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Dead Cities: And Other Tales Paperback – 1 Jan 2002

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 458 pages
  • Publisher: The New Press; New edition edition (1 Jan. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565848446
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565848443
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 14.6 x 19 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 668,726 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

The storm is here, crushed dams no longer hold, the savage seas come inland with a hop.

About the Author

Mike Davis is the author of "City of Quartz, Magical Urbanism," and, most recently, "Dead Cities," and co-author of "Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See," A MacArthur Fellow, he lives in San Diego.


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Format: Hardcover
'Dead Cities' is the third instalment in Mike Davis’ exploration of the nature of the modern and postmodern American city, following 'Ecology of Fear' and the superb 'City of Quartz'. Once again, it is his vacillating love/hate relationship with the deserts and metropolises of California in particular, which forms the centre of his work.
Despite the fact that it’s Preface would have you believe 'Dead Cities' is a meditation upon post-September 11th urban America; it is rather a collection of essays and articles written during the last decade which each provide a broadly different ‘take’ upon the notion of the dead or dying city. 'Dead Cities' examines the fragility of our urban infrastructures, threatened by man-made or natural factors; providing us with a fractured journey through parts of America in which the apocalypse has already taken place and where the destruction of the twin towers seems an almost inevitable climax.
The scope is vast, ranging from what some may find to be the rather dry economic and statistical data about corrupt town planning in LA; to fascinating and disturbing chapters on the expansion of suburban Las Vegas, and America’s secret nuclear weapons testing. Davis also takes in the Compton race riots, extremes of weather in Canada, and there’s even a chapter on the bombing of Berlin in WW2. What the spectre of 9/11 adds to this collective is a retrospectively portentous significance; the sense of an interminable social trajectory.
The one drawback of 'Dead Cities' is that it is easy to lose sight of it’s central argument. It is not, like Davis’ previous works, a narrative which steadily gains momentum, but rather ponderings around a central subject.
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Format: Hardcover
"Dead Cities" is a collection of Mike Davis essays, most of them by now belonging to the older range of his work (many are from the early 1990s), but this is nonetheless perhaps the best of the essay collections by Davis in print.

As is usual with Davis, the tone is apocalyptic and yet subtle and well-considered throughout, in that combination of piercing rhetoric and grand imaginings that makes his work so readable and compelling. Also usual is the way in which about the first half or so of the collection consists of considerations, commentaries and concerns regarding Los Angeles and its complicated urban structures, both physical and social. Not all of this is equally interesting to non-Angelenos, and sometimes Davis does go on for too long in too much detail about this or that development project on such-and-so street, but on the other hand it allows Davis an opportunity to show his remarkable grasp of the subtle intricacies of race and class in the United States and their intermixture. Here Davis shows the way in which Marxism-based analysis remains the best tool for understanding specific social formations, whether small-scale or large, without it even being necessary to actually name Marx anywhere. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and that is what Davis does.

