Ultimate Seattle History

ultimate seattle history

While preparing to publish my first book on Seattle history, I’ve necessarily read many previous books on the topic. What follows here are my own personal favorites from that bibliography. This list is not meant to be exclusive, but rather merely representative.

Pioneer Days on Puget Sound — Arthur Armstrong Denny (1888)

A rather dry read, it’s true, yet succinct and essential. The first Seattle history book ever, written by one of the city’s original founders during his golden years. Denny chose a no-nonsense, just-the-facts approach to his version of early Seattle history, naming along the way nearly everyone who was involved in Seattle’s founding and early growth.

Northwest Gateway: The Story of the Port of Seattle — Archie Binns (1941)

Another excellent account of early Seattle history, written just before Boeing first began to dominate the city’s economy due to the United States’ entry into World War II. Author Binns tended towards purple prose while still providing a dynamically detailed account of Seattle’s pioneer years.

Skid Road: An Informal Portrait of Seattle — Murray Morgan (1951, 1982)

Considered by many the ultimate Seattle history urtext, Skid Road was first published in Seattle’s centennial year and was updated by the author in 1982. Start here first.

Sons of the Profits or, There’s No Business Like Grow Business: The Seattle Story, 1851-1901 — William C. Speidel (1967)

Written by the founder of the Seattle Underground Tour, a deliciously irreverent romp through Seattle’s first five decades, complete with all the false virtue and genuine vice that drove the city’s economic engine during that crucial historical time.

Seattle: Past to Present — Roger Sale (1976)

Written and published just after Seattle was famously crowned “America’s most livable city” by Harper’s magazine in 1975, this book examines the city’s gradual transition from rough-and-rowdy logging town to quiet middle-class West Coast liberal enclave.

Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle — Walt Crowley (1995)

Crowley was a perfect example of the sort of person who came to Seattle from elsewhere and made it a better place, in his case as a journalist, activist, and historian. This book tells his eyewitness version of how the political and social tumult of the 1960s played out in Seattle.

Loser: The Real Seattle Music Story — Clark Humphrey (1995, 1999, 2016)

Writing just after the rise and fall of Grungemania, Humphrey produced a definitive history of Seattle music, going all the way back to the Big Band era and the apex of the Jackson Street jazz scene, including a wonderfully thorough account of the decade that preceded the grunge explosion of 1991. The updated 1999 version tells how Seattle rock survived the aftermath of grunge.

Seattle and the Demons of Ambition: From Boom to Bust in the Number One City of the Future — Fred Moody (2003)

Excellent account of Seattle’s recent transition from sleepy Nordic fishing village to bustling dot-com gentrification mecca, written by a longtime Seattle Weekly staffer.

Native Seattle: Histories from the Crossing-Over Place — Coll Thrush (2007)

A stunning academic achievement, indeed. Auburn-raised University of Washington doctoral alum Thrush tells the Seattle story from the perspective of its indigenous population, from the time preceding the Denny Party’s 1851 arrival to the creation of Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in the 1970s and beyond.

The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge — Stephen Tow (2011)

Apparently, East Coast native Tow loved Seattle music so much that he traveled here to write an exquisitely researched tome on the origins of the genre that captured the world’s attention at a critical time in the city’s history, both musically and politically.

Ghosts of Seattle Past — Jaimee Garbacik (2017)

Excerpted from City of Anxiety: An Alternative History of Seattle, a book-length work in progress.