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Planet of Slums Hardcover – March 17, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Urban theorist Davis takes a global approach to documenting the astonishing depth of squalid poverty that dominates the lives of the planet's increasingly urban population, detailing poor urban communities from Cape Town and Caracas to Casablanca and Khartoum. Davis argues health, justice and social issues associated with gargantuan slums (the largest, in Mexico City, has an estimated population of 4 million) get overlooked in world politics: "The demonizing rhetorics of the various international 'wars' on terrorism, drugs, and crime are so much semantic apartheid: they construct epistemological walls around gecekondus, favelas, and chawls that disable any honest debate about the daily violence of economic exclusion." Though Davis focuses on individual communities, he presents statistics showing the skyrocketing population and number of "megaslums" (informally, "stinking mountains of shit" or, formally, "when shanty-towns and squatter communities merge in continuous belts of informal housing and poverty, usually on the urban periphery") since the 1960s. Layered over the hard numbers are a fascinating grid of specific area studies and sub-topics ranging from how the Olympics has spurred the forceful relocation of thousands (and, sometimes, hundreds of thousands) of the urban poor, to the conversion of formerly second world countries to third world status. Davis paints a bleak picture of the upward trend in urbanization and maintains a stark outlook for slum-dwellers' futures.
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“In this trenchantly argued book, Mike Davis quantifies the nightmarish mass production of slums that marks the contemporary city. With cool indignation, Davis argues that the exponential growth of slums is no accident but the result of a perfect storm of corrupt leadership, institutional failure, and IMF-imposed Structural Adjustment Programs leading to a massive transfer of wealth from poor to rich. Scourge of neo-liberal nostrums, Davis debunks the irresponsible myth of self-help salvation, showing exactly who gets the boot from ‘bootstrap capitalism.’ Like the work of Jacob Riis, Ida Tarbell, and Lincoln Steffans over a century ago, this searing indictment makes the shame of our cities urgently clear.”—Michael Sorkin

“A profound enquiry into an urgent subject ... a brilliant book.”—Arundhati Roy

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 228 pages
  • Publisher: Verso (March 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844670228
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844670222
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,798 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

68 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Bruce W. Ferguson on April 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Planet of Slums is flambouyant, novel, and tremendously irritating. Mike Davis does a brilliant job of dramatizing conditions in the urban slums of "Third-World" cities, and makes an outstanding contribution in this respect. Predictably, he skewers the usual suspects - the IMF and the World Bank - like clockwork every 10 pages or so.

I looked in vain, however, for heroes or heroines, and for some sense of a way forward. There simply are none in this book. In the neo-Blade Runner urban universe of Planet of Slums, NGOs are agents of donor economic imperialism, the middle classes of countries enslave the poor, the poor exploit each other or are just victims, and the staff of the World Bank and IMF act like colonial bureaucrats overseeing the plantations down South. The author seems to purposely ignore the solutions and great effort of local people and their organizations, country governments, NGOs, private-sector companies, and others. As to the multi-laterals, Davis apparently does not know that many governments are repaying their loans much faster than new borrowing, and that these international organizations have largely become service providers with their clients increasingly in the driver's seat.

This extreme indifference to solutions and the agents of solutions is dangerous. Bad mouth donors and NGOs enough, and they will get gutted (as so much has), and low and middle-income countries will have to rely on capital markets or nothing.

Hopefully, Davis will use a bit of his profound creativity to investigate the way forward in the cities of the South in his next book. Even if he doesn't, I will probably read it.
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52 of 57 people found the following review helpful By M. A. Krul on March 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Mike Davis is always someone to seize an opportunity to decry the horrible situation somewhere, but in this case, it is an exposé that cannot be made often enough. "Planet of Slums" is a catalogue of the institutional failures, the despicable destruction, the filth and pollution, the poverty, misery and want, the disease and cynicism, in short the Verelendung of the worldwide poor that is the inevitable and eternal result of the capitalist mode of production. Within three decades, a stunning two billion people will live in the slums of megacities in the Third World, where all public services are absent, there are no toilets or drinking water, and where even the poor exploit the poor.

Mike Davis, as usual, pulls no punches and takes no prisoners in his description of the effects of the Washington Consensus on these undeveloped nations. Refuting the ideological mythologies of self-help such as De Sotoism and microlending, he demonstrates that the situation in the Third World is bleak and will get bleaker still. The longer the current order of neoliberalism and Structural Adjustment Programmes, led by such philanthropical heros as World Bank director Paul Wolfowitz, goes on, the more the absolute poverty, immiseration and loss of dignity of the world's poor will continue, and the greater inequality will become. Already one-third of the world's workforce is unemployed or underemployed, and worldwide average income has decreased the past decades. The megacities of the global south will become centers of hyper-alienation, and the inevitable result can only be the destruction of the current order, or the destruction of the world. The world's five billion poor are at our door - hear them knock!
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44 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Izaak VanGaalen on July 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sometime during the writing of this book - 2005 - the global urban population surpassed the global rural population. It has been estimated that both populations stand at about 3.2 billion. What is startling is that Mike Davis has calculated that the rural population has reached its peak and will begin to decline by 2020, and that all future world population growth will be in cities, primarily megacities (8 million or more) and hypercities (20 million or more). The total world population is expected to peak at 10 billion in the year 2050. If I'm still alive, I will be 95. I hope to experience peak global population, even though my actuarial tables would indicate otherwise.

This massive movement to the city has not been accompanied by industialization and development, instead there has been massive urbanization without economic growth. The future cities of glass and steel envisioned by urbanists have not materialized, instead the urban poor are squatting in crudely constructed slum dwellings on the periphery of cities. A "surplus of humanity" is accumulating on the outskirts of urban centers, an "accumulation of the wretched."

It is no surprise that Davis grew up and currently lives in the Los Angeles area. (He also wrote "City of Quartz," a book about Los Angeles.) Angelenos tend to see the world as it is seen on television or at the movies. Davis' images of Third World slums are those of "Blade Runner" or "Escape from New York". One wonders if Davis has ever visited a Third World slum or interviewed one of its denizens. By referring to them as "the wretched," he will never be accused of being too close to his subject.

Why the massive movement toward cities? And why is this dystopian urbanization occurring on this scale?
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