While I knew I had nerd tendencies, I didn’t know the extent of my nerdiness until I started researching The Lost Girl of Astor Street.
If you’re wanting to dive deeper into the jazz age, here’s a list of books to keep you busy!
General knowledge about the era:
Daily Life in the United States 1920-1940 by David E. Kyvig: They were very literal with that use of “daily life.” Everything from feminine hygiene products to dating to appliances. Probably a bit tedious for a casual reader, but for research purposes, it’s a great overview.
Middletown: A Study In Modern American Culture by Robert S. Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd: This is a social history written in 1929 based on research done in 1924 in Middletown, Ohio. Fascinating, but again in a rather tedious way.
Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s by Frederick Lewis Allen: This book was written in 1931, which is before prohibition was repealed. With so little distance from the decade, the perspective of the author is really interesting.
Etiquette by Emily Post: This is a handbook on etiquette written during the 1920s by a columnist. Really interesting insight to the day and time, and much more progressive than I expected it to be.
I’ve Got Some Lovin’ To Do: This is a diary written in 1926 by a teenage girl. Don’t read this expected Anne Frank, okay? It’s all crushes and school woes and conflict with parents. When I read it, I was reminded of how similar to now the 20s were. And also that I should burn my diaries.
Food and Drink:
Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads by Sylvia Lovegren: This book is full of not just information about the food of the era but also recipes. You know, in case you want to try Banana and Popcorn Salad – it was a decade of terrible salads – for yourself.
America Eats Out by John Mariani: This is an illustrated history of restaurants, and includes a chapter on speakeasies.
Last Call by Daniel Okrent: If you want to dive into the issue of prohibition, this is the source you’ve been looking for. Another great one on this topic is the documentary Prohibtion by Ken Burns.
Gangsta life and forensics:
American Mafia: A History of Its Rise To Power by Thomas Reppetto: Really interesting stuff about crime families and their culture. My friend and fellow historical writer, Roseanna M. White loaned me this several years ago, and I’m hoping she doesn’t need it back.
The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the birth of forensic medicine in jazz age New York by Deborah Blum: Really great info about forensic chemistry and written in a really engaging manner.
Capone: The Man And The Era by Laurence Bergreen: If you want to go really deep with Capone’s story, this is a good one.
Women and Fashion:
Flapper by Joshua Zeitz: Engaging and full of surprises, this is a great overview of the women who built the idea of the flapper in the 1920s.
Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style: What I loved about this book was that they included fashion information for men and sports, not just high fashion. Really beautiful photographs too.
Fashion Sourcebook: 1920s edited by Charlotte Fiell and Emmanuelle Dirix: The introduction is full of great information about the fashion of the decade, and there are over 600 original photographs, drawings and prints.
Fashion: The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute: This book is a history of fashion from the 18th to 20th century. Lots of amazing pictures, and a great resource for high fashion.
I used so, so, so many web resources for this book. I was lousy at keeping a list of them, so I’ll keep updating as I track them down.
Reading novels that were written during the era is a great way to get a feel for the culture and verbiage of the time. I haven’t read all of these yet, but here are some suggestions for getting started:
F. Scott Fitzgerald, obviously. The Great Gatsby is his most famous, but This Side of Paradise kick started his career and The Beautiful and Damned are also good choices.
Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
Many of Agatha Christie’s crime novels released in the 1920s
So Big by Edna Ferber was big in 1924