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


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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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover; First Edition edition (October 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585678600
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585678600
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 5.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #427,224 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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


More About the Author

Chip Jacobs is an award-winning Los Angeles-area author and journalist. His latest book is "The Vicodin Thieves: Biopysing L.A.'s Grifters, Gloryounds and Goliaths" (Vireo/Rare Bird Books), a collection of his best narrative, feature and investigative articles since 1990. The Southern California Book Festival named it the best compilation/anthology in their 2013 awards. Prior to "Vicodin Thieves" was the true-crime thriller "The Ascension of Jerry: Murder, Hitmen and the Making of L.A. Muckraker Jerry Schneiderman" (Viveo/Rare Bird Books). Preceding those works, Jacobs co-authored the acclaimed social history "Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles" (The Overlook Press/Penguin Group USA) with William J. Kelly. Jacobs first book was "Wheeling the Deal: The Outrageous Legend of Gordon Zahler, Hollywood's Flashiest Quadriplegic" (Behler Publications). Besides these, Jacobs' popular profile of former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre is included in the anthology "Voices of the U.S.-Latino Experience" (Greenwood Publications). Chip is currently working on a new environmental book, a biography of two, longtime L.A. industrialists who've shared an astonishing journey and a historical novel. On the journalism side, Jacobs' 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, the Orlando Sentinel, Southland Publishing, newgeography.com and Bloomberg View, among other outlets. His writing has been honored by the Independent Book Publishers Awards (IPPY), the Hollywood Book Festival, the Green Book Festival, the city of Santa Monica's Green Prize for Sustainable Literature, Booklist magazine, the California Newspapers Publishers Association, the Los Angeles Press Club, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies and the Los Angeles Times. Visit www.chipjacobs.com or www.chipjacobs.com/blog to learn more. Jacobs is a graduate of the University of Southern California and The American University in Washington, D.C. He broke into journalism in 1990 at The Los Angeles Business Journal. Jacobs lives in Southern California with his wife, a USC public relations professor, and their two children.

Customer Reviews

Everyone could learn something from this book.
Samantha Jacobs
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.
Thomas Daniels
The interest in the telling of the story. it's like an airborne version of the movie "Chinatown."
scooter

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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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3 of 3 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By gomw on January 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been keenly interested in smog since I first experienced it in Downey, California, in 1953. I thought that was when it started. I had no idea what caused it or how long it had been around. Through the years, I've read snippets here and there but every one had a different slant and was as deep as the water overspray on my driveway from my sprinkling system. The research that Jacobs and Kelly put into their effort is incredible. I now feel like an expert!

I am a free lance writer; emphasis on free! When I was young, I thought I was a good basketball player until I played against Carl Braun (New York Knicks in the 50s) in the army. That was the day I realized I wasn't very good. I felt the same way this morning when I turned the last page of this book.

The book is, at once, alarming and encouraging. Every American needs to read this book and take a look inside and around. We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make today could save or doom our progeny.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By S.W. Capps, Author of Salmon Run & Train in the Distance on September 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
For those of us who grew up in L.A. during the '60s and '70s, this book is a must read. Memories abound of oppressive brown skies, endless smog alerts, lost school recesses and piercing pains to the chest. Sadly, we took it all in stride, assuming it was a necessary--albeit painful--evil of living in the southland. Smogtown's authors, Chip Jacobs and William J. Kelly, do an outstanding job exposing the heroes and villains behind the 'great smog curtain'. Both informative and entertaining, this caliginous tale is the most comprehensive book on air pollution you'll ever read. Train in the Distance
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By David Bloom on September 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
For anyone who has lived in Southern California for some portion of the past few decades, thick and noxious air you could cut with a knife has been at least an occasional companion, a nose-singeing reminder of the downside of living where we do.

"Smogtown" benefits from Kelly's insider knowledge and Jacobs' investigative chops. It's also a well written and accessible history populated with vivid characters, political wheeling and dealing and good science. Not nearly enough histories of issues with scientific, political and cultural elements can nimbly tell a sometimes complex and winding tale well. This one succeeds.

It is a useful recounting of how Southern California got where it is, what that's meant for the region and its residents, and how it has changed the nation as a whole by helping drive the modern-day environmentalist movement. The book and I share some optimism about the continued progress the region has made to improve conditions since their mid-century nadir. Given the potential consequences otherwise, I hope we're right to be optimistic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By scooter on July 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been a journalist for decades. I grew up in Smogtown where it was expected, not an exception, to retch when you ran track in high school. The book affirms the bad history and looks to a cleaner air future. The interest in the telling of the story. it's like an airborne version of the movie "Chinatown." All they need is Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, Roman Polanski, and maybe to update it, the air quality maven Mary Nichols.
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