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A History of Future Cities

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  358 ratings  ·  64 reviews
On May 27, 1703, Tsar Peter the Great founded a new capital on a barren Baltic marsh. Modeled on Amsterdam, he believed it would erase Russian backwardness and usher in a modernized, Westernized future. In the nineteenth-century Age of Imperialism, the British rebuilt Bombay as a tropical London, while three Western powers made Shanghai look just like home. And in our own ...more
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published February 25th 2013 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2013)
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Community Reviews

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I finished the book and it went more or less as I anticipated: tons of new information on Shanghai and Mumbai, then torture with St. Petersburg. Thank God later Dubai joined it as a whipping boy. All in all impression left by the book: St. Petersburg and Dubai is hubris, two others are shining examples of daring human spirit.

Just started. Intro was inspiring. Along came Chapter 1 on my native Russia and the city I lived 2 years in and a monarch about whom Robert K. Massie wrote a stunni
This is the first history book I've read in over a year, and like all good history books it offers its readers a glimpse of the making of the modern world by focusing on one particular slice. Or, four slices in this case — four cities that I've always wanted to visit: St. Petersburg, Mumbai, Shanghai and Dubai.

Prior to this book it never occurred to me what these four cities have in common. (Other than that three of them rhyme.) All four cities began as deliberate efforts to change the values an
Andrew Martin
Absolutely fantastic. Future Cities is a yarn - a "gather-round-the-fire, children, and listen to tales of fantastic cities in faraway lands" kind of yarn. A yarn about buildings (ok about development) and what they can tell us about what we believe and what we value. Also, Nevsky Prospect!

Brook brings the analytical tools of a historian or economist (his explanation for 'why Dubai?' is amazing) with the narrative eye of an novelist, a rare, and welcome, combination. This is a book unlike any I'
This is a very good description of the imposed and organic growth of four cities--Mumbai, St. Petersburg, Shanghai and Dubai--that serve as nerve centers of four fascinating countries. The author also analyzes what these different structural histories meant for the political and cultural development of their countries. He is very skilful at choosing just enough history--economic, political, cultural, architectural--and introducing just enough players to keep the story coherent. His writing contr ...more
unputdownable! Which is saying ALOT considering this is nonfiction and coming from me, who's a complete fiction (and preferably escapist, Victorian science-fiction at that) addict.

A really fascinating history and present-day analysis of three cities - St. Petersburg, Shanghai and Mumbai/Bombay. Brook's argument, that we can only understand the idea of modern global cities (and in particular the rapidly-growing cities of what he terms the Asian Century) by understanding their pasts - is made int
What a fabulous way to think about what your home town could be...
This was an interesting read as I learned not only about St Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai and Dubai, but reflected upon what creates social justice in urban settings.

As for the writing, I found the historical chapters on these cities quite readable. Once we arrived at the last 30 years, the links between topics and characters were much less smooth. Perhaps this was because his sources were more varied. It may also be more difficult
Fascinating, beautifully written.
Seward Park Branch Library, NYPL
Daniel Brook's 'A History of Future Cities' makes for an excellent history in a sense that it is very good at explaining how the cities in question—St. Petersburg/Petrograd/Leningrad/St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Bombay/Mumbai, and Dubai—came into being. What's the common denominator? They are all cities which pursued a variety of aesthetic principles to realize themselves, appealing to whatever international tastes were currently in vogue, or however 'international tastes' had styled themselves. Th ...more
Andrew Fairweather
Daniel Brook's 'A History of Future Cities' makes for an excellent history in a sense that it is very good at explaining how the cities in question—St. Petersburg/Petrograd/Leningrad/St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Bombay/Mumbai, and Dubai—came into being. What's the common denominator? They are all cities which pursued a variety of aesthetic principles to realize themselves, appealing to whatever international tastes were currently in vogue, or however 'international tastes' had styled themselves. Th ...more
This is a highly recommendable read, although with a few reservations. The fundamentals of the book, is a description of the rise (and often fall) of 4 major cities: St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Bombay/Mumbai and Dubai.

What Daniel Brook delves into in his narrative, are the premises of why these cities were built, how it came to happen and what consequences it brought about.

The historical overview the book gives is splendid. D.B. gives the impression of having researched his book reasonably well,
Joshua Monthei
Fabulous read for those with a dual interest in history and urban planning.
Alex Stein
The cunningly titled A History of Future Cities tells the tale of four metropolises - St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Bombay (now Mumbai) and Dubai - which were founded in an attempt to emulate the West and now find themselves - at the start of this Asian Century - leading the world. The first two-thirds of the book provides an easy overview of each city's history, while the final third turns polemical, as the author looks more critically at the architectural and political follies of each city. It's a ...more
I chose this book basically at random. I was searching Audible for good books about cities to read, and this was the highest-rated one I found. I knew it wasn't really about cities, but I decided a history of cities was good enough.

This book turned out to be much deeper than I'd expected. It draws similarities between four major East-meets-West cities and their economic and political development. It's also a good introduction to the recent history of the countries these cities are in--Russia, Ch
Rick Harrington
Man's Reach

Man's reach must exceed his grasp else what's a metro for?? The cosmopolitan city as crucible for our future all, but without excavation of what grasping for Western modernity really is. Isn't it just individualism? Would there be cities of such scope and scale without that? Intimations of imitation of temporal immortality is still a dead end. Our city fathers lives made visible on unimaginable high, and want results forevermore. The hope is still down in the Village, not quite banish
Ann Mur
Firstly, this has given me cause to add St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Bombay, and of course Dubai to my travel bucket list. And I will likely re-read A History of Future Cities again before visiting/during my visits.

