After two hundred pages I wanted to give this book five stars, but after finishing it, I was almost ready to give it three stars.
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.