City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age

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Overview

For the first time in the history of our planet, more than half the population-3.3 billion people-is now living in cities. City is the ultimate guidebook to our urban centers-the signature unit of human civilization. With erudite prose and carefully chosen illustrations, this unique work of metatourism explores what cities are and how they work. It covers history, customs and language, districts, transport, money, work, shops and markets, and tourist sites, creating a fantastically detailed portrait of the city ...

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Overview

For the first time in the history of our planet, more than half the population-3.3 billion people-is now living in cities. City is the ultimate guidebook to our urban centers-the signature unit of human civilization. With erudite prose and carefully chosen illustrations, this unique work of metatourism explores what cities are and how they work. It covers history, customs and language, districts, transport, money, work, shops and markets, and tourist sites, creating a fantastically detailed portrait of the city through history and into the future.

The urban explorer will revel in essays on downtowns, suburbs, shantytowns and favelas, graffiti, skylines, crime, the theater, street food, sport, eco-cities, and sacred sites, as well as mini essays on the Tower of Babel, flash mobs, ghettos, skateboarding, and SimCity, among many others. Drawing on a vast range of examples from across the world and throughout history, City is extensively illustrated with full-color photographs, maps, and other images. Acclaimed author and independent scholar P. D. Smith explores what it was like to live in the first cities, how they have evolved, and why in the future, cities will play an even greater role in human life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Smith (Doomsday Men: The Real Doctor Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon), a University College London researcher, has penned an engrossing, illustrated guide to 7,000 years of urban life for an age when more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. From the earliest Sumerian city of Eridu to the wired eco-cities of the future, Smith embarks on a multicentury tour highlighting urban history, customs, infrastructure, architecture, language, markets, crime, parks, cemeteries, transportation, food, and leisure activities across cultures. He excels at providing panoramic yet focused views of a particular subject, such as when tracing the development of language from cuneiform script to 16th-century street speech and its effect on cockney, to the new London dialect of the 21st century, Jafaican. Whether evoking the slums of Mumbai, a 1905 dinner party at London’s Savoy Hotel, or the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán before Cortés conquered it in 1521, Smith proves a lively, learned narrator with a strong synthetic sense. Discursive, imaginative, and comprehensive, his analysis of everything from the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to skateboarding and graffiti should be savored. Read in parts or whole, readers can wander and drift, and enjoy the element of surprise, just as in the exploration of a real city. Photos. Agent: Peter Tallack, the Science Factory. (June)
From the Publisher
Named to “Best Non-Fiction 2012” list, Kirkus Reviews

One of the "Best Books of 2012" (Financial Times)

"Half a century ago, Lewis Mumford published The City in History, a hugely influential and in some ways controversial book that has been the Bible for students and lovers of city life. But that was half a century ago, and around the world the cityscape has undergone enormous changes. A new look at this great subject has for some time been needed, and in City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age, P.D. Smith provides it. A British scholar connected to University College London, Smith is less philosophical and more empirical than Mumford, but if anything this is welcome, as City is wholly accessible to the serious general reader."—Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post

"[A] richly packed, colourful and well-written primer on the role the city plays in our lives."—Guardian (UK)

"It’s a wonderful book: BldgBlog meets Italo Calvino. Gorgeous, smart, fun, and full of surprises, like wandering all the world’s great cities at once … Irresistible"—David Dobbs, Wired.com

 

"The book...is a rich kaleidoscope celebrating urban life in all its aspects … consistently well-written and researched - and impressively eclectic … a hugely enjoyable read and an inspiring vision to aim for."—The Spectator (UK)

"The result is a sort of high-quality, unusually rigorous coffee-table book, designed to be dipped into rather than read from beginning to end … Mr. Smith’s book serves as an excellent introduction to a vast subject."Economist

 

“Effortlessly flitting from the surprisingly modern grid plans of ancient Chinese cities to the hauntingly timeless-looking ruins of contemporary Detroit, City represents a pain-free – in fact, joyful – survey course on nine millennia (at least) of urban history.”—Taras Grescoe, Globe and Mail (Toronto)

"Smith is an engaging and curious docent to the museum of urban history"—Irish Times

"An energetic tribute to the city"—Icon

"Smith is especially adept at capturing the incessant human interaction which characterizes city life, from carnivals to street demonstrations and graffiti. Readers can virtually smell the pho sold by a street vendor in Hanoi, or marvel at acrobatics of skateboarders along the Thames. An absorbing and timely book."—The Plain Dealer

"Impressively comprehensive…Smith's book is a fascinating look at [the city’s] evolution through the many physical and cultural facets that we see all around us."The Atlantic Cities

"An erudite but lively exploration and celebration of humanity's greatest creation—the city. This one's a must read for history geeks."—Shelf Awareness"P.D. Smith takes a thorough and engaging look at the urban lifestyle more than half the planet has now embraced – for better or for worse."Christian Science Monitor

"[City] is a magnificent achievement, broad in scope but absent the kind of stuffy academicism that sometimes afflict such books."—Design Observer

"City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age is a well-written ramble, a delightful book for dipping into for new discoveries. It is a love song to cities, large and small. So who is the audience for this wildly entertainment book? Anyone with an inquiring mind. It might be a good summer reading book for children who have an interest in science, history and connections. Good for adults too."—McClatchy Newspapers

