Dark Age Ahead Paperback – Apr 21 2005
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
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