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A Florida Reading List

Florida's perennial state of social and political flux has always promised rich material for historians and journalists eager to pin the place down. Rarely have they managed this, though the picture of the region's unpredictable evolution that emerges can make for compulsive reading. Many established fiction writers spend their winters in Florida, but few have convincingly portrayed its characters, climate and scenery. Those that have succeeded, however, have produced some of the most unique and gripping literature to emerge from any part of the US.



Edward N Akin Flagler: Rockefeller Partner & Florida Baron.

Solid biography of the man whose Standard Oil fortune helped build Florida's first hotels and railroads.


Howard Kleinberg The Way We Were.

Oversized overview of Miami's history: colourful archival photos and text by a former editor-in-chief of the city's newspaper of 92 years, The Miami News.


Helen Muir Miami, USA.

An insider's account of how Miami's first developers gave the place shape during the land boom of the Twenties.


John Rothchild Up for Grabs: A Trip Through Time and Space in the Sunshine State.

Irreverent look at Florida's chequered career as a vacation spa, tourist trap and haven for scheming ne'er-do-wells.


Charlton W Tebeau A History of Florida.

The definitive academic tome, but not for casual reading.


Garcilaso de la Vega The Florida of the Inca.

Comprehensive account of the sixteenth-century expedition led by Hernando de Soto through Florida's prairies, swamps and aboriginal settlements; extremely turgid in parts, but overall an excellent insight into the period.


Lawrence E Will Swamp to Sugarbowl: Pioneer Days in Belle Glade.

A "cracker" account of early times in the state, written in first-person redneck vernacular. Variously oafish and offensive - but never dull.


Natural History

Jon L Dunn & Eirik A T Blom Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Second Ed.

The best country-wide guide, with plenty on Florida, and excellent illustrations throughout.


Harold R Holt Lane's "A Birder's Guide to Florida".

Detailed accounts of when and where to find Florida's birds, including maps and seasonal charts. Aimed at the expert but excellent value for the novice bird-watcher.


Ronald L Myers & John J Ewel Ecosystems of Florida.

Technical yet highly readable treatise for the serious ecologist.


Marjory Stoneman Douglas The Everglades: River of Grass.

Concerned conservationist literature by one of the state's most respected historians, describing the nature and beauty of the Everglades from their beginnings. A superb work that contributed to the founding of the Everglades National Park.


Travel Impressions

T D Allman Miami: City of the Future.

Excellent, incisive look at modern Miami, which becomes bogged down when going further back than Miami Vice.


William Bartram Travels.

The lively diary of an eighteenth-century naturalist rambling through the Deep South and on into Florida during the period of British rule. Outstanding accounts of the indigenous people and all kinds of wildlife.


Edna Buchanan The Corpse had a Familiar Face.

Sometimes sharp, often sensationalist account of the author's years spent pounding the crime beat for the Miami Herald - five thousand corpses and gore galore. The subsequent Vice is more of the same.


Joan Didion Miami

A riveting though ultimately unsatisfying voyage around the impenetrably complex and wildly passionate el exilio politics of Cuban Miami.


Lynn Geldof Cubans.

Passionate and rambling interviews with Cubans in Cuba and Miami, which confirm the tight bond between them.


Henry James The American Scene.

Interesting waffle from the celebrated novelist, including written portraits of St Augustine and Palm Beach as they thronged with wintering socialites at the turn of the century.


Norman Mailer Miami and the Siege of Chicago.

A rabid study of the American political conventions of 1968, the first part frothing over the Republican Party's shenanigans at Miami Beach when Nixon beat Reagan for the presidential ticket.


Roxanne Pulitzer The Prize Pulitzer: The Scandal that Rocked Palm Beach.

A small-town girl who married into the jet-set lifestyle of Palm Beach describes the mud-slinging in Florida's most moneyed community when she seeks a divorce.


David Rieff Going to Miami: Exiles, Tourists and Refugees in the New America. An exploration of Miami through the minds of its conservative Cubans, its struggling black and Haitian communities, and its resentful Anglos - but with too many sexist musings to be credible.


Alexander Stuart Life on Mars.

"Paradise with a lobotomy" is how a friend of the author described Florida. This is an often amusing series of snap shots of both the empty lives led by the beautiful people of South Beach and the red-neck "white trash" of up-state.


John Williams Into the Badlands: A Journey through the American Dream.

The author's trek across the US to interview the country's best crime writers begins in Miami, "the city that coke built", its compelling strangeness all too briefly revelled in.


Architecture and Photography

Barbara Baer Capitman Deco Delights.

A tour of Miami Beach's Art Deco buildings by the woman who championed their preservation, with definitive photography.


Laura Cerwinske Miami: Hot & Cool.

Coffee-table tome with text on high-style south Florida living and glowing, colour pics of Miami's beautiful homes and gardens.

