Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Soft City: A Documentary Exploration of Metropolitan Life” as Want to Read:
Soft City: A Documentary Exploration of Metropolitan Life
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Soft City: A Documentary Exploration of Metropolitan Life

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  118 Ratings  ·  10 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)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Soft City, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Soft City

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
David Ostra
Oct 17, 2014 David Ostra rated it it was amazing
Shelves: underground
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
Dec 02, 2016 Jeroen rated it it was ok
A very frustrating read, particularly because it is clear that Raban is a capable writer, and probably some sort of capital-I intellectual. Clearly, the latter is not always a good thing. The whole thing is terribly overwritten, and soused in a by-the-by dédain for almost everyone who is not Jonathan Raban (in particular hippies: Raban really does not like hippies... I am guessing Raban was a four-cornered mathematical figure in those days).

Most of all, what is the point? After all those pages I
Dec 20, 2012 Jane rated it liked it
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"
Sep 08, 2012 Jerry-Mac rated it really liked it
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.
Perry Whitford
Written in the early 1970's, 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 the 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 an
Mj Harding
Oct 29, 2012 Mj Harding rated it liked it
The beginning sections of the book were well done, and the quick thumbnail sketch on the Kray brothers, and their many personae that city life facilitated was quite fascinating. The middle section was unfortunately dated and seemed to repeat the book's earlier thesis that city life opens the door to facile thinking about people and one's self. The closing Boston section was astute in its observations and pretty damned interesting in its argument that Boston isn't really a city on par with London ...more
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
Chris Marmo
Jan 04, 2014 Chris Marmo rated it really liked it
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
Jan 08, 2014 Mike Mcconnell rated it it was amazing
A very accomplished book, left me with a lot to think about.
Joshua Baines
Joshua Baines rated it it was amazing
Sep 13, 2012
Vladimir Dimitrov
Vladimir Dimitrov rated it really liked it
Mar 21, 2017
Lau Zhen khai
Lau Zhen khai rated it liked it
May 26, 2016
Lawrence Switzky
Lawrence Switzky rated it liked it
May 09, 2011
Taro Matsuno
Taro Matsuno rated it it was ok
Dec 27, 2013
Nicholas rated it it was amazing
Sep 25, 2007
Anthony Wong
Anthony Wong rated it did not like it
Oct 12, 2014
Justin rated it liked it
Nov 11, 2013
Milt rated it liked it
Dec 24, 2011
Zoe rated it really liked it
Mar 13, 2011
avsar rated it really liked it
Aug 24, 2014
Steven rated it really liked it
Sep 05, 2012
Sarah Wilson
Sarah Wilson rated it really liked it
Jul 23, 2015
Dan Hill
Dan Hill rated it it was amazing
Dec 08, 2013
Laura rated it it was amazing
Jan 24, 2011
Marion rated it it was amazing
Sep 13, 2012
Susan rated it really liked it
Apr 06, 2015
Richard rated it it was amazing
Mar 22, 2013
Illuminique rated it it was amazing
Jan 23, 2015
Francois Viruly
Francois Viruly rated it it was ok
Jan 13, 2016
Victor Couwenbergh
Victor Couwenbergh rated it really liked it
Dec 03, 2015
« previous 1 3 4 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Seven Tenths: The Sea and Its Thresholds
  • Militant Modernism
  • Massive Change
  • The Monarchy: A Critique of Britain's Favourite Fetish (Counterblasts #10)
  • Psychogeography: Disentangling the Modern Conundrum of Psyche and Place
  • Urban Villagers: Group and Class in the Life of Italian-Americans
  • Them And Us: Politics, Greed And Inequality   Why We Need A Fair Society
  • The Mediterranean in the Ancient World
  • What Time Is This Place?
  • The Encyclopedia of New York City
  • Neuroscience of Personality: Brain Savvy Insights for All Types of People
  • After the Ice Age: The Return of Life to Glaciated North America
  • Edgelands
  • East of the Sun: The Epic Conquest and Tragic History of Siberia
  • Bring The Noise: 20 Years of writing about Hip Rock and Hip-Hop
  • The Situationist City
  • Night Haunts: A Journey Through the London Night
  • The Audacity of Hype

Share This Book

“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.” 2 likes
More quotes…