What is remarkable about this particular book is the last part of it, which contains a few lengthy articles by Mike Davis on natural sciences and ecology. The title of the book, Dead Cities, is derived from an extremely intriguing article he wrote on various fin-de-siècle authors' imaginings of great cities, from London to San Francisco, and the way in which they would decay and be reconquered by nature if the humans in them were suddenly to disappear.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9d028ba0) out of 5 stars 8 reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d008d08) out of 5 stars Radical Urbanism 14 Mar. 2004
By roy christopher - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"The ground on which you walk is the tongue with which I talk" -Saul Williams
Mike Davis gives voice to just what the hell we've done to our environment, what's transpiring in the gaps in our relationships with each other, and what goes on underneath the deep and wide footprint of our rampant urban development. Dead Cities is a postmortem excavation of our postmodern urbanscape, a conjugation of all the verbs at work in the human condition.
From the chaos of the "Miamization" of Southern California ghettos and the sprawling ennui of suburbia, to the unfathomable waste of natural resources in Las Angeles and Las Vegas and the groaning discontent of the earth itself, Mike Davis follows every vector that juts out of Main Street, USA. And there's bad news around every corner - especially for the next generation of leaders, planners, and plain old citizens. As he told Mark Dery in an interview for 21C magazine, "Increasingly, the only legal youthful activities involve consumption, which just forces whole areas of normal teenage behavior off into the margins... Irvine, which is the last generation's absolute model utopia of a master-planned community, is producing youth pathologies equivalent to those in the ghettos simply because in the planning of Irvine there was no allotted space for the social relationships of teenagers, nowhere for them lawfully to be - the parks are closed at night, they're not allowed to cruise, and so on. So you get these seemingly random acts of violence." The geography of nowhere is cultivating its very own nihilistic culture -- even in the "perfectly planned" gated communities.
The most commendable thing about Mike Davis and his exhaustively researched books is their propensity toward the margins. Not that he meanders around the subjects about which he writes, rather Davis always includes that extra story that makes the core concepts resonate that much stronger. Whether it's the seven deadly sins of Los Angeles, the dynamical behavior of earth as a closed system, or the plight of the immigrant computer-smashers who moved here "to work in your hi-tech economy," Davis always gets to the core of the issues at hand with his feet firmly on the ground -- and Dead Cities is his most all-encompassing work yet. As he writes at the end of the book, "We don't need Derrida to know which way the wind blows or why the pack ice is disappearing."
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d5b20bc) out of 5 stars The Dead and the Dying 17 April 2003
By Elizabeth Nolan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Whether it strictly is or not, Dead Cities feels like the third 'instalment' in Mike Davis' exploration of the nature of the modern and postmodern American city, sitting alongside Ecology of Fear and the superb City of Quartz. Once again, it is his vacillating love/hate relationship with the deserts and metropolises of California in particular, which forms the centre of his work.
Despite the fact that it's Preface would have you believe Dead Cities is a meditation upon post-September 11th urban America; it is rather a collection of essays and articles written during the last decade which each provide a broadly different `take' upon the notion of the dead or dying city. Dead Cities examines the fragility of our urban infrastructures, threatened by man-made or natural factors, providing us with a fractured journey through parts of America in which the apocalypse has already taken place and where the destruction of the twin towers seems an almost inevitable climax.
The scope is vast, ranging from what some may find to be the rather dry economic and statistical data about corrupt town planning in LA; to fascinating and disturbing chapters on the expansion of suburban Las Vegas, and America's secret nuclear weapons testing. Davis also takes in the Compton race riots, extremes of weather in Canada, and there's even a chapter on the bombing of Berlin in WW2. What the spectre of 9/11 adds to this collective is a retrospectively portentous significance; the sense of an interminable social trajectory.
The one drawback of Dead Cities is that it is easy to lose sight of it's central argument. It is not, like Davis' previous works, a narrative which steadily gains momentum, but rather ponderings around a central subject. Whilst this means the strength of a core argument is at times obscured, is also serves as the text's strength, making it easy to dip in and out of. The subject matter in itself almost seems more suited to this layered approach, drawing together a montage of images and ideas, all held in place by Davis's remarkably acute eye for human pathos and contemporary social mores.
It's difficult to define exactly where Mike Davis's work should sit in terms of literary genre, for he is at once a geographer, an economist, a sociologist, a psychologist a journalist and an architectural critic. Where you will find him is under the rather vacuous heading of `urban theorist' which in truth combines all of the above and more. It is however, this diversity which gives his writing its appeal, and it is admirably represented here.