By the same author, Tropical Deco: The Architecture & Design of Old Miami Beach delivers a wealth of architectural detail.


Donald W. Curl Mizner's Florida: American Resort Architecture.

An assessment of the life, career and designs of Addison Mizner, the self-taught architect responsible for the "Bastard Spanish Moorish Romanesque Renaissance Bull Market Damn the Expense Style" structures of Palm Beach and Boca Raton.


Hap Hatton Tropical Splendor: An Architectural History of Florida.

A readable, informative and effectively illustrated account of the wild, weird and wonderful buildings that have graced and disgraced the state over the years.


Alva Johnston The Legendary Mizners.

A racy biography of Addison Mizner and his brother Wilson, telling how they wined, dined and married into the lifestyles of the rich and famous of the Twenties.


Gary Monroe Life in South Beach.

A slim volume of monochrome photos showing Miami Beach's South Beach before the restoration of the Art Deco district and the arrival of globetrotting trendies.



Pat Booth Miami.

It had to happen: best-selling author uses the glitz-and-glamour of Miami's South Beach as a backdrop to a pot-boiling tale of seduction and desire.


Edward Falco Winter in Florida.

Flawed but compulsive story of a cosseted New York boy seeking thrills on a central Florida horse farm.


Ernest Hemingway To Have and Have Not.

Hemingway lived and drank in Key West for years but set only this moderate tale in the town, describing the woes of fishermen brutalized by the Depression.


Carl Hiaasen Double Whammy.

Ferociously funny fishing thriller that brings together a classic collection of warped but believable Florida characters; among them a hermit-like ex-state governor, a cynical Cuban cop and a corrupt TV preacher.

By the same author, Skin Tight explores the perils of unskilled plastic surgery in a Miami crawling with mutant hitmen, bought politicians and police on gangsters' payrolls, and Native Tongue delves into the murky goings-on behind the scenes at a Florida theme park.


Zora Neale Hurston Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Florida-born Hurston became one of the bright lights of the Harlem Renaissance in the Twenties. This novel describes the founding of Eatonville - her home town and the state's first all-black town - and the labourers' lot in Belle Glade at the time of the 1928 hurricane. Equally hard to put down are Jonah's Gourd Vine and the autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road.


David A. Karfelt American Tropic.

Overblown saga of passion and power set during several key eras in Florida's history; just the job for idle hours on the beach.


Peter Matthiessen Killing Mister Watson.

Thoroughly researched story of the early days of white settlement in the Everglades. Slow-paced but a strong insight into the Florida frontier mentality.


Thomas McGuane Ninety-Two in the Shade.

A strange, hallucinatory search for identity by a young man of shifting mental states who aspires to become a Key West fishing guide - and whose family and friends are equally warped. Panama, by the same author, is also set in Key West.


Theodore Pratt The Barefoot Mailman.

A Forties account of the long-distance postman who kept the far-flung settlements of pioneer-period Florida in mail by hiking the many miles of beach between them.


John Sayles Los Gusanos.

Absorbing, if long-winded novel set around the lives of Cuban exiles in Miami - written by a cult film director.


Daniel Vilmure Life in the Land of the Living.

Only the vigour of the writing lifts this purposeless story of two brothers rampaging through an unnamed Florida port town on a blisteringly hot Friday night.


Crime Fiction

Edna Buchanan Nobody Lives Forever.

Tense, psycho-killer thriller played out on the mean streets of Miami. See also "Travel impressions".


Liza Cody Backhand.

London's finest female private investigator, Anna Lee, follows the clues from Kensington to the West Coast of Florida - highly entertaining.


James Hall Under Cover of Daylight; Squall Line; Hard Aground.

Taut thrillers with a cast of crazies that make the most of the edge-of-the-world landscapes of the Florida Keys.


Elmore Leonard Stick; La Brava; Gold Coast.

The pick of this highly recommended author's Florida-set thrillers, respectively detailing the rise of an opportunist black through the money, sex and drugs of Latino Miami; low-life on the seedy South Beach before the preservation of the Art Deco district; and the tribulations of a wealthy gangster-widow alone in a Fort Lauderdale mansion.


Charles Willeford Miami Blues.

Thanks to an uninspired film, the best-known but not the best of a highly recommended series starring Hoke Mosely, a cool and calculating, but very human, Miami cop. Superior titles in the series are The Way We Die Now, Kiss Your Ass Goodbye and Sideswipe.



Sue Mullin Nuevo Cubano Cooking.

Easy-to-follow instructions and mouth-watering photographs, of recipes fusing traditional Cuban cooking with nouvelle cuisine.


Steven Raichleu Miami Spice.

Latin American and Caribbean cooking meets Florida and the "Deep South", resulting in some of the tastiest dishes in America. Clear recipes and interesting background information.