeger, 2000 (2nd edition)

This academic book discusses the massive changes Jacksonville experienced during the 1940s, 50s and 60s, which saw the expansion of civil rights and African-American political representation, and ultimately Consolidation.

Travels on the St. Johns

John Bartram (author), William Bartram (author), Thomas Hallock & Richard Franz (editors), University Press of Florida, 2017

From July 1, 1765, to April 10, 1766, English botanist John Bartram and his son William traveled through what is now the Southeastern United States, including the area now known as the First Coast. The elder Bartram kept a diary of the trip that greatly expanded Western knowledge of the ecology of the region. In 1773, William Bartram returned to the Southeast for a four year journey of his own, which took him to Amelia Island, the Cow Ford (the site of modern-day Jacksonville) and much of the St. Johns River. As the first naturalist to explore deep into the Florida wilderness, his account of the trek, The Travels of William Batram, remains an important reference for historical geography and natural history even today. Travels on the St. Johns River collects the portions of both Bartrams’ works dealing with their time on the St. Johns River.

The First Hollywood

Shawn C. Bean, University Press of Florida, 2008

Jacksonville was a moviemaking mecca in the days of silent film, with dozens of companies opening studios in the area starting in 1908. Within a few years, the city was home to over 30 studios and had been dubbed the “winter film capital of the world.” Shawn C. Bean’s book tells the story about how this came to be and why, due to a series of political decisions and the pressures of World War I, the film industry eventually left Florida for Hollywood.

Laudonniere & Fort Caroline: History and Documents

By Charles E. Bennett, University of Alabama Press, 2001

Charles E. Bennett was the longest serving Congressman in Florida history, representing Jacksonville in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1949 to 1993. During that time he helped establish the Timucuan Preserve and Fort Caroline National Monument. In addition to his political career, Bennett was also a skilled historian who wrote nine books on Florida history. This book tells the story of Rene de Laudonniere and the founding of the French colony of Fort Caroline, which stood on the St. Johns River from 1564 to 1565.

Three Voyages

Rene Laudonniere (author) & Charles E. Bennett (translator), University of Alabama Press, 1975 (republished 2001)

In 1562, Rene Laudonniere accompanied Jean Ribault on a voyage that surveyed the coast of Florida and the Southeast. Two years later, he led the expedition that founded Fort Caroline as a haven for France’s Huguenot minority. In 1565, he was one of the few survivors of an attack by the Spanish, who had established St. Augustine as a base to eject the French from Florida. Laudonniere escaped to Europe, where he went into retirement and wrote his memoirs, L’histoire notable de la Floride, first published in 1586. Charles E. Bennet first published his masterful translation, Three Voyages, in 1975. This book, republished in 2001, has helped inspire a new generation of research on Fort Caroline and Native Florida during the 16th century.

Big League City! 100 Years of Football in Jacksonville

Ken M. Bowen, River City Press, 2014

It’s no secret that Jaxsons love football. Jacksonville was the site of Florida’s first ever college football game, and is now home to the Jacksonville Jaguars and the storied Florida-Georgia game. For this book, Bowen dives into a century’s worth of news archives and interviews with dozens of local figures – Shad Kahn wrote the forward – to create the most thorough account of Jacksonville’s long love affair with the sport ever written.

Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston

Valerie Boyd, Scribner, 2002

Raised in the African-American town of Eatonville, Florida, Zora Neale Hurston lived in Jacksonville and St. Augustine during various periods from 1904 to 1942. Equally renowned for her folklore collections and her novels, she is one of the most prominent figures to have called the region home. Boyd’s work attempts to fill in gaps Hurston left in her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road for a more complete picture of the author’s life, including much information about her time in the First Coast.

Ossian Bingley Hart: Florida’s Loyalist Reconstruction Governor

Canter Brown, Jr., Louisiana State University Press, 1997

Ossian Hart was the son of Jacksonville’s founder, Isaiah D. Hart, and went on to become one of Florida’s most prominent citizens in his own right. Despite coming from a slaveholding family, he grew disillusioned with slavery and was a staunch supporter of the Union during the Civil War. During Reconstruction he served in a variety of positions, working with white Unionists, black freedmen, and northern carpetbaggers to reestablish the governments of Jacksonville and Florida. He served as governor of Florida from 1873 until his death the following year, the first native born Floridian to hold the office. Though his legacy was largely ignored by later Southern historians dismissive of the gains of Reconstruction, Canter Brown’s biography helps reestablish Hart as a major figure in Florida history.

