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Cities in Civilization Hardcover – November 17, 1998


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Every golden age has been an urban age; throughout history, cities have provided a crucible for creativity. How do such belles époquescome about? Why should the creative flame burn so uniquely in cities and not in the countryside, and why does the creative and innovative spirit of one city inevitably yield to another? Cities in Civilization explores these issues and others related to the central role of cities, past and present, in the fostering of artistic, philosophical, scientific, and technological genius.

Peter Hall devoted 15 years of his life conceptualizing, researching, and writing Cities in Civilization. His extraordinary efforts are apparent in the analytical scope, historical depth, and sheer length of the book, which, including photographs and a bibliography, is well over 1,000 pages. Supporting his argument with ample reference to dates, historical figures, and citations of leading urban scholars, the book does not lend itself to casual, cover-to-cover reading. Despite the book's length, though, it remains easy to navigate through the case studies of individual cities. Hall systematically divides the text into five thematic chapters, further subdividing each chapter chronologically by city. The chapters explore themes of cultural creativity, technological and economic innovation, the urban fusion of art and technology, urban innovation, and the partnership of the private and public sector to promote urban development and regeneration.

Breaking from other leading scholars in the field, Hall does not consider the great city doomed. Instead, Cities in Civilization testifies to his confidence that cities of the 21st century, like the great cities of the past, will successfully work to solve their own problems and ameliorate their own ills. --Bertina Loeffler

From Publishers Weekly

What brings a city to its golden age? Hall (Cities of Tomorrow)?a distinguished professor of urban planning?applies this question to cities ranging from Rome and Athens to Glasgow, Memphis and Palo Alto in his new survey. His conclusions, like the book itself, are diffuse. Examining cultural belle epoques, Hall contends that it was, ironically, the restrictiveness of the official artistic culture in turn-of-the-century Paris and Vienna that fueled startling innovations, as new artists were forced outside the mainstream. Looking at technology, Hall argues that an unfettered market is a great stimulant to invention?as in the heydays of Glasgow's shipbuilding trade and Manchester's cotton textile manufacturing?but, as both cases show, it also leaves cities vulnerable to the losses that result from other cities improving on their initial innovations. Turning to the fusion of cultural and industrial innovation?using L.A.'s film industry and Memphis's pop music scene as examples?Hall asserts that the success of both rests on recognizing a "society in flux" and catering to "the deepest emotional needs" of an important, untapped market. Hall next examines the great successes?and boondoggles?of urban planning over the last two centuries (as well as in imperial Rome) before ending with a coda in which he applies his accumulated insights to the future cities. Hall's broadmindedness allows him to draw useful insights from thinkers as diverse as Joseph Schumpeter and Michel Foucault. While it may not come as a great surprise that neither entirely unregulated markets nor rigid central planning, but a little of each?with a pinch of kismet?will bring a metropolis to its peak, Hall must be commended for making this case with unusual thoroughness.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1184 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; F First Edition, 1st Printing edition (November 17, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394587324
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394587325
  • Product Dimensions: 2.2 x 7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #299,559 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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See all 13 customer reviews
This is a vast book, but it weaves so many threads together that it has to be.
Ben Strange
"The Renaissance" he says "was an urban phenomenon; so was every great burst of creativity in human history."
Amazon Customer
All of this comes together in a natural way to reveal the nature of creativity that has made cities special.
Dr. J. E. Richmond

