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Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier Hardcover – February 10, 2011

4.2 out of 5 stars 128 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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Glaeser�s academic specialty, urban economics, informs his survey of how cities around the world thrive and wither. Using a range of expository forms�history, biography, economic research, and personal story�he defines what makes a city successful. That changes through time, and a flourishing Industrial Age model may not work in the service-age economy, as rust-belt towns like Detroit have learned. One thing constantly attracts people to one city rather than another�how much housing construction is permitted. Restrictive places, such as New York City, coastal California, and Paris, have a tight housing supply with prices only the wealthy can afford. Hence, middle-class people move to the suburbs or cities like Houston. Other features of metropolises�their incidences of poverty and crime, traffic congestion, quality of schools, and cultural amenities�also figure in Glaeser�s analysis. Whatever the city under discussion, Mumbai or Woodlands, Texas, Glaeser is discerning and independent; for example, he believes that historic preservation isn�t an unalloyed good and that bigger, denser cities militate against global warming. Thought-provoking material for urban-affairs students. --Gilbert Taylor

Review

"If you live in a city, if you're planning on living in a city, if you ever lived in a city-this is a great book to read to give yourself a nice feeling of what you're accomplishing. It's a tremendous book."
-Jon Stewart, Host of "The Daily Show"
"Edward Glaeser is one of the world's most brilliant economists, and "Triumph of the City" is a masterpiece. Seamlessly combining economics and history, he explains why cities are 'our species' greatest invention.' This beautifully written book makes clear how cities have not only survived but thrived, even as modern technology has seemingly made one's physical location less important."
-Steven D. Levitt, co-author of "Freakonomics" and "SuperFreakonomics"; professor of economics at the University of Chicago
"If you would like to improve slums, turn poverty into prosperity, or get a grip on urban sprawl, read this thoughtful and thought-provoking book."
-Simon Johnson, author of "13 Bankers"; professor of entre
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press (February 10, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159420277X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594202773
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (128 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #112,927 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a book I thought I would love, but as I read it I began wishing there was another, tighter, more focused book I could be reading.

The book is pacted with factoids, most of the post hoc ergo propter hoc type, but, for me at least, it doesn't really gel as a convincing, connected argument. There are points made that make sense - some cities have a lot of poverty because they attract poor people seeking opportunity, cities with diverse economic bases are less susceptible to an economic shock linked to the decline of single industry, it's good for cities to have strong educational institutions, that London is a fun place helps make it attractive as a place to live for skilled professionals, skyscrapers are an efficient way to house businesses and people, there are still advantages to be had in close physical proximity. Some of these points are old hat; some are relatively fresh and even against the received wisdom.

For an awful lot of these points, though, the ultimate response is: So What? The whole seemed like a lot less than the sum of the parts. The experience was less like reading a focused essay than browsing through Google news or an RSS feed on cities - a lot of information, somewhat organized, but nothing like an actionable vision. At times the data triumphantly trotted out was inconsistent (Silicon Valley succeeds as a kind of city, dispersed into office parks thought it be; Route 128 failed because being dispersed into office parks as it is it lacked the physical connections of a true city). At times, it fails to grapple with the implications of the obvious (yes, the theater in London or New York is great, but the seats are often filled with tourists because the locals are too busy working to make it).
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Producing a comprehensive and entertaining book on cities' value to society requires a scholar with a lifelong urban devotion whose background and skills cut across traditional social science disciplines. Fortunately, the world has Ed Glaeser. Each of Glaeser's chapters seamlessly blends historical narrative, present day travelogue, history of urban thought, rigorous empirical research, and policy prescription. By presenting each of these well, he produces a convincing polemic. As more academic economists begin to popularize their research, Glaeser is distinguished in both the quality of his scholarship and the importance of his subject to society.

Much of Glaeser's work is refuting conventional wisdom against cities: we learn urban life can be green, skyscrapers need not destroy local character, congestion ills can be solved, and inner-city education need not be dreadful. Glaeser does not have all the answers to the problems he addresses, and occasionally his arguments are weak. But what fun is reading about a subject with nothing left to debate?

Glaeser is most convincing on one central policy theme: inept government makes urban living less accessible than it should be. These policies include overzealous historical preservation and height limits, subsidization of home ownership and auto travel, oversupply of public infrastructure, various forms of NIMBYism, and the more complex failures surrounding urban education. These issues touched Glaeser deeply as the tilted landscape led him to pick suburban life for his own children.

The book's subtitle could use clarification. Glaeser is not arguing that everyone will be happier in cities.
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Format: Hardcover
This is two really wonderful books and one less wonderful book all wrapped into one.

The first book, which is terrific, is a brisk and accessible tour through a series of real-life experiments deeply grounded in data: "A study of corruption in Indonesia found that the stock prices of companies whose leaders stood closest to that country's dictator in photographs suffered most when the leader fell ill."

More: "When American cities have built new rapid-transit stops over the last thirty years, poverty rates have generally increased near those stops." It's not that transit stops cause poverty, he explains; rather, poor people value being able to get to work without the expense of owning a car.

That insight, like many of those mentioned by Professor Glaeser, bears on the main topic of his book, the economics of cities. The author proves useful as a guide to the research of others as well as in conveying his own thoughts. "Nathaniel Baum-Snow, a Brown University economist, has calculated that each new highway passing through a central city reduces its population by about 18 percent." And, "Dartmouth economist Bruce Sacerdote found that children displaced from New Orleans by Katrina had a significant improvement in their test scores. He found the biggest beneficiaries of the exodus were children from poorly performing schools who left the New Orleans area altogether." It's the counterintuitive nature of these insights that makes them particularly delicious -- that expensive highway project that the local congressman fought to get funded turns out to be bad for his city, and Hurricane Katrina turns out to have been a good thing for the education of its "victims.
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