Untimely Ruins: An Archaeology of American Urban Modernity, 1819-1919

Paperback (Print)
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $19.60
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 32%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (7) from $19.60   
  • New (3) from $24.97   
  • Used (4) from $19.60   


American ruins have become increasingly prominent, whether in discussions of  “urban blight” and home foreclosures, in commemorations of 9/11, or in postapocalyptic movies. In this highly original book, Nick Yablon argues that the association between American cities and ruins dates back to a much earlier period in the nation’s history. Recovering numerous scenes of urban desolation—from failed banks, abandoned towns, and dilapidated tenements to the crumbling skyscrapers and bridges envisioned in science fiction and cartoons—Untimely Ruins challenges the myth that ruins were absent or insignificant objects in nineteenth-century America.

The first book to document an American cult of the ruin, Untimely Ruins traces its deviations as well as derivations from European conventions. Unlike classical and Gothic ruins, which decayed gracefully over centuries and inspired philosophical meditations about the fate of civilizations, America’s ruins were often “untimely,” appearing unpredictably and disappearing before they could accrue an aura of age. As modern ruins of steel and iron, they stimulated critical reflections about contemporary cities, and the unfamiliar kinds of experience they enabled. Unearthing evocative sources everywhere from the archives of amateur photographers to the contents of time-capsules, Untimely Ruins exposes crucial debates about the economic, technological, and cultural transformations known as urban modernity. The result is a fascinating cultural history that uncovers fresh perspectives on the American city.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Carl Smith
"Untimely Ruins is a magisterial work of scholarship, brimming with intelligence, insight, and interest on every page. Nick Yablon’s scholarship is prodigious. His extended meditation on the meanings of American ruins explains why they are distinctive, what they reveal, and how they matter. This is a book of exceptional historical expanse and interpretive ambition that is at the same time remarkably lucid from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, and page to page."—Carl Smith, author of The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City
Karen Halttunen
“‘What! Ruins so soon!’ exclaimed Alexis de Tocqueville after encountering an abandoned cabin in frontier New York.  The close association between American ruins (both real and imagined) and modernity from the Revolution through World War I is the focus of this superbly erudite and insight-packed study. Nick Yablon locates ruins in a remarkable range of cultural locations, including Hudson River landscape paintings and Kodak photographs, Indian mounds and urban slums, disused canals and dystopian fictions. Nineteenth-century Americans, he demonstrates, found ruins good to think with, employing them to ponder the future of the American republic, boom-and-bust economic cycles, labor-capital conflict, natural disasters, and, above all, the modern city itself. Untimely Ruins bears the hallmark of the best work in cultural history, finding patterns in places where other scholars might not look.”—Karen Halttunen, University of Southern California
T. J.�Jackson Lears
“Nick Yablon ranges widely, from log cabins to skyscrapers and from Tocqueville to pulp fiction. He combines imaginative research with probing interpretation. Untimely Ruins offers fresh and challenging insights about the American built environment on nearly every page.”—T. J. Jackson Lears, Rutgers University
T. J.Jackson Lears
“Nick Yablon ranges widely, from log cabins to skyscrapers and from Tocqueville to pulp fiction. He combines imaginative research with probing interpretation. Untimely Ruins offers fresh and challenging insights about the American built environment on nearly every page.”—T. J. Jackson Lears, Rutgers University
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226946641
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/2010
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Nick Yablon is associate professor of American studies at the University of Iowa.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations




Of Light Bulbs and Bathtubs: Excavating the Modern City

1 Crumbling Columns and Day-Old Ruins:

Specters of Antiquity on the American Grand Tour, 1819–1837

2 "Even Eden, you know, ain’t all built":

Paper Cities, British Investors, and the Ruins of Cairo, Illinois, 1837–1844

3 The Petrified City:

Antiquity and Modernity in Melville’s New York, 1835–1865

4 Relapsing into Barbarism:

Labor, Ethnicity, and Ruin in Prospective Histories of Urban America, 1865–1906

5 "Plagued By Their Own Inventions":

Reframing the Technological Ruins of San Francisco, 1906–1909

6 The Metropolitan Life in Ruins:

Architectural and Fictional Speculations in New York, 1893–1919


Toward the Posthuman Ruin



Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)