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Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster Paperback – September 7, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

"Graced with a bold political and environmental vision, much splendid phrasemaking and a multitude of facts. . . . A truly eccentric contribution."--The New York Times Book Review  

Earthquakes. Wildfires. Floods. Drought. Tornadoes. Snakes in the sea, mountain lions, and a plague of bees. In this controversial tour de force of scholarship, unsparing vision, and inspired writing, Mike Davis, the author of City of Quartz, revisits Los Angeles as a Book of the Apocalypse theme park. By brilliantly juxtaposing L.A.'s fragile natural ecology with its disastrous environmental and social history, he compellingly shows a city deliberately put in harm's way by land developers, builders, and politicians, even as the incalculable toll of inevitable future catas-trophe continues to accumulate.

Counterpointing L.A.'s central role in America's fantasy life--the city has been destroyed no less than 138 times in novels and films since 1909--with its wanton denial of its own real history, Davis creates a revelatory kaleidoscope of American fact, imagery, and sensibility.  Drawing upon a vast array of sources, Ecology of Fear meticulously captures the nation's violent malaise and desperate social unease at the millennial end of "the American century."  With savagely entertaining wit and compassionate rage, this book conducts a devastating reconnaissance of our all-too-likely urban future.

"Dizzying. . . . In Mr. Davis's account, the world ends in fire, and the next time is now."--The New York Times

About the Author

A former meatcutter and long-distance truck driver, Mike Davis has taught urban theory at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, was a fellow at the Getty Institute, and was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.  He is the author of Prisoners of the American Dream and City of Quartz.  He was born in Fontana, a suburb of Los Angeles, and now lives in Pasadena.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Books ed edition (September 7, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375706070
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375706073
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #653,451 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 4, 1999
Format: Paperback
Point One - if Davis did indeed fudge his research, invent stories or fabricate evidence, then he's broken the ethical and intellectual standards by which historians are constrained. If such accusations are true, then let him drain the poisoned cup he mixed for himself.
To be fair to the author, I spent a few hours in the library checking his footnotes. No, I didn't have time to review the whole book, since I do aspire to something of a life beyond the stacks; however, I didn't find anything unsupported by the sources cited. If anyone is inclined to respond to this post, could you please point out just where he lied? I'd appreciate your insights, since I didn't unearth falsification myself.
Point Two - the moral of the story is simple, and one that no ad hominem attack (Communist! Socialist! Liberal! Leftist! Phony!), however venomous, can weaken. The moral has nothing to do, in fact, with Davis' obvious leftist leanings. Los Angeles today, more than any other single location in the developed world, represents a nearly total disconnection between what people imagine their lives to be and what physical reality is.
If you wracked your brain for weeks, you couldn't come up with a worse place for millions to live. A semi-desert to begin with, the city depends on the vagaries of the Sierra snowpack and the flow of the notoriously capricious Colorado, among other rivers. LA sits in the middle of one of the most seismically active regions on the planet. Toss in a continual, interlocking cycle of horrendous wildfires, torrential rains, flash floods and mudslides for good measure. The result is a violently dynamic land, subject to sudden change.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
I read Ecology of Fear and City of Quartz in a college seminar on the American West, and was blown away by Davis' work. I gave it to my Dad, who tends to be right of center, and even he was enthused. I'm always interested by the people who discredit scholarship by claiming that the author is simply a "liar." Certainly Mike Davis has a distinct political, leftist view point, which he never tries to hide. But just as certainly, the authors of articles "discrediting" Davis also have poltical viewpoints. I believe one of the articles trashing Davis appeared in, ahem, The National Review, hardly a bastion of unbiased reporting. A reader should always go into a book with a certain level of skepticism, certainly. Just because you don't agree with someone, however, is no reason to claim that they're "lying." That said! Davis pulls no punches. You want to see someone kicking a** for the working class, read it. Basically Davis looks at how nature-made and man-made enviroments of southern california inluence race and class relations there. As an earlier reviewer pointed out, "The Case for Letting Malibu Burn" is a particularly good piece. As the media and authorities madly scramble to save the playgrounds of the rich and famous, houses that should never have been built in the first place, tennements burn and children die in South Central and no one blinks an eye. Even if you don't agree with Davis (and I'm hardly asking people to join the revolution, particularly the person who pulled "pinko" out of the mothballs in his review) read him. Maybe he'll open your eyes, and maybe he won't, but man, he'll take you on one wild ride.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Joshua D. Hamilton on April 8, 2003
Format: Paperback
It's too bad Mike Davis settled for this book. After reading his first book, City of Quartz, I expected more. Ecology of Fears lacks the energy of City of Quartz, the writing style becomes more erratic, and the subject matter is nowhere near as compelling.
The events that took place in Southern California in the 1990's would have fit perfectly in Davis's world view that Los Angeles is a city fated by the gods to die an early and tragic death. Anyone who lived in Los Angeles through the 1990's knows that this was a dynamic period of big events and major changes - for good and bad. This decade deserves a good book worthy of its tumult and transformation. Ecology of Fear is not that book.
Unfortunately, what he produced ventured frequently into the bizarre and byzantine, and if the Los Angeles Times is to be believed, downright falsehoods. The book's basic premise was that Los Angeles is a land fraught with Mother Nature's castatrophies that has been misrepresented to the masses as an earthly paradise. To support his point, we get a chapter on Southland tornadoes, a chapter on man eating mountain lions living in the hills, and then a chapter on apartment fires of the 20th Century. Don't forget the chapter on L.A.'s propensity to flood where he repeats all the cliches about the Los Angeles River. Honestly, as an Angeleno, these are the last things I'm going to worry about (earthquakes, to which he also devotes a chapter, are another matter). It was as if Davis was trying to will his fantasies about the destruction of L.A. into existence through this book.
Now for the positive things about this book. The chapter on the destruction of the environment and the neglect of building an adequate park system is very good. This is surely one of the tragedies of Los Angeles.
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