|Created by||Sharon Marcus and Caitlin Zaloom|
Founding editors Caitlin Zaloom and Sharon Marcus launched Public Books in mid-2012 to "give scholars a chance to weigh in on contemporary culture at a faster pace than scholarly publishing allows, but with more rigor and more time for reflection than journalism usually permits."  The site publishes essays and reviews in bi-monthly issues. The staff also maintains a blog with more frequent posts.
The first Public Books article was a review of Jeffrey Eugenides's novel The Marriage Plot by founding editor Sharon Marcus. This article and several others were published before the site's first official issue, which went live in June 2012.
Since its founding, Public Books has shown interest in American politics, art, finance, climate change and pop culture (especially television shows and comics). Contributors frequently review books critical of racism or capitalism. Bustle described Public Books as a place to find articles that blend "reading, writing, and art with activism—making space for the diverse voices we need to keep hearing more of." Public Books is one of several new online and print magazines—including Jacobin and n+1—that the Chronicle of Higher Education credits with catalyzing an "intellectual renaissance" in the United States.
Public Books is known for publishing scholarly responses to current events. In June 2016, historians N. D. B. Conolly and Keisha Blain published a syllabus at Public Books for a potential course on the political success of Donald Trump in the 2016 American presidential election. The syllabus was so popular in the days after the election that it briefly downed the Public Books website.
Well-known contributors to Public Books include:
- Carr, Jane. "Scholarly Value Added". Brooklyn Quarterly.
- Marcus, Sharon (11 November 2011). "The Euphoria of Influence". Public Books. Archived from the original on 13 January 2013.
- Miller, E. Ce (1 December 2016). "12 Book Sites Every Reader Needs to Bookmark". Bustle.
- Goldstein, Evan R. (13 November 2013). "The New Intellectuals". Chronicle of Higher Education.
- Conolly, N. B. D.; Blain, Keisha N. (June 28, 2016). "Trump Syllabus 2.0". Public Books.
- Baer, Drake (November 15, 2016). "This Viral Trump Syllabus Will Help You Understand How the Mess Was Made". New York Magazine.
- "BeastBest Awards". The Daily Beast.