Though I did enjoy the read, and feel far more informed about these histories, I do admit it took me a while to get through. To be fair, that is in part a consequence of having a poor base knowledge of many of these historical discussions (particularly of Indian and Chinese history); wh
Lauren Albert
Daniel Brook’s A History of Future Cities is an eye-opening look at four “artificial” cities: Shanghai, Mumbai, Dubai & St. Petersburg. The word artificial is my own—most cities grow up organically, accrete, grow, shrink, grow again. These four cities were, and are, different. As Brooks writes “they are ideas as much as cities, metaphors in stone and steel for the explicit goal of Westernization.” But as with all things, organic or inorganic, natural or artificial, what human beings live wit ...more
Jeremy Hurd
St. Petersburg was willed into being by an ambitious tsar desperate to create a modern city that rivaled Western capitals. Shanghai developed into an expatriate trade port and playground, only to be marginalized, then revitalized by the mid-century Communist regime change. The British attempted to create a tropical London on a manmade island in India, but mismanagement and racism led to a class struggle that exists to this day in Mumbai. Dubai basically didn't exist until the late 1970's; today ...more
Through the prism of architecture, Daniel Brook recounts the history of four "instant" cities - St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Bombay/Mumbai, and Dubai - including both the visions that led to their hasty creation and their political, social, and economic reality. By crafting vivid descriptions and utilizing clever pacing (telling the cities' tales in four chronological parts containing a chapter for each city, effectively transporting the reader to a new landscape every thirty pages or so), Brook re ...more
Yifei Men
A well-researched and detailed narrative of the Eastern metropolises -- St. Petersburg, Mumbai, Shanghai and Dubai. Brook makes a good argument on the nature of cosmopolitan modernity and the unique situations that gave the spark for this ideal in each of the cities. The book is an enjoyable read and juxtaposes history with the reality of the present. There are moments in the book, however, that I feel Brook descends into the tone of orientalization.
Todd Macdermid
I really liked this, although it was a tad dry, and I'm not going to recommend it to people who aren't history or city geeks. It covers four cities that were all created fresh as places to experiment with new ideas (St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Dubai), and traces how they impacted the societies that created them, and contrast them with each other.

Memes can take on unpredictable lives of their own, and cities are the incubators of those memes.
Histories of big cities make great stories, (as anyone who has seen Ken Burns’ documentaries on New York and Chicago can attest) and Brooks has chosen St Petersburg, Shanghai and Bombay, three of most interesting, to focus on. What they have in common is that they were founded by people who wished to bring modernity to backward cultures. Although the cultures were initially resistant to change, the visible juxtaposition of prosperity and abject poverty introduced by these urbanizations eventuall ...more
Blaine Morrow
Intriguing look at four cities - St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Dubai -as attempts by their host countries (or colonial powers) to construct futuristic metropolises to drag their populaces into the modern world and bolster the image of their countries. The most interesting passages are the insights into why these cities created (or are creating) conflicts between the old and the new and how difficult the future is to control or mold.
this book gave me the best histories of some cities that were basically planted in a place, to be part of another place: mombai, st petersburg, shanghai, dubai. Since I knew very little about how these cities got to be there, I learned a lot. Now I want to go to St Petersburg! ( especially if Todd gets a cruise ship job there). Each city is described in one slot in time, then the slot is advanced, and all the cities are described again. Dubai comes in late of course.

I am amazed at how foreign i
Pat Rolston
Very interesting combination of the history of each city with architectural elements as the core of the focus. The author's corresponding social commentary rounds out the content and allows for thoughtful introspection as to the nature of the globalization of cultures and corresponding architecture.It is a fascinating book well worth the time and will enrich your understanding of our world.
Grounded in realist history, but feeling for cosmopolitan modernity.
St. Petersburg, Shanghai and Mumbai are creations of our modern, global age. Their cycles of growth and decay shake our world.

Some other thoughts I liked:
"Historically global Shanghai brought many things to China-technology, culture, ideas, trade-but the one thing it never brought was stability."
"All architecture is the heritage of all people."
"A phone rings in Moscow. The man picks up to hear, 'I'm calling from St. Petersburg.'
Very engaging. The stories of how St. Petersburg, Bombay, Dubai and Shanghai came to be what they are today are complex. At times they're inspirational, a testament to the power that one person's vision can have to influence a huge number of people, but just as often, the history of these cities are cautionary tales of what happens when idealism trumps pragmatism and power is concentrated too narrowly.
A really wonderful book, one of those rare works of history that constantly raises relevant unanswered questions about today. If you're interested in how cities are born or the role of trade and immigration in shaping growth, this is a must-read.
A wonderful book which lucidly tells the tale of 4 cities - St Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai and Dubai. It also gives a window to the history of the 4 nations and how the cities influenced and were influenced by the larger mainland.
3.5 stars. I'll be honest and say that a significant motivation to finish this book was just to prove to myself that I can read longer nonfiction. But that intro kind of sells the book short. I enjoyed it mostly on its own merits! In an analysis of the "future cities" of St. Petersburg, Shanghai, and Bombay, the clear winner for most interesting story definitely goes to St. Petersburg. So it was kind of a letdown to get really involved in the historical machinations of St. Petersburg, only to ha ...more
norman wei
It is an interesting book to me , feels somehow both strange and familiar. It links so strongly to my previous knowledge on Chinese and Indian urbanism, but shows a much deeper content through comparison between the four future cities. It is not just a story of how small villages grew big, it indeed shows the readers about how peoples are connected through cities.
The section about Shanghai is particular meaningful to myself, demonstrating that a city'is not only defined by its infrastructural ad
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