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Dark Age Ahead [Paperback]

Jane Jacobs
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 21 2005 0679313109 978-0679313106
Visionary thinker Jane Jacobs uses her authoritative work on urban life and economies to show us how we can protect and strengthen our culture and communities.

In Dark Age Ahead, Jane Jacobs identifies five pillars of our culture that we depend on but which are in serious decline: community and family; higher education; the effective practice of science; taxation and government; and self-policing by learned professions. The decay of these pillars, Jacobs contends, is behind such ills as environmental crisis, racism and the growing gulf between rich and poor; their continued degradation could lead us into a new Dark Age, a period of cultural collapse in which all that keeps a society alive and vibrant is forgotten.

But this is a hopeful book as well as a warning. Jacobs draws on her vast frame of reference -- from fifteenth-century Chinese shipbuilding to zoning regulations in Brampton, Ontario -- and in highly readable, invigorating prose offers proposals that could arrest the cycles of decay and turn them into beneficent ones. Wise, worldly, full of real-life examples and accessible concepts, this book is an essential read for perilous times.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Optimistic despite its author's central premise that North American culture may be headed into a cataclysmic decline, Jane Jacobs's Dark Age Ahead presents a lucid examination of just how easily a thriving culture can squander its most precious resources. Crime, racism, environmental destruction, distrust of the political process, and the widening gap between rich and poor are not, Jacobs lucidly argues, the key causes of concern when a civilization starts to collapse, but merely symptoms of more pervasive threats.

Written when this legendary author of classics including The Death and Life of Great American Cities and Cities and the Wealth of Nations had already entered her 80s, Dark Age Ahead draws on a lifetime of astute observation to identify factors such as the erosion of community and family and the lack of public fiscal accountability as the true harbingers of an unhealthy cultural base. Jacobs, whose own formal education ended with a high school diploma and a year-long unpaid Depression-era apprenticeship at a Pennsylvania newspaper, identifies the transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next as vitally important, and sees the trend towards replacing intellectual mentorship with what she calls "credentialing" at universities and other institutions of higher education as very dangerous indeed. "My impression is that university-educated parents or grandparents of students presently in university do not realize how much the experience has changed since their own student days, nor do the students themselves, since they have not experienced anything else," Jacobs writes. "Only faculty who have lived through the loss realize what has been lost. A vigorous culture capable of making corrective, stabilizing changes depends heavily on its educated people, and especially upon their critical capacities and depth of understanding."

These and other factors are discussed with formidable clarity and insight in Jacobs's trademark elegant, plain-language prose. Rather than disrupting the flow of her extensively indexed main narrative analysis with dense notes, the Toronto-based visionary presents her references in a 47-page parallel text following the book's initial 176 pages. "This is both a gloomy and a hopeful book," the modern-day Cassandra notes; reading it is a pleasure. --Deirdre Hanna --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American Cities forever transformed the discipline of urban planning by concentrating on what actually helped cities work. Unencumbered by generations of fatuous theorizing, Jacobs proposed a model of action that has left a positive mark in neighborhoods all over the world. Her latest salvo, Dark Age Ahead, is, despite the pessimism of many of its conclusions, also positive, less a jeremiad than a firm but helpful reminder of just how much is at stake. Jacobs sees "ominous signs of decay" in five "pillars" of our culture: family, community, higher education, science and "self policing by the learned professions." Each is given a detailed treatment, with sympathetic but hard-headed real-world assessments that are often surprising and always provocative and well-expressed. Her chapter on the decline of the nuclear family completely avoids the moral hand-wringing of the kindergarten Cassandras to place the blame on an economy that has made the affordable home either an unattainable dream or a crippling debt. Her discussion of the havoc wrought by the lack of accountability seems ripped from any number of headlines, but her analysis of the larger effects sets it apart. A lifetime of unwasted experience in a number of fields has gone into this short but pungent book, and to ignore its sober warnings would be foolish indeed.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking Oct. 12 2004
By C.Batt
A brief, but thorough outline of the author's view of the direction that Western Civilization (American in particular) appears to be headed. However, unlike what the editorial reviews would've had me believe, I did not find very much optimism contained within. In fact, I found it rather depressing. The book spends six chapters outlining the problems and their "proofs" and a single thin chapter on what to do about it.
I suspect that like most poli-sci-economic-stuff that is found in "normal" bookstores, the intended audience is armchair philosophers, pundits, and anyone who can read that happens to reside in N. America or Western Europe (of which I must be one, as I've bothered to write this silly review). If so, then this book delivers, and in the best way possible.
Five "pillars of [Western] culture" are identified:
* Community and family
* Higher education
* Effective practice of science
* Taxes and governmental powers directly in touch with needs and possibilities
* Self-policing by learned professions
Each has a chapter devoted to explaining how it is under assault. This may sound dry, but the author's style is conversational and the medicine goes down easy. Each chapter is a comfortable, rambling, casually meandering journey to the point. And along the way it forces one to think critically. (Perhaps Jane Jacobs is the Mary Poppins of economics. Anyhow...)
The book was insightful and inspirational. By the time I was finished, I'd written a ton of questions and notes for further exploration. Perhaps this is the optimistic quality mentioned by other reviewers.
Unfortunately, I wan't impressed with the final chapter, "Unwinding vicious spirals". It just isn't enough.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Scary, but very well written warning March 12 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Jane Jacobs states in her introduction that she has no solutions for the problems she sees, but is hopeful if she can point out the issues, perhaps someone else will be able to see the solution. She then proceeds to point out the problems with modern western civilisation that she sees.

Well written and researched, she shows how human societies are natural systems which go through growth and decay cycles, she then goes point by point to show how western society is starting into a decay cycle. I had seen many of the issues she points out, but had not noticed the larger picture until she showed it clearly. From university credentials to seeing a result from taxation, she was a brilliant writer.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Pleased with purchase Sept. 6 2011
The book is awesome! I'm only about 20 pages in but it is so interesting. On arrival it was in great condition.
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5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Personal random thoughts... May 6 2005
By Knadian
This book is really more of a personal reflection on today's society than a work of research. I found that it lacks foundation and is practicaly void of historical facts. Although broken down in five chapters, the book at times reads more like a collection of random thoughts without any real structure about the sujbect at hand - a defenitive lack of editorial skills in my opinion. That said, it does offer the reader something to think about, which does earn the book a couple stars!
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8 of 27 people found the following review helpful
There is a Dark Age Ahead, indeed, as Jane Jacobs warns, but only if you are THAT pessimistic. This is a woman who longs for the nuclear family of the 50s and the removal of many roads because they ruin the community, leading to isolation rather than socialization, among other things. I have to wonder how she was such a supposedly influential urban planner if Toronto, where she worked for many years, turned out so horridly by her own standards which is ruining the community with its mess of roads. I think Jane's been a bit isolated by those roads in Toronto, sitting alone to formulate up all these things. Also, several "get back" statements to certain people who opposed her views in the past were also present in the book, statements which nobody cared to listen to she had to write her own book to put them in print. These were NOT classy and paints a picture of a bitter old lady, which, incidentally, is the tone I got from the book.
Now, I'm not saying everything Jane says is incorrect. She does rightly point out issues of accreditation instead of education where institutions are giving slips of paper and churning out students rather than educating them well. However, as with all her observations, accurate or not, she tends to draw the wrong, or at least, most pessimistic conclusions. It's so pessimistic that apart from an apocalypse prediction, it rivals doomsday cults in predicting where we're going. It's not so drastic, but more painful if you look at it as us having to live through it in a relatively meaningless life devoid of functionality as a family and as a society, rather than just quickly be wiped out.
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