Because lists are great and so is city history, I share a compilation of 50 “essential” D.C. history books assembled by the knowledgable people at the D.C. Public Library’s Washingtoniana division.
Some of them you may have heard of: City of Magnificent Intentions; Capital Losses; Dream City. Most of them, I am guessing, you have not. You can get all of them at the library — for each book, there’s a link to the DCPL catalog.
The Jews of Washington, D.C. : a communal history anthology / edited by David Altshuler. 1st ed. [Washington, D.C.] : Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington ; Chappaqua, N.Y. : Rossel Books, c1985.
Barras, Jonetta Rose. The last of the Black emperors : the hollow comeback of Marion Barry in the new age of Black leaders / Jonetta Rose Barras ; photos by Darrow Montgomery. Baltimore, Md. : Bancroft Press, c1998.
Barber, Lucy G. (Lucy Grace), 1964- Marching on Washington : the forging of an American political tradition / Lucy G. Barber. Berkeley : University of California Press, c2002.
Bergheim, Laura, 1962- The Washington historical atlas : who did what when and where in the nation’s capital / Laura Bergheim. Rockville, MD : Woodbine House, 1992.
Borchert, James, 1941- Alley life in Washington : family, community, religion, and folklife in the city, 1850-1970 / James Borchert. Urbana : University of Illinois Press, c1980.
Bowling, Kenneth R. The creation of Washington, D.C. : the idea and location of the American capital / Kenneth R. Bowling. Fairfax, Va. : George Mason University Press ; Lanham, MD : Distributed by arrangement with University Pub. Associates, c1991.
Brown, Letitia Woods. Free Negroes in the District of Columbia, 1790-1846 . New York, Oxford University Press, 1972.
Bryan, Wilhelmus Bogart. A history of the national capital from its foundation through the period of the adoption of the organic act , New York, The Macmillan company, 1914-16
Caplan, Marvin Harold.- Farther along : a civil rights memoir / Marvin Caplan. Baton Rouge : Louisiana State University Press, c1999
Washington odyssey : a multicultural history of the nation’s capital / edited by Francine Curro Cary. Washington, D.C. : Smithsonian Books, 2003. [new edition of Urban Odyssey]
First freed : Washington, D.C. in the emancipation era / edited by Elizabeth Clark-Lewis. Washington, D.C. : Howard University Press, 2002. Clark-Lewis, Elizabeth.
Clark-Lewis, Elizabeth. Living in, living out : African American domestics in Washington, D.C., 1910-1940 / Elizabeth Clark-Lewis. Washington : Smithsonian Institution Press, c1994.
Peter, Grace Dunlop. A portrait of old George town , by Grace Dunlop Ecker. Richmond, Va., Garrett & Massie, incorporated 
Federal writers’ project. Washington, city and capital. Washington, D.C., U. S. Govt. print. off. 
Fitzpatrick, Sandra. The guide to Black Washington : places and events of historical and cultural significance in the nation’s capital / Sandra Fitzpatrick, Maria R. Goodwin. Black Washington Rev. illustrated ed. New York : Hippocrene Books, 2001.
Forman, Stephen M. (Stephen Michael), 1943- A guide to Civil War Washington / Stephen M. Forman. Washington, D.C. : Elliott & Clark Pub., c1995.
Gillette, Howard. Between justice and beauty : race, planning, and the failure of urban policy in Washington, D.C. / Howard Gillette, Jr. Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, c1995.
Southern city, national ambition : the growth of early Washington, D.C., 1800-1860 / editor, Howard Gillette, Jr. ; essays by Mary Beth Corrigan ... [et al.]. Washington : Published by George Washington University Center for Washington Area Studies in conjunction with the American Architectural Foundation, c1995. George Washington University. Center for Washington Area Studies.
Goode, James M. Best addresses : a century of Washington’s distinguished apartment houses / James M. Goode ; photographers, James Stafford Phillips and James F. Tetro. Washington, D.C. : Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988.
Goode, James M. Capital losses : a cultural history of Washington’s destroyed buildings / James M. Goode. 2nd ed. Washington : Smithsonian Books, 2003.
Goode, James M. The outdoor sculpture of Washington, D.C. A comprehensive historical guide / James M. Goode. 1st ed. Washington, Smithsonian Institution Press [distributed by G. Braziller] 1974.
Greek, Mark S. Washington, D.C. protests : scenes from home rule to the civil rights movement / Charleston, SC : History Press, 2009.
Green, Constance McLaughlin, 1897- The secret city; a history of race relations in the Nation’s Capital. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1967.
United States. National Capital Planning Commission. Worthy of the nation : the history of planning for the national capital / National Capital Planning Commission ; Frederick Gutheim, consultant. Washington : Smithsonian Institution Press, c1977.
Headley, Robert K. (Robert Kirk), 1938- Motion picture exhibition in Washington, D.C. : an illustrated history of parlors, palaces, and multiplexes in the metropolitan area, 1894-1997 / Robert K. Headley. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., c1999.
Helm, Judith Beck. Tenleytown, D.C., country village into city neighborhood / Judith Beck Helm. Washington, D.C. : Tennally Press, 2000.
Hutchinson, Louise Daniel. The Anacostia story, 1608-1930 / Louise Daniel Hutchinson. Washington : Published for the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum of the Smithsonian Institution by the Smithsonian Institution Press : for sale by the Supt. of Docs., U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1977.
Jackson, Richard Plummer, 1816-1891. The chronicles of Georgetown, D.C., from 1751-1878. By Richard P. Jackson ... Washington, D.C., R. O. Polkinhorn, printer, 1878.
