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Dead Cities: And Other Tales Paperback – November 1, 2003

4.4 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Lower Manhattan was soon a furnace of crimson flames, from which there was no escape" is not a lead sentence from the New York Post from last September, but an image from H.G. Wells's 1908 novel, The War in the Air. In this astute, compelling and often shocking tour of U.S. cities over the past decade (many of these pieces date from the early 1990s), Davis (City of Quartz; Ecology of Fear) goes beyond the usual boundaries of urban theory and creates a panorama of images of cities and landscapes in the throes of destruction-one in which September 11 is more norm than exception. Davis argues that "ecocide"-the degradation of the planet via air pollution, water pollution, nuclear waste and other industrial plagues, as well as by war-is integral to urban decay. Davis creates a Bosch-like portrait of America where Cold War waste disrupts genes and has made huge tracts of land into uninhabitable "national sacrifice zones"; Las Vegas is continually demolished and rebuilt; corporate "redevelopment" runs inner-city economies like feudal dynasties; an attempt to build a subway "eats" Los Angeles; and the "bourgeois utopia of a totally calculable and safe environment" is deeply shaken by September 11. Davis finds "an existential Earth shaped by the creative energies of its catastrophes" (like asteroid impacts, to which a chapter is devoted) that only "geomorphology," an emerging science, treats the effects of urban, rural, natural and man made urban disasters as part of the same continuum, might hope to explain. It's a grim reality, but, in the face of torrid summers, calving ice shelves and beaching whales, one that is increasingly difficult to ignore.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Both human-made and natural disasters threaten Earth's survival, and journalist and author Davis (City of Quartz; Ecology of Fear) here explores many variables that have led, and will continue to lead, to the death of many urban areas and ecosystems. A writer for the Nation, Sierra, and the Los Angeles Times, Davis states that many prophecies of urban doom have already come true (e.g., H.G. Wells in 1907 predicted that New York City would burn as a result of attacking airships). He worries about the future of humankind and urban life in light of terrorism, global warming, globalization, and the effects of changing weather patterns. Early chapters provide a thorough and often insightful account of governmental nuclear testing in the Western United States, documenting the fate of "Downwinders," the unwitting victims of fallout. Most of the rest of the book discusses the urban plight of Los Angeles. Davis provides a wealth of information but relies heavily on newspaper articles for his references. Despite Davis's apocalyptic vision, this may have appeal. Recommended for large public libraries.
Tim Delaney, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, NY
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: New Press, The (November 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565848446
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565848443
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.8 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,260,537 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
"The ground on which you walk is the tongue with which I talk" -Saul Williams
Mike Davis gives voice to just what the hell we've done to our environment, what's transpiring in the gaps in our relationships with each other, and what goes on underneath the deep and wide footprint of our rampant urban development. Dead Cities is a postmortem excavation of our postmodern urbanscape, a conjugation of all the verbs at work in the human condition.
From the chaos of the "Miamization" of Southern California ghettos and the sprawling ennui of suburbia, to the unfathomable waste of natural resources in Las Angeles and Las Vegas and the groaning discontent of the earth itself, Mike Davis follows every vector that juts out of Main Street, USA. And there's bad news around every corner - especially for the next generation of leaders, planners, and plain old citizens. As he told Mark Dery in an interview for 21C magazine, "Increasingly, the only legal youthful activities involve consumption, which just forces whole areas of normal teenage behavior off into the margins... Irvine, which is the last generation's absolute model utopia of a master-planned community, is producing youth pathologies equivalent to those in the ghettos simply because in the planning of Irvine there was no allotted space for the social relationships of teenagers, nowhere for them lawfully to be - the parks are closed at night, they're not allowed to cruise, and so on. So you get these seemingly random acts of violence." The geography of nowhere is cultivating its very own nihilistic culture -- even in the "perfectly planned" gated communities.
The most commendable thing about Mike Davis and his exhaustively researched books is their propensity toward the margins.
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Format: Hardcover
Whether it strictly is or not, Dead Cities feels like the third 'instalment' in Mike Davis' exploration of the nature of the modern and postmodern American city, sitting alongside Ecology of Fear and the superb City of Quartz. Once again, it is his vacillating love/hate relationship with the deserts and metropolises of California in particular, which forms the centre of his work.
Despite the fact that it's Preface would have you believe Dead Cities is a meditation upon post-September 11th urban America; it is rather a collection of essays and articles written during the last decade which each provide a broadly different `take' upon the notion of the dead or dying city. Dead Cities examines the fragility of our urban infrastructures, threatened by man-made or natural factors, providing us with a fractured journey through parts of America in which the apocalypse has already taken place and where the destruction of the twin towers seems an almost inevitable climax.
The scope is vast, ranging from what some may find to be the rather dry economic and statistical data about corrupt town planning in LA; to fascinating and disturbing chapters on the expansion of suburban Las Vegas, and America's secret nuclear weapons testing. Davis also takes in the Compton race riots, extremes of weather in Canada, and there's even a chapter on the bombing of Berlin in WW2. What the spectre of 9/11 adds to this collective is a retrospectively portentous significance; the sense of an interminable social trajectory.
The one drawback of Dead Cities is that it is easy to lose sight of it's central argument. It is not, like Davis' previous works, a narrative which steadily gains momentum, but rather ponderings around a central subject.
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Format: Hardcover
Collections of the work of journalists or intellectuals can be a mixed bag, especially when the author is better known for a major work. Such is the case here for Mike Davis, author of the invaluable Prisoners of the American Dream, City of Quartz, Ecology of Fear, and Late Victorian Holocausts. This is a collection of essays and articles that he has written over the past decade or so. There is a certain lack of unity as Davis discusses three major themes: disaster, ecological crisis, and gross injustice in the world the Sunbelt Republicans made.
Notwithstanding that, there is much that the reader will find informative and valuable. Carrying on from his chapter in The Ecology of Fear about Los Angeles' dystopias, the book starts with a chapter on the imagined literary destruction of New York. Davis quotes H.G. Wells' almost forgotten classic The War in the Air about the first aerial destruction of NYC: "They [New Yorkers] saw war as they saw history, through an irridescent mist, deodorized, scented indeed, with all its essential cruelties tactfully hidden away." While this is not entirely fair about New York, it is all too true of the Republican Party. Davis goes on to discuss the poisoning of much of Nevada and Utah by the military, as well as making model cities to practice bombing Axis civilians in world war two. (Davis reminds us that a third of the 600,000 civilians killed this way in Germany were prisoners of war and slave labor). There are essays on Los Angeles' Pentecostals, as well as how one Hawaian island remembers several devastating tsunamis. There is also an essay which discusses several fictional attempts to describe what would happen if most humans became extinct.
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