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 31, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book reminds me very much of Jacques Barzun's FROM DAWN TO DECADENCE both in size and scope. Barzun looked at 500 years of Western cultural life and Sir Peter Hall has much the same interests, although he goes back some 2500 years and is more narrowly focused on urban culture. The title CITIES IN CIVILIZATION could be the other way around as Hall is interested in the Golden Ages that seem to have been a feature of all the great cities in history. "The Renaissance" he says "was an urban phenomenon; so was every great burst of creativity in human history." Hall then is seeking the civilization in cities.
Two other books that this one could be (should be, has been) compared with are THE CULTURE OF CITIES and THE CITY IN HISTORY, both by Lewis Mumford. Hall knows this and quickly dispatches the comparisons. "I do not at all share the Mumfordian view that the great city is doomed." Fair enough but his work remains valuable to urban historians and Hall's comment that "Mumford was fundamentally a brilliant polemical journalist, not a scholar" is uncalled for and irrelevant. I'm glad Hall got his academic tetchiness out of the way early and didn't bring it up again, because being subjected to such jibes and digs over the course of the 1000 pages of this book would have been unpleasant. And Hall doesn't need to resort to that anyway.
This book is a detailed, well researched exploration of the unique nature of the city as "a crucible of creativity". The first section of the book looks at artistic creativity - the most recognizable type of Golden Age and most closely associated with the foundation cities of Western civilization - Athens, Vienna, Florence, Paris, London and Berlin. Other themes are innovation and its technological and economic manifestation in urban settings.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Do not be put off by a conventional title. Under the appearance of academic urban history this is an account of the urban sources of cultural creativity and technological innovation throughout history, from Athens to Florence, to London, to New York, to Paris, to Los Angeles, to Silicon Valley, and beyond. It deals with art, culture, music, technology, business, power, dreams and nightmares. Wonderfully written by one of the most distinguished urbanists in the world, this book delights, informs, and explains why certain people in certain places create, prosper and enjoy life, and others don't. The best book on cities in many years. Manuel Castells, Berkeley, California
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Peter Hall's book "Cities in Civilization" is a masterful work with majestic sweep. Although not meant for everyone, this book provides insights into history and culture like no other. Hall looks at the golden ages of cities to illuminate their influence on great cultural achievements as well as economic and technological development, and then draws comparisons to discern what it was about these places that enabled them, of all cities, to become what they became at a particular time in history. The creative bursts of classical Athens, Renaissance Florence, and Shakespearean London are thoroughly discussed and utterly fascinating. The music of Vienna and the artistic creativity of late 19th and early 20th century Paris are literal courses on Western culture. The decadence and creative explosion of Weimar Germany is thoroughly explored before Hall turns his attention to industrialization and technology.
Hall is especially good, in the midst of his analysis, at discussing various theories of social change from Marx to Schumpeter, and Weber to Harold Innis. He details the reasons for industrial and technological growth and invention in 18th century Manchester, 19th century Glasgow, and 19th and 20th century Berlin. His discussion of Detroit and Henry Ford is particularly interesting. Silicon Valley and Tokyo are also discussed, and never does Hall loses sight of how their creativity permanently affected human civilization.
His section on "The Marriage of Art and Technology" is fundamental to an understanding of mass culture in the 20th and 21st centuries. Hollywood and "The Delta" region around Memphis are discussed for their impact on movies and popular music. These two sections are utterly fascinating.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Peter Hall's magnum opus is essential for any armchair urban historian... His writing flows with an almost breezy style, making the book compusively readable. The scope is impressive, and Hall delivers in his monumental task, the wide breadth of knowledge being nothing short of remarkable. Even after reading it, I use the book often for reference in my studies; it was well worth adding to my collection.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on May 19, 2001
Format: Paperback
This new paperback edition of a classic presents 2,500 years of urban history with a focus on city planning and urban design changes over the centuries. From the rise of the great cities of Europe to America, Cities In Civilization uses the urban focus to reveal the growth and force of cities in civilization's expansion.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dr. J. E. Richmond on March 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
I concur with the observations of Manuel Castells above. I'd add that this book is extraordinary for its pure breadth of intellect coupled with a writing style that draws the reader in to make the hundreds of pages pass by like mileposts on an uncongested freeway.
As the trend to narrow, boring, specialization turns academia into a wasteland, Sir Peter has no qualms about weaving together his extraodinary knowledge of history, social science, literature, performing arts, technology -- you name it, he is able to show insight about it. All of this comes together in a natural way to reveal the nature of creativity that has made cities special.
The author is a keen observer, and there's is something new, unexpected, and intriguing at every turn. Indeed, I have to blame the author for far too many sleepless nights as I lay in bed helpless to put down this magnetic book, which shows and imparts that very pleasure in learning that accompanied periods which have made cities great.
This is a book of a century, and should be read by everyone, but no student of cities, urban studies, geography, history, or social sciences should be without it.
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