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Featured Books and DVDs: Discovering Philadelphia

What better way to explore a new city, or see your home with new eyes, than through a fantastic story?

 A line of DVD cases rests against a stack of books with a backdrop of the Philadelphia skyline.

Each year when the University of Pennsylvania welcomes new and returning students to campus, the Penn Libraries focuses on Philadelphia as the topic of its Featured Books and DVDs. What better way to explore a new city, or see your home with new eyes, than through a fantastic story?  

In Books Around America, users can find the most popular books set in Philadelphia, which is Pennsylvania’s “most literary town” (the town in which the most books are set) according to Goodreads data. Search for these titles in Franklin, the Penn Libraries catalog – or just check out the picks below. 


  • This Used to be Philadelphia

    Philadelphia is thick with American firsts. This Used to Be Philadelphia goes deep inside the buildings, monuments, and familiar sights of the city to uncover its rich history, layer by layer. This book will introduce you to the city’s first residents, the Lenni Lenape, the tireless workers who made the region “the Workshop of the World,” and contemporary Philadelphians . Take a colorful tour of the city’s bygone days with local sisters Natalie and Tricia Pompilio. You’ll never look at an old building in Philadelphia the same way again.

  • Sparring with Smokin' Joe: Joe Frazier's Epic Battles and Rivalry with Ali

    An intimate portrait of Joe Frazier, whose ferocious rivalry with Muhammad Ali made them both boxing legends and cultural touchstones for an era. Author Glenn Lewis spent several months in the gym, on the road, and in verbal tussles with Frazier in 1980, when Frazier was at a crossroads in his life and career.  Sparring with Smokin’ Joe reveals compelling, never-before-heard anecdotes that give new insight into the usually private Frazier, including how Ali’s verbal attacks on Frazier alienated him from his own people and continued to trouble him long after retiring from the ring. An intimate portrait of a legendary fighter, Sparring with Smokin’ Joe finally shares Frazier’s side of an unforgettable rivalry.

  • Know My Name: A Memoir

    Chanel Miller’s story of trauma and transcendence illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators, indicting a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable, and, ultimately, shining with the courage required to move through suffering and live a full and beautiful life. Know My Name will forever transform the way readers think about sexual assault, challenging their beliefs about what is acceptable and speaking truth to the tumultuous reality of healing. Entwining pain, resilience, and humor – with performances in the Wharton Comedy Club assisting Miller in her healing journey – this memoir will stand as a modern classic. 

  • Monument Lab: Creative Speculations for Philadelphia

    What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia? That was the question posed by the curators, artists, scholars, and students who comprise the Philadelphia-based public art and history studio Monument Lab. In 2017, along with Mural Arts Philadelphia, they produced and organized a groundbreaking, city-wide exhibition of temporary, site-specific works that engaged directly with the community. The installations by a cohort of diverse artists considered issues of identity and appeared in iconic public squares and neighborhood parks with research and learning labs and prototype monuments. Monument Lab is a compendium of the exhibition and a critical reflection of the proceedings, including contributions from interlocutors and collaborators.

  • Olive Witch

    Olive Witch is an intimate memoir about taking the long way home. Abeer Hoque is a Bangladeshi girl growing up in a small sunlit town in 1970s Nigeria, where the red clay earth, corporal punishment, and running games are facts of life. At 13 she moves with her family to Pennsylvania and finds herself surrounded by clouded skies and high schoolers who speak in movie quotes and pop culture slang. Disassociated from her parents, and laid low by academic pressure and spiraling depression, she is committed to a psychiatric ward in Philadelphia. When she moves to Bangladesh on her own, it proves to be yet another beginning for someone who is only just getting used to being an outsider - wherever she is. 


  • Father’s Kingdom

    Father Divine was born in poverty, the son of emancipated slaves. At his peak, he was one of America’s most controversial religious leaders. Though he was once a celebrity and was decades ahead of his time fighting for civil rights, he has largely been written out of history because of the audacity of his religious claims and doubt about his motives. Today, Father’s few remaining followers live as a communal family on a magnificent estate outside Philadelphia. Through unprecedented access to this unique and reclusive community, the film explores the line between faith and fanaticism, between a religion and a cult. As time and mortality confront the followers, they struggle to preserve Father’s legacy.

  • Space is the Place
    Avant-jazz mystic Sun Ra brought his pioneering Afrofuturist vision to the screen with this film version of his concept album with the legendary Philadelphia funk and soul group The Sun Ra Arkestra. Recorded at Philly’s Rittenhouse SoundWorks, it’s a wild, kaleidoscopic whirl of science fiction, sharp social commentary, goofy pseudo-blaxploitation stylistics, and thrilling concert performance, in which the pharaonic Ra and his Arkestra lead an intergalactic movement to resettle the Black race on their utopian space colony.
  • Marian Anderson: A Portrait in Music

    Marian Anderson's performances from the two 1956 Festival of Music telecasts, as well as her previously-unreleased appearance on the Ford 50th Anniversary Show are combined on this DVD with the previously-released documentary, Marian Anderson on Stage and at Home. The selections, all spirituals, include “He's got the Whole World in His Hands,” “O What a Beautiful City!,” “Poor Me,” “Heav'n, Heav'n,” “My Lord, What a Mornin'” and “Roll, Jordan, Roll!.” With Franz Rupp on piano.

  • Philly D.A.

    Larry Krasner spent 30 years fighting the District Attorney’s Office as a civil rights attorney. He sued the police over 75 times. After an election he was never supposed to win, he now is the D.A. Can he and his team change the system from the inside? Over the course of eight episodes, this 2021 documentary explores the most pressing social issues of our time—police brutality, the opioid crisis, gun violence, and mass incarceration—through the lens of an idealistic team attempting fundamental overhaul from within the system.

  • The Philadelphia Story

    This comedy of manners revitalized Katharine Hepburn’s career and cemented her status as the era’s most iconic leading lady. The screenplay pits the formidable Philadelphia socialite Tracy Lord (Hepburn) against various romantic foils, chief among them her charismatic ex-husband (Cary Grant), who disrupts her imminent marriage by paying her family estate a visit, accompanied by a tabloid reporter on assignment to cover the wedding of the year (James Stewart, in his only Academy Award–winning performance). A fast-talking screwball comedy as well as a tale of regret and reconciliation, this convergence of golden-age talent is considered one of the greatest American films of all time.