The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects Paperback – Feb 1 2001
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Lewis Mumford's massive historical study brings together a wide array of evidence--from the earliest group habitats to medieval towns to the modern centers of commerce (as well as dozens of black-and-white illustrations)--to show how the urban form has changed throughout human civilization. His tone is ultimately somewhat pessimistic: Mumford was deeply concerned with what he viewed as the dehumanizing aspects of the metropolitan trend, which he deemed "a world of professional illusionists and their credulous victims." (In another typically unrestrained criticism, he dubbed the Pentagon a Bronze Age monument to humanity's basest impulses, as well as an "effete and worthless baroque conceit.") Mumford hoped for a rediscovery of urban principles that emphasized humanity's organic relationship to its environment. The City in History remains a powerfully influential work, one that has shaped the agendas of urban planners, sociologists, and social critics since its publication in the 1960s.
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Mumford was particularly drawn to the early Hellenic and later medieval town planning ideals. He noted how the early cities knew their limits, and established satellite communities, rather than continually extend their boundaries. Loose-knit federations were formed, which were much more democratic than were the Roman and Baroque regimental cities.
He charts the evolution of modern city planning ideals, very critical of Le Corbusier's "Radiant City" and other megalomaniac ideas which arose in the 20th century. Mumford favored the "garden city" ideals of Ebeneezer Howard, which recognized the destructive impact of industrialization on urban centers; rather than those schemes which extolled the industrial city as the city of the future.
Mumford is careful not to over reach, or at least let you know when he is forming suppositions. His annotated bibliography is immense, and probably the single most compelling aspect of this book for those who want to read more on the subject. The new Harcourt paperback edition, which came when I ordered this volume, has a more handsome cover than that shown in this listing.
At the very least, this book is very much worth reading. Mumford's work must come back into vogue, if we are to learn to evolve as a culture. His evolutionarily and ecologically-sound perspectives are, ironically, unheard of in an era that desperately needs workable ideas that embrace both such perspectives.
This book is what it says it is, "The City in History". Starting in the neolithic era, Mumford marches through all of recorded time and place (place being limited to the Near East, Greece, Rome, Europe and America) to bring, you, the reader, his thoughts on the role and "prospects" of the city.
In the beginning, it's an exhilerating ride. Mumford is not shy about advancing bold arguments. Although the book starts with sections on the city in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, he doesn't really get excited until he gets to Ancient Greece. I'd say it's clear from the text that Mumford is a fan of Ancient Greece, particularly Athens between the 7th and 6th century B.C.
Then it's off to Rome. Mumford is a harsh critic of Roman culture. His critique of the Roman method of burial (take bodies just outside city limits, dump, bury) contrains so much righteous indigination you might think the Romans were still pottering around when he wrote this book.
After Rome, we get an equally stirring defense of the Middle (don't call them "Dark" around Mumford) Ages. Mumford is a big fan of the city in the late middle ages. As an example, Mumford uses Amsterdam. Specifically, what Mumford likes about this time period is the community involvement by the ruling elites.
Like many other social critics, Mumford is not a huge fan of the impact that capitalism and industrialization have had on the modern city. Unlike some of the other reveiwers below, I don't really hold that against him. He was writing in the sixties, people!!!
However, I do admit that by the last hundred or so pages, when Mumford starts despairing of the future of the city, the whole tirade started to get tired.
I'm not sure I would recommend this for a general reader.
Most recent customer reviews
this book is fine. go get it from the library and learn the origins of the city. critique civilization and its facets with other books and never mind intellectual/acedemia. Read morePublished on Oct. 19 2003
The first three-fourths of Mumford's "The City in History" is a lengthy treatise on the origins and growth of the city, from Babylon to Medieval times. Read morePublished on Aug. 31 2001 by Chad M. Brick