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The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  2,371 ratings  ·  246 reviews
The Geography of Nowhere traces America's evolution from a nation of Main Streets and coherent communities to a land where every place is like no place in particular, where the cities are dead zones and the countryside is a wasteland of cartoon architecture and parking lots.
In elegant and often hilarious prose, Kunstler depicts our nation's evolution from the Pilgrim set
Paperback, 304 pages
Published July 26th 1994 by Free Press (first published 1993)
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The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane JacobsThe Image of the City by Kevin LynchThe Geography of Nowhere by James Howard KunstlerA Pattern Language by Christopher W. AlexanderTriumph of the City by Edward L. Glaeser
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May 11, 2008 Tim rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Americans, suburbanites in particular
Shelves: own
In describing a certain way of viewing the landscape, Kunstler makes the observation that a Jacksonian student of landscape can study a fast food place (in his example a place called the Red Barn that looks like a red barn) and "never arrive at the conclusion that the Red Barn is an ignoble piece of shit that degrades the community." There is the thrust of Kunstler's book, a stirring if somewhat flawed look at our degraded landscape.
The book takes us on a whirlwind tour of the history of the Un
Jun 28, 2010 Lobstergirl rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
James Howard Kunstler, prophet of doom, blogger ("Clusterfuck Nation"), author, novelist, wrote this book way back in 1993, but it has that timeless feel. Not a whole lot has changed, except apparently we've pushed doom a little further off into the future. "The era of cheap gas is drawing to a close," he warned us, meaning death for the suburbs as many people would no longer be able to afford to drive. Well dang it if cheap-ish gas prices aren't here again, after their scary highs of '08.

Jun 08, 2011 Andrew rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: non-eco-conscious humans, herding dogs, and all SUV owners
There is nothing like a little James Howard Kunstler to make you feel like a complete asshole and Capitalist whore. His newest prophesy is that the American suburb is dead, but this book only predicts that with its strangely-plausible sounding doomsday warnings and vehement attacks against anyone so blind enough to want the myth that is the American Dream.

The book takes a fascinating look at the forces that drove the rise of individual landownership and the suburb as currently accepted in moder
"The Geography of Nowhere" tends towards the polemic, but through most of the book I found myself agreeing with Kunstler's ideas. His basic premise is that the fundamental American bias towards private property rights has created a culture weak in community- and this bias has combined with an over-reliance on the automobile to produce "nowhere" places- suburbias with no-center, endless highways of stripmalls, and millions of units of crap-housing. He's not optimistic about the future of this civ ...more
This is book is largely a rant--well-researched and eloquent--but a rant nonetheless. Overwrought with cynicism, it is hard to distinguish Kunstler's reasonable concerns from his own sense of nostalgia. He draws some erroneous parallels (e.g. holding Disney World to the standard of anything but an amusement park) but does make an effective point regarding how U.S. citizens were ill-prepared for the after effects of the heyday of the automobile.

Fundamentally, Kunstler's cynicism aside, he's an ad
In this book, Kunstler covers the history and development of town planning and suburbification with a definite chip on his shoulder. Starting with colonial times, he examines how we have used (and misused) land for individual, rather than group purposes. The great expanse of America was ours for the taking, and take it we did, throwing aside the concepts of villages and civic harmony.

He vilifies the automobile industry, blaming it for the banality of suburbia and the destruction of community, g
Sep 07, 2011 Andrew added it
Shelves: urbanism
Sometimes people tell me I'm humorless, that I over-intellectualize, that I need to chill out. Well, in that regard, James Howard Kunstler makes me look like fucking Vinny from Jersey Shore.

The Geography of Nowhere, is, above all else, a rant. A very entertainingly angry rant, but a rant. While I enjoyed reading much of it, it doesn't exactly have an academic basis-- the foundations for his claims are shaky at best, and when he makes claims about the nature of building and space, he doesn't just

'Born in 1948, I have lived my entire life in America's high imperial moment. During this epoch of stupendous wealth and power, we have managed to ruin our greatest cities, throw away our small towns, and impose over the countryside a joyless junk habitat which we can no longer afford to support. Indulging in a fetish of commercialized individualism, we did away with the public realm, and with nothing left but our private life in our private homes and private cars, we wonder what happen
Kunstler's analysis of the sad suburban situation is mainly right-on. Unbridled private enterprise has destroyed public transit. Roads and buildings designed predominantly for private car access create problems for the human inhabitants of that environment, making it impossible to do without a car for the simplest of tasks in many places. Local zoning laws are often inane and archaic. Ditto building codes. Sprawl and congestion go uncontrolled because city planners are blind to the big picture.

The history of the poor design of American cities (from planning to architecture), its ties to the car, and where we go from here. An important, engagingly-written book. A book that will definitely elicit reactions, it was an excellent read but also has its problems.

