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Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles Hardcover – October 2, 2008

21 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1585678600 ISBN-10: 1585678600 Edition: 1st

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Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles + The Ascension of Jerry: Business Lies, Hitmen and the Making of an L.A. Muckraker + The Vicodin Thieves: Biopsying L.A.'s Grifters, Gloryhounds, and Goliaths
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Encapsulating deftly the worldview, historical context, and public psychology of Southern Californians over a number of decades, Los Angeles journalists Jacobs and Kelly examine the approaches they've made to the region's chronic pollution issues, many of which presage current, nation-wide trends in both pollution and its "greening." with casual language and a cinematic sense of the dramatic, Jacobs and Kelly detail the buildup to the famous orange-brown L.A. smog of the 1950s and '60s: "Just at that moment, the beast started to evolve... Sometime in the late 1950s, legend had it that a hen laid an egg that L.A. pollution unaccountably turned green." Highlighting the pioneering people and groups that blazed the trail for the environmental movement, jacobs and kelly also explore the progress and setbacks established by policymakers, including a famously conflicted Ronald Reagan. Finished with a particularly powerful, forward-looking epilogue, this friendly, accessible history should appeal to any American environmentalist. 15 b & w photos.
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Review

"... the book is not lacking in historical heft. Instead, style delivers substance in true Hollywood fashion, with character-driven plots draped in glamour and sensation ... the history of smog has never been so sexy ..." -- Los Angeles Times

"[S]tory of smog in all its hazy-and sometimes humorous-permutations ... a zany and provocative cultural history." -- Kirkus

"Finished with a particularly powerful, forward-looking epilogue, this friendly, accessible history should appeal to any American environmentalist."-- Publishers Weekly

"... a meticulous chronicle of the city's signature airborne grime and of the civic and social forces that emerged to stop it ... ... The story of Smogtown is that of a city vying against time to reconcile incommensurables ... " -- Bookforum

"The narrative that emerges is more than a tale of a region and a populace besieged by smog; it is also a parable for a nation beset by environmental and social problems ... (a) well-researched cultural history" -- Slate

"Writing in a hip, lively style, ...[An] intriguing social history of an environmental problem that won't go away. Recommended." - Library Journal

"... a well-documented, highly engaging, and widely relevant account of southern California's battle with "the beast," as the authors lovingly refer to smog. ... Smogtown is not your typical "green's" diatribe against big business and weak government. No, Jacobs and Kelly are much smarter-and fairer-than that" -- Sustainablog
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: The Overlook Press; 1 edition (October 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585678600
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585678600
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.3 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #651,455 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Chip Jacobs is a Los Angeles-area author and journalist. Any questions so far? Good.

His most recent book is "The People's Republic of Chemicals" (Viveo/Rare Bird Books) with William J. Kelly, a spirited examination of China's U.S.-enabled descent into arguably the most polluted society in recorded history, and how its carbon gluttony may push climate change to a heat-scorching point of no return. In early reviews, it's earned a starred review from Booklist, a five-heart rating from Foreword Reviews and great critique from Kirkus. Critics have tabbed it "outstanding," "sharp, vivid ... a surprisingly enjoyable read, "a scathing denunciation"

Prior to that Jacobs released the "The Vicodin Thieves: Biopysing L.A.'s Grifters, Gloryhounds and Goliaths" (Viveo/Rare Bird Book), a collection of 29 of Jacobs' best narrative, investigative and opinion journalism previously published in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Daily News of Los Angeles, L.A. Weekly and other outlets. It won first place in the compilations/anthology category at the Southern California Book Festival.

The true-crime thriller with a dark-comedy tincture, The Ascension of Jerry: Murder, Hitmen and the Making of L.A. Muckraker Jerry Schneiderman, (Viveo/Rare Bird Books) was Jacobs' third book. Critics have called the story of an everyman's stumble into a murder triangle filled with hapless assasins "terrific," "pitch-perfect" and "enthralling." Foreword magazine made it a staff pick and the Hollywood Book Festival awarded it a silver metal in the non-fiction category. It also found the winner's circle at the 2013 Southern California Book Festival.

Preceding Ascension, Jacobs co-authored Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles (The Overlook Press/Penguin Group USA) with William J. Kelly. The Independent Book Publishers (IPPY) Awards and Green Book Festival honored this social history with silver medals, and the city of Santa Monica bestowed it with the Green Prize for Sustainable Literature. Booklist magazine, which gave Smogtown a starred review, named it one of the best environmental books of 2008. The Los Angeles Times/Tribune syndicate called the work "sexy," Publishers Weekly crowned it "powerful" and "accessible," with others tabbing it "meticulous," "highly engaging" and "provocative and zany." It was an official pick of Los Angeles magazine, among other publications, and is now available in both Mandarin and English for readers in China.

Jacobs literary debut was a biography of Gordon Zahler, a a Hollywood dreamer-schemer who lived outrageously in a ticking time-bomb of a body. Rare Bird Books will be publishing a revised and updated version of this story sometime in 2015. Critics praised the first version as a "brilliant and uplifting" story told with "dramatic flair and detached fairness." Please check back for updates, because the upcoming iteration will be killer. Besides these books, Jacobs' popular profile of former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre is included in the academic anthology Voices of the U.S.-Latino Experience (Greenwood Publications).

Chip is currently at work on a historical novel, as well as a few other projects to which he has been sworn to secrecy. If you enjoy his books, please consider reviewing them here at his official Amazon Author Page, at Goodreads and recommending them to friends.

