Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier
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Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  1,748 ratings  ·  224 reviews
A pioneering urban economist presents a myth-shattering look at the majesty and greatness of cities.

America is an urban nation, yet cities get a bad rap: they're dirty, poor, unhealthy, environmentally unfriendly . . . or are they? In this revelatory book, Edward Glaeser, a leading urban economist, declares that cities are actually the healthiest, greenest, and richest (in...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 31st 2012 by Penguin Books (first published 2011)
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Aaron Arnold
If you're into urban economics at all, or even just have an interest in how living in whatever city you're in improves your life, anything by Glaeser should be mandatory reading. He's a Harvard economist who also writes for the New York Times' Economix blog about urban issues, and this book is a synthesis of much of his recent work on cities.

The first part of the book is dedicated to enumerating the many economic advantages that urban areas provide over non-urban areas, especially in their role...more
Rachel Bayles
This is a frustratingly uneven book, written by someone with many good, interesting ideas who has not learned to knit them into a book-length whole. His background as a published academic used to writing more focused work makes sense, given that the book reads so disjointedly.

Most of the book is written as separate chapters, touching on various mainstream urban ideas that are loosely knit together. The best parts are when the author begins to explore the role of serendipity and historical decisi...more
Laura de Leon
I'm having some trouble with capturing my reaction to this book. Overall, the content and presentation were very interesting, but I don't necessarily agree with his conclusions.

After reading the first chapter, I was very concerned about the rest of the book. It presented a whole bunch of opinions, stated as fact, with very little to back them up. I felt like arguing with all of them, even the ones I agreed with.

Luckily I did better with the rest of the book, where the arguments are arranged logi...more
Kylie
I don't agree with everything Glaeser says but overall I found it really interesting, thought-provoking and it opened my eyes to a lot of things. I already agreed with him that the density of cities is great and breeds connectivity, new ideas, and creativity. And I also knew that it is much better for the environment for people to cluster together in cities where they use less gas, less energy and contain their impact (as opposed to spreading out in suburbs and rural areas. But I used to be a bi...more
Jenn
Edward Glaeser was preaching to the choir - I love cities! During my 40 years, I have lived in four cities - Detroit, Chicago, NYC, and London - all cities that Glaeser uses as frequent examples in this book.

My problem with the book isn't the city love but the overall lack of structure and purpose. It is easy to understand why cities would have richer, smarter, greener, healthier, and happier citizens than rural areas - this could have been summed up in an essay. While Glaeser did an excellent...more
Terry
Edward Glaeser is an economist with the Manhattan Institute--so my radar was up for conservative bias in this book, but if it's here, it's mild and mostly because he is an... economist! and looks at the world through that lens. But he also looks at -- and walks through and has lived in -- real cities so any quantitative perspective is balanced by the qualitative. He's an admirer of Jane Jacobs, my hero, but faults her for a bias towards historic preservation and relatively low urban densities th...more
Michael
This is not a Jane Jacobs acolyte book about urban design or about how density and walkability make us more virtuous, but an out of the box urban economics study; part Richard Florida (with more substance), part Malcolm Gladwell (with just as much trivia but fewer syllogisms). Glaeser's underlying theory is this: the last two generations of new urban form--the industrial city and automobile suburbs--are basically aberrations. Traditionally the city has been a place to make ideas, not automobiles...more
John Seno
This book is very counterintuitive, the best defense I've come across for the maligned city. Cities have been and will continue to be the engine of growth. The place where cultures, ideas, people, technology and capital meet. In my backyard of Kenya, my city, Nairobi, accounts for 60% of Kenya's GDP. This emphasizes the place of cities in our lives. City life has many challenges like crime, poverty and disease but the author brilliantly illustrates that these challenges can be overcome with the...more
Andrew
I'd like to see a good rebuttal of him, but I couldn't think of any myself. The worst thing I could say about this book is that I think his writing style was a little too simple.

This is a stirring defense of cities, and the benefits they can offer. As someone who grew up in Detroit, I've spent the last ten years defending it. Glaeser spends a whole chapter (and constant asides elsewhere) explaining what happened to Detroit, and why it will be so hard to bring it back. (The short version: large c...more
Kyle Ryan
And I even like cities!

I really wish I had liked this book, which made my read of it all the more disappointing. As somebody who has lived in cities my entire adult life, I felt that this book was going to be a great opportunity to gain some new knowledge and put some facts behind my intuition that cities are a good thing for our bodies, minds, and environment. What I found instead was a lazy, jumbled mass of stories, facts, anecdotes, and opinions bent to attribute all good things that have eve

...more
Tom Comte
This proved to be an interesting book based on a somewhat controversial premise: “cities magnify humanity’s strengths.” In general, the more that people live in highly dense living conditions, conditions that are provided so as to make urban living both satisfying and conducive to innovation and social improvement, the better off our citizens will be and the better off our environment will be.