Kunstler kept asserting his own aesthetic as non-arbitrary and the same one that all Americans have somewhere deep inside of them. Of course, you CAN say categorically that certain designs are more practical or bring about certain ef
In cynical and often vitriolic prose, James Howard Kunstler details the history and present of the American built form in context of the religion, sociology, technology, politics, and economics of the time and extensively describes the negative sociological and psychological ramifications of our post-war planning. The book reads like a narrative, and Kunstler takes a sardonic tone that is fairly reserved for him, if you are familiar with his other writings or blogs. This lends the book to a grea ...more
Bruno Romano
This book is a critical story of how the American landscape went from age-old agreements between city and country, agreeable walkways, and shared public spaces built on a people-size scale, to a modern auto-suburban wasteland nation, devoid of life, humanity, civic beauty, mysteries and cozy shadows on crooked streets.

The theme is not new. A bunch of history is told in it, and Kunstler will attempt to explain how this came to be. The historical argument is: America before industries was nice, a
Paul Brannan
Prince Charles accused them of being artless, mediocre and contemptuous of public opinion. The old joke was that they had inflicted more damage on London than the Luftwaffe, but it wasn’t funny and nobody was laughing.

‘They’ are the post-war urban planners and ‘they’ have a lot to answer for. But the bumbling British versions are as nothing compared to American counterparts reinforced by ludicrous zoning restrictions and lunatic laws.

It’s why the simplest of tasks here almost always require a jo
Kunstler hates suburbia, sprawl, and corporate control, and champions well-planned cities and towns, public space, and democracy. The Geography of Nowhere is a satisfying read because he is able to explain the causes of our offensive landscapes and explain why it is that we are (or should) be repulsed by them. While Kunstler is able to articulate the need for more humane communities, he ultimately puts too much faith in certain “new urbanism” developments to re-design them. It appears he revisit ...more
I'll start with the good.
New Urbanism! The hope of the suburban hopeless! For anyone who ever looked at a freeway interchange, a modern office park, or a cookie cutter subdivision and thought "gee, this place is pretty depressing." Here is a book, written in 1993, that not only confirms your suspicion but gives a laundry list of reasons why. I had always assumed in a vague way that it was the model houses to blame... you could only choose between 3 or 4 models and thus were virtually indistingui
What is place?

I ask myself that often, because it's something I notice and can never nail down. It's always been easiest to notice a vacuum of place, normally when I have to toddle off to a Target in the Big-Box shantytown on the periphery of a city.

"Why do people like this? It's all the same."

Next to the Target is a Costco which neighbors a Best Buy that shares a parking lot with a Jiffy Lube and Toys 'R Us. If you're hungry, your choices are fast food, la-di-da fast food (Panera), or a sit-dow
A rant. Pure and simple. But a rant with which I, mostly, agree.

Kunstler demonizes our history of development in America in a very readable, if sarcastic and snarky, prose. Written 15 years ago, the complaints are still with us today; why does America feel so ... so ... wrong?

Of course, if you don't feel like America is "wrong," you'll hate this book. But Kunstler is operating on his strong feeling that it IS wrong. And will continue to be until we start building on a human scale, rather than on
What a rant against life as we know it! But it's an informed and passionate rant. Not much we could have done to resist the allure of the car and its call to freedom and individualism but Kunstler has told of our descent from living into existing like drones with relish, enthusiasm, and sarcasm. The car created the suburb and then the rise of industrial agriculture-all are the villains in our loss of community. This is a great book about the evolution of architecture in America. It's a shame it ...more
Mar 23, 2011 Andre rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: architects, city planners, politicians
Shelves: favorites
Kunstler takes readers on a tour of suburban sprawl, tracing from its European roots to its current state. Its difficult not to view your surroundings completely differently after reading a book like this. Kunstler comes off as a bit of a mad prophet. At times the its difficult to cut through what appears to be a thick layer of cynicism for modern America, but one is left to no other choice other than to accept the premise of his book. The way we build our houses, communities, and buildings has ...more
Although the author makes some good points in his yearning to return cities to proper functionality, that is with people as the focus of life, he fails to see the importance of private productive property and the role of family in accomplishing his goals. The author instead blames many of America's woes on the car. Throughout the book he proclaims how the car has ruined America and how the American city or town will never be "home" until the car is removed from the equation. Add this to the snip ...more
Chris Harrison
For those of us who've lived in or visited cities that we found appealing or not and wondered how and why they became one or the other, Kunstler's dive into a world that most of us have never explored - the history and transition of the theory of urban planning - is a revealing and often frustrating look at the relationships between aesthetics, economics, and urban design. Even more interesting is the social ramifications of the choices that are derived. In my opinion, Kunstler's research could ...more
Dec 06, 2009 Matthew rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People who feel vaguely unsettled in modern cities and on modern highways but who don't know why
Recommended to Matthew by: The clerk at the Argo Bookstore in Montreal.
The Geography of Nowhere is a disturbing and often hilarious look at the loss of community brought about by car culture, mass-production, and the endless suburbanization of America they brought on.

