Avery, Ron. A Concise History of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Otis Books, 1999. If you don’t have a month to devote to the next book listed, this is a good primer on Philadelphia  history, a quick and easy read at just under 100 pages. Written by a native Philadelphian and former newspaper journalist, it’s well researched and informative, spanning Philadelphia history from pre–William Penn through the late 20th century. An additional chapter highlights the African American experience in the city.
Barra Foundation. Philadelphia: A 300-Year History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1982. This is the most comprehensive account of the history of Philadelphia ever written, produced over 15 years from conception to publication. The mammoth 800-plus-page volume is a collaboration of more than 20 scholars and historians. Each chapter is written by a different expert, and offers a compelling and colorful narrative of a slice of Philadelphia’s history, beginning with The Founding, 1681–1701, and culminating with The Bicentennial City, 1968–1982. It is required reading for anyone really interested in local history.
Bissinger, Buzz. A Prayer for the City. New York: Vintage, 1998. This compelling account of a critical period in Philadelphia history was written by Pulitzer Prize–winning author and former Philadelphia Inquirer journalist Buzz Bissinger. It intimately follows Ed Rendell, arguably Philadelphia’s  most esteemed and fascinating mayor ever—personally and politically—through his first four-year term in office. The author was granted behind-the-scenes access to city government around the clock, and he provides a candid account of the mayor, city politics, and the lives of several other diverse Philadelphians in the 1990s. A compelling read for anyone interested in the complex problems facing American cities in general, and certainly for anyone interested in Philadelphia, the book is disturbing, hopeful, and real. It is however, a decade out of date, so it serves as a slice of Philadelphia history rather than a current report. Fortunately, many positive improvements have taken place since it was published.
Booker, Janice L. Philly Firsts: The Famous, Infamous and Quirky of the City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia: Camino Books, Inc. 1999. This fun, entertaining little book reveals much about Philadelphia’s history through its many “firsts.” The city was the first in the country in so many landmark accomplishments, from major achievements like hosting the first hospital and the first university, to the more inane, like its claim as the birthplace of bubble gum and licorice.
Du Bois, W. E. B. The Philadelphia Negro. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996. Originally published in 1899, this sociological study was the first of its kind to look closely at black urban Americans. It examines the lives and communities of blacks in Philadelphia  at the end of the 19th century. The book was sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania , and some suspected its underlying purpose was to show how the black community was responsible for many social problems of the time, but this was not the result. A novel concept at the time, the study did not presume that blacks lived in poor conditions due to an innate shortcoming of the race. The writer was a civil rights activist and scholar and the first black man to receive a PhD from Harvard University. A cofounder of the NAACP, Du Bois also wrote Black Folk, Then and Now (1899) and The Negro (1915).
Isaacson, Walter. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003. In nearly 600 pages, you will learn more than you ever thought you wanted to know about Benjamin Franklin, but you’ll be glad you did. The detailed, entertaining account of Philadelphia’s favorite son portrays the complex figure’s shortcomings, as well as his numerous accomplishments over his fascinating lifetime. Franklin spent much of his life in Philadelphia and played a key role in many monumental events in the city’s history, so you will learn much about the city through the life of its most prominent historical figure.