Books About Oakland


We would like to thank Russell Yee for starting this list for us. Russell limited his suggestions to non-fiction works. He excluded all sports-related titles. He also excluded titles that are more regional in scope. Most of these books are available through the Oakland Public Library, especially in the Oakland History Room at the Main Library. We are interested in adding more Oakland titles and items, please let us know if you can help at


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General History

·         Oakland’s Early History, Edson F. Adams (Oakland, 1932)  A cheery retelling by a descendent of a founding father.  Includes excerpts from Mayor Horace Carpentier’s April 29, 1854 City Council address advocating: free schools, peaceful relations with neighboring towns, 100% preservation of the native oaks, and the relocating of the State Capital to Oakland.

·         Oakland, A History, G. A. Cummings and E. S. Pladwell, (Oakland: Grant D. Miller, 1942)

·         Oakland, the Story of a City, Beth Bagwell (Novato: Presedio Press, 1982).  Still the warmest and most poetic telling of the Oakland story, thankfully now again in print.  Bagwell was the first president of the Oakland Heritage Alliance.

·         The Beginnings of Oakland, A. U. C. , Peter Thomas Conmy (Oakland: Oakland Public Library, 1961).  “A.U.C.” = ad urbe condita, “from the founding of the city”(Livy).  A handy and well-documented account of our early history, especially the legal status of land claims from the Peraltas on.

·         The Second Gold Rush: Oakland and the East Bay During World War II, Marilynn S. Johnson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993) A social and political history of Oakland and the East Bay as it was transformed by wartime industry and the influx of domestic migrants

·         Pacific Gateway: An Illustrated History of the Port of Oakland, Woodruff Minor (Oakland: Port of Oakland, 2000).  Excellent photos, maps, and documentation of Oakland’s Port and Airport.  Produced as an impact-mitigation measure for the demolition of the Grove Street Pier transit shed. 


Specialized History

·         Oakland's Not for Burning, Amory Bradford (New York: McKay, 1968) Mr. Bradford came from Washington in 1965 to keep Oakland from burning as Watts had.  Does his big jobs program get the credit? (see below)

·         Implementation: How Great Expectations in Washington Are Dashed in Oakland: Or Why It's Amazing That Federal Programs Work at All, This Being the Saga of the Economic Development Administration As Told to by Two Sympathetic Observers Who Seek to Build Morals on Ruined Hopes, Aaron B. Wildavsky, Jeffrey L. Pressman, 1973 (later eds. to 1984) Examines how Mr. Bradford’s Federal Economic Development Administration efforts actually fared…

·         Power Structure and Urban Policy: Who Rules in Oakland? Edward C. Hayes (NY: McGraw-Hill, 1972) “…the city’s medium and large businessmen have reaped the major and continuing benefits of local policy, while the nonrich have reaped a harvest of more crowded housing, forced removal, relatively higher taxes, and minimum public services....This study…has shown the extent to which a very small set of persons and interests can find real expression in the current political organs of a city.”

·         The Chinese of Oakland: Unsung Builders,
Eve Armentrout Ma and Jeong Huei Ma (n.p., 1982)

·         Fire In the Hills: A Collective Remembrance, ed. Patricia Adler, (Berkeley, 1992) Remember the 25 lives, 3,354 homes, and 456 apartments we lost?

·         Drive-By, Gary Rivlin, (New York: Henry Holt, 1995)
A reporter’s-eye account of the people, events, and setting that led up to one mid-‘90s drive-by gang shooting.


Corporate/Chamber of Commerce

Big, glossy picture books published with corporate sponsorships and featuring corporate write-ups in back

·         Who Made Oakland? Florence B. Crocker (Oakland: Dalton, 1925) “And a great voice from the Heavens said:‘God made Oakland and all that is glorious herein.’ Oakland is the choicest gift God ever gave to man.” (That’s a direct quote!)

