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From Warfare to Welfare: Defense Intellectuals and Urban Problems in Cold War America Paperback – August 15, 2005

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (August 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801882737
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801882739
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,482,252 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


An exceptionally useful contribution to the history of American cities, a book that takes seriously and does much to document the historical relationship between militarism and urban geography.

(Matthew Farish Professional Geographer)

As historians of American cities stumble across missile experts straying far from their silos, they will find guidance in this careful account of a peculiar moment in urban policy.

(Zachary M. Schrag Technology and Culture)

A very interesting book about the way in which American institutions get bamboozled into adopting popular fads and trends that ought to be scrutinized more carefully.

(Roger W. Lotchin Journal of Military History)

Light stands some of the conventional Cold War wisdom on its head... This study not only closes the loop between business management and the military back to the civilian sector, but also reminds readers of the continuing nature of unintended consequences that flow from expert technological obsessions when allied to policy making.


If the volume tells us something new and important about the history of planning, it is at the same time a cautionary tale, one that might well offer lessons to those today who are proposing many related technologies—geographic information systems, remote surveillance systems and the like—as a means for solving urban and military problems.

(Michael R. Curry New Media and Society)

A compelling historical narrative that exposes a little-known linkage between defense and civilian affairs: the urban-planning applications of technologies and management styles that were developed originally for national defense.

(Journal of Planning Education and Research)

In this superbly written intellectual history, Jennifer Light describes the impact on urban planning of the cybernetic revolution, which advanced a general theory of biological and machine communications after World War II.

(Peace and Change)

Light demonstrates how careful attention to the connection between cold war planning and urban planning forces us to rethink the recent history of the American city. This is really a study of how defense intellectuals managed to convince a couple generations of planners and politicians that they had something valuable to learn from RAND, JPL, and NASA.

(Stuart W. Leslie, The Johns Hopkins University)

This is an outstanding presentation and analysis that should attract significant attention especially recognizing current issues in this area. Jennifer Light has produced an outstanding discussion and evaluation of the capabilities, efforts, tools, and contributions of technologists, scientists, managers, planners, analysts from the military, aerospace, and other federal government agencies.

(Harold Finger, former NASA Associate Administrator for Organization and Management and former HUD Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology)

Light has made an important contribution by showing how defense intellectuals contributed to the creation and promotion of cybercities.

(Nils Gilman Journal of Cold War Studies)

This well-written study introduces a new and important cast of urban decision-makers to the story of post-war urban America.

(Margaret Pugh O'Mara Urban History)

A strong and useful contribution to American Cold War history, and perhaps even more to an understanding of the nature of American power after the Cold War.

(Campbell Craig American Historical Review)

About the Author

Jennifer S. Light is an associate professor of communication studies, history, and sociology at Northwestern University.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Hart on September 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Jennifer Light has written a fine book on the influence of defense intellectuals on urban planning after World War II. The historical narrative is interesting and the scholarship is sound. However, a number of arguments in the book are not persuasive. Most importantly, a number of the alleged legacies of the ideas of defense intellectuals may have been the legacies of something else.

Light states the main thesis of the book in the introduction: "...during the cold war, strategies for urban problem solving were heavily influenced by, and in some cases directly derived from, military techniques and technologies originally used against America's foreign enemies." (p. 7) She argues further that "the application of military innovations and expertise to urban problems rarely served as sources of solutions." (p. 8) She then goes on to demonstrate how specific innovations, particularly ideas about population dispersion, computer simulations of urban dynamics, programmed planning and budgeting systems (PPBS), remote sensing of geographic information by aircraft and satellites, geographic information systems (GIS), and cable television, came out of the cold war defense effort and were applied (or misapplied) to the solution of urban problems. Light correctly identifies the late 1960s and early 1970s as a period of intensification of efforts to do this because of a heightened concern about eradicating "urban blight" in the wake of the riots and increased crime levels of that period. She concludes by noting that defense intellectuals "have left indelible marks, for better or worse, on the nation's urban past." (p. 237)

The main thesis is somewhat surprising since one would not expect defense intellectuals to have much to say about urban planning.
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From Warfare to Welfare: Defense Intellectuals and Urban Problems in Cold War America
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