The 1990s have not been kind to Los Angeles. As Mike Davis writes, "The destructive February 1992, January 1993, and January 1995 floods ($500 million in damage) were mere brackets around the April 1992 insurrection ($1 billion), the October-November 1993 firestorms ($1 billion) and the January 1994 earthquake ($42 billion)." But, he argues, the increasing fear about nature's reign of terror in Southern California reflected in Hollywood's preoccupation with apocalypse--L.A. has been destroyed on screen by everything from lava (Volcano) to nukes (Miracle Mile) to alien death rays (Independence Day)--is in reality a strong case of denial. Again, Davis himself says it best: "For generations, market-driven urbanization has transgressed environmental common sense. Historic wildfire corridors have been turned into view-lot suburbs, wetland liquefaction zones into marinas, and floodplains into industrial districts and housing tracts. Monolithic public works have been substituted for regional planning and a responsible land ethic. As a result, Southern California has reaped flood, fire, and earthquake tragedies that were as avoidable, as unnatural, as the beating of Rodney King and the ensuing explosion in the streets."
As in City of Quartz, his earlier book about Los Angeles, Davis reveals the deeper ideological narratives behind historical events. Whether he's explaining the motivations behind the persistent refusal of civic leaders to admit that a tornado alley runs down the middle of the region, from Long Beach to Pasadena, or discussing, as one chapter refers to it, "the case for letting Malibu burn," he outlines his arguments with a fascinating amount of detail and a subtle sense of irony. There are wonderful chapters here, such as "Maneaters of the Sierra Madre," a zoology of the wild beasts Angelenos fear, including mountain lions that descend from the hills to eat joggers and small children, swarms of Africanized killer bees making their way across the deserts, and El Chupacabra, the "goat-sucking vampire" that joined L.A.'s roster of faddish icons in 1996.
Although this book is specifically about Los Angeles, its lessons about the relationship between urban developments and natural ecosystems and about the dangerous influence of class politics on environmental safety policy are applicable to any city. Anyone with a serious interest in natural history or urban policy should make a point of reading this book. --Ron Hogan
From Publishers Weekly
"I'm not summoning Armageddon," affirms Davis, a social historian and urban theorist whose 1990 NBCC-nominated, dystopian history of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, City of Quartz, is now a cult classic. Maybe so, but the portrait of a city on the brink presented in this powerful, if sometimes scattershot, follow-up volume is sure to remind readers of the Book of Revelations. The book takes Davis in a new direction?away from the politics of L.A. urban planning, toward geophysical threats to the city, ranging from earthquakes to fires, floods and killer bees. Davis's polemic will raise as many hackles as concerns: while L.A. officials proclaim each earthquake, flood, mud slide and wildfire as an exceptional event, southern California has been actually enjoying a benign climatic and seismic period, and more serious disasters lie ahead, he argues. These natural catastrophes have been compounded by the fact that in building L.A., developers have largely disregarded the region's topography and environment and built in areas prone to such ravages as wildfires and floods. As the population continues to spread into new areas, there will be, predicts the author, an increase in confrontations between the region's wildlife and settlers, a situation rendered more explosive by the widespread poverty and racial problems endemic to the city, and the vast disparities of relief services. As tense as the situation has become, it will worsen as the gap between the have and have-nots widens, he says. The future Davis envisions is credible and alarming, and his argument is bolstered by prose that is machete sharp and accompanied by an archive of stunning photos. Satellite photographs of L.A. during the riots of 1993 resembled those of an erupting volcano, he shows. Which, in Davis's blistering critique, is precisely what it is. Editor, Sara Bershtel (Aug.) FYI: Davis is a 1998 recipient of a McArthur Fellowship grant.
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