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Central Standard

Historians Recommend The Best 20 Books About Kansas City

Patrick Quick

It’s cold outside, so now is the perfect time to curl up with a good book.

Central Standard took the opportunity to seek out some of the best books about Kansas City history. After all, even if you can't get outside to explore the city, you can still do it from the comfort of your home.

Local historian Monroe Dodd and Missouri Valley Special Collections manager Eli Paul gave us their recommendations of the best books for local history lovers, focusing on those that are a really good read.

  1. Kansas City and How it Grew by James Shortridge ("As a geographer, he really tells you why Kansas City happened here," says Eli Paul.)
  2. City of the Future by Henry Haskell Jr. and Richard Fowler 
  3. Tom’s Town by William Redding ("The nitty gritty of politics and reality and rum-running," says Monroe Dodd.)
  4. Kansas City: An American Story by Rick Montgomery and Shirl Kasper
  5. The City Beautiful Movement in Kansas City by William H. Wilson ("This book talks about the long battle between rich and poor, the middle class, and Democrats and Republicans in Kansas City during the late 19th century and early 20th century," says Monroe Dodd.)
  6. I Was Right on Time by Buck O’Neil 
  7. A City Divided: The Racial Landscape of Kansas City, 1900-1960 by Sherry Schirmer ("Traces the development of white Kansas Citians’ perceptions of race," says Monroe Dodd.)
  8. Architecture A to Z: An Elemental, Alphabetical Guide to Kansas City's Built Environment by Steve Paul 
  9. Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge by Evan Connell (historical fiction)
  10. Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri by Jonathan Earle
  11. Action before Westport, 1864 by Howard N. Monnett
  12. Take Up the Black Man’s Burden: Kansas City’s African American Communities, 1865-1939 by Charles E. Coulter
  13. Deaths on Pleasant Street: The Ghastly Enigma of Colonel Swope and Dr. Hyde by Giles Fowler
  14. Pendergast! by Larry Larson ("It has a sense of humor," says Eli Paul.)
  15. Truman by David McCullough
  16. Truman and Pendergast by Robert Ferrell ("Can you be an honest man in a corrupt system? Depending on the author, they give Harry a bit more or a bit less credit in that area," says Eli Paul.)
  17. Kansas City Style: a Social and Cultural History of Kansas City as Seen Through Its Lost Architecture by Jane Flynn and Dory DeAngelo
  18. Walt Disney’s Missouri: The Roots of a Creative Genius by Brian Burnes, Robert W. Butler and Dan Viets, edited by Donna Martin
  19. Kansas City Then and Now by Monroe Dodd
  20. The Kansa Indians: A History of the Wind People, 1673-1873 by William E. Unrau


People don't make cameos in news stories; the human story is the story, with characters affected by news events, not defined by them. As a columnist and podcaster, I want to acknowledge what it feels like to live through this time in Kansas City, one vantage point at a time. Together, these weekly vignettes form a collage of daily life in Kansas City as it changes in some ways, and stubbornly resists change in others. You can follow me on Twitter @GinaKCUR or email me at gina@kcur.org.