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cefcc84) out of 5 stars Slouching towards Bethlehem: the greatest hits 13 Nov. 2002
By pnotley@hotmail.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Collections of the work of journalists or intellectuals can be a mixed bag, especially when the author is better known for a major work. Such is the case here for Mike Davis, author of the invaluable Prisoners of the American Dream, City of Quartz, Ecology of Fear, and Late Victorian Holocausts. This is a collection of essays and articles that he has written over the past decade or so. There is a certain lack of unity as Davis discusses three major themes: disaster, ecological crisis, and gross injustice in the world the Sunbelt Republicans made.
Notwithstanding that, there is much that the reader will find informative and valuable. Carrying on from his chapter in The Ecology of Fear about Los Angeles' dystopias, the book starts with a chapter on the imagined literary destruction of New York. Davis quotes H.G. Wells' almost forgotten classic The War in the Air about the first aerial destruction of NYC: "They [New Yorkers] saw war as they saw history, through an irridescent mist, deodorized, scented indeed, with all its essential cruelties tactfully hidden away." While this is not entirely fair about New York, it is all too true of the Republican Party. Davis goes on to discuss the poisoning of much of Nevada and Utah by the military, as well as making model cities to practice bombing Axis civilians in world war two. (Davis reminds us that a third of the 600,000 civilians killed this way in Germany were prisoners of war and slave labor). There are essays on Los Angeles' Pentecostals, as well as how one Hawaian island remembers several devastating tsunamis. There is also an essay which discusses several fictional attempts to describe what would happen if most humans became extinct. The longest chapter is an article where Davis summarizes the revolution in earth sciences as geology and evolutionary theory has to come to terms with the prospect of asteroids hitting the earth on a devastating, if irregular basis.
But the book is most impressive in discussing the greed, selfishness and waste of the "conservatives" who have done so much to make the American west what it is today. A chapter on Las Vegas discusses how the city has no responsible water ethic, cuts down public space to the lowest in the country, disperses land over an enormous and wasterful area, while public transit is dictated by the car. 60% of water use goes to irrigate lawns and golf courses, while water use is double or triple that of other Western cities. But being in the middle of a desert Las Vegas' water requirements cannot be sustained by local sources so it greedily seeks water elsewhere. Meanwhile local government is deliberately fragmented and gerrymandered so that the most valuable areas are separated from the electorate that needs public services.
Los Angeles, as Davis shows, shares many of the same vices. It has only a third of NYC's public park area per capita. It has the same distorted local government. The worst incorporated city must be Vernon, which has 48,000 workers, mostly Latinos in sweatshops, and an actual resident electorate of 90 people, who do not use their tax revenues to help their workers but the property developers who run the city almost as a private fief. Other areas show white electorates ignoring hispanic minorites. Meanwhile Davis discusses Los Angeles' would-be subway system, where the relatively affluent 6% of the ridership who use the proposed subway get 70% of public transit funds, while the poorer, darker majority who use the bus face fare increases and reduced service. Davis also goes to the "city" of Compton, where before it achieved a black majority the white city council spitefully ran it down and sowed the streets with salt. Compton's attempt to get a tax base by annexing industrial areas was thwarted and attempts to attract investment with tax breaks only attracted those who took the money and run. Now the black council selfishly protects its own privileges over those of the increasing Hispanic population. Best of all is the chapter "Who Killed L.A." which discusses the systematic redistribution of income from the poorest inner cities to the wealthy suburbs. (The federal contribution to Los Angeles' budget fell from 18% to 2% from 1977 to 1985, while George Bush stuffed the 1992 riots aid package with a cut on luxury taxes on yachts, but vetoed it when it tried to remove the tax deduction on club dues.)
The final chapter discusses ecological crisis as global warning leads to increasingly erratic weather, while the spread of the market and corporate pressures leads to deforestation in Vietnam, ecological degradation in China and the extinction of the Grand Bank fisheries. The book could use more updates, and there are a number of annoying printing errors and misprints (most obvious, Alexandra Richie's name is mispelled as Alexander). But Dead Cities is a valuable work that produces an acerbic outlook in an intellectual world that is complacent beyond belief.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d0d5af8) out of 5 stars Awesome sucker punch in the gut! 12 Aug. 2006
By Tunnelpet - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This a new favorite book of mine. Up there with "1984" or "One With Nineveh". Even scarier than "1984" which amazed me.

