My Top Five NOLA reads.

So NOLAnotes issued a NOLA book challenge. Here are my favorites, an incomplete list limited to my top 5 non-fiction books, in no particular order.

  1. Old New Orleans by Stanley Clisby Arthur. A walking tour of the French Quarter written by the man who also wrote Famous New Orleans Drinks & How to Make ‘Em . Old New Orleans is full of interesting historical tidbits; for example, the building that houses The Coffee Pot restaurant on St. Peter was the first home of Antoine’s Restaurant and the buildings known as the “Spanish Stables” on Gov. Nicholls are neither Spanish nor stables (alright, they were stables originally). They were built by a French Creole, Gallien Preval. An exile from the colony of San Dominque, he was an attorney, justice of the peace and judge who was fined for holding a ball on the premises without a permit. A ribald ditty about the dance was a popular tune in the African-American community. Preval also happened to be my great-great-great-great grandfather.
  2. The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf by William C. Davis. This is an interesting book I highly recommend to everyone interested in local history. Do you remember the movie Goodfellas? Where DeNiro and his gang would hijack trucks and steal their cargo, often with the cooperation of the drivers? Jean and Pierre Laffite built an empire doing the same with Spanish ships, whose captains tended to turn over control of their ships rather than risk injury and ill-treatment at the hands of the pirates. The Laffites then sold goods on Grand Terre island or shipped them to city via Bayou Barataria to New Orleans merchants, who avoided paying import duties. The brothers also sold hijacked slaves, a very lucrative business at a time when it was illegal to import slaves into United States territory.The Laffites’ story as told in the book is unseemly, however, at times, humorous and often complicated. Beyond that, the book’s interest lies in Davis’ weaving in little known details of daily life in an era of change for Louisiana, as it transitioned from Spanish colony, to French colony and to American territory and statehood in 1812 and beyond.
  3. New Orleans as It Was: Episodes of Louisiana Life by Henry C. Castellanos.This history of New Orleans was originally published in 1895. It’s a series of vignettes about life in the city, mostly from the early 1800’s to the 1860’s.
  4. The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square by Ned Sublette. Sublette’s book is a thorough examination of the “gumbo” of French, Spanish, African and Haitian cultures that came together in the city’s first 100 years. He makes a strong and fascinating case that New Orleans culture would be far different— Mardi Gras Indians, the Second Line and jazz music may never have existed—had just a few things gone differently in the early days of the French colony.
  5. Bienville’s Dilemma: A Historical Geography of New Orleans by Richard Campanella. An essential guide to understanding how the geography of New Orleans shaped its history from Native American times to post-Katrina. Campanella includes excerpts from the journals of the earliest Europeans to explore and settle the area. One memorable source is a young girl shipped off to New Orleans from France in care of the Ursulines nuns. Her letters back home to her father in the 1730’s give a portrait of the city not unlike what we know today…she says that the men of city are idle and lack industry; interested only in hunting and fishing. Add LSU football and we can see how things never changed around here.

One Response to My Top Five NOLA reads.

  1. Nola on August 31, 2010 at 10:15 am

    I will NEVER have all the NOLA books I want to read finished with! I have the Arthur book already (in to-read pile) and am now adding the other four to my must-get list. THANKS for giving us your list!!

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