Philly Books and Movies


Historic Philadelphia:

  • 1776

One of America's greatest historians, David McCullough, penned the definitive historical narrative about the American Revolution, in which Philadelphia plays a starring role. You cannot fully understand Philadelphia without understanding the essential role it played in America's revolutionary fight for independence from Britain. So much of America's identity relates back to what happened in Philadelphia in 1776.

  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

One of the great autobiographies of all time, this book tells the story of one of America's most important founding fathers, in his own words. It gives a great insight into what life was like in Philadelphia in the 1700s, and gives an idea of how our image of America (even to this day) was born. It's hard to know America, or Philadelphia, without knowing Ben Franklin.

  • Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia

Digby Baltzell offers a fascinating sociological study of the contrast in social elites in Puritan Boston vs. Quaker Philadelphia. While the Puritans lacked tolerance for other views, they took responsibility for the political, social, and academic life of the community. In Philadelphia, the Quaker obsession with tolerance and aversion to imposing one's views on another led to a deficit of political leadership. These two competing forces shaped two of America's great cities in immeasurable ways, and continue to shape our nation today.

  • Dr. Mutter's Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine

Narrative nonfiction magic. Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz tells her story with gusto, taking the reader from the hospitals of Paris to the great medical colleges of Philadelphia in the first half of the 19th century. There is a lot of medical history here, but it is so unbelievable, so over-the-top (yet true!) that readers will be riveted.”

—School Library Journal (starred review, named a Best book for Teens 2014)

“A truly Philadelphian saga deftly told by City of Brotherly Love native Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, Dr. Mütter’s Marvels is a comprehensive and engaging biography of 19th-century surgeon, teacher and author Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter. Best known these days as the founding force behind the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, Mütter was essential at shaping the course of medicine in innumerable ways, and Aptowicz navigates his too-short and highly influential life expertly.”

—Asbury Park Press, named a Best Book of 2014


Modern Philadelphia:

  • Ed Bacon: Planning, Politics, and the Building of Modern Philadelphia

In the mid-20th Century, as city dwellers were flocking to the suburbs, and urban centers were witnessing a dramatic decrease in population, Philadelphia's legendary urban planner Ed Bacon (father of movie star Kevin Bacon) gained national fame for his bold urban redevelopment projects such as Society Hill and Penn Center. The author of this compelling biography, Greg Heller, will be one of our LEW speakers on Saturday, April 29, and LEW attendees will receive an autographed copy of this book!

  • A Payer for the City

Buzz Bissinger, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Friday Night Lights, wrote this fascinating account of the heroic mayoral administration of Philadelphia's Ed Rendell in the 1990s. With heartfelt tales of real everyday Philadelphians and their larger-than-life Mayor, this book puts a human face on the problems and promise of urban life in the modern age.



  • The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart star in this portrait of Main Line life and the Philadelphia upper class, featuring a sparkling script with heart that also manages to keep you guessing until the very end.

  • My Architect (2004)

Nathaniel Kahn’s moving documentary about his famous but elusive father, Philadelphia architect Louis I. Kahn. He goes on a tour of his father’s extraordinary buildings, and ultimately comes to terms with the fact that genius doesn’t always come wrapped in attractive packages.

  • Sixth Sense (1999)

Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment star in this psychological thriller that features Philadelphia prominently and offers a fresh, if chilling, take on the classic ghost story. Confused by his paranormal powers, a young boy is too terrified to tell anyone about his torment. The result is a mind-blowing jolt. I see dead people!

  • Philadelphia (1993)

It’s easy to forget how much courage it took—even as recently as 1993—for Jonathan Demme to create a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster about an AIDS-afflicted gay man. In going where no one had gone before, Demme created not only one of the great Philadelphia movies, but also one of the best movies of the 1990s—a film that helped open eyes and change hearts. Tom Hanks won an Oscar for best actor, but it’s Denzel Washington, as the homophobic lawyer who takes on Hanks’s case, who’s the real center of this film. Demme felt that Philadelphia became a lead character in the film and ultimately decided to name the film after the City, and commissioned a haunting theme song from Bruce Springsteen, "The Streets of Philadelphia."

  • Rocky (1976)

Sylvester Stallone stars in this Academy Award Best Picture winner that is perhaps the greatest Philadelphia film ever made. Set Rocky anywhere else, and it’s a quirky tale about a bum fighter who gets one big chance. Set in Philadelphia, however, it’s about an entire city and its way of life. Rocky isn’t fighting for the title so much as he is for his own dignity—the idea that every life can and should mean something. You can't help smiling and rooting for Rocky when you see this inspirational film. It personifies Philadelphia's underdog spirit and gritty determination. Yo Adrienne!

  • Honorable mention: The Art of the Steal (2009)

This documentary offers a biased, but entertaining, view of the controversial move of the Barnes Foundation's art collection, generally considered to be the world's best collection of post-Impressionist art (valued at over $25 Billion) from Dr. Barnes' mansion in the Philadelphia suburbs (where his will required it to be maintained in a very particular manner, with highly restricted access) to a brand new museum in downtown Philadelphia Should the world-class Collection of masterpieces be kept in a secluded mansion with very few visitors as Dr. Barnes wished, or moved to a modern facility in Philadelphia, where art lovers from around the world can enjoy it? If your trip to Philadelphia allows time for a visit to the new Barnes Foundation museum, you will definitely want to watch this fascinating documentary before you go! You can watch it for free on Youtube:


My Architect