Before turning to book-writing, Jacobs was a print reporter whose work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, the Daily News of Los Angeles, L.A. Weekly, the New York Times, CNN, The Chicago Tribune, Bloomberg Views, among other outlets. For his efforts, he's been honored by the Los Angeles Press Club, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies and The Los Angeles Times. Visit www.chipjacobs.com to learn more.

Jacobs grew up in northeast Pasadena. In 1985, he graduated from the University of Southern California with BAs in journalism and international relations. In 1988, he graduated from The American University in Washington, D.C. with an MA in international relations, emphasizing national security issues. He is the recipient of numerous academic honors. Jacobs broke into journalism in 1990 at The Los Angeles Business Journal. His passions today include Trojan football, the Beatles, electric guitar, forgotten literature, running and super-sugary breakfast cereals. He lives in Southern California with his wife, a USC public relations professor, and their two children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Turk on April 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I am in general agreement with all of the reviews, however, I have noted that the most favorable reviews come from LA-area reviewers who would share the authors' stereotypes and general knowledge of the region. The authors do not provide the sociological background and historical data that would permit a non-Angeleno or even a recent transplant to fully appreciate their work. The names of cities such as Pasadena, Altadena, Bell or Fontana are invoked in a fashion that presupposes a common shared sterotype for that town's residents and occasionally assumes similiar level of geographic literacy; oh, there are no maps.
The text could have used one more edit. There are references to the 'Brat' Pack of the '50's rather than the Rat Pack, the University of Riverside vice the University of California at Riverside, public relations 'hunks(?)' and a smog sieze.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By davi strand on October 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I must admit that what first drew me to this book was its cover. When I saw that it was a history of LA pollution, I almost put it down because I was afraid to read more bad news about how the world is falling apart. I am so glad I gave it a chance, though, because this book is amazing! It is scandalous and tightly written, filled with captivating anecdotes and charged with style!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mayfmayf on April 24, 2015
Format: Hardcover
Smogtown lasers in on July 8, 1943. I was 1 1/2 years old living in an apartment in North Long Beach, just a few miles from downtown L. A. I don't remember much that day, but I'm sure the smashed carrots were great. Mom, with sensitive skin and sensitive eyes, must have felt differently.
As Jacobs and Kelley describe the smog that particular day: "The Beast you couldn't stab fanned its poison across waking downtown [Los Angeles]."
She hated the smog--so did dad--and, in six years, we would move to start a new life in clean Cathedral City, a desolate spot just north of Indio in the Colorado Desert.
Smogtown painfully justifies my folks' life-altering move and goes to show that bungled public policy can have profound effects on the private lives of public citizens.
Reading Smogtown was like opening a door I thought closed, sort of like travelling through time and forgetting history. Shame on me. .
A fascinating book--and a language-lovers dream. As you read, be aware of the rhetoric. The authors have more literary tricks up their sleeves (or should I say "tics") than a dog has fleas.
The opening monster metaphor uses what I call the Nag Nag Approach to Persuasion. The authors attack with so tiny, irritating bites from so many directions that the beleaguered reader may end his first stint at the book suffering from mental exhaustion or running for the shelter of a comic book. Not a bad state if you are history-blind and need redemption.
If you are over 55 (1960 born) and lived in or around Los Angeles, the San Gabriel Valley or the Inland Empire, get this book. It's your environment, described in exquisite, sometimes angry, rhetoric. Owning it will enhance your life, because it owns you--during that time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Guy O. Whelchel III on March 17, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I liked this book immensely. Not too technical--nor too "popular." Most of my time in the LA basin has been in the winter--so I never completely understood what all the fuss was about. Now I do.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on April 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Coming from a family whose been in California since the 1850's I love reading books on the different regions of California. And being a walk the talk frugal green living person since I was born, I found this book utterly fascinating.

To how smog became such a huge problem in such a brief period of time 30's-50' and how some Angelenos could see the smog and some even knew it was the car society that was a big part of the problem, but between the warm weather and outside lifestyle that is the norm in California no one wanted to really see that cars were the big issue and that something needed to be done.

And the authors writes what so many of us know, regarding looking outside if you live where you can see the mountains east of Los Angeles come winter, or after a rain, yet once the weather warms up they fade from view.

Back in the 60's they pretty much stayed out of site year round. The book is simply a well put together piece of how Los Angeles came to be, how it has evolved and how some people really are trying to get back to the clean air period before the influx of the automobile society.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Daniels on September 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Alright for those not from Los Angeles, you might have to use a thomas guide to find those tiny towns, such as Pasadena the writers reference in this tome but be sure, back when smog was a commodity in the valley of haze, finding those towns any other way would've been impossible.

Ever walk to school, as a kid in the morning, having forgotten a giant mountain range just to the north actually exists, having lost that memory due to a blanket of brown encrusted air that enveloped them like a cloak of invisibility? That happened day in and out during the 50's thru the 70's along the San Gabriels.

Smogtown captures the time and paints, lovingly in a muted gray. Despite the blur the writer's memories remain clear, drawing on their own experience growing up clean-air challenged as well as delving deep into their research. This book is an entertaining bit of education for those either from or not from, sunny Southern California. Be thankful the airs cleaner now but know that things could change in an instant. So get informed and read Smogtown. It'll bring a shortness to your breath.
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