Staff Picks: 10 Essential Punk Books

We have gradually expanded the books section of our online shop, and we now have over 250 books in stock, including many of our all-time favorite punk books. If you’re looking for a new punk read, we’ve got a special holiday weekend coupon: use this link to get $10 off 3 books (discount will appear at check out). I’ve also put together a list of 10 books that I think no punk library should be without. Here they are, in no particular order…

American Hardcore: A Tribal History
Author: Steven Blush

They call this one the “hardcore bible” for a reason; if you’re looking for an insight into the development of 1980s American hardcore, Steven Blush’s American Hardcore book has remained a great starting point since its original publication in 2001. The book is set between 1980 and 1986, and obviously the hardcore continued after that and never died (but you will), but this time period offers a great overview of bands that defined this music for decades to come including Black Flag, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Circle Jerks, Cro-Mags, Teens, Die Kreuzen, Flipper, Gang Green, Negative Approach, DOA, MDC, DRI, etc.

Take a copy here.

NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980-1990
Author: Tony Rettman

Moving from national hardcore to something a little more regional, Tony Rettman’s NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980-1990 is one of the most in-depth texts on New York Hardcore that you will find. With a foreword by Freddy Madball, Tony documents the scene that took off after the Ramones, Blondie and the Talking Heads overtook CBGB, and a new generation of New York kids needed a grittier version of punk than they could call theirs. Featuring interviews with members of Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, Bad Brains, Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today, Sick Of It All, Bold, Breakdown, H2O, Heart Attack, Judge, Leeway, Murphy’s Law, Nausea, Outburst, Side By Side, Warzone and so many others, it’s hard to think of any notable NYHC band that is not represented in this book, and the stories are told by the people who lived through it, including Tony – he first interviewed a handful of these groups as a teenager at the time.

Take a copy here.

We Got Power: 1980s Southern California Hardcore Punk Scenes
Authors: Jordan Schwartz, David Markey

Almost as important to punk and hardcore as the bands themselves were the hastily-crafted zines that documented that history in real time, while the mainstream rock magazines did not. One of these fanzines was We have the powerstarted by Southern California teenagers David Markey and Jordan Schwartz in 1981. 30 years later, Markey and Schwartz have turned their old zine into a hardcover book, featuring full color reprints of the original 1981-1983 issues, nearly 400 contemporary photographs, and essays by Henry Rollins, Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski, Dez Cadena, Louiche Mayorga, Eugene Tatu, Cameron Jamie, Pat Fear , Steve Humann, Tony Adolescent, Jack Brewer, Jula Bell, Mike Watt, Sean Wheeler, Joe Carducci, Daniel “Shredder” Weizmann and Janet Housden. To quote Ferris wheel magazinethe opinion of“This book will get you there with no agenda, no bullshit, and no pretense.”

Take a copy here.

In My Eyes: Photographs 1982-1997
Author: Jim Saah

Another region of 80s hardcore that belongs in your library is of course DC. In my eyes tells the story of DC’s iconic scene through the photos of DC native Jim Saah, who has been filming since the 80s and whose work has been featured on the cover of Fugazi’s Repeaterin Michael Azzerad Our band could be your life, and more. The book features photos Jim took between 1982 and 1997, including photos of Fugazi, Minor Threat, Void, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys, Jawbox, Government Issue, The Faith, Iron Cross, The Cramps, Pixies , Lou Reed, Guided by Voices, Fishbone, Wilco, and more, plus interviews with Ian MacKaye, J. Robbins, Jon Langford (Mekons), Shepard Fairey, and photographers Cynthia Connolly and Patrick Graham.

Take a copy here.

SELLOUT: The major label fuels the frenzy that swept through punk, emo and hardcore from 1994 to 2007
Author: Dan Ozzi

Not all of the books on this list are set 40 years ago. Dan Ozzi (who also co-wrote Memoirs of Laura Jane Grace) recently released SOLD takes on an era that was more recognized in the mainstream at the time, but had far less ink used: the era of major punk label binge eating. The book chronicles the debut of 11 bands on a major label, beginning with Green Day’s 1994 LP. Dookie and ending with the 2007 LP of Against Me! New wave, and covering Jawbreaker, Jimmy Eat World, blink-182, At the Drive In, The Donnas, Thursday, The Distillers, My Chemical Romance and Rise Against in between. As the title suggests, this was when punk bands were called “sellouts” for signing to a major, but SOLD do not chastise these groups for their decisions; it takes a mostly objective look at what was going on at that time, why bands and labels were making the decisions they were, and it tells so many great stories in the process. To learn more about this book, read my interview with Dan.