A lot of challenging positions are asserted by Glaeser and he provides a lot of examples showing how var...more
Sean
I have to give this a very low three stars. While containing a good deal of informative content and good ideas, the tone of the book is more abrasive to me than almost any other book I've read. I've never had to describe a book's tone as such before, so I had to check out a thesaurus to find just how to explain it. Glaeser is sickeningly smarmy, unduly unctuous, and atrociously adulatory. Though he repeats on numerous occasions that the failings of the city are tragedies in need of fixing, such...more
UChicagoLaw
"Edward Glaeser is a graduate of our Economics Department and currently a professor of economics at Harvard University. The book argues convincingly that cities have a comparative advantage with respect to economic productivity and human flourishing. As part of his analysis Glaeser argues for policies that favor market-based development and high levels of education." - Michael Schill
Chris Lester
This was a useful book for me to read as a guy who writes a lot of stories taking place in a mega-metropolis. It helps highlight what a highly successful city looks like, why cities succeed or fail, and what they do really well. As a person with an interest in promoting Green lifestyles, this was also an important provider of perspective: the author makes a good argument for why we should be allowing MORE development in the SF Bay Area, not restricting it. The desire to keep things LOOKING green...more
David
One of those books that I read to mostly in order to recommend it to others. I'm already part of the urbanist converted, and Glaeser is preaching to the choir. For those of you who are comfortably content in the suburbs, or wary of the chaotic hustle and bustle of dense, tall cities, this is the book for you. It is part urban history, part policy argument. Or, perhaps better put, it's a convincing policy argument grounded on the past few centuries of urban and economic history.

The argument is t...more
Jo Bennie
A great book that really made me think about the relative physical and environmental costs of city and rural life, why cities came about across the globe, the rise of industry, and the social outcome that describes how a large population of people living close together can generate extreme productivity and new ideas. It elegantly speaks about the human need as young adults to live in close proximity to each other, sparking exciting exchanges of ideas and invention but as they age and have famili...more
David Brown
I live in a large town in the UK but am fortunate in that there is greenery on the doorstep in the form of a canal, while surrounding trees make it relatively lucrative for our household of cats, though only one will venture outside. I’ve always hoped that later in life I’ll leave all things urban behind and make for the countryside, a rural idyll away from the heavy traffic and crowds. Edward Glaeser’s book, Triumph of the City, takes the opposite view, offering an insight into what makes citie...more
Craig
This was a book that I stumbled upon when wandering about the recent addition section of the library. As somebody who doesn't drive, and is currently imprisoned in farmland, I was extremely excited to read it.
The book made me wonder if I am suffering from bi-polar disorder. There were times when I was loving it: him explaining how living in the city is better for the environment, the benefits of public transportation, how important education is to our cities, how cities are able to rebound from...more
Alice
I liked this book because it's all about cities and it constantly made me think. It's full of somewhat random tidbits of city history. There is an abundance of affection poured liberally on cities that I love -- New York, Paris, and Boston. Virtually every detail is painstakingly footnoted (the luxury of having a team of research assistants). It was thought provoking and made me even more excited (if that's possible) about urban planning.

However, I really wanted to rewrite virtually all of the c...more
Marks54
This is a review of current thinking on the city by a Harvard economist who specializes in such work. Glaeser is a big fan of Jame Jacobs, so the book serves as an interesting update to Jacob's book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. He adds, however, that Jacobs was not an economist and so misunderstood some points, such as the unintended consequences of restricting the size and extent of building in a city - that preservation and limits building will lead to the marginalization of c...more
Martin Cerjan
After years of so much writing about heading back to nature, it was refreshing to hear someone stand up and advocate for and promote big city life. I recently moved to New York City and I agree with the author about the energy and synergy that is rampant in a big, vertical metropolitan area. There's a lot to learn from many people here and it is great to have a big enough population base to support theatre, dance, music, and literature--not to mention all the forms of commerce everywhere. Very e...more
John
I'm glad I stayed with "Triumph of the City" - there were several times I almost quit...which was surprising, since books and essays about urban living are are one of my very favorite things.

There was a lot of good information in the book, and many very interesting topics were examined in detail: Why do so many Americans move to Dallas or Houston? Is urban poverty better than rural poverty? Will the modernization of India, China, and Brazil result in environmental catastrophe?

However, Edward Gla...more
Gordon
Sometime around 2010, the world's population passed a great milestone: for the first time in history, more people lived in cities than lived outside of them. We are fast leaving our agricultural past behind.

Edward Glaeser argues that this transformation of the way we live is a very, very good thing. As compared with their rural cousins, people who live in cities have a much smaller carbon footprint. They are 50% more productive, if they live in a city over one million people. They live longer. T...more
DoctorM
A good introduction to a couple of Glaeser's key ideas--- that a city is (as the Greeks knew) the people, and not the buildings; that cities offer the greatest chance the world's poor have for economic mobility; that cities are greener than many people assume; that high-rises are green and don't always destroy neighbourhood life (contra Jane Jacobs); that there are clear microeconomic reasons for migration to Sunbelt cities.

