on October 12, 2004
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. As is typical, it is easy to point out problems, but difficult to provide solutions. Then again, perhaps it would be a waste of time to try to provide a one-size-fits-all solution as each situation is different and requires local resources to be freed to step-up and solve the problem for themselves. Reading the book will help clarify that last statement.
Hopefully, the solution defficiency will help inspire the smarter people of my generation to arrive at solutions that expand upon the core of the ideas presented in the chapter. I'm deffinately not one of those, but at least it inspired me to look into many of the ideas and perhaps contribute some small thing.
Highly recommended, if only to impress your friends around the watercooler with concepts such as "import replacement" and "jitneys vs. tradtional mass transit". (It'll also make you cooler, and better looking!)
on March 12, 2011
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.
on May 6, 2005
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!
on April 8, 2005
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. Thank goodness Jane won't be around for it, but I'd advise her to have some faith in humanity and die in peace rather than fret about the rest of us as a species, all for nothing.
I had to read this book for a course and I deliberately finished the final few pages standing in line at the university library, to donate it the moment I was done if only not to pollute the atmosphere with unnecessary by-products of burning a book.