·         Oakland, Hub of the West, David Weber (Tulsa: Continental Heritage Press, 1981). Exceptionally well done: extensive, detailed historical essays with a striking selection of historical photographs. Hard to find.

·         Oakland Welcomes the World, Mary Ellen Butler, (Montgomery: Community Communications, 1996).
See my family’s picture on page 30.

·         The Spirit of Oakland: An Anthology, Abby Wasserman and Diane Curry (Carlsbad, CA: Heritage Media: 2000).  The latest entry, with essays by numerous local authors; pays particular attention to individual neighborhoods.



·         Land of the Oaks, James Harlow (Oakland: Board of Education, 1959). “A study of the history and government of Oakland…prepared for use in the Oakland Public Schools as a partial  fulfillment of the California state law requiring the teaching of state and local government.”  Is that law still on the books?  Are we still doing anything about it?  Anything this nice?

·         Heritage of Oakland, Oakland Public Schools (n.p., 1968).  Not as detailed as the above but well designed and illustrated.

·         Oakland, the Mellow City, Hoover Jr. Hi. School (Oakland: Junior League of Oakland, 1969).  Oakland’s past and then-present, depicted in student drawing and poems


Photographic Essays

·         Oakland: A Mediterranean City, Roger Urban, (n.p., 1976).  Oakland’s climate--the mildest in the nation, and shared with only central Chile, southwestern Australia, the South African Cape, and the Mediterranean basin itself--shapes its natural and man-made setting in beautiful ways.

·         The Buildings of Oakland, Robert Bernhardi, (Oakland: Forest Hill Press, 1979).  How much has changed in 22 years!

·         Bay Area Blues, Lee Hildebrand and Michelle Vignes
(San Francisco: Pomegranate Artbooks, 1993).  From Eli Mile High to Cozy Den, from Bob Geddins to Sonny Rhodes to Beverly Stovall (on the cover), this book lovingly documents the Oakland Blues scene in the early ‘80s.

·         Oakland Rhapsody, Richard Nagler and Ishmael Reed (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1995).  Bits of the Oakland’s past and present in striking juxtapositions of people and settings.

·         Contact Sheet 101: South to West Oakland, Lewis Watts (n.p.: Light Work Visual Studios, 1999) More juxtapositions, this time of images of the deep South and of West Oakland

·         Our World: The Children of Oakland, Marianne Thomas (Oakland: Harbor House. 2001) A shining portrait of our young neighbors from 34 different racial/ethnic groups.  On the cover: quadlingual Bakary Milon, from Gambia. Harbor House is an evangelical Christian ministry in Oakland,



·         About “The Hights” at Oakland, California, Juanita Miller (Oakland: Chas. P. MacLafferty, 1917)

·         The Story of Cyrus and Susan Mills, Elias Olan James (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1953)

·         Celebrities At Your Doorstep, Leonard, H. Verbarg, (n.p.: Alameda County Historical Society, 1972)

·         Ina Coolbrith, Librarian and Laureate of California, Josephine DeWitt Rhodehamel & Raymund Francis Wood, (Provo: BYU Press, 1973) How a niece of Joseph Smith became Oakland’s first librarian and California’s first Poet Laureate.

·         Bump City: Winners and Losers in Oakland, John Krich (Berkeley: City Miner, 1979) Generally depressing reflections on our city, at a generally depressing point in its history; with specifically depressing pictures by Dorthea Lange.

·         The Calvin Simmons Story, Rina Evelyn Wolfe (Berkeley: Muse Wood Press, 1994)

·         One Step From the White House: The Rise and Fall of Senator William F. Knowland, Gayle Montgomery and James Johnson (Berkeley: U. of Calif., 1998) The story of our former Senate Majority Leader, newspaperman, failed guber­natorial and presidential aspirant, and--in the end--dismal suicide.