I found that it articulated much of the malaise and vague horror I experience when visiting suburbs, strip malls, Barrie, Ontario's Golden Mile, box stores, and mothballed downtowns, but I couldn't shake the feeling that Kunstler's argument is built on a personal preference first, and sound premises s
Loret Steinberg
Picking up on the unsustainability of suburbs as resources dwindle, Kunstler weaves architecture, city planning and design, human impulses and hopes into a narrative that helps us see how we got here. Why do houses get plunked into the center of a plot of land next to other houses plunked into the center of a plot of land, next to..... and then we ask why people don't connect to each other any more or have any sense of community? How did urban renewal kill cities? How did architects pursuing art ...more
Kunstler writes of the history of American architecture from the Pilgrim Fathers onward, but the main thrust of the book is the distorting effects of the automobile on US society (Kunstler contrasts American urban planning with that of Paris, France as an example of how planning could be done) and particularly how it has corrupted the concept of community.

A bleak book, but one that explained to me why, when I asked a hotel receptionist in New Jersey where there was to go for a walk, he looked at
Oct 28, 2015 Peter rated it 1 of 5 stars
Shelves: awful
An idealistic and unrealistic view of architecture and land use. It would be nice if we all could live in perfect little towns like Woodstock, Vermont, but that's not going to happen.

There is a section in the book where Mr. Kunstler waxes nostalgic about the closing of family farms in upstate rural New York. He writes that the farmers that remain are only hoping to hold out until they receive an offer from a developer to use the land for housing or a strip mall. An important reason that many fa
This is a full-throated critique of the way we Americans have built our homes and cities. It seems to be the best-known of Kunstler's books (mostly he has published fiction), and I have seen it used in college courses. Probably there are more serious examinations of the multitude of issues that he tackles here, but I cannot think of another book that discusses this range of related subjects in such a clear and readable manner. Kunstler is clearly an outsider in this field - he is neither an arch ...more
A couple of weeks ago I watched the documentary The End of Suburbia and was intrigued by not only the campy, fun clips of films about the 1960s which were included but also by the arguments of some of the "talking heads" about the nature of oil depletion, suburbian sprawl and American culture. One of them James Howard Kunstler discussed suburbia and sprawl and made me curious about his work. This week I have been reading two of his books: The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America ...more
Rob Samuelson
Kunstler details the history of cities, towns, and suburbs across America with great detail and strong personality. The America he lived in during the early 1990s was one he saw as ugly and pitiful, full of poor, gas-guzzling habits and a loss of the traditional ways of building places we tend to experience as right. He describes suburban sprawl as colossal devastation to the distinction between places, urban and rural, and that this blurring creates a detachment from the public sphere in order ...more
P.S. Carrillo
This elucidating book should be taught in every high school and all college level design courses. As a suburbanite, educated at an esteemed department of design at University I never encountered a professor or textbook that questioned our direction of city planning and architectural trends. We studied all of the historical movements and were guided to be enthralled by the modernists most of all. Kunstler strips away all of the modern progressive spectacle to reveal the living environments that w ...more
Malcolm Little
When I closed the back flap on Geography of Nowhere, I could not honestly admit that I agreed with every wholesale opinion and declaration Kunstler put forth in his seminal novel of America’s decline of landscape. However, most of my hang-ups have to do with a few poorly conceived causes of the decline, rather than the symptoms of the decline. For all his literal bravado and blatant love of his extensive vocabulary, Kunstler did overlook certain aspects that lead to the decline, and by extension ...more
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James Howard Kunstler (born 1948) is an American author, social critic, and blogger who is perhaps best known for his book The Geography of Nowhere, a history of suburbia and urban development in the United States. He is prominently featured in the peak oil documentary, The End of Suburbia, widely circulated on the internet. In his most recent non-fiction book, The Long Emergency (2005), he argues ...more
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“Community is not something you have, like pizza. Now is it something you can buy. It's a living organism based on a web of interdependencies- which is to say, a local economy. It expresses itself physically as connectedness, as buildings actively relating to each other, and to whatever public space exists, be it the street, or the courthouse or the village green.” 4 likes
“The American house has been TV-centered for three generations. It is the focus of family life, and the life of the house correspondingly turns inward, away from whatever corresponds beyond its four walls.At the same time, the television if the families chief connection to the world. The physical envelope of the house itself no longer connects their lives to the outside in any active way; rather it seals them from it.The outside world has become an abstraction filtered through television, just as the weather is an abstraction filtered through air conditioning.” 4 likes
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