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Soft City: A Documentary Exploration of Metropolitan Life
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Soft City: A Documentary Exploration of Metropolitan Life

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  98 ratings  ·  9 reviews
Part reportage, part intimate autobiography, this vivid, often funny portrait of metropolitan life has become a classic in the literature of the city. It records one man's attempt to plot a course through the urban labyrinth, and holds up a revealing mirror to the modern city, finding it a stage for a demanding and expressive kind of personal drama.
Paperback, 246 pages
Published May 21st 1998 by Harvill Press (first published January 1st 1974)
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David Ostra
Written in 1974, this ambitious study of the modern city in its psychological significance is still an exciting and illuminating read 40 years on, even though its mission - to capture the impact of the overwhelming diversity of the city-experience on the individual 'citizen' - must have been as impossible to achieve in a finite text then as it clearly is today. If the effort is ultimately doomed, then Raban is the right guide to follow on the attempt. He brings to the task the audacity of a 30 y ...more
Read because of the following sentence in an article on "How digital is making maps personal" [] :

"Author Jonathan Raban’s 1974 book ‘Soft City’ is a fascinating exploration of the relation between the imagined, personal, “soft city” and the physical built environment – the “hard city”"

I enjoyed the book as I was reading it, but I don't find it particularly memorable. It was written in the 1970s and it's interesting to read from a "how times have changed"
Do cities really exist? Maps and bald statistics, even concrete, bricks, glass and steel, do not capture what cities mean to the citizen. Travel writer Jonathan Raban shows how in their disconnectedness from one another, each citizen makes his own city of the mind, as different from the city of the neighbour as Venus is from Mars. Although a little dated (it's from the early 1970s, and references to macrobiotic hippies, Hell's Angels and Hare Krishna seem as quaint as the musical Hair) the messa ...more
i'm a big fan of raban's travel books, so came to soft city with some preconceived expectations. this is a totally different book than his travel adventures and it took me a chapter or two to really get into it, but i am enjoying it now. raban seems to be about the details in his travel books and that serves him well in soft city. he knows his cities and offers a down to earth narrative as to how a city operates, from a people point of view.
Brock Mclellan
Soft in the title, refers to the people populating a city, in contrast to the hard construction materials of the built environment.

Raban seems to be saying, to understand the dynamics of a city, one should enter it as a migrant. Those born, and remaining, in a particular city and those arriving as tourists, are at a disadvantage. Their perceptions will not develop because they know the city too well, or not well enough, respectively.

Most of the book is about a London from the early 19th century
Perry Whitford
Written in the early 1970s, The Soft City is a psychological look at the metropolis and its inhabitants, built around anecdote, impression and insight, almost exclusively based on London, with brief interludes into the America of Boston and New York. The 'hard city' is city of buildings and maps, the 'soft city' the one that "awaits the imprint of an identity...invites you to remake it". Essentially a series of related essays, Raban eschews the statistics that a sociologist would rely on and ins ...more
Chris Marmo
Beautifully written homage to the multi-faceted lives and possibilities offered by a city. Each chapter explores a different aspect of city life, and how it's characters build and enact their own 'soft city'.
Mike Mcconnell
A very accomplished book, left me with a lot to think about.
I read this book several years ago. A gentle reflection on city life.
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“We need – more urgently than architectural utopias, ingenious traffic disposal systems, or ecological programmes – to comprehend the nature of citizenship, to make serious imaginative assessment of that special relationship between the self and the city; its unique plasticity, its privacy and freedom.” 3 likes
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