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Los Angeles Hardcover – September 15, 1991

2 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Pandemic by Sonia Shah
"Pandemic" by Sonia Shah
By delving into the convoluted science, strange politics, and checkered history of one of the world's deadliest diseases, Pandemic reveals what the next epidemic might look like--and what we can do to prevent it. Learn more

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Angelenos speak in catchphrases and take pride in the length of their commute. Los Angeles is a city where "people and their things are hard to tell apart," where mobile pleasure-seekers find the prospect of raising kids "just a little bit of a drag." While its middle class gets "sucked into . . . upscale consumption," its masses of largely poor Asian and Hispanic immigrants, many of them illegal, are not being assimilated, according to Rieff ( Going to Miami ). Drive-by shootings are nightly occurrences in black slums, and thousands of homeless ply the beaches of Venice and Santa Monica. A devastating, wonderful, witty send-up of L.A.--and CA--as crucibles of the 21st century, this disquieting report delineates a city with an ethos of unchecked growth, sprawl and possibility that "decontextualizes" its residents from reality. First serial to Los Angeles Times; author tour.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

Ambitious in both style and substance, Rieff's second major book on a US metropolis (Going to Miami, 1987) attempts to resolve the contradictions of L.A. by proclaiming it the Third World's capital. It's a hard sell, but Rieff does create a memorable sermon on the myopia afflicting the middle and upper classes in southern California, who seem desperately unaware of their city's decline. This is a book about gardeners, real estate, and cars: in other words, about immigration, diminishing expectations, and social and cultural gridlock. The author, a full-blown intellectual of the New York-Paris axis, has his cosmopolitan way with that most rigorous and decadent of places. He seems to mean his book to be both serious and droll, as well as a stylistic tour de force, and he comes close on all three aims. But this is also an exercise in aggravation. There's Rieff's overdependence on his ``good friend Allegra,'' a BMW-driving Everywoman, plus his unfortunate penchant of condescending to the Third World help (``...when the conversation turned, as it did so often in bourgeois America in 1989 and 1990, to the collapse of the Soviet empire, I would slip into the kitchen and talk to the maid...[where] the Rosa or Maria...in question would tell me stories about home''). Lapsing into a faux-L.A. tone, at times the author achieves the very banality he seeks to parody. Another flaw is an indistinct focus-- he makes sweeping statements about the City of Los Angeles (where ``most whites had long ago abandoned the public schools'') that simply aren't true of the much larger Los Angeles County. Yet there's much to be grateful for as well: an ambitious prose style, a thorough historical buildup that does justice to L.A.'s elusive yet crucial spirit, and a knack for the telling statistic or detail. A big book that justifies the attention Rieff has drawn, without quite earning the laurels predicted of him. -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (September 15, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671671707
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671671709
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,734,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
If you are looking a work on the rich diversity of Los Angeles, "Los Angeles: Capital of the Third World" is not it. If you are looking a thoughtful discussion of the challenges facing Southern California, "Capital" is again lacking.

David Rieff spent several months in Southern California in the early 1990s, and the only thing he learned was that there was a higher percentage of Hispanics and Asians than in other parts of the country. Not a particularly deep insight. One hour spent driving along Wilshire Blvd. from downtown LA to the Pacific Ocean would have told him as much.

Rieff's conclusion -- "We must love one another or die" -- is extremely weak. Perhaps Los Angeles simply defeated him. He was intellectually and emotionally ill-equiped the diversity he experienced. It is a little surprising how much recent immigration shocked Rieff in the early 1990s. While changing demographics may have been more apparent in LA than elsewhere, one has to wonder to what extent Rieff, a New York intellectual, knew his own backyard. Did he ever venture to the outer boroughs of New York City? If he did, he would have learned that new immigrants were transforming more than just Los Angeles. For example, while Rieff was writing "Capital", Main Street, Queens (little more than a long fly ball from Shea Stadium) was almost exclusively Indian and Chinese.

I also got the feeling that Rieff's exposure to Los Angeles was limited to the living rooms of affluent Westside whites and the barrio of East Los Angeles. I doubt he visited any predominantly black or Asian-areas, much less most of the heavily white areas. If he did, he failed to share it with his readers.

Finally, not only is Rieff lacking in substance but also in style. Much of his prose is turgid and convoluted. His overly dense style and constant repetition turn reading "Capital" into a chore after about 150 pages.
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Format: Paperback
As a native Southern Californian, I started this book with a good degree of scepticism; I finished it thinking it was one of the most engaging, clearly written books on SoCal I had read in years. If you want to understand LA, and its place in the state, and the world, this is an accessible and enjoyable introduction. LA came alive for Rieff in ways that he didn't always immediately understand or anticipate; he translates his own discovery by weaving LA history, anecdotes, and beautiful word pictures together in a clear, engaging style. You may want to read other books on LA after this - and that can only be a good thing. Rieff will encourage you to ask more questions about LA, and what its development means for the future of urban development in America.
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By OGauge on January 25, 2008
Format: Paperback
Major disappointment. Incomprehensible and out of date.

PLEASE. No more editions.
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