Summary and book reviews of City by P.D. Smith

City

A User's Guide to the Past, Present, and Future of Urban Life

by P.D. Smith

City
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  • Published:
    Jun 2012, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Whitmore Funk

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Book Summary

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.

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.

1. ARRIVAL
The City in the Lake

On 8 November 1519, Europeans caught their first glimpse of Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital and the centre of the greatest empire ever seen in Mesoamerica. 'We came to a broad causeway,' recalled a twenty-three-year-old Spanish soldier, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, 'and when we saw all those cities and villages built in the water, and other great towns on dry land, and that straight and level causeway leading to [Tenochtitlán], we were astounded.' It was an extraordinary moment for the Spaniards and for the Aztecs, a moment when two great civilisations that had grown up in complete ignorance of each other suddenly collided. The sight of men mounted on war horses was deeply unsettling for the Aztecs, who had never even seen a donkey let alone such powerful beasts of burden. For Díaz and his five hundred or so comrades, led by Hernán Cortés, it was a moment of real fear as they approached the huge metropolis. But ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

If you have ever loved a city and felt that you belong downtown somewhere, whether in the hot, fragrant roads of Bangkok or the buzzing streets of New York, there's something in PD Smith's City for you. Smith identifies what is unique and beautiful about many cities, providing both reasons for hometown pride as well as curiosity about foreign, lesser known places. This exploration builds up to a discussion about present and future urban life, but this aspect is tiny in comparison to the rest of the book's heft. City is a historical project, and the history that it uncovers is an exotic world that is both ancient and modern. Subsequently, readers see how cities have given birth to practices that are fundamental to humanity, such as writing, economics, and trade... This makes for a fun, optimistic read that is also highly informative and one that I'll return to as both a reference and for the pleasure of its photographs and curious anecdotes.   (Reviewed by Elizabeth Whitmore Funk).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Discursive, imaginative, and comprehensive, [Smith's] analysis of everything from the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to skateboarding and graffiti should be savored.

The Washington Post

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.

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… Highly recommended for readers across many subject categories, including urban studies, cultural history, and travel.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Smith composes a polyphonic paean to our urban past, present and future... As exciting, sprawling and multifarious as a shining city on a hill.

Wired

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.

The Guardian (UK)

[A] richly packed, colourful and well-written primer on the role the city plays in our lives.

The National (UAE)

An engaging guide.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Twenty-First Century Cities

In City, P.D. Smith observes that contemporary urban populations are steadily growing, and he predicts that by the middle of this century the majority of humankind will be living in urban areas that he terms "eco-cities." Some recent trends like urban homesteading, community gardens, and vertical farming provide a glimpse of what futuristic ecologically sustainable cities are like, and they are far from the polluted, smoggy worlds that are traditionally associated with cities.

computer generated images of vertical farms

While past generations have often perceived rural living to be an environmentally friendly practice, recent studies from economists like Edward Glaeser of Harvard University and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) like London's International Institute for...

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