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Triumph of the City: How Urban Spaces Make Us Human

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  4,147 ratings  ·  415 reviews
'Cities enable the collaboration that makes humanity shine most brightly.' This provocative statement is at the heart of economist Edward Glaeser's impassioned examination of urban life. In it, he takes us from Mumbai to New York, to Rio to Detroit, to Shanghai and dozens of points in-between to argue that cities bring out the best in us, asking - and answering - some cruc ...more
Paperback, 338 pages
Published February 1st 2012 by Pan Books (first published 2011)
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Not to find one's way around a city does not mean much. But to lose one's way in a city, as one loses one's way in a forest, requires some schooling. - Walter Benjamin
Edward Glaeser attempts to provide that schooling to the elite population that has grown increasingly blind to the needs of those downtrodden in the city. Glaeser sees a city not as buildings and infrastructure but primarily as people living, working, and thinking together.

One of the things he strongly advocates is governments to
Rachel Bayles
This is a frustratingly uneven book, written by someone with many good, interesting ideas who has not learned to knit them into a book-length whole. His background as a published academic used to writing more focused work makes sense, given that the book reads so disjointedly.

Most of the book is written as separate chapters, touching on various mainstream urban ideas that are loosely knit together. The best parts are when the author begins to explore the role of serendipity and historical decisi
Aaron Arnold
If you're into urban economics at all, or even just have an interest in how living in whatever city you're in improves your life, anything by Glaeser should be mandatory reading. He's a Harvard economist who also writes for the New York Times' Economix blog about urban issues, and this book is a synthesis of much of his recent work on cities.

The first part of the book is dedicated to enumerating the many economic advantages that urban areas provide over non-urban areas, especially in their role
This book is part of a special program at Nashua Public Library where our mayor and a panel of experts will talk about this book and have a Q and A session . Scheduled November 17th,2016.

Now this is a book with a lot of factoids and a series of ideas that gets one thinking.

I was taken by the statement on page one> Factoid 1: All of humanity could fit in Texas,all with our own personal townhouse.

However impractical, uncomfortable and destine to immediate catastrophe such an arrangement would
Oct 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
Edward Glaeser was preaching to the choir - I love cities! During my 40 years, I have lived in four cities - Detroit, Chicago, NYC, and London - all cities that Glaeser uses as frequent examples in this book.

My problem with the book isn't the city love but the overall lack of structure and purpose. It is easy to understand why cities would have richer, smarter, greener, healthier, and happier citizens than rural areas - this could have been summed up in an essay. While Glaeser did an excellent
Apr 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Edward Glaeser is an economist with the Manhattan Institute--so my radar was up for conservative bias in this book, but if it's here, it's mild and mostly because he is an... economist! and looks at the world through that lens. But he also looks at -- and walks through and has lived in -- real cities so any quantitative perspective is balanced by the qualitative. He's an admirer of Jane Jacobs, my hero, but faults her for a bias towards historic preservation and relatively low urban densities th ...more
Kyle Ryan
Jan 13, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
And I even like cities!

I really wish I had liked this book, which made my read of it all the more disappointing. As somebody who has lived in cities my entire adult life, I felt that this book was going to be a great opportunity to gain some new knowledge and put some facts behind my intuition that cities are a good thing for our bodies, minds, and environment. What I found instead was a lazy, jumbled mass of stories, facts, anecdotes, and opinions bent to attribute all good things that have eve

Laura de Leon
I'm having some trouble with capturing my reaction to this book. Overall, the content and presentation were very interesting, but I don't necessarily agree with his conclusions.

After reading the first chapter, I was very concerned about the rest of the book. It presented a whole bunch of opinions, stated as fact, with very little to back them up. I felt like arguing with all of them, even the ones I agreed with.