The Architecture of Henry John Klutho: The Prairie School in Jacksonville

Robert Broward, University Press of Florida, 1984

Architectural pioneer Henry John Klutho came to Jacksonville in 1901 to help rebuild the city after the Great Fire had destroyed most of Downtown. He quickly emerged as the city’s preeminent architect, creating a wide variety of significant buildings. His most famous works were designed in the Prairie School, a widely celebrated movement most prominent in the Midwest. Klutho’s buildings fell out of fashion in later years, but since the 1970s have come to be appreciated as highly significant contributions to both the local architectural fabric and to the Prairie School movement. This book was written by Robert Broward, himself a prominent and innovative Jacksonville architect who helped spur the reappraisal of Klutho’s legacy as one of the most important architects in Jacksonville history.

Abandoned Jacksonville: Ruins of the First Coast

David Bulit, America Through Time, 2019

Hialeah-born photographer David Bulit has a passion for the abandoned and neglected buildings of Florida, which he chronicles on his blog Abandoned Florida, among other publications (he is a periodic contributor to The Jaxson). For Abandoned Jacksonville, Bulit explored forgotten local landmarks like the 310 West Church Street Apartments, the Moulton & Kyle Funeral Home, Annie Lytle Elementary School, and the Dr. Horace Drew Manor, taking a look at both the historical changes that left them in their dilapidated state as well as the current wave of revitalization that has seen many of the old buildings come back to life.

Abandoned Jacksonville: Remnants of the River City

David Bulit, America Through Time, 2020

Bulit returns to the River City with his second volume of Abandoned Jacksonville. In this book, Bulit explores abandoned spaces like the flooded tunnels beneath the Prime Osborn Convention Center, architect Henrietta Dozier’s Federal Reserve of Atlanta Building, the Yellow Water Weapons Storage Area, and Genovar’s Hall in LaVilla.

To Render Invisible: Jim Crow and Public Life in New South Jacksonville

Robert Cassanello, University Press of Florida, 2013

An academic work covering Jacksonville in the Jim Crow era, from the end of the Civil War through the 1960s. In particular, it focuses on the ways African-Americans, denied access to the public sphere, formed their own institutions that worked to chip away at repressive laws.

Race, Religion, and Economic Change in the Republican South: A Study of a Southern City

Matthew T. Corrigan, University Press of Florida, 2007

Once a Democratic stronghold, Jacksonville’s political leanings began a red shift in the 1980s. As Corrigan explains, from that point many of Jacksonville’s white residents, especially religious conservatives, jumped to the Republican Party, which came to local and state politics from the 1990s possibly until 2020. Corrigan’s insightful and thought provoking work uses Jacksonville as a case study to interrogate the changing political tides across the South in this period.

Jacksonville after the Fire, 1901-1919: A New South City

James B. Crooks, University Press of Florida, 1991

Though the title only mentions 18 years, this book by James Crooks, a professor emeritus at the University of North Florida and one of the foremost historians of Jacksonville, covers much more. It gives a solid background on life in Jacksonville in the late 19th century and the changes the city faced in the ensuing decades, from its major construction projects and expansion following the Great Fire to race relations in this New South city.

Jacksonville: The Consolidation Story, from Civil Rights to the Jaguars

James B. Crooks, University Press of Florida, 2004

Here, historian James Crooks covers Jacksonville in the later 20th century, from the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and ‘60s, to Consolidation in 1968 and through the arrival of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995. Consolidation of the city and county governments was Jacksonville’s solution for addressing the challenges facing many cities at the time, and Crooks covers all the setbacks and successes of the city’s bold idea.

Cohen Brothers: The Big Store

Ennis Davis & Sarah Gojekian, The History Press, 2012

From 1914 until 1987, the Cohen Brothers department store was a Jacksonville institution. Local store owners Jacob and Morris Cohen had purchased a full city block after the Great Fire of 1901 for a massive expansion of their dry goods business. This book by Jaxson editor and urban planner Ennis Davis and writer Sarah Gojekian describes the unlikely rise and ultimate fall of this Jacksonville business.

Jacksonville: Images of Modern America

Ennis Davis, Arcadia Publishing, 2015

Part of the Images of Modern America series, this book by Jaxson editor and co-owner Ennis Davis conveys Jacksonville’s story since the 1950s through historic sketches and contemporary photos.

Reclaiming Jacksonville: Stories Behind the River City’s Historic Landmarks

Ennis Davis & Robert Mann, The History Press, 2012

For Reclaiming Jacksonville, Jaxson editor Ennis Davis and Bob Mann, a transportation expert and former owner of Metro Jacksonville, excavated the stories of 14 of Jacksonville’s most significant endangered buildings. Each chapter provides an in depth look at buildings like Annie Lytle Elementary, Jax Brewing Company, and the Laura Street Trio, exploring their past importance and the conditions that led to their modern disrepair.

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