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Great American Cities Past and Present

Overview

The stunning history of the transformation of America's great cities.

Great American Cities Past and Present is a fascinating collection of 250 large-format photographs and commentary that illustrates the dramatic changes in America's urban landscape over the last century. The images clearly show the remarkable development of such cities as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, as they went from flourishing cities to vibrant metropolises of ...

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Overview

The stunning history of the transformation of America's great cities.

Great American Cities Past and Present is a fascinating collection of 250 large-format photographs and commentary that illustrates the dramatic changes in America's urban landscape over the last century. The images clearly show the remarkable development of such cities as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, as they went from flourishing cities to vibrant metropolises of international significance.

Each left-hand page in the book shows a cityscape — some are skylines, others are street scenes — as it was 5, 20, 50 or even 100 years ago, and the facing page shows the same location as it looks today. Each visual comparison tells a compelling story, from economic busts and booms to waves of immigration to city planning gone wrong (or maybe right) to a total disregard for heritage architecture to the urban appetite for farmland. The book also chronicles the changes in styles of dress, consumerism, storefronts and public transit that accompanied the transformations.

Detailed captions describe changes such as:

  • Technological advances that raised skylines to new heights
  • Urban ghettoization and regeneration
  • The casualties of fires, earthquakes and tornadoes
  • The cultural evolution of neighborhoods
  • The best and worst of American architecture

Maps also include locator keys that highlight features and buildings within the photographs. From skyline to street level, Great American Cities Past and Present gives readers a thought-provoking perspective on America's cities.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This book opens with a hyperbolic paean: "people are attracted to cities, are drawn to build them, as if it is genetic code." Cities "are the great things, the wild things, the jaw-dropping wonders about which all men and women dream." Unfortunately, there's no discussion of these ideas; instead, photos of North American cities taken at different times in history highlight the changing metropolis--Jacksonville, Fla. in 1913, 1921, 2006, and 2008; Cleveland, Ohio in 1951 and 2005; Quebec in 1901 and 2005, and so on. Bigger cities get bigger spreads, but the book is admirably democratic: a city is interesting, it seems, simply because it exists and changes over time. Perhaps Sapp and Solomon are right, but their framework is lacking and reveals an endemic problem. The photo spreads feel random; why this shot and not another? Why that year? And since the book's purpose is to compare and contrast, it's disappointing that paired photos (the Flatiron area in 1915 and 2009, for example) often don't match up. One is perplexed, and, as often happens when confronted with a missed opportunity, left to consider how this promising idea could have been better executed. (Aug.)
Shutterbug - C. A. Boylan
Over 250 large format images guide the reader across America through time to view how technological advances, population growth, economic challenges, and the forces of nature have dramatically altered major American cities in just 100 years. Photos taken from 1860 to 2009 reveal the stunning transformation of cities from Anchorage to Atlanta, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and beyond. This virtual tour is educational, enlightening, and certain to spark your imagination, making you wonder how these same forces will shape our world in the next 100 years.
Tulsa World - James D. Watts Jr.
For things built primarily of metal and stone, city skylines are dramatically changeable things, as this book proves. Writer Sapp and photographer Solomon juxtapose historic and recent images of 59 U.S. and six Canadian cities to show how these places have evolved over the course of the last century. The book's introduction touches some of the myriad things that can affect how a city's skyline changes, from natural disasters...to manmade... Most cities are dealt with in two or three pages. Oklahoma City is represented by photographs from the 1880s, the 1950s and 2000, while Tulsa is shown in early 20th-century panoramas alongside an image from 2010. New York City, of course, gets the most attention, as its evolution is at once the most dramatic and the most concentrated — so much happening within such a proscribed space. And here, as with some of the other entries, Sapp and Solomon try to replicate the angles of historic photographs with their modern images, showing just how much or how little some things have changed.
Shelf Life
From Philadelphia to San Jose, Detroit to Toronto, every page offers a visual history of the way they were and what has risen or been restored from the ashes of bygone eras. The authors have chosen their subjects very well.
Library Journal
The appealing concept of this coffee-table volume is to compare old photographs of North American cities with modern ones, but the execution is extremely disappointing. The focus of the book is unclear; first, it appears to make an argument for historic preservation, but this is overtaken quickly by an uncritical celebration of urban building for its own sake. Promises to explore and explain changes in urban history and lifestyle are never delivered on. The authors do not appear to have any particular expertise in architectural history (their previous books have included titles on firearms, bicycling, bow hunting, and locomotives), and this shows throughout. Picture quality is uneven; it seems no photographs were taken especially for this book and generally come from stock or public-domain sources. More disturbingly, some captions contain factual inaccuracies or parrot text available in other reference sources. VERDICT Better options include Paul E. Cohen and Henry G. Taliaferro's book of historical maps, American Cities, and M. Hill Goodspeed's Skylines: American Cities Yesterday and Today.—Margaret Heller, Dominican Univ. Lib., River Forest, IL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780594446996
  • Publisher: Firefly Books, Limited
  • Publication date: 8/19/2010
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 11.80 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Since serving with the U.S. Army, Rick Sapp has been a journalist, author and editor of such magazines as Bowhunting World and Archery Business. He lives in Gainesville, Florida.

Brian Solomon is an accomplished photographer and author with more than 30 titles to his name, including Railway Masterpieces and North American Railroad Bridges.

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