 

“An exhaustively researched but thoroughly entertaining history of the city told in the form of a guidebook by one of Britain’s leading cultural historians. There is no aspect of the city that Smith does not cover, from cemeteries to skyscrapers to street food. Reading it is like being seated next to the most-informed, and most charming guest at your dream dinner party, someone with an endless font of facts enlivened by quirky and often hilarious anecdotes.”—Mark Lamster, Designers and Books

"An engaging guide"—Saul Austerlitz, The National (UAE)

“Discursive, imaginative, and comprehensive, [Smith’s] analysis of everything from the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to skateboarding and graffiti should be savored.”—Publishers Weekly

 

"As exciting, sprawling and multifarious as a shining city on a hill."—Kirkus Reviews

"Like any great city, this is a book to get lost in, to try out new areas, to sample to savor, to enjoy … Highly recommended for readers across many subject categories, including urban studies, cultural history, and travel."—Library Journal

Library Journal
Like any great city, this is a book to get lost in, to try out new areas, to sample, to savor, to enjoy, and all without the fear of bedbugs or getting mugged! Smith (honorary research fellow, University Coll., London; Doomsday Men: The Real Dr. Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon) travels around the world—through time as well as space—to introduce readers to the "archetypal" city in all its aspects and evolutionary stages. "Visiting" cities from ancient Tenochtitlan and Ur to Masdar City, in today's Abu Dabi, and London, Smith gives readers glimpses into the past, present, and future of these urban centers, commenting on their markets, parks, slums, traffic, capsule hotels, and even their gladiators. Treating this work as he would any other guidebook, Smith also includes information on local customs, money, shopping, places to eat, and street languages, enhancing the volume with images, maps, photographs, and drawings of cities and aspects of city life. VERDICT A wonderful and revealing look at cities in all their glory from viewpoints throughout history. Highly recommended for readers across many subject categories, including urban studies, cultural history, and travel.—Melissa Aho, Univ. of Minnesota Lib., Minneapolis
Kirkus Reviews
Smith (Doomsday Men: The Real Dr. Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon, 2007, etc.) composes a polyphonic paean to our urban past, present and future. More than once in this ambitious text, the author declares that "cities are our greatest creation"--here he emerges as urbanology's head cheerleader. Each section focuses on a specific aspect of urban life (hotels, skyscrapers, entertainment, etc.) and offers both a brisk history and a current assessment. Throughout this literary and culturally hip book, Smith distributes numerous sidebars, from the history of the parking meter (born in Oklahoma City) to red-light districts. He alludes to Melville (the first to use in print the word "down-town"), Dickens, Poe, Henry James (who didn't like skyscrapers); he mentions films like Metropolis, Blade Runner and Dirty Harry. The long section about the possible effects of global warming on city life, especially in coastal areas, will probably not sit well with warming's deniers--oh well. Although Smith often waxes lyrical about city life (he's a lover in complete thrall), especially about such features as public parks, libraries, museums and street food, he does not neglect the dark side. One disgusting detail: the sewer lines clogged with fat that lie beneath areas featuring lots of fast-food restaurants. The author provides statistics when he needs them--about half of the world's population now lives in cities (by 2050, he thinks it will be 75 percent)--and a section, both gloomy and upbeat, about urban ruins (e.g., Pompeii and Detroit). Smith writes sensitively about the best of places (Masdar City in Abu Dhabi--a planned community) and the worst (the Dharavi slum in Mumbai), and only neglects bridges and tunnels--a city book minus London and Brooklyn bridges! As exciting, sprawling and multifarious as a shining city on a hill.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781608196760
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 6/19/2012
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 739,177
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

P. D. Smith is an independent researcher and writer. He has taught at University College London where he is an Honorary Research Fellow in the Science and Technology Studies Department and has contributed to the Guardian and writes for other publications including The Times, Independent and the Times Literary Supplement and regularly contributes to the acclaimed website 3 Quarks Daily. His books include Doomsday Men: The Real Dr Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon.

Author's website: www.peterdsmith.com

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Table of Contents

Introduction xi

1 Arrival

The City in the Lake 1

The Golden Door 8

Skyline 13

The Central Station 18

2 History

Origins 29

The Ideal City 37

New Town 44

Necropolis 50

The City Wall 60

3 Customs

Writing 73

Street Language 78

'Kilroy was here' 82

The Voice of the Street 86

Carnival! 93

The House of God 102

4 Where to Stay

Downtown 115

Chinatown, Little Italy and the Ghetto 124

Slum City 132

From Garden Suburbs to Boomburbs 141

The Hotel 152

5 Getting Around

Walking 163

Traffic 171

Going Underground 181

The Skyscraper 192

6 Money

Markets 207

The Jewel Box of the World 216

Got to Pick a Pocket or Two 223

The Department Store 234

7 Time Out

The City and the Stage 247

City of the Mind 255

Street Food 261

Gladiators and Marathon Runners 269

The Park 280

8 Beyond the City

The Wired City 293

Eco-Cities 302

Futuropolis 312

The Ruins 324

Afterword 337

Notes 340

Further Reading 368

Picture Credits 374

Acknowledgements 375

Index 376

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    Posted June 14, 2012

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