Luckily I did better with the rest of the book, where the arguments are arranged logi
John Seno
Aug 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is very counterintuitive, the best defense I've come across for the maligned city. Cities have been and will continue to be the engine of growth. The place where cultures, ideas, people, technology and capital meet. In my backyard of Kenya, my city, Nairobi, accounts for 60% of Kenya's GDP. This emphasizes the place of cities in our lives. City life has many challenges like crime, poverty and disease but the author brilliantly illustrates that these challenges can be overcome with the ...more
Aug 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not a Jane Jacobs acolyte book about urban design or about how density and walkability make us more virtuous, but an out of the box urban economics study; part Richard Florida (with more substance), part Malcolm Gladwell (with just as much trivia but fewer syllogisms). Glaeser's underlying theory is this: the last two generations of new urban form--the industrial city and automobile suburbs--are basically aberrations. Traditionally the city has been a place to make ideas, not automobiles ...more
Kylie Sparks
Aug 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I don't agree with everything Glaeser says but overall I found it really interesting, thought-provoking and it opened my eyes to a lot of things. I already agreed with him that the density of cities is great and breeds connectivity, new ideas, and creativity. And I also knew that it is much better for the environment for people to cluster together in cities where they use less gas, less energy and contain their impact (as opposed to spreading out in suburbs and rural areas. But I used to be a bi ...more
Apr 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sometime around 2010, the world's population passed a great milestone: for the first time in history, more people lived in cities than lived outside of them. We are fast leaving our agricultural past behind.

Edward Glaeser argues that this transformation of the way we live is a very, very good thing. As compared with their rural cousins, people who live in cities have a much smaller carbon footprint. They are 50% more productive, if they live in a city over one million people. They live longer. T
asih simanis
Hopefully my rating will not undermine the value of the ideas inside this book too much, since many of the arguments presented were well argued and important. However I find the book repetitive, tiring and boring. I believe the book could've been shrunk by half and it would've been better and more brilliant.
Josh Friedlander
A lot of this book is rambling and dull, the author pontificating about the joys of strolling through Paris or telling overlong tales of plucky entrepreneurs. As befits a product of the University of Chicago economics department, he is a true believer in free enterprise and market solutions, and has some questions about anthropogenic climate change. (He wavers on this last, but in his defense he firmly advocates policies to reduce carbon emissions.)

When he finally comes down to brass tacks, tho
Austin Burbridge
Oct 19, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: civilization
I have lived in several cities; I lived in Houston for thirty years. In this book, Mr Glaeser's remarks about Houston are, in my opinion, so unconnected from the quotidian realities of the place, I wonder whether they constitute a misprint — perhaps he meant his remarks to refer to another place. If Houston really is the city to which his remarks refer, they sound — there is no other word for it — bizarre. I guess the kindest construction that could be put onto them, is that they have been adduc ...more
Nov 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This proved to be an interesting book based on a somewhat controversial premise: “cities magnify humanity’s strengths.” In general, the more that people live in highly dense living conditions, conditions that are provided so as to make urban living both satisfying and conducive to innovation and social improvement, the better off our citizens will be and the better off our environment will be.

A lot of challenging positions are asserted by Glaeser and he provides a lot of examples showing how var
Dec 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I'd like to see a good rebuttal of him, but I couldn't think of any myself. The worst thing I could say about this book is that I think his writing style was a little too simple.

This is a stirring defense of cities, and the benefits they can offer. As someone who grew up in Detroit, I've spent the last ten years defending it. Glaeser spends a whole chapter (and constant asides elsewhere) explaining what happened to Detroit, and why it will be so hard to bring it back. (The short version: large c
Aug 10, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to James by: Jim
Shelves: non-fiction
The themes of the book are interesting, cities are the greenest living spaces and are intellectually productive. Stewart Brand and others have written good stuff on the first and many have written on the later. He does try and answer the questions why cities thrive or die, what makes one city better than another? Other interesting bits are short sketches of different cities and their evolution. I didn't realize how extensive the remodeling of Paris was, good stuff! Also good is the evolution of ...more
Dec 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a review of current thinking on the city by a Harvard economist who specializes in such work. Glaeser is a big fan of Jame Jacobs, so the book serves as an interesting update to Jacob's book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. He adds, however, that Jacobs was not an economist and so misunderstood some points, such as the unintended consequences of restricting the size and extent of building in a city - that preservation and limits building will lead to the marginalization of c ...more
Jul 06, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I have to give this a very low three stars. While containing a good deal of informative content and good ideas, the tone of the book is more abrasive to me than almost any other book I've read. I've never had to describe a book's tone as such before, so I had to check out a thesaurus to find just how to explain it. Glaeser is sickeningly smarmy, unduly unctuous, and atrociously adulatory. Though he repeats on numerous occasions that the failings of the city are tragedies in need of fixing, such ...more
Jul 22, 2014 rated it did not like it
I don't really know why reading this was such a complete and utter chore - in small doses it was quite interesting, but attempting to read it for any longer than a couple of pages resulted in my mind wandering off and subsequently having to re read the last paragraph again. As such this took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to finish.

