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Williamsburg | © LWYang/Flickr
Williamsburg | © LWYang/Flickr
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10 Books About the Rise of Hipster Brooklyn You Need to Read

Picture of JW McCormack
Updated: 29 July 2017
“Hipster” certainly conjures a few things in the public imagination: tattoos, craft beer, bicycles (or unicycles), beards, a preference for vinyl over compact discs, and, perhaps above all, Williamsburg Brooklyn. New York has been changed definitively by a huge influx of college-educated urban tastemakers who have become synonymous with gentrification. Every counterculture makes its contributions to the arts, and some of the works synonymous with hipsterdom are the best American painting, literature, and music of the 21st Century. The hipster phenomenon gives us a rare chance to examine the changing dynamics of the urban space, and a body of sociological writing has evolved to diagnose it. Below, ten books that examine the serious implications of skinny jeans, avocado toast, and self-rolled cigarettes.

What Was the Hipster? (2010)

The most inquisitive and nuanced treatment of how merchandised cool became an economic force and a cultural drain, What Was the Hipster? regards its subject sociologically, expanding on a panel discussion originally given at The New School in New York City by the editors of the magazine n+1. This manual includes essays on sneakers, “douchebags,” and the bike lane controversy that raged between Williamsburg’s hipsters and the area’s Hasidic community.

What Was the Hipster | © n+1 Foundation
What Was the Hipster | © n+1 Foundation

Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman (2003)

Perhaps the single book that did the most to distill the hipster ethos, Chuck Klosterman’s best-selling Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto is an essay collection that applies heady cultural analysis to subjects as varied as Saved by the Bell, Star Wars, and reality television. Klosterman’s approach set the standard for a generation of bedroom intellectuals, for whom a self-presentation that mingled pop culture with liberal arts training quickly became one of the enduring characteristics of hipsterdom.

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs | © Scribner
Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs | © Scribner

Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson (2007)

The popularity of Carl Wilson’s book on Celine Dion surprised everyone (perhaps even the author), but there’s a good reason for it. Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste restlessly interrogates taste as social mobility. The author meditates on his own assumptions and affinities while wondering about the social divide between the millions who idolize Celine Dion and the millions who despise her. In the bargain, Wilson covers everything from Dion’s life and the history of schmaltz to the sociological theories of Pierre Bourdieu.

Let's Talk About Love | © Bloomsbury Academic
Let’s Talk About Love | © Bloomsbury Academic

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem (2003)

In The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem revisited his Park Slope upbringing while infusing it with influences ranging from magical realism to comic books. The result is a coming-of-age novel that is also an elegy for a vanishing Brooklyn and an account of how the rising tide of gentrification — as represented by the hipster as a new identifiable cultural type — came to sweep all before it.

The Fortress of Solitude | © Vintage
The Fortress of Solitude | © Vintage

Taipei by Tao Lin (2013)

A surprisingly durable and prescient novel, Taipei is Tao Lin’s affect-less novel of drugs, art, and apathy. What plot there is follows its somnambulating author from Brooklyn to Taipei as he enters a haze of drugs, impulsively marries, and navigates the peculiar loneliness that follows from feeling like you’re everywhere at once.

Taipei | © Vintage
Taipei | © Vintage

The Last Bohemia by Robert Anasi (2014)

Robert Anasi offers a play-by-play of Williamsburg’s transformation in The Last Bohemia. It’s an account of how the author’s $300 apartment was suddenly caught in the mid-’90s expansion of warehouse lofts, stylized bars, and soaring rents. A study of how global commerce can alter a single neighborhood beyond recognition, here is a cautionary tale from the heart of the hipster renaissance.

The Last Bohemia | © FSG Originals
The Last Bohemia | © FSG Originals

There Goes the ‘Hood by Lance Freeman (2005)

There Goes the ‘Hood is Lance Freeman’s methodical exploration of new neighborhoods on the cusp of hipster invasion—Clinton Hill in Brooklyn and Harlem in Manhattan. By exposing the duality of gentrification, how convenience and safety go hand-in-hand with unaffordability and displacement, he illustrates an eternal paradox of New York City.

There Goes the 'Hood | © Temple University Press
There Goes the ‘Hood | © Temple University Press

How to Kill a City by Peter Moskowitz (2017)

In this intimate and wide-ranging look at the human costs of our changing cities, Peter Moskowitz diagrams the recent past and likely future of Brooklyn, among other cities, with sociological diligence. How to Kill A City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood manages to present a three-dimensional image of the city as an organism fighting for its identity.

How To Kill A City © Nation Books
How To Kill A City | © Nation Books

The World in Brooklyn, edited by Judith DeSena (2012)

The World in Brooklyn: Gentrification, Immigration, and Ethnic Politics in a Global City is a collection of scholarly essays that peels back the surface of hip Brooklyn to examine concerns of social justice, homogenization, and how local policies have universal implications. A brilliant hodgepodge of contributions from writers from vastly different backgrounds (including political scientists, economists, ethnographers), it offers Brooklyn as a key to understanding how demographics tell the story of a city, and what is at risk when we ignore them.

The World In Brooklyn | © Lexington Books
The World In Brooklyn | © Lexington Books

The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn by Suleiman Osman (2012)

This is a groundbreaking history of how an industrial slum became one of the country’s most coveted neighborhoods. The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn shows us the roots of the hipster in the 1960s and 1970s. It charts a course through urban renewal and racial tensions to arrive at an inventive and astonishing conclusion regarding the “brownstoners”, who saw themselves as grass-roots restorers in search of authenticity, and how their clash with city governments gave us the Brooklyn of the present.

The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn | © Oxford University Press
The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn | © Oxford University Press