·         Lying Down With the Lions: A Public Life from the Streets of Oakland to the Halls of Power,
Ronald Dellums and H. Lee Halterman (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000) The story of Dellums’ 27 years as the “Conscience of Congress,” representing California’s 9th Congressional District.


 Buildings, Institutions & Settings

·         The Hospital Women Built for Children, Murray Morgan (Oakland: Children’s Hospital Medical Ctr., 1967)

·         Heinold’s First and Last Chance, Otha Donner Wearin (n.p., 1974)

·         People Are for the Birds, Paul Covel (Oakland: Western Interpretive Press, 1978)

·         Two to Four from 9 to 5 : The Adventures of a Daycare Provider, Joan Roemer as told to Barbara Austin (Grand Rapids: Harper Perennial, 1989) Seventy-two vignettes of life in a home-based Oakland day care.

·         The Oakland Paramount, Susannah Harris Stone (Oakland: Oakland Paramount Theatre, 1992; reprint of 1981 ed.). Before & behind the scenes looks at our movie palace, opened in 1931 and reopened in 1973.

·         Through These Doors: Discovering Oakland at Preservation Park, Helaine Kaplan Prentice, Andrew Brubaker and Betty Marvin,  (Oakland: Oakland Redevelopment Agency, 1996).  As lovingly researched and beautifully designed as Preservation Park itself

·         Real Heat : Gender and Race in the Urban Fire Service, Carol Chetkovich (New Brunswick: Rutgers, 1997) Reflections and analysis of the Oakland Fire Department class of 1-91; from the author’s dissertation.

·         The Oakland Roadster Show: 50 Years of Hot Rods and Customs, Andy Southard and Dain Gingerelli (Osceola WI: MBI, 1998)

v  v  v

Russell is still looking for these book; let us know if you can help,

·          Oakland and its Surrounds, Illustrated

·          How Oakland Aided Her Sister City, Bishop (1906)

·          Greater Oakland, Evarts Blake (1911)

·          The Story of Rancho Antonio (1924)

·          Oakland: A Story for Children, Regina Ken, et. al. (1930)

·          The Romance of Oakland, Roy Beekman  (1932)

·          Dr. Samuel Merritt, His Life and Achievements (1938)

·          Oakland’s Image, Lois Rather (1972)

·          Free to Choose: The Jews of Oakland, Fred Rosenbaum (1976)

·          Red Trains in the East Bay: The History of the Southern Pacific Transbay Train & Ferry System, Robert Ford, (1977)

·          The Reemergence of an Inner City : The Pivot of Chinese Settle­ment in the East Bay Region of the San Francisco Bay Area (1977)

·          Marcus Foster and the Oakland Public Schools : Leadership in an Urban Bureaucracy (1978)

·          Borax Pioneer: Francis Marion Smith, George Hildebrand (1982)

·          Oakland Ballet: The First 25 Years, William Huck  (1990)

·          Bay Cities and Water Politics : The Battle for Resources in Boston and Oakland, Sarah S. Elkind, (1998)

·          Fire in Oakland, California: Billion-Dollar Blaze, Carmen Bredeson (1999)

·          Architecture of Oakland, California, Anthony G. White

·          Prophet of the Parks: The Story of William Penn Mott, Mary Ellen Butler (1999)

·          Miner, Preacher, Doctor, Teacher: A Turn-of-the-19th-Century Odyssey from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Ketchikan, Alaska, to a Pioneering Medical Career in Oakland, California, Frederic M. Loomis (Hardscratch Press, 2000)

·          Made in Oakland : The Furniture of Garry Knox Bennett (2001)

·          Hometown Chinatown: History of Oakland's Chinese Community, L. Eva & Eva Armentrout Ma  (2001)

·          Fight or Be Slaves : The History of the Oakland-East Bay Labor Movement (2001)

·          Volumes 4, 5, and any beyond 6 of Mountain View Cemetery’s “East Bay Heritage” booklets

·          …and everything else Oakland!