As you would expect from the title, the book is basically a eulogy to cities and an attempt to frame why the drive towards suburban living in America and el
Dec 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think he's wrong on a lot of stuff according to other academics I've read and perhaps he overstates some of his opinions (and they are opinions because he doesn't cite to much data), but the book is well-written and I think he is absolutely right in broad strokes. Cities have a lower carbon footprint and they can be hubs of innovation. For a better and more recent book about some of these themes (that is backed by data), read The New Geography of Jobs.
"Edward Glaeser is a graduate of our Economics Department and currently a professor of economics at Harvard University. The book argues convincingly that cities have a comparative advantage with respect to economic productivity and human flourishing. As part of his analysis Glaeser argues for policies that favor market-based development and high levels of education." - Michael Schill
Maite Alcaraz
A few interesting ideas, but I am sure he could have said the same in 1/10th of the pages.
David Sasaki
Oct 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of those books that I read to mostly in order to recommend it to others. I'm already part of the urbanist converted, and Glaeser is preaching to the choir. For those of you who are comfortably content in the suburbs, or wary of the chaotic hustle and bustle of dense, tall cities, this is the book for you. It is part urban history, part policy argument. Or, perhaps better put, it's a convincing policy argument grounded on the past few centuries of urban and economic history.

The argument is t
Michael Siliski
★★★ Good content, but not the most captivating read. A book for those already interested in cities, urbanism, and housing who want a complete survey of the space in one package.

Edward Glaeser is an economist at Harvard and an important figure in pro-housing circles. I’ve read several of his papers, like Why Have Housing Prices Gone Up? (2005) and The Economic Implications of Housing Supply (2018). I’m a big fan.

Triumph of the City covers the entire range of pro-urban, pro-housing arguments, fles
Dec 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Edward Glaeser outlined the principles of a successful city and how a city failed to function properly. The fact that great american and european cities were formed not in a day- it took vast amount of time, smart leaders and radical strategy.

I agree with his point about false reasoning when rebuilding structures is equally to recovering a city. Concrete jungle, at a certain point is useless without human resources. By doing this it only favours to contractors pocket and not existing residents.
Wren Hess
Jan 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: urban-studies
I have studied the sociology, politics, and geography of cities for a few years, but this economic perspective was new for me. I think Glaeser’s recommendations are good overall, but I found his writing a bit meandering at times. Also, many sections would have benefited from graphs or charts visualizing statistics!
Derek Deitsch
Jan 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a must-read for everyone. Though it was written a decade ago, it is still wholly relevant in today’s world. It is so important to realize and understand that our cities hold the answer to some of the world’s biggest issues, from climate change and traffic congestion to education and even entertainment.
"America became a great nation because of the stream of human talents that flowed to its shores before 1921 and that shutting down that flow after World War 1 was one of the greatest mistakes that the nation has ever made."
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Professor of Economics, Harvard University
“Cities don't make people poor; they attract poor people. The flow of less advantaged people into cities from Rio to Rotterdam demonstrates urban strength, not weakness.” 5 likes
“A wealth of research confirms the importance of face-to-face contact. One experiment performed by two researchers at the University of Michigan challenged groups of six students to play a game in which everyone could earn money by cooperating. One set of groups met for ten minutes face-to-face to discuss strategy before playing. Another set of groups had thirty minutes for electronic interaction. The groups that met in person cooperated well and earned more money