Glaeser has far more faith in the "free market" to solve urban issues t...more
Paul Frandano
A scholarly paean to the social, cultural, economic, and political might of our great urban agglomerations. Glaeser's book is felicitously and plainly wrought, shorn of pedantry, brimming with all manner of useful, astute, enlightening, pointed, and/or clinching insights, citations, observations, arguments, and asides. We don't have to agree with everything Glaeser says--there's a kind of Gradgrindian utilitarianism to many of his policy recommendations--but this is a thrilling, argumentative bo...more
Hester
I have mixed feelings about this book. Glaeser convinced me that skyscrapers are important, and we need lots more of them. I found it interesting that he listed all the aesthetic complaints against modern sky scrapers, but didn't show Chicago's early sky scrapers, which are glorious.


I found his comparisons between cities (Singapore vs Gabarone, middle class life in NYC vs Houston) illuminating, but I found his use of stats misleading. I often had to reread to double check if he was referring to...more
Mary
I fell in love with city living as an adult, and like most converts, I am probably more fervent in my belief than most who were born to the city--though not more so than Glaeser. A more apt title for his book might be "Why the City Should Triumph," for much of the book documents the reasons why American cities haven't converted more people, prominent among them misguided public policy (focus on roads over public transportation; the mortgage-interest deduction) and the ironies of environmentalism...more
Jonathan Shaw
Builds a compelling case for the benefits of living in cities, and describes how Americans were incentivized to leave cities throughout the 20th century -- with disastrous results for our collective carbon footprint. I particularly appreciate how Glaeser skewers restrictive regulations on development (which masquerade as environmentalism) that can be found in many areas. The net result of such NIMBY-ish regulations is a wave of people moving to regulation-free places like Houston, which lacks a...more
Zhifei Ge
The core idea of this book, I think, is that city grows out of human capital and urban planning should focus on citizens' behavior. Many of the arguments are not novel, but one. Edward argues that dense city is more sustainable than sparse city. Dense city means many skyscrapers and public transit while sparse city means many suburbs and private vehicles. In terms of GHG emissions or many other criteria, dense city probably is superior, since it is centrally managed toward optimization of effici...more
Frank Sloth Aaskov
Jun 05, 2012 Frank Sloth Aaskov rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everybody
From a economist's point of view Glaeser describes the advantages of the city, such as how they enable human innovation, a lower carbon footprint, ensure prosperity and give the poor a chance to prosper. The book is stuffed with historic tales of the how the city came to life in human history, how some of the greatest cities of the world rose and declined and why the metropolises are still expanding today.
What I really loved about the book was its approach to cities. Instead of idolizing the cit...more
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Which is a greater virtue? 3 22 Mar 01, 2012 07:22PM  
  • Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World
  • Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time
  • The High Cost of Free Parking
  • Cities for People
  • The Works: Anatomy of a City
  • Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream
  • Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas About Cities
  • Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design in the Twentieth Century
  • The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City
  • The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects
  • Green Metropolis: What the City Can Teach the Country About True Sustainability
  • Great Streets
  • Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City
  • The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape
  • Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile
  • Design With Nature
  • The Death and Life of Great American Cities
  • Aerotropolis
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Professor of Economics, Harvard University
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“It’s hard not to empathize with the mayor’s anger, given the injustices he’d suffered, but righteous anger rarely leads to wise policy.” 3 likes
“A wealth of research confirms the importance of face-to-face contact. One experiment performed by two researchers at the University of Michigan challenged groups of six students to play a game in which everyone could earn money by cooperating. One set of groups met for ten minutes face-to-face to discuss strategy before playing. Another set of groups had thirty minutes for electronic interaction. The groups that met in person cooperated well and earned more money. The groups that had only connected electronically fell apart, as members put their personal gains ahead of the group’s needs. This finding resonates well with many other experiments, which have shown that face-to-face contact leads to more trust, generosity, and cooperation than any other sort of interaction.
The very first experiment in social psychology was conducted by a University of Indiana psychologist who was also an avid bicyclist. He noted that “racing men” believe that “the value of a pace,” or competitor, shaves twenty to thirty seconds off the time of a mile. To rigorously test the value of human proximity, he got forty children to compete at spinning fishing reels to pull a cable. In all cases, the kids were supposed to go as fast as they could, but most of them, especially the slower ones, were much quicker when they were paired with another child. Modern statistical evidence finds that young professionals today work longer hours if they live in a metropolitan area with plenty of competitors in their own occupational niche.
Supermarket checkouts provide a particularly striking example of the power of proximity. As anyone who has been to a grocery store knows, checkout clerks differ wildly in their speed and competence. In one major chain, clerks with differing abilities are more or less randomly shuffled across shifts, which enabled two economists to look at the impact of productive peers. It turns out that the productivity of average clerks rises substantially when there is a star clerk working on their shift, and those same average clerks get worse when their shift is filled with below-average clerks.
Statistical evidence also suggests that electronic interactions and face-to-face interactions support one another; in the language of economics, they’re complements rather than substitutes. Telephone calls are disproportionately made among people who are geographically close, presumably because face-to-face relationships increase the demand for talking over the phone. And when countries become more urban, they engage in more electronic communications.”
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