Powerful futurism and presentism about evil social engineering, urban ills and urban planning, environmental catastrophy and warfare's effects on modern cites and their total vulnerablity. All TRUE and well researched if a bit scattered. This book even makes efforts to predict what organisms will survive and what the cities will look like in 2500 AD when the catastophies have long come and gone and the people are long gone. Ballsy urban futurism for tough minded readers.

Here's a bit of unflinching text from this book.

"Even if the West Lawn turned into a sand dune or monkeys jabbered in the galleries of Congress, every energy lobbyist -would still decry global warming as science fiction....

Although it may be theoretoiocally possible to imagine `Green' capitalism without rampant fossil fuel dependancy, the actual outcome is dirty environmental counterrevolution. ...Although the academy may still favor the esoteric relativity of postmodern textualism, vulgar economic determinism--which begins and ends with superprofits in the energy sector -currently holds the real seats of power. We don't need Derrida to know which way the wind blows or why the pack ice is melting."

Page415

Only real critism is that it skips around a lot and doesn't finish all its thoughts. The author sometimes rushes past outragous assertions that could be books unto themselves, but here are a half a paragraph or less. However, this almost works in favor of the book making it a peice of modern or post-POST modern art than just a book.

An awesome book that hits like a Drum and Bass song and punches harder than Hemingway
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cdfd450) out of 5 stars Perhaps the best Mike Davis essay collection 13 Feb. 2009
By M. A. Krul - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"Dead Cities" is a collection of Mike Davis essays, most of them by now belonging to the older range of his work (many are from the early 1990s), but this is nonetheless perhaps the best of the essay collections by Davis in print.

As is usual with Davis, the tone is apocalyptic and yet subtle and well-considered throughout, in that combination of piercing rhetoric and grand imaginings that makes his work so readable and compelling. Also usual is the way in which about the first half or so of the collection consists of considerations, commentaries and concerns regarding Los Angeles and its complicated urban structures, both physical and social. Not all of this is equally interesting to non-Angelenos, and sometimes Davis does go on for too long in too much detail about this or that development project on such-and-so street, but on the other hand it allows Davis an opportunity to show his remarkable grasp of the subtle intricacies of race and class in the United States and their intermixture. Here Davis shows the way in which Marxism-based analysis remains the best tool for understanding specific social formations, whether small-scale or large, without it even being necessary to actually name Marx anywhere. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and that is what Davis does.

What is remarkable about this particular book is the last part of it, which contains a few lengthy articles by Mike Davis on natural sciences and ecology. The title of the book, Dead Cities, is derived from an extremely intriguing article he wrote on various fin-de-siècle authors' imaginings of great cities, from London to San Francisco, and the way in which they would decay and be reconquered by nature if the humans in them were suddenly to disappear. To this is added an analysis done by modern scientists describing how they would imagine the process of natural reclaiming would proceed, as well as a comparison with the bombed rubble of London and Berlin during WWII, when there were parts of these cities that truly were as if humankind had abandoned it (directly after WWII, predators like wolves formed a serious threat to humans on the road, and famished Berliners grubbed for edible plants). Also of interest is an essay by Davis on the interaction between asteroid impacts and the development of human life on earth, and whether and to what degree our solar system and its bodies form one holistic system with earth.

Although some insipid commentators like Fred Siegel have attempted to portray Davis' musings in this book as being anti-urban or actually wishing for 'Dead Cities', this is manifestly not the case. Davis on the contrary, as is his wont, describes how capitalism unleashed ruins the physical and social life of urban areas, and he has a particular eye for the historical background and sweep of events as they touch the lives of humans, who are now more than ever an urban species. Indeed the apocalyptic in Davis' books sometimes has a rather inexorable character, and this can make him seem a bit too eager to cry doom and gloom, but sometimes when a boy cries wolf the wolf is actually there.
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