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A History of Future Cities

A History of Future Cities

by Daniel Brook

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A pioneering exploration of four cities where East meets West and past becomes future: St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Dubai.


A pioneering exploration of four cities where East meets West and past becomes future: St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Dubai.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Jonathan Yardley
This uncommonly interesting and intelligent book considers how two powerful human urges—to imitate the things we admire and/or envy, and to be in the vanguard of modernization—have played out in the histories of four of the world's oddest and most prominent cities: St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai and Dubai…Brook…is not your basic patronizing First Worlder turning up his nose at cities whose powers-that-be think that erecting an ersatz Big Ben will somehow turn them into London or that cramming the royal palace with the greatest art of France and Italy will somehow turn them into Paris or Rome. Brook is sympathetic rather than condescending to their ambitions.
The New York Times Book Review - Cara Parks
"Arriving at each new city," Italo Calvino wrote in Invisible Cities, "the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had." Brook provides just such an unexpected past in his persuasive and lushly detailed new tale of four cities—St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai and Dubai—offering an intellectual history of cities at the crossroads of East and West, rich and poor, modern and conservative.
Publishers Weekly
In these deft portraits of St. Petersburg, Russia; Bombay, India; Shanghai, China; and Dubai, UAE; journalist Brook (The Trap) artfully condenses and illustrates three centuries of revolutionary urban development and globalizing impulses. From Peter the Great’s decree that brought St. Petersburg into being in 1703 to the recent creations of towering skyscrapers in the Persian Gulf, these “instant cities modeled on the West have been built in the developing world in audacious attempts to wrench a lagging region into the modern world,” with relative degrees of success and unforeseen consequences. Brook traces the commercial and authoritarian origins of these deliberately “dis-orient-ed” cities that slam West and East together. The intended goal of promoting commerce with the wider world inevitably created heady mixes of cultural and political mores: the Communist Party of China thrived in 1920s Shanghai, a portal to the West that sowed the seeds of the People’s Republic; Bombay (now Mumbai) played a crucial role in fostering the movement that led to India’s independence in 1947. While the ruling family of Dubai can now run it as a corporation—backed by studies and plans from McKinsey and Pricewaterhouse Coopers—Brook convincingly puts it in a continuum of cities that have taken on a life of their own, observing that “the only question is when, not if, its people will seize the opportunity its autocrats have unwittingly created.” Agent: Larry Weisman. (Feb.)
Kirkus Reviews
An intimate, canny comparative study of four of the great world cities--St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai and Dubai--in terms of the imposition of Western influence and onslaught of modern currents. All built from the outside in, rather than by organic native forces, and gradually transformed for better or worse by their situation within the "global crossroads," these four cities all exhibit the tensions and contradictions of the exciting modern metropolis. Brook (The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America, 2007, etc.) is not an academic, thus imparting a more accessible, entertaining generalist's perspective on considerable research that goes only so deep. In each case, he traces the models on which construction of the city drew: Peter the Great fashioned his entirely new city after Amsterdam, infusing it with Western technology he had learned himself, industry and diversity--yet it was built by thousands of serfs and was essentially feudal and autocratic. Shanghai became a coastal trading post wrested from Chinese restrictions by the British East India Company and other interests, for whom "extraterritoriality" meant impunity to operate their enterprises in segregated concessions. The archipelago of Bombay attracted a stunning diversity of people and adopted a luxurious lifestyle that was harnessed by Sir Henry Bartle Frere in fantastic imperial construction design that achieved Britain's urbs prima in Indis. Dubai, a laissez-faire trading center in the Gulf, only took off in the 1960s with the discovery of oil, guided by the Westernizing autocratic design of Sheikh Rashid to become a free-wheeling boomtown where "96 percent of the population came from somewhere else." Revolution, world war, emigration and the financial bubble-burst would by turns devastate and help regenerate these cities. Brook looks at these metropolises as a testament to human imagination and as a barometer of future promise. An enormously elucidating and relevant study.
Benjamin R. Barber
“‘Instant cities’ like Shenzhen, China, may seem like twenty-first-century twins of ‘disposable cities’ like rust-belt Camden, New Jersey. But in this probing new book that is at once both charming and reflective, Daniel Brook tells the story of urban hybrids conceived to fuse Western cosmopolitanism and local culture. His close but never pedantic reading of these metropolises puts the city back at the center of our vision, reminding us that in new and old towns alike, the urban amalgam of creativity, diversity, and mobility offers a key that not only unlocks the past but also opens the door to our future.”
New York Times
“Persuasive and lushly detailed.”
Washington Post
“Uncommonly interesting and intelligent.”
Wall Street Journal
“The pleasure in Mr. Brook’s unusual history is in his descriptions of the creation of these cities. The deeper message,
though, is about the tensions such cities create.”
The New Yorker
“An interesting thesis about the city’s role in fomenting political change in the modern era.”
“[An] inspired tour of the postmodern city. . . . Invigorating.”
“[An] inspired tour of the postmodern city. . . . Invigorating.”

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Brook is the author of The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America and a journalist whose work has appeared in publications including Harper’s, the Nation, Foreign Policy, and Slate. A New York native, he lives in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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