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The City: A Global History (Modern Library Chronicles) Paperback – October 10, 2006


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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Chronicles
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; Modern Library Chronicles edition (October 10, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375756515
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375756511
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #83,284 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With this slim text, Kotkin offers his readers a history of the city from the first urban centers of the "Fertile Crescent" in 5000, B.C., all the way to post-September 11th New York City. At the same time, Kotkin argues that three key factors distinguish successful cities: commerce, security and power, and the "sacredness" of urban space. Such an ambitious dual project would prove daunting for any work, and this brief, occasionally terse attempt often falls short of its lofty goals. Kotkin, a senior fellow with the New American Foundation and the author of five previous books, including Tribes and The New Geography, is certainly a fine, engaging writer. His discussion of the rise of Rome as the "first megacity" efficiently covers vast historical ground while consistently bringing that history back to his central argument. But Kotkin spends far less time analyzing contemporary megacities such as Mexico City and Sao Paulo. And in those over-hasty moments, the book reveals its wider gaps, biases and shortcomings. Kotkin's book may serve as an accessible general introduction to the history of urban life, culture and spaces. But readers seeking the global history the text purports to offer may be better served by the "suggested further reading" that follows this sketchy narrative.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Startlingly brief for such an ambitious title, Kotkin's evolutionary narrative is less an examination of individual urban centers than a strategic, accessible narration of urbanism in general from ancient Mesopotamia to the present. As places "sacred, safe, and busy," cities rise and thrive by their ability to become and remain concentrated, effective sites of worship, security, and commerce. But, as Kotkin's gently functionalist comparative analysis shows us, cities struggle when they fail to cultivate a sense of community and common identity among their diverse inhabitants. Whether threatened by barbarians or suburbs, he continues, a city's health depends upon its ability to keep the centrifugal forces of politics and economics from dispersing its sacred urban space. A rejoinder to Guns, Germs, and Steel? Perhaps. Also a bold synthesis of urban historian Jane Jacobs and -anthropologist-theologian Mircea Eliade. Some readers may find each stop on Kotkin's whirlwind tour too brief, albeit nimbly presented. Luckily, he includes an excellent bibliography. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Joel Kotkin is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University in Orange, California, and the Executive Editor of the widely read website NewGeography.com. He is the author, most recently, of The New Class Conflict, as well as The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, The City: A Global History, and The New Geography: How the Digital Revolution Is Reshaping the American Landscape. An internationally recognized authority on global economic, political, social, and technological trends, Kotkin is a regular contributor to The Daily Beast and Forbes.com, and he writes a weekly column for the Orange County Reigster, where he serves on the editorial board. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Washington Examiner, City Journal, Politico, the New York Daily News, and Newsweek.

Customer Reviews

I found Kotkin's little essay on "suggested reading" useful - as were many of the sources he cited - but the text?
Paul Frandano
And if a sense of community is the key, then some of Kotkin's harsher evaluations of American cities may not be justified.
S. Smith-Peter
Overall, I liked the book, but it left me wanting more AND wondering why Kotkin just didn't provide it to his readers.
C. Richard

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Izaak VanGaalen on May 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In this very short volume, Joel Kotkin outlines the 5,000 plus year history of the city and notifies us that what was fundamental to the cities of ancient Sumeria is still the case today: cities - to be successful - must be sacred, safe, and busy.

It seems a truism that a city needs some "socially important myths" to hold together large diverse groups of people. City planners today, according to Kotkin, do not take into account the sacredness of a place. How can they? Can you imagine a city planner calling for a more Christian city? or a more Islamic or Jewish city? or a more multiculural city? In these secular times, the latter is about the only thing they can attempt. But Kotkin considers multiculuralism a form of separatism. I say let the sacredness arise from the cultural ideas and pracitices of the citzens, not from the city planning office.

That a city needs security and a vibrant business community seems a truism so true that I won't belabor the point here.

The most interesting point made in the book concerns the impact of technology - especially telecommunications - on cities. For the first time in history global megacities no longer have the advantage of size and scale. With computers and telecommunications, businesses can now process and transmit information anywhere - the periphery of the urban centers, small towns, to places anywhere in the world. Moreover, businesses can locate anywhere in the world - anywhere they have skilled workers. The urban center is no longer necessary to operate a global business, in fact, it is no longer desirable.

