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The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape

140 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0671888251
ISBN-10: 0671888250
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this inconsistent but provocative analysis, Kunstler ( Blood Solstice ), a novelist and journalist, mixes memoir, historical essay and reporting to condemn the car-dependent suburbanization of America. Kunstler, who writes ably, casts a very wide net: he finds the roots of American individualism in pre-colonial property ownership, decries the abstracting influence of modernism on city architecture and slams road-builder Robert Moses to support his contention that suburbia is a social environment without soul. He offers an intriguing history of the decline of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., his hometown, describes trips to failing Detroit and well-planned Portland, Ore., and dissects "capitals of unreality" like Disney World and Atlantic City. His worthy but sketchily described solutions--a sustainable economy, better neighborhood development and preservation of the countryside--could, however, each merit a book.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In this spirited, irreverent critique, Kunstler spares none of the culprits that have conspired in the name of the American Dream to turn the U.S. landscape from a haven of the civic ideal into a nightmare of crass commercial production and consumption. Kunstler strips the bark off the utopian social engineering promoted by the machine-worshiping Modern movement of Gropius, Le Corbusier, and Frank Lloyd Wright and skewers the intellectual camps (e.g., Venturi) that have thrived on making academic glory of the consumer wasteland. With the fervor of an investigative reporter and in the vernacular of a tabloid journalist, Kunstler exposes the insidious "car lobby" and gives case studies of landscapes as diverse as Detroit, Atlantic City, and Seaside, Florida, to illustrate both the woes and hopeful notes. The ideas in this book are not new (Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte Jr. were bemoaning the loss of civic life a quarter-century ago), but Kunstler gives their case an urgent, popular voice. An eminently relevant and important book; highly recommended.
- Thomas P.R. Nugent, New York
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (July 26, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671888250
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671888251
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (140 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Howard Kunstler is probably best known as the author of "The Long Emergency" (The Atlantic Monthly Press 2005), and "The Geography of Nowhere" (Simon and Schuster, 1993). Two other non-fiction titles in that series are "Home From Nowhere" (Simon and Schuster, 1996), and "The City in Mind" (Simon and Schuster, 2002). He's also the author of many novels, including his tale of the post-oil American future, "World Made By Hand" (The Atlantic Monthly press, 2008). The sequel will be published in the fall of 2010. His shorter work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic Monthly, Metropolis, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and many other periodicals.

James Howard Kunstler was born in New York City in 1948. He attended New York's High School of Music and art and SUNY Brockport (BA, Theater, 1971). He was a reporter for the Boston Phoenix, the Albany Knickerbocker News, and later an editor with Rolling Stone Magazine. In 1975 he dropped out of corporate journalism to write books, and settled in Saratoga Spring, New York, where he has lived ever since.

Kunstler's popular blog, Clusterf**k Nation, is published every Monday morning at and his weekly podcast, The KunstlerCast, is refreshed every Thursday.

Kunstler is also a serious professional painter. His work may be seen at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

