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

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  3,137 ratings  ·  305 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 settl
Paperback, 304 pages
Published July 26th 1994 by Free Press (first published 1993)
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4.06  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,137 ratings  ·  305 reviews

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May 07, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Jan 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  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.

Jul 10, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 28, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: sociology
"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
Jun 20, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Sep 01, 2011 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
Aug 08, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
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.

Dec 21, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
Jun 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cities-suburbs

'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
Gaylord Dold
Dec 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Second Look Books: The geography of nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape by James Howard Kunstler (Simon and Schuster, New York 1993)

The great modern classic, “The geography of nowhere,” by James Howard Kunstler, describes the American predicament of having nowhere to go, at least nowhere to go that looks any different than any place else. Everyplace (and any place, and anyplace) has, in this country, been built mostly since World War II, a “tragic landscape of highway
Thor Garcia
Jan 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This volume offers some solid insights into how American landscapes became such hellish hellholes of hellacious hell. It may drive you to despair and leave the country. Kunstler is an observant and skeptical fellow, usually worth reading or listening to on a podcast. However, one often feels he may be a bit too kindly and naive about the extent of the machinations of the malicious money moguls and maleficent monsters who are driving the world to fresh monstrosities of misery and mayhem. Yet, to ...more
Aug 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 31, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: msf
I like Kunstler's writing and his ideas -- in fiction or non-fiction. I read this on vacation (I'm a nerd) where I had plenty of time to consider his ideas and how they might impact the last 30 years of my life. And I started following him in various places.

Reading this book had me wonder how much of the current angst and class dysfunction in the US can be sourced by our built environment. Being away from that for a couple of weeks provided some food for thought.

If you've read this book, or so
Aug 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed this. Like Wendell Berry in many ways...but non-religious, more snarky, more pro-city, and more focused on the built environment rather than nature. Would recommend.
May 29, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: american-history
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
Mark Feltskog
Nov 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
While I can’t disagree with those reviewers who take this book to task for its manifest flaws, particularly Mr. Kuntsler’s regrettable use of barnyard epithets in an otherwise distinguished popularization of a mildly abstruse historical and sociological topic, I think this book remains timely and important twenty-four years after its initial publication.
May 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Paul Brannan
May 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Bruno Romano
Aug 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
This very interesting book looks at city planning and architecture, and how they have both failed to produce cities that people actually want to live in, and that are sustainable over the long run. He hates suburbs and shopping malls and big box stores; most of all, he hates privately owned automobiles. He likes small towns. He likes mixed use areas. He likes public transit.

I agree with him on almost all these things. Kids in suburbs are kind of trapped with no place to go unless mom drives the
Oct 28, 2015 rated it did not like it
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
Sally Drake
Feb 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
I'm fascinated by the themes of place and community in America and this book is a brilliant, often perfect, and thought-provoking examination of how we've adulterated both in our built infrastructure. He is absolutely right that by prioritizing roads over neighborhoods; utility over aesthetics and cars over all else, we've disconnected from each other in innumerable civic and social ways. I think, though, Kunstler underestimates the role that people play in community. Human beings crave connecti ...more
Aug 26, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: real-world
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
Alice Chau-Ginguene
May 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I would give 6 stars if it's possible!
One of the best books to explain why the world is so mess up right now. The answer is cars!
Our obsessed with cars is a global problem. The unrealistic ideals that we can all drive down the road (car ad style) to an open country road to get somewhere and enjoy our freedom is so ingrained in so many people that they fail to see it's not the case in reality.
Outside the car ad, we are stuck in traffic, spending hours sitting in a tin can. Arriving on destinat
Mar 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 06, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Chris Harrison
Jul 14, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Loret Steinberg
Nov 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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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
“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.” 5 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.” 5 likes
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