Jacob, Kathryn Allamong. Capital elites : high society in Washington, D.C., after the Civil War / Kathryn Allamong Jacob. Washington [D.C.] : Smithsonian Institution Press, c1995.
Jaffe, Harry. Dream city : race, power, and the decline of Washington, D.C. / Harry S. Jaffe and Tom Sherwood. New York : Simon & Schuster, c1994.
The City of Washington : an illustrated history / by the Junior League of Washington ; edited by Thomas Froncek. New York : Wings Books, 1992. Junior League of Washington (Washington, D.C.)
King, LeRoy O. 100 years of capital traction; the story of streetcars in the Nation’s Capital [by] LeRoy O. King, Jr. [College Park, Md.] Taylor Pub. Co. [c1972]
Leech, Margaret, 1893-1974. Reveille in Washington, 1860-1865 , by Margaret Leech. New York, London, Harper & brothers [c1941]
Black Georgetown remembered : a history of its black community from the founding of “The Town of George” in 1751 to the present day / Kathleen M. Lesko, general editor & contributing author ; Valerie Babb and Carroll R. Gibbs, contributing authors. Washington, D.C. : Georgetown University Press, c1991. Lesko, Kathleen M. Babb, Valerie Melissa. Gibbs, Carroll R.
Levey, Bob, 1945- Washington album : a pictorial history of the nation’s capital / Bob Levey and Jane Freundel Levey. 1st ed. Washington : Washington Post Books, c2000. Levey, Jane Freundel.
Images of Brookland : the history and architecture of a Washington suburb / edited by George W. McDaniel, John N. Pearce ; revised and enlarged by Martin Aurand. Washington, D.C. : Center for Washington Area Studies, George Washington University, c1982. McDaniel, George W. Pearce, John N. Aurand, Martin. George Washington University. Center for Washington Area Studies.
Mackall, Sally Somervell. Early days of Washington, Washington , The Neale company [c1899]
Maddex, Diane. Historic buildings of Washington, D.C. With a foreword by Arthur Cotton Moore. [1st ed.] Pittsburgh, Ober Park Associates  “A selection from the records of the Historic American Buildings Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.”
Melder, Keith E. City of magnificent intentions : a history of Washington, District of Columbia / by Keith Melder with Melinda Young Stuart. 2nd ed. Washington, D.C. : Intac, c1997.
Miller, Fredric. Washington seen : a photographic history, 1875-1965 / Fredric M. Miller and Howard Gillette, Jr. Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. Gillette, Howard.
Moore, Jacqueline M., 1965- Leading the race : the transformation of the Black elite in the nation’s capital, 1880-1920 / Jacqueline M. Moore. Charlottesville : University Press of Virginia, 1999.
Proctor, John Clagett, 1867-1956, ed. Washington, past and present; a history , New York, Lewis historical publishing company, inc., 1930. Williams, Edwin Melvin, 1880- [from old catalog] joint ed. Black, Frank P., 1864- [from old catalog] joint ed. 4 v. fronts., plates, ports., maps, plan, facsims. 28 cm.
Rusell, Hilary. Final research report: the operation of the underground railroad in Washington, D.C. 1800-1860. Historical Society of Washington DC and National Park Service, 2001
Scott, Pamela, 1944- Buildings of the District of Columbia / Pamela Scott, Antoinette J. Lee. New York : Oxford University Press, 1993. Lee, Antoinette J. (Antoinette Josephine) Society of Architectural Historians.
Smith, Kathryn Schneider. Port Town to urban neighborhood : the Georgetown waterfront of Washington, D.C., 1880-1920 / by Kathryn Schneider Smith. Dubuque, Iowa : Kendall/Hunt Pub. Co., c1989.
Washington at home : an illustrated history of neighborhoods in the Nation’s Capital / Kathryn Schneider Smith, editor. 1st ed. [Northridge, Calif.] : Windsor Publications, 1988. Smith, Kathryn Schneider. Columbia Historical Society (Washington, D.C.)
Smith, Sam, 1937- Captive Capital; colonial life in modern Washington. Photos. by Roland L. Freeman. Bloomington, Indiana University Press  xiii, 303 p. illus. 22 cm.
United States. Commission of Fine Arts. Georgetown architecture: the waterfront; northwest Washington, District of Columbia. Issued jointly by the Commission of Fine Arts and the Historic American Buildings Survey. Washington, 1968. Historic American Buildings Survey.
United States. Commission of Fine Arts. Georgetown commercial architecture: M Street, Northwest Washington, District of Columbia. Issued jointly by the Commission of Fine Arts and the Historic American Buildings Survey. Arlington, Va., Washington Planning and Service Center, National Park Service, 1967. Selections from the Historic American Buildings Survey ; no. 2.
United States. Commission of Fine Arts. Georgetown residential architecture, northeast: Northwest Washington, District of Columbia. Washington  Historic American Buildings Survey. Selections, no. 5
United States. Commission of Fine Arts. Georgetown architecture-Northwest; Northwest Washington, District of Columbia. Washington  Historic American Buildings Survey. Selections, no. 6
United States. Commission of Fine Arts. Georgetown architecture, Northwest Washington, District of Columbia. Issued jointly by the Commission of Fine Arts and the Historic American Buildings Survey. Washington, 1970. Historic American Buildings Survey. Selections, no. 10
Kohler, Sue A. Sixteenth Street architecture / prepared by Sue A. Kohler, Jeffrey R. Carson. Washington : Commission of Fine Arts : for sale by the Supt. of Docs., U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1978-1988. Carson, Jeffrey R., joint author. United States. Commission of Fine Arts. 2 v. : ill. ; 29 cm.