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City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles Paperback – March 10, 1992


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 462 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 10, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679738061
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679738060
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #205,763 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Mike Davis peers into a looking glass to divine the future of Los Angeles, and what he sees is not encouraging: a city--or better, a concatenation of competing city states--torn by racial enmity, economic disparity, and social anomie. Looking backward, Davis suggests that Los Angeles has always been contested ground. In the 1840s, he writes, a combination of drought and industrial stock raising led to the destruction of small-scale Spanish farming in the region. In the 1910s, Los Angeles was the scene of a bitter conflict between management and industrial workers, so bitter that the publisher of the Los Angeles Times retreated to a heavily fortified home he called "The Bivouac." And in 1992, much of the city fell before flames and riot in a scenario Davis describes as thus: "Gangs are multiplying at a terrifying rate, cops are becoming more arrogant and trigger-happy, and a whole generation is being shunted toward some impossible Armageddon." Davis's voice-in-a-whirlwind approach to the past, present, and future of Los Angeles is alarming and arresting, and his book is essential reading for anyone interested in contemporary affairs. --Gregory MacNamee

From Library Journal

Eschewing the character study that comprises most Los Angeles history, Davis concentrates on the ongoing and ignored ethnic and class struggles, formerly manifested by booster (pro-growth) exploitation, now replaced by exclusionary (no-growth) neighborhood incorporation, and by police control of Afro-American and Latino neighborhoods. His analysis of recent Los Angeles history is often chilling and--sad to say--more true than false. Small inaccuracies sometimes afflict the narrative, and the breathlessness of Davis's writing will probably confuse readers who are unfamilar with the region. But these criticisms quibble with an otherwise important and necessary work. Recommended.
- Tim Zindel, Hastings Coll . of the Law, San Francisco
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Mike Davis is the author of several books including City of Quartz, Ecology of Fear, Late Victorian Holocausts, Planet of Slums, and Magical Urbanism. He was recently awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. He lives in Papa'aloa, Hawaii.

Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 4, 1999
Format: Paperback
This may be a book only LA natives can really "get". Judging by some of the other reviews, not getting it seems pretty common. For me, it was a hilarious/horrific view of the city in which I grew up. The message is - LA is the city of the future and this is why that's bad. Don't get me wrong. I don't agree with everything he says, but everything he says provokes thought.
As to the inaccuracy of his facts - I'd love to hear what he's wrong about. The picture he paints certainly reflects the LA I grew up in - the ponzi-like real estate development industry, the general disregard for the region's history, including the marginalization of the region's native "resident aliens", the monumental mismanagement of the city's downtown. You can call it all Marxist crap, but it you grew up in the unpleasant, incongruous, LaLaLand that sprouted as a result of the non-Marxist crap, this book might strike a chord with you.
It is a bit preachy, and the writing is not universally exceptional, but when it hits the mark, it hits the mark.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By saliero on November 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
A celebrated work, one of the essential readings for anyone interested in the social and political fabric of this most intriguing, beguiling monstrous of urban spaces. The book is certainly scholarly (the footnotes themselves make great reading), and it takes some effort to read. This is no booster-like `fable' about LA.
Interestingly, Davis is a Marxist, and I have not often come across mainstream works by Americans in that political tradition, and that in itself would, for some, make it worth reading. However, ultimately I was a little disappointed in the book in light of first having read Norman Klein's `The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory' (see review under that title).
In the end I find Davis's view unrelentingly bleak. He has no time for urban renewal projects, dismissing them as furthering the interests merely of the middle class and the powerful. Klein by contrast lives in a mixed suburb close to downtown (Angelino Heights) and is enthusiastic about the possibilities thrown up by his experiences there. Davis, I have read, lives in the uppermiddle class enclave of Pasadena.
I agree with Davis's thesis that empowerment and placing decision-making directly in the hands of the dispossessed will ultimately provide the way out, but I felt he was just a bit too dismissive (sneering? Perhaps too strong a word...) of the emergent black middle class, and the desire to escape the `flatlands' - the neighbourhoods in southern LA created through blatant racism and apartheid-like policies.
As for the new barrios of the San Fernando Valley, surely the whole community is ultimately going to have to be involved in finding solutions if the apocolypse is to be avoided. Occasionally I get the feeling Davis would prefer the `scorched earth' solution.
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38 of 47 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 2, 1999
Format: Paperback
I noticed a phrase used by one of the reviewers above, which prompts me to write. That phrase concerned Davis' alleged ignorance of Orwell's rule concerning the writing of clear prose. In reality, Davis' writing is remarkably clear, and as a matter of fact for some people that counts as a point against Davis. That is, the major debate among university leftists today, especially in disciplines like literature where, oddly enough, Orwell is thought of as a kind of reactionary, following Adorno and Horkheimer's denunciation of clear writing as a tool of the "culture industry" and a tyrannization of thought. The problem is however that by increasingly spending their time on problems like this, intellectual leftists have very little time left over for books like Davis', which is maybe why the right-wing has such power in setting the terms of the debate today. On the other hand, of course, it is hard to know how we are going to get beyond the terms of our present debate without the work being done in our universities. Still, I think that Davis' book is a good one, and as for these alleged mistakes of fact, well, that is what everyone always says about leftist books-even though after a while they usually check out. Davis in short is in a tough position: to the academics he doesn't look radical enough, while to everyone else he looks plenty radical. I would say that I would like to see more books like Davis'; I think there needs to be more popularization of the sorts of ideas being kicked around in the hallways of our universities. To academics, that risks the purity of their thought, but that sort of thinking seems to me to put the cart before the horse. Keep it up, Mr. Davis, and let there be more like you.
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53 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Douglas A. Greenberg VINE VOICE on January 24, 1999
Format: Paperback
Mike Davis writes a well-researched, fascinating, insightful account of the evolution and culture of "post-modern" Los Angeles from the perspective of the political/cultural left. His book is filled with gold nuggets of information and interpretation regarding the inner workings of one of the world's most fascinating metropolitan areas. However, what bothered me about the book was the haughty, sanctimonious tone of much of Davis' prose. Apparently, Davis believes that only people from the neo-Marxist left are motivated by a genuine desire for social justice or environmental quality. Everyone else is portrayed as having a hidden agenda of self-interest, one way or another. The wealthier classes are presented in reductionist fashion as selfish persecutors of the less fortunate, and the underprivileged themselves are one-dimensionally victims of this persecution. This myopic aspect of leftist interpretation is insulting to the actual people of greater Los Angeles, who in reality are motivated by a complex mixture of individual ambition, fear, idealism, and "class interest," and are hardly the shallow stereotypes that Davis portrays them to be. The holier-than-thou tone of Davis' narrative becomes tiresome after a time, and reflects one major reason for the continued unpopularity of leftist thinking in this country.
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