Ranging comfortably and coherently back and forth between the Old World and the New, Rykwert begins with the Industrial Revolution, its factories, the throngs of poor country people that flooded the cities to work in them, and the subsequent 150-year challenge faced by urban centers to house, transport, and entertain these throngs cheaply, space-consciously, and hygienically. But Seduction of Place is not so much a people's history of the city as it is a vibrantly researched and chronicled play-by-play of the big public--and some private--works of the major metropolises. The book also tackles the luminaries--including Haussmann, Olmstead and Vaux, L'Enfant, and Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand (who pioneered the enduring school of axial planning at Paris' Ecole Polytechnique)--whose names are often uttered in the same breath as the parks, boulevards, and edifices they brought to life.
Social critics like Tocqueville, Marx, Engels, Fourier, and Ruskin are just as well-represented here, however, ably providing the basis for Rykwert's persistent question of what cities ought to be and how responses to that have diverged and evolved over the years, apart from what they have become, for better or ill, and how they got that way. Even though the book takes a more or less familiar course through the 20th century--from the emergence of subways, skyscrapers, and modernism through postwar urban planning, suburban sprawl, and subsequent urban decay and attempts at renewal--Rykwert knows when to dart away from well-known people, places, and things to chronicle the planning of lesser-known English "New Towns" or of distinctly 20th-century cities like New Delhi, Islamabad, Australia's Canberra, and--rather famously--Brasilia, the ultimate "zoned" city.
The final chapter pays the requisite nod to the postmodernist implications of, for example, Celebration, Florida, (Disney's controversial new spin on the "company town") but is really distinguished by Rykwert's startlingly on-the-mark reading of how such wildly popular mega-museums as the new international Guggenheim franchise (with Gehry's Bilbao "branch" currently eclipsing Wright's New York "flagship") have come to best personify the encroachment of corporate globalization in the urban civic realm. It is a fitting conclusion for a book that manages so gracefully to wed an engrossing history of urban growth with the deeper intellectual, cultural, and ethical questions it raises--the very questions that the speculators, preservationists, and "ordinary citizens" will still have to answer in creating and sustaining the great cities of the 21st century. --Timothy Murphy
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.