98 of 107 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on March 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
Geography of Nowhere is a wonderful, life-changing book. I wish I could make every developer, every SUV owner and every town council read this book. Its main topic is the physical environments that Americans live in, in contrast to our historical environments and to overseas. Kunstler shows how the advent of the automobile has changed the face of cities, small-towns and birthed the suburb. The choice to live without an automobile is now a very difficult one for most people, and also comes with certain social assumptions. Yet, after reading Geography of Nowhere, I am seeking ever more ways to take public transportation and reduce my reliance on a vehicle that both pollutes the natural environment and despoils the man-made environment.
Some chapters in the book focus on cities gone wrong, such as Detroit. Others discuss the ideal community, involving mixed-use neighborhoods (both purpose - commercial, residential, industrial - and class - working, professional, wealthy). Kunstler makes the case that prior to the development of suburbia and the reign of automobiles as our primary form of transportation, we had a kinder, cleaner, and happier world. Disney World's Main Street was used as an example of how car-free neighborhoods have become an American dream, and at the same time, few people understand why cars have had such a negative effect.
Geography of Nowhere has confirmed my choice to live in a city with public transportation, in a mixed-use neighborhood, within walking distance of most of my needs. It may be more expensive and it may be unconventional, but I now have the evidence to back up my convictions.
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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By rex tugwell on February 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
No, this book isn't the most scholarly approach to urban planning. But is a much needed book. One of the problems with the myriad of books that have emerged lately on the topic of modern urban design is that they are written in academic speak, not readily understandable by the layman or laywoman who is attempting to make a difference while serving on town boards. Although no one has mentioned it in these reviews, it was gutsy of the author to propose that a building could be objectively ugly. This is important to those of us who are sick and tired of trying to tell developers that we don't want another McDonalds because the golden arches don't relate to the spacial relationships of our sidewalks. Damn it, we have the right to reject it because its plug ugly. His comments on Disney were wicked, accurate, and entirely true. Read this book.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By N. P. Stathoulopoulos on January 21, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Kunstler is not too happy with how we've built our cities, our suburbs, and our society. And I can't blame him.

This is an important consideration of how the landscapes of America have changed, and not for the best. The decline of American cities, the rise of the never-ending suburban sprawls, the addiction to cars and to oil and highways, all contribute to the decay of social fabric.

It all sounds deep, but Kunstler is clearly onto something. Himself transplanted to the suburbs of Long Island, Kuntsler is angry at what he sees as an America that is less and less concerned with maintaining any lasting community, anywhere.

All you have to do in this country is go to a few different cities and look around. First off, you can hardly distinguish most big cities from each other in the US--you have a downtown (in some cases among the worst part of a particular city, and often deserted and bland) and you have the endless suburban sprawl. What you find is isolation, isolation, isolation. Pick a big city, and you see the problems still being faced decades after population shifts, demographic changes, cultural changes etc: Detroit, Atlanta, St Louis, Miami, etc, etc.

Architecture is in the dumps, as short-term profit is the motivating factor behind flat, faceless and featureless buildings. Suburbia has long been the answer for many: miles of designed streets with identical houses, cut off from undesirables by miles of highway, encouraging an inefficient life where everything is separated, the car has replaced the PERSON as the unit we build for, to say nothing of the cultural wasteland half of America becomes with the influx of 100 fast food chains, a Walmart, a mall, an 'entertainment complex', etc, destroying anything that once gave a place character.
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69 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Eigenvalue on February 1, 2006
Format: Paperback
Last night in his State of the Union speech, G. W. Bush pointed out the obvious fact that America depends far too heavily on oil to support its lifestyle. Whoever programmed him to say that must have been reacting to the mounting unrest over the crises associated with big oil: war, pollution, corruption, and extreme flabbiness.

Most of the problems associated with oil are problems associated with cars, and cars are the focus of J. H. Kunstler's book. Published in the early 90s, The Geography of Nowhere describes the impact of automobiles on the development of the U.S. Apparently, things started to go south during the Depression, when people were driven out of cities by poverty and the diminishing quality of life in the tenements. Fueling the flight to the suburbs were New Deal programs to build roads and cheap houses. In the ensuing decades the American landscape was built to serve cars rather than people, and that is what Kunstler is angry about. His main criticisms are:

1) A lot of the architecture, both residential and commerical, is very ugly. Buildings are constructed quickly and cheaply, and without regard to their surroundings. After all, what's the point of worrying about your surroundings if people are just going to drive directly to their destination? On this point, Kunstler is angry and sarcastic, though often funny. However, his tone is unfortunate, because ugliness is ultimately a matter of opinion, and I would bet that most people would say they are quite happy living in their suburban boxes. Kunstler argues that people are happy this way because they don't know any better, and he's probably right, but as far as I know there is no good way to force people to appreciate beauty.
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