Ecology of Fear; Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster

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Overview

"Graced with a bold political and environmental vision, much splendid phrasemaking and a multitude of facts. . . . A truly eccentric contribution."--The New York Times Book Review  

Earthquakes. Wildfires. Floods. Drought. Tornadoes. Snakes in the sea, mountain lions, and a plague of bees. In this controversial tour de force of scholarship, unsparing vision, and inspired writing, Mike Davis, the author of City of Quartz, revisits Los Angeles as a Book of the Apocalypse theme park. By brilliantly juxtaposing L.A.'s fragile natural ecology with its disastrous environmental and social history, he compellingly shows a city deliberately put in harm's way by land developers, builders, and politicians, even as the incalculable toll of inevitable future catas-trophe continues to accumulate.

Counterpointing L.A.'s central role in America's fantasy life--the city has been destroyed no less than 138 times in novels and films since 1909--with its wanton denial of its own real history, Davis creates a revelatory kaleidoscope of American fact, imagery, and sensibility.  Drawing upon a vast array of sources, Ecology of Fear meticulously captures the nation's violent malaise and desperate social unease at the millennial end of "the American century."  With savagely entertaining wit and compassionate rage, this book conducts a devastating reconnaissance of our all-too-likely urban future.

"Dizzying. . . . In Mr. Davis's account, the world ends in fire, and the next time is now."--The New York Times

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Editorial Reviews

Adam Begley
A whale of a book, a brilliantly organized catalogue of catastrophe, swift and scorching.
New York Observer
Eric Schine
Ecology of Fear is an enormously convincing and terrifying work. -- Business Week
Todd S. Purdum
...[T]he thread that runs through [Davis'] work is the cruel and perpetual folly of the ruling elites....[W]hat really animates the book is the author's sense of outrage at the social inequities ever present in the fallen paradise....Mr. Davis remains a foursquare pessimist about the region, an understandable position... — The New York Times
William Finnegan
Graced with a bold political and environmental vision, much splendid phrasemaking and a multitude of facts, large and small, that I bet you never knew about Los Angeles. -- NY Times Book Review
Library Journal
Davis's quirky social history of Los Angeles, City of Quartz , has become a regional best seller and gained legions of fans across the country. His new work shares many of that book's best traits -- deep and wide-ranging research; an engaging, idiomatic style; and unequivocal opinions about who is to blame for Los Angeles's failings. Blending natural history, geography, political analysis, and a bit of literary analysis, Davis argues that the City of Angels has evolved from promised land to symbol of catastrophe in the popular imagination. Moreover, that symbolism is apt and well deserved given the number of natural laws and social needs its citizens continue to ignore. Individual chapters focus on parks planning, recent earthquake activity, wild animal incursions into the idyllic suburbs, and more. The book's one fault is the diversity of these subjects; it reads more like a collection of essays than a coherent single argument. Still, this highly entertaining study should be required reading for prospective Angelenos and students of urban design; for all academic and public libraries. -- Eric Bryant
Adam Begley
A whale of a book, a brilliantly organized catalogue of catastrophe, swift and scorching.
New York Observer
Alexandra Jacobs
One trembles at the thoroughness with which Davis has sussed out [L.A.'s] troubled topography. Mountain lions prowl the canyons, lured by unwitting campers' potato chips! Rich people hunker down behind their privet hedges while the masses loot roach spray! And yet this trenchant map of apocalyptic pulp lit may be even more humbling.
Entertainment Weekly
Jim Newton
It's sharp, savage, laugh-out-loud witty, thoughtful, exquisitely researched, occasionally hyperbolic, and indispensable....But it's still a hard book to love.
The Washington Monthly
John Leonard
The sky is falling and so is the yen. For [L.A.] it's...fire and flood, earthquakes and drought, tornadoes and tsunamis....Davis himself is an arsonist, igniting combustible ideas...
The Nation
Pico Iyer
Furiously researched and slashingly argued, this book is a 30-bell alarm by L.A. obsessive Davis....Upholders of the status quo will take issue with Davis' provocations, but the...statistics marshaled here should have folks racing for the next plane to Seattle.
Time Magazine
The New Yorker
With the synthetic reach of a MacArthur Fellow and the rhetoric of a gleeful Chicken Little, Davis paints Southern California as a 'Book of the Apocalypse theme park,' where decades of ecological destruction, urban sprawl, and racial and class polarization are set to collide with earthquakes, wildfires, floods, tornadoes, man-eating mountain lions, and plague-infested rats and squirrels. Davis' cataclysmic history is clearly designed to disabuse anyone still willing to buy into the area's long-cultivated peaceful and sun-drenched mythology.
Thomas S. Hines
Unsettling... Ecology of Fear will not likely appear on tourist bureau or Chamber of Commerce reading lists, but it must be read by anyone who cares about Los Angeles. -- Los Angeles Times Book Review
Todd S. Purdum
...[T]he thread that runs through [Davis'] work is the cruel and perpetual folly of the ruling elites....[W]hat really animates the book is the author's sense of outrage at the social inequities ever present in the fallen paradise....Mr. Davis remains a foursquare pessimist about the region, an understandable position...
The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
A formidable intellectual history of how Los Angeles, the locus of postwar American dreams, became the avatar of national nightmares of physical and social destruction. In this decade, L.A. has witnessed natural phenomena as staggering as those inflicted upon Egypt in the Book of Exodus: the 1994 Northridge earthquake, floods, tornadoes, Malibu fires, even the invasion of 'man-eating' mountain lions and beach snakes. And like ancient Egypt, L.A. may be reaping the whirlwind for arrogance and social injustice, argues Davis (City of Quartz), an urban theorist who has taught at the Getty Institute and has contributed to the Nation, Sierra magazine, and the Los Angeles Times. In Davis's liberal worldview, the stampede to build edge cities, freeways, and subdivisions paved the way for nature's revenge as surely as mass poverty and racial unrest were the raw materials for the 1992 L.A. riots.

In the first three decades of this century, a 'selfish, profit-driven presentism' ruled southern California, as politicians and developers rejected proposals to preserve parks, beaches, playgrounds and mountain reserves for the community. Davis chillingly details how the vast infrastructure built to service the suburban sprawl was based on a disaster record of only the last 50 years, how 'feedback loops' in the delicate eco-system multiply the potential for disaster, and how narrowly L.A. escaped devastation even worse than its well-chronicled catastrophes (e.g., none of the state's last 10 major earthquakes has occurred during school hours). His lucid explanations of scientific phenomena are mixed with spiky observations (e.g., on how southern California's Mediterraneanclimate differs from the tranquil paradise proclaimed by early civic boosters: 'It is Walden Pond on acid,' he notes). Davis concludes this disturbing history by analyzing racist dystopian fantasies set in L.A. (including The Turner Diaries) and how high-tech trends may cater to affluent Angelenos' mania for security. A dazzling mix of environmental studies, urban history, and cultural criticism.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375706073
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/1999
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Pages: 496
  • Product dimensions: 5.15 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

A former meatcutter and long-distance truck driver, Mike Davis has taught urban theory at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, was a fellow at the Getty Institute, and was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.  He is the author of Prisoners of the American Dream and City of Quartz.  He was born in Fontana, a suburb of Los Angeles, and now lives in Pasadena.
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