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

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  2,088 ratings  ·  228 reviews
An analysis of America's national landscape argues that much of what surrounds Americans is depressing, ugly, and unhealthy and traces America's evolution from a land of village commons to a man-made landscape that ignores nature and human needs.
Hardcover, 303 pages
Published June 1st 1993 by Simon & Schuster (first published 1993)
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Nickel and Dimed by Barbara EhrenreichA Walk in the Woods by Bill BrysonA Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonThe Constitution of the United States of America by James Madison1984 by George Orwell
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Tim
May 11, 2008 Tim rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Lobstergirl
Jun 28, 2010 Lobstergirl rated it 5 of 5 stars
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.

Kunstl
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Andrew
Jun 08, 2011 Andrew rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Rebecca
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
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Jake
"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
Tracey
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
...more
Andrew
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
...more
Sean O'Neil
I love Kunstler's curmudgeonly view of the ill effects of our car-dependent Suburbia culture. I agree completely with his perspective as shared in this book. I recommend reading this in conjunction with Tony Hiss's "The Experience of Place" and Wendell Berry's "The Unsettling of America." Read together, those 3 books will change the way you view the American Dream and may even help you become a force for improving the quality of life here in America. Highly recommended. Kunstler's website, "Clus ...more
M0rningstar
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.

T
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Kramer
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
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Katie
Kunstler:

'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
...more
Dan
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
Adam
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
Andrea
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
...more
Zach
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
...more
Krista
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
...more
Chris
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
Andre
Mar 23, 2011 Andre rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
Steve
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
Matthew
Dec 06, 2009 Matthew rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
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
Colin
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
...more
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
...more
Beth Barnett
A history of the automobile, roadbuilding, and suburbanization in the US. Kunstler explains why pedestrian-unfriendly urban planning makes us feel bad and ruins our civic environment, among other things. This book clarifies the malaise that most of us feel but cannot always verbalize about ugly and alienating urban/suburban design. (Also see Home from Nowhere)
Nate
This book should be required reading for every single American. School children should read it aloud instead of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

Kunstler makes an elegant argument about what we want in architecture and what Americans have done to make that impossible.

Well-written, relevant, thoughtful, and funny--non-fiction does not get better.
Steve
Jim Kunstler is amazing. He's informed, and he's fucking pissed. This book starts with a reference to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but is incredibly smart and very angry. If you need another reason to be pissed off at America and/or the suburbs, read this book. It's engaging, trust me.
Jess
It's good, though I'm a bit put off by where Knustler's views have gone since writing this 15 years ago.
I actually didn't bother to finish the book, because I just got sick of the repetitiousness. It's one long rant that doesn't present many solutions.
Jacinda
I will sum up this book with one word: rant. Kunstler goes on a rant in every chapter. It's a shame because the topic is great, but when it comes from someone with a negative perspective, it shadows the good stuff.
Jack
Zoning codes are really important and America has done a terrible job preserving cities and communities based on the pedestrian.
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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
More about James Howard Kunstler...
World Made by Hand The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century The Witch of Hebron (World Made by Hand, #2) Home from Nowhere: Remaking Our Everyday World For the 21st Century The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition

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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.” 3 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.” 2 likes
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