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City Life Paperback – October 10, 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (October 10, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684825295
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684825298
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #429,280 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Rybczynski presents a historical survey of the development of American cities.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Architectural and urban historian Rybczynski (The Most Beautiful House in the World, LJ 4/1/89) has something to say about the shape of American cities, how they got that way, and how they inevitably contrast with their counterparts in Europe given the development of this country and our distincitve set of values. In succinct, accessible style, he moves from the flourishing of towns and cities in Europe to Tocqueville's assessment of the New World's urban efforts, to a sharp condemnation of urban planning in the last decades as a violation of America's values of spaciousness, choice, and self-sufficiency. At times the book seems a bit breezy, but Rybczynski can toss of terrific insights, e.g., conditions in the New World "gave American towns an independence of spirit, but also reinforced the general assumption that urban self-sufficiency was was the normal state of affairs"?which was certainly not true in the rest of the world and, he points out, has created some of the problems we have today. A fine book; recommended for most collections.?Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Witold Rybczynski has written about architecture and urbanism for The New York Times, Time, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker. He is the author of the critically-acclaimed book Home and the award-winning A Clearing in the Distance. His latest book is The Biography of a Building. The recipient of the National Building Museum's 2007 Vincent Scully Prize, he lives with his wife in Philadelphia, where he is emeritus professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.
Read his blog at http://www.witoldrybczynski.com.

Customer Reviews

Outlandish theories need not be the goal.
Ben Bradley
Like Alice, I couldn't understand why someone would write a book such as this without including pictures.
Andrew McCaffrey
I hardily recommend it for anyone interested in the history, state and future of our cities.
Kelly E. Templin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Andrew McCaffrey VINE VOICE on October 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
The back cover contains a quote from Wall Street Journal reviewer Roger Starr, stating that CITY LIFE by Witold Rybczynski is a "fascinating investigation of what cities - especially modern cities - should be like." This isn't strictly true. It's an investigation all right, but one more focused on what modern cities actually are and how they came to be that way, than a manifesto about the way things ought to be. A lot of history is covered, from brief mentions of the earlier dwellings of the Native Americans to the complexities inherent in our modern metropolises.
The book focuses mostly upon the development of cities in the United States and Canada. European cities are occasionally mentioned and discussed, but only in how they compare to their North American cousins. It's a history of cities, which combines modern-day thoughts on their development as well as some historical comments from what the people of the time thought of how their cities were emerging. Rybczynski also manages to touch on the roles of commercialism, art, and the unique qualities of North America that have helped to define our cities. Cities did not spring fully-formed, nor were they all laid out at the same time, and the author takes time to explore how different approaches to city planning created vastly differing results. He compares the many different approaches, from the organized and structured to the evolving and improvised.
The absolute biggest flaw with this text is that it is indeed just a text. Outside of the cover (featuring a sketching of a 19th Century street-scene and a poignant pre-9/11 photograph of the New York City skyline), there are no illustrations. No pictures, no diagrams, no maps, no charts, no blueprints, no photos -- nothing.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jodi Matthes on March 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
While driving up the Ohio River valley to Cincinatti, my husband and I read this book aloud to each other. City Life provides a framework for thinking about city development and the history of American expansion. It confirmed our intuitions plus provided new food for thought. If you're the type who enjoys meandering through a city wondering about the hows and whys of the city's rhythm, layout and buildings, this book is for you.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Ben Bradley on April 13, 2005
Format: Paperback
I picked this book up out in Portland, Oregon. Out there for a conference, this was my first time in Portland. The city sat like a gem in my mind for years, a northwest Mecca of pleasant living and educated population. When my boss told me we needed to attend a conference there, for once I didn't gripe. But somehow, the city disappointed me, in much the same way this book did. Both held out an intriguing promise and both fell short, not from lack of expertise, but from good intentions.

I've read two other books by Mr. Rybczyncki, "Looking Around" and "The Look of Architecture". Both were fine reads, written and littered with pleasant insight. The same can be said of "City Life".

Rybczyncki obviously knows what he's talking about. And I think that's ultimately his problem. He sticks to what he knows. The book is clean, scrubbed of the messiness that makes cities so interesting. There aren't even any diagrams or illustrations. Instead he briskly walks you through the history of the American city in 200 pages. One of the reviewers here said he read this book for a high school history class. That seems about right. Facts and trends are revealed, but only one idea surfaces. In some ways this primacy of focus must be commended. The information is conveyed clearly and concisely. Rybczynski runs no risk of being called out on a theory that might prove wrong. The closet he treads to controversy is admitting a fondness for the mall.

Outlandish theories need not be the goal. But there the book offer so little to disagree with you almost feel like you didn't learn anything. It seems Rybczyncki with his gentile sensibility, has no wish to offend.

Portland's all clean lines, small blocks and mixed usage. The perfect city. Walkable and drivable.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By M. Willett on April 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book attempts to answer the question-an important one to my thinking-"Why don't our cities look like the great ones: Paris, Rome?" Rybczynski, a student of architecture and city planning discusses the history of American blunders from the highway to the skyscraper, from the "City Beautiful" movement, to the negro rush toward city centers in the late 60's. It seems that everything that could've gone wrong, essentially has. Still, the author sees hope in the forms of a few master-planned towns (east coast), and of the modern suburban mall, which he sees as a place for people to gather and do commerce, while feeling safer than they would in urban areas due to the malls' governing rules and aesthetic uniformities which have been abolished in the name of individual freedoms elsewhere, to our peril.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ginny Holbert on July 28, 2008
Format: Paperback
Rybczenski is a scholar with the fluid, conversational style of a magazine feature writer. In this thoughtful, accessible book he explains why American cities, even the most beautiful and vital, never seem to achieve the grandeur or civic grace of European capitals.

In just over 200 pages Rybczynski glides through the history of North American urbanization, from Anasazi cliff towns to suburban Levittown. In the process, he examines the failures of urban renewal, the surprising virtues of shopping malls and the enduring livability of "garden suburbs" such as Lake Forest, Illinois and Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania. Throughout, he is insightful and refreshingly open-minded, never resorting to the simple-minded cities good/suburbs bad dichotomy that characterizes much writing about urbanism today. While conscientious readers may go away with plenty of ideas on how to improve their own streets, towns and cities, Rybczynski's task is to describe, rather than proscribe.
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