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New Jersey Themed NonFiction: A Reading List


New Jersey Themed NonFiction: A Reading List

nj nonfic

With a rich history from the Revolutionary War to the cultural phenomenon of being the “Diner Capital of the World,” New Jersey has a lot to offer.

Here are some engaging nonfiction works set in NJ or with a NJ connection available with your Livingston Library card that will help you learn some interesting facts and make some little known discoveries about the Garden State.

abandoned nj

Abandoned New Jersey : Forgotten Spaces Of The Garden State by Joel Nadler

Readers are invited to see behind some of the closed doors of abandoned buildings throughout New Jersey, such as old houses, hospitals, movie palaces, and more. The spaces you see here, many beautiful, even if decaying, have been left on the wayside and forgotten. Some continue to disintegrate and others have already been demolished. Nadler Leads you on a photographic journey of these lost places, shares some untold stories and makes readers aware of the issues surrounding these hidden gems.

Action Park : Fast Times, Wild Rides, And The Untold Story Of America’s Most Dangerous Amusement Park by Andy Mulvihill

Often called “Accident Park,” “Class Action Park,” or “Traction Park,” Action Park was an American icon. Entertaining more than a million people a year in the 1980s, the New Jersey-based amusement playland placed no limits on danger or fun, a monument to the anything-goes spirit of the era that left guests in control of their own adventures–sometimes with tragic results. Though it closed its doors in 1996 after nearly twenty years, it has remained a subject of constant fascination ever since, an establishment completely anathema to our modern culture of rules and safety. Action Park is the first-ever unvarnished look at the history of this DIY Disneyland, as seen through the eyes of Andy Mulvihill, the son of the park’s idiosyncratic founder, Gene Mulvihill. From his early days testing precarious rides to working his way up to chief lifeguard of the infamous Wave Pool to later helping run the whole park, Andy’s story is equal parts hilarious and moving, chronicling the life and death of a uniquely American attraction, a wet and wild 1980s adolescence, and a son’s struggle to understand his father’s quixotic quest to become the Walt Disney of New Jersey.

Blood & Ink : The Scandalous Jazz Age Double Murder That Hooked America On True Crime by Joe Pompeo

Chronicles what remains one of the most electrifying but forgotten murder mysteries in U.S. history. On September 16, 1922, the bodies of Reverend Edward Hall and Eleanor Mills were found beneath a crabapple tree on an abandoned farm outside of New Brunswick, New Jersey. The killer had arranged the bodies in a pose conveying intimacy. The murder of Hall, a prominent clergyman whose wife, Frances Hall, was a proud heiress with illustrious ancestors and ties to the Johnson & Johnson dynasty, would have made headlines on its own. But when authorities identified Eleanor Mills as a choir singer from his church married to the church sexton, the story shocked locals and sent the scandal ricocheting around the country, fueling the nascent tabloid industry. This provincial double murder on a lonely lover’s lane would soon become one of the most famous killings in American history–a veritable crime of the century. 

Colonial Taverns Of New Jersey : Libations, Liberty & Revolution by Michael C. Gabriele

New Jersey was the “Crossroads of the American Revolution,” and as battles raged, colonial taverns formed the social network that held the state together. Due to the demand for carriage travel between New York and Philadelphia, New Jersey had myriad taverns along well-traveled routes. A haven for Patriots and Loyalists alike, the colonial tavern was the main stage for key debates on the question of independence. Once the war began, they became recruitment stations for colonial militias and meeting places for local committees of safety. George Washington used them as headquarters and safe houses for his spies and troops. A Haddonfield tavern was the site where New Jersey’s General Assembly declared itself a state, not a colony, independent from Britain. Author Gabriele unearths intoxicating stories of New Jersey’s colonial taverns.

enemy harrassed

The Enemy Harassed : Washington’s New Jersey Campaign Of 1777 by Jim Stempel

In this captivating narrative of the American War of Independence, author Stempel brings to life one of the most violent, courageous, yet virtually forgotten periods of the Revolutionary War.  In late December 1776, the American War of Independence appeared to be on its last legs. General George Washington’s continental forces had been reduced to a shadow of their former strength, the British Army had chased them across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania, and enlistments for many of the rank and file would be up by month’s end. Desperate times call for desperate measures, however, and George Washington responded to this crisis with astonishing audacity. On Christmas night 1776, he recrossed the Delaware as a nor’easter churned up the coast, burying his small detachment under howling sheets of snow and ice. Undaunted, they attacked a Hessian brigade at Trenton, New Jersey, taking the German auxiliaries by complete surprise. Then, only three days later, Washington struck again, crossing the Delaware, slipping away from the British at Trenton, and attacking the Redcoats at Princeton–to their utter astonishment. The British, now back on their heels, retreated toward New Brunswick as Washington’s reinvigorated force followed them north into Jersey. Over the next eight months, Washington’s continentals and the state militias of New Jersey would go head-to-head with the British in a multitude of small-scale actions and large-scale battles, eventually forcing the British to flee New Jersey by sea.

Fourth of July, Asbury Park : A History Of The Promised Land by Daniel J. Wolff

Bruce Springsteen brought international attention to the Jersey shore by naming his debut album ‘Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ.’ But the real Asbury Park has an even more fascinating story behind it: a seaside city of dreams that became a magnet for both the best and worst of America, playing host to John Philip Sousa, Count Basie, and Dr. Martin Luther King, as well as the mob and the Ku Klux Klan. Fourth of July, Asbury Park tells the tale of the city’s first 150 years, guiding us through the development of its lavish amusement parks and bandstands, as well as the decay of its working-class neighborhoods and spread of its racially-segregated ghettos. Featuring exclusive interviews with Springsteen and other prominent Asbury Park residents, Wolff uncovers the history of how this Jersey shore resort town came to epitomize both the promises of the American dream and the tragic consequences when those promises are broken.

Garden State Gangland : The Rise Of The Mob In New Jersey by Scott M. Dietche

As Dietche explains, organized crime didn’t appear in the Garden State until the very early 1900s, when the barely organized Black Hand extorted vulnerable Italian immigrant families. From there, he describes a complicated, colorful history. Newark gave birth to Jewish mobsters like Longy Zwillman and Doc Stacher and Italian Mafia like Richie the Boot Boiardo, while the corrupt Nucky Johnson (famously played by Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire) turned a blind eye to the speedboats unloading illegal liquor during Prohibition in Atlantic City. Dietche explains the Robin Hood-esque code of ethics that pervaded gang culture and the dependence on municipal government that made New Jersey particularly ripe for corruption. Mostly, though, he painstakingly details the movements of the major players throughout twentieth-century organized-crime history, peppered with entertaining and sometimes-disturbing pieces of transcripts of Senate hearings, wiretaps, interviews, and photographs. 

Haunted Jersey Shore : Ghosts And Strange Phenomena Of The Garden State Coast by Charles A. Stansfield

An entertaining look into the haunted history of the New Jersey coastline, with tales of pirates and treasure, loves lost at sea, Civil War ghosts, and monsters and other strange beings that lurk in the countryside.

making the scene in garden state

Making The Scene In The Garden State : Popular Music In New Jersey From Edison To Springsteen And Beyond by Dewar McLeod

 McLeod explores New Jersey’s rich musical heritage through stories about the musicians, listeners and fans who came together to create sounds from across the American popular music spectrum. The book includes chapters on the beginnings of musical recording in Thomas Edison’s factories in West Orange; early recording and the invention of the Victrola at Victor Records’ Camden complex; Rudy Van Gelder’s recording studios (for Blue Note, Prestige, and other jazz labels) in Hackensack and Englewood Cliffs; Zacherley and the afterschool dance television show Disc-o-Teen, broadcast from Newark in the 1960s; Bruce Springsteen’s early years on the Jersey Shore at the Upstage Club in Asbury Park; and, the 1980s indie rock scene centered at Maxwell’s in Hoboken. Concluding with a foray into the thriving local music scenes of today, the book examines the sounds, sights and textures of the locales where New Jerseyans have gathered to rock, bop, and boogie.

A Murder On The Mountain : Crime, Passion, And Punishment In Victorian New Jersey by Peter J. Wosh

Tells the story of Margaret Meierhofer, the last woman executed by the State of New Jersey, who was hung – along with a farmhand drifter named Frank Lammens — in Newark at the Essex County Jail in January 1881 for murdering her husband John. In September 1879, a Dutch immigrant named Frank Lammens who described himself as a “professional tramp” arrived at the Meierhofer farmhouse. Margaret hired him and, on October 9, her husband was found dead in the basement with a pistol shot wound in the back of the head. Margaret and Frank each blamed the other for killing John, and the subsequent trial became front-page news throughout the nation. The trial proved especially sensational, and at one point the judge discouraged women from attending owing to the salacious testimony surrounding Margaret’s supposed affairs. Neither Margaret nor Frank ever confessed to the crime, and both protested their innocence as they went to the gallows. Governor George McClellan, a fellow West Orange resident, refused to commute their sentences to life imprisonment despite the fact that they were convicted on purely circumstantial evidence. Their story opens an interesting window on issues concerning immigration, family tensions, gender roles, class, capital punishment, incarceration, and community life during the depression decade of the 1870s. 

New Jersey Fan Club : 40 Voices Celebrate The Garden State

 An eclectic anthology featuring personal and reported essays, comics, and artwork from a diverse group of established and emerging writers and artists who have something to say about New Jersey. It’s a literary look at New Jersey’s history and significance, told through photographs, food writing, interviews, comics, and narrative nonfiction. It’s an evergreen tribute to the state and an exploration of how the same place can shape people in different ways.

New Jersey : Off The Beaten Path : Discover Your Fun by Kay Scheller

Tired of the same old tourist traps? Whether you’re a visitor or a local looking for something different, let this guide show you the Garden State you never knew existed. Visit Fort Nonsense in Morristown and find out why the locals named it after George Washington’s nonsense; ride on the Black River & Western Railroad in Phillipsburg; ride high at the Cowtown Rodeo in Woodstown; or stand beneath Lucy the Elephant, a six-story wonder of sheet metal, in Margate City.

port newark

Port Newark And The Origins Of Container Shipping by Angus K. Gillispie

This fascinating study traces the birth of containerization to Port Newark, New Jersey, in 1965 when trucker Malcom McLean thought of a brilliant new way to transport cargo. It tells the story of how Port Newark grew rapidly as McLean’s idea was backed by both New York banks and the US military, who used containerization to ship supplies to troops in Vietnam. Angus Gillespie takes us behind the scenes of today’s active container shipping operations in Port Newark, talking to the pilots who guide the ships to port, the Coast Guard personnel who help manage the massive shipping traffic, the crews who unload the containers, and even the chaplains who counsel and support the mariners. Port Newark shines a spotlight on the unsung men and women who help this complex global shipping operation run smoothly. 

Presidential Visits To New Jersey : A History by Peter Zablocki

Some, like Abraham Lincoln in 1861, came to garner support. Others, like N.J. Governor Woodrow Wilson in 1912, remained and rode that support to the White House. And still, others, like James Garfield in 1881, came to die. New Jersey’s past is full of memorable Presidential visits – and home to some lesser-known ones. Thousands of people came out to support Teddy Roosevelt, his cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Lyndon B. Johnson. Others like Franklin Pierce, Benjamin Harrison, Ulysses S. Grant, and even more recently, Donald J. Trump saw the Jersey Shore as the perfect rest stop from the hustle and bustle of the capital. The story of these visits and others like them transcend politics to show the historical significance of not just the great men, but also that of the Garden State.

The Rope: A True Story Of Murder, Heroism, And The Dawn Of The NAACP by Alex Tresniowski

In the tranquil seaside town of Asbury Park, New Jersey, ten-year-old schoolgirl Marie Smith is brutally murdered. Small-town officials, unable to find the culprit, call upon the young manager of a New York detective agency for help. It is the detective₂s first murder case, and now, the specifics of the investigation and daring sting operation that caught the killer is captured in all its rich detail for the first time. Occurring exactly halfway between the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the formal beginning of the civil rights movement in 1954, the brutal murder and its highly-covered investigation sits at the historic intersection of sweeping national forces, religious extremism, class struggle, the infancy of criminal forensics, and America’s Jim Crow racial violence.

The Secret History Of The Jersey Devil : How Quakers, Hucksters, And Benjamin Franklin Created A Monster by Brian Regal

Legend has it that in 1735, a witch named Mother Leeds gave birth to a horrifying monster–a deformed flying horse with glowing red eyes–that flew up the chimney of her New Jersey home and disappeared into the Pine Barrens. Ever since, this nightmarish beast has haunted those woods, presaging catastrophe and frightening innocent passersby–or so the story goes. Regal and Frank J. Esposito examine the genesis of this popular myth, which is also one of the oldest monster legends in the United States. According to them, everything you think you know about the Jersey Devil is wrong. The real story of the Jersey Devil’s birth is far more interesting, complex, and important than most people–believers and skeptics alike–realize. Fascinating and lively, this book finds the origins of New Jersey’s favorite monster not in witchcraft or an unnatural liaison between woman and devil but in the bare-knuckled political fights and religious upheavals of colonial America. 

Archana Chiplunkar, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian

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