Take a copy here.

Punk Women: 40 years of musicians who built punk rock
Author: David A. Ensminger

To quote 7Seconds, punk isn’t just fun for boys, and it never was. Women have shaped punk from the very beginning, and this book is dedicated to featuring contributions from members of The Cramps, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Germs, The Slits, Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Spitboy and so many more, with a foreword by Katy Otto of Trophy Wife. To quote the book’s description, “There is a common thread that women are excluded and shunned from the hardcore music scene, but this anthology challenges that notion and shows that women have always been able to overcome, kick ass and shred alongside the best of them.”

Take a copy here.

Punks In Peoria: Making a Stage in the Heart of America
Authors: Jonathan Wright, Dawson Barrett

Everyone knows the NYC, DC, and Southern California punk scenes, but equally crucial are the scenes that have sprung up in smaller towns, such as Peoria, Illinois, for example. The book examines local legends like Caustic Defiance, Dollface, and Planes Mistaken for Stars, plus other bands that have toured Peoria like Fugazi, 7Seconds, The Jesus Lizard, and more, with interviews, photos, and more. . To quote Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto, “Each city has a story to tell about itself and Punks in Peoria explores this in gorgeous detail for the Peoria, Illinois hardcore scene. While the most storied scenes of big cities may cause the most ink to flow, this book shows how the ideals and power of music have penetrated every corner of the country, but have never been sustained except by the courage and ingenuity of the people involved in the field. We need a book like this everywhere.”

Take a copy here.

Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise and Fall of SST Records
Author: Jim Ruland

When you talk about the development of punk, hardcore and DIY, you’re talking about bands, regional scenes, zines, venues and of course record labels. One of the most influential labels of all time was SST, started by Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn, which released now-classic records not only by Ginn’s own band, but also Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Hüsker Dü , Saint Vitus, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Bad Brains and many more. It helped lay the foundations for independent record labels in general, and after its rapid rise throughout the 1980s, it finally experienced a tumultuous fall at the end of that decade. Jim Ruland (who also co-wrote Bad Religion’s autobiography Do what you want) looks at the rise and fall of the label in plenty of investigative detail in his new book Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise and Fall of SST Records.

Take a copy here.

Straight Edge: A Lucid History of Hardcore Punk
Author: Tony Rettman

Another of NYHC author Tony Rettman, this time about a lifestyle that has frequently accompanied hardcore for over 40 years: straight edge. With a foreword by Gorilla Biscuits singer Anthony “CIV” Civorelli, Tony watches the history of straight edge from its roots as a Minor Threat song to the many bands that carried that message for the next four decades, including SS Decontrol, Youth of Today, DYS, Slapshot, Uniform Choice, 7 Seconds, Chain of Strength, Gorilla Biscuits, Judge , Bold, Shelter, H2O, Earth Crisis, Mindset, Mouthpiece, Floorpunch, Ten Yard Fight, Fucked Up, Have Heart, Praise, and more, with the musicians themselves often speaking. For a taste, read an excerpt where Ian MacKaye talks about the song “Straight Edge” here.

Take a copy here.

From velvets to voids

From the Velvets to the Voidoids: the birth of American punk rock
Author: Clinton Heylin

Last but not least, the bands none of us would be here: the ones who started punk in the first place. Veteran rock writer Clinton Heylin taps a cast including Patti Smith, Pere Ubu, Television, Blondie, the Ramones, the MC5, the Stooges, Talking Heads and the Dead Boys, with interviews with several punk legends and recounting the history of the genre from the 1960s garage rock to the new wave of the 1980s. Birth of American punk rock The book was first published in 1993, but this new edition adds an afterword that examines the history of these groups after the 1970s.

Take a copy here.

Browse our books section for hundreds of other music-related titles, and use this link to get $10 off 3 books (discount will appear at check out).

Colin L. Johnson