The growth of the urban periphery and small towns as corporate centers has been called the rise of the "telecity.
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Micky B. Hingorani on August 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Normally, I don't mean to be harsh. I also hardly ever write book reviews, but Mr. Kotkin's the City was so disappointing I felt a duty to warn others.

I should have been tipped off by the book's short length, but I only thought that Kotkin would therefore leave out a lot in favor of threading together an interesting thesis. Kotkin goes the other route, trying to stuff in as much as possible and therefore actually saying very little.

The author seemingly attempts to discuss every major city in the history of mankind. The bibliography starts on page 161 so there is very little room to do so.

With the chapters so short and divided so frequently, Kotkin could have gotten the same effect by asking a bunch of high school students to do a short (but admittedly erudite) summary of a major city. Put those together and you have this book.

Terribly disappointing for someone hoping for depth and substance.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By S. Nadeem on January 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
absurdly short given the subject. the thesis--that above all cities need religion or some sort of binding moral order, defense, and free-flowing commerce--is a bit odd. waste of money overall. read mumford or braudel instead.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Paul Frandano on November 22, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
That's the long and the short of it. I found Kotkin's little essay on "suggested reading" useful - as were many of the sources he cited - but the text? Hardly at all. Full disclosure/truth in lending would have required Kotkin to entitle his book, "The City: A Thin Schematic Outline That Raises More Questions Than It Answers Before Ending Discussions Abruptly." For this is indeed simply an outline.

Fine: it's a short book, a mere 160 pp of text, plus almost 40 pp of notes (a good thing), and the 7 pp of suggested readings. I suppose the Modern Library's "Chronicles" format - "featuring the world's great historians on the world's great subjects," all at less than 200 pp - should have tipped me off, but there was the offsetting kudos of Witold Rybczynski: "A compelling and original synthesis that belongs on the urbanist's bookshelf with Lewis Mumford, Peter Hall, and Fernand Braudel." Yes, Prof. Rybczynski, I suppose so, but perhaps only as the first book to pull off that shelf for kindling when the cabin grows cold. Kotkin really doesn't deserve this bonbon from Rybczynski; nor does he belong in this seminal company. His book doesn't seem to contain much that's original; it seems mostly derived from the insights of others. (I suppose that's why it's a "synthesis.") For the most part, much of it - and surely its central thesis that cities are built on sacred, security, or commercial foundations - is in Mumford and Hall, much else, particularly on the rise of commercial cities, may be found in Braudel, and in the later chapters more contemporary writers like Daniel Bell, Saskia Sassen, Manuel Castells, Kenneth Jackson, and Joel Garreau, are among the many authorities who show up.
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38 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Gaetan Lion on May 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The author advances that cities either thrive or die based on three variables: 1) their sacredness; 2) their safety; and 3) commerce. Sacredness seems like a very questionable driver of a city's success. Is Jerusalem or Mecca ever likely to be a more successful city than Dallas or Seattle? Unlikely. Also, safety does not seem like a differentiating variable but more like a necessity for a city. It is like saying you need to speak English to be a successful student at Harvard. You need a lot more than that. So, does a city need a lot more than to be safe to become a successful city. Finally, the third variable, commerce, is self-evident and appears the only valid one out of the three mentioned variables.

The present and future of a city most probably depend on a number of variables not well detailed by the author including:

1) Fiscal condition, or does a city has a healthy and growing tax revenue base that can suffice to cover its related cost of delivering public services and running city government?

2) Quality of municipal services including transportation, and most importantly education. For a city to thrive, it needs to deliver very strong secondary and post secondary educational services.

3) An innovative business and cultural environment. Is the city a nest of creativity resulting in a high rate of innovation within commerce, but also the arts, and other domain? Does the city develop other related competitive edges associated with specialized network of professionals? New York benefits a great deal from the huge human capital concentrated in "Wall Street." San Francisco and San Jose benefit greatly from being within close reach of both Silicon Valley and venture capitalists

4) A strategic location.
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