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on December 27, 2011
The Internet is now the home of much of the intellectual content we make use of every day. This may have all kinds of implications. In the particular case of podcasting there is a lot of wonderful material out there, particularly the alternative, non-mainstream, non-status quo voices. The KunstlerCast, a weekly offering featuring James Howard Kunstler, an American public intellectual and social critic with a powerful angle on all things suburban, is a terrific example of the upside of the Internet.

Almost from the first show we've been listening to the KunstlerCast and loving it. We cherish the chance to have the goodness on paper. The dry humour and conversational enjoyability tops off a tasty demolition job on the American automotive/suburban complex, a version of which we built in this country for better or worse. Each week, host Duncan Crary sets up Jim Kunstler with a topical angle on where the hell life in North America is going with all its consumer culture, the ageing strip malls, its massive energy requirements, car dependence, suburban cul-de-sac houses by the zillion, its completely whacked economics and increasingly questionable popular culture. It's rarely ever pretty.

Now, there's a book based on the podcasts. It may help bring the wit and wisdom out to a wider audience and preserve it for the future. Both truly worthy things!

You get eight side-bar loaded chapters on "the tragic comedy of urban sprawl." There's also notes and an index and a set of quirky title headers by comic artist Ken Avidor. The latter appear to have been created in an archaic style with a hollow cylinder held in the hand which transfers a sort of wet toner to paper allowing the artist to stain a picture onto the paper by themselves without a computer at all. Imagine that! One more thing to recommend this three hundred page gem of Duncan Crary's. Exactly the type of thing one could read on a local light rail vehicle, or a Euro-styled high speed train, gawd, even a kinda-medium speed train would do the trick.

The conversational tone and good naturedness of the Kunstlercast and the book often belie the serious nature of the topics at hand. Above all, Kunstler calls for a renewed and closer relationship with reality in North America, a culture that's been acting like a demented rock star for decades now, squandering its wealth and talent on decadent insanities like brutalist city halls, starchitecture and megamalls.

This is like talking with friends, intellectual cousins. When I was reading KunstlerCast it felt a bit like David Byrne's 2009 book Bicycle Diairies wherein the artist riffs on his bike based explorations of some of the world's major cities. No sooner had this thought occurred to me than I came across a line in which Crary makes a reference to the Talking Heads song Nothing But Flowers.

I don't know about you but I love little moments of cross connection between ideas and feelings like that. They are kind of like the feeling one gets in the kind of public place that Kunstler and Crary advocate, the healthy, walkable, finely detailed, organic, cohesive, localized and self-respecting communities that have become too hard to find but which we better learn to rediscover. Anybody who remotely cares about where this continent is going or ever wondered if there was something wrong with the way we inhabit our world here needs this book.

My own interest in understanding suburbia has to do with that place becoming the new frontier of poverty. KunstlerCast helps out with that, and more.
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on December 21, 2011
If you are looking for the various Kunstler personalities concentrated and documented in a book, this is a 5-star book because it gives you exactly that. It is also high quality -- very nicely laid out and illustrated, and the interviews are well-edited with appropriate and relevant sidebars here and there. It's not just a self-publish manuscript wedged between colorful covers.

Anyone who loves the podcast will love this book. Anyone who likes JHK's non-fiction books or World Made By Hand novels will also find a lot to like, I think.
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