From Publishers Weekly
Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American Cities
forever transformed the discipline of urban planning by concentrating on what actually helped cities work. Unencumbered by generations of fatuous theorizing, Jacobs proposed a model of action that has left a positive mark in neighborhoods all over the world. Her latest salvo, Dark Age Ahead
, is, despite the pessimism of many of its conclusions, also positive, less a jeremiad than a firm but helpful reminder of just how much is at stake. Jacobs sees "ominous signs of decay" in five "pillars" of our culture: family, community, higher education, science and "self policing by the learned professions." Each is given a detailed treatment, with sympathetic but hard-headed real-world assessments that are often surprising and always provocative and well-expressed. Her chapter on the decline of the nuclear family completely avoids the moral hand-wringing of the kindergarten Cassandras to place the blame on an economy that has made the affordable home either an unattainable dream or a crippling debt. Her discussion of the havoc wrought by the lack of accountability seems ripped from any number of headlines, but her analysis of the larger effects sets it apart. A lifetime of unwasted experience in a number of fields has gone into this short but pungent book, and to ignore its sober warnings would be foolish indeed.
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The end of the world as we know it has inspired a lot of writing lately. With this selection, eminent architectural and city-planning scholar Jacobs (The Death and Life of Great American Cities
) argues that Western civilization in general and North American society in particular are headed for a period of reconfiguration, chaos, and--perhaps most frightening--lost cultural memory: a Dark Ages for the new millennium. Jacobs examines five key load-bearing pillars of Western civilization (community and family, higher education, scientific advancement, taxation, and self-policing by learned professions) and compares their dry rot to the crumbling of earlier cultures. Getting beyond well-worn parallels between America and Rome, she also considers the respective Dark Ages of Native America and, with the help of Karen Armstrong's work on post-agrarian cultures, the Middle East. Changes in agriculture and transportation, as it turns out, are particularly important to her argument and reveal Jacobs' sound urban-studies foundation, a solid analysis of demographics that keeps this book's alarming thesis from being simply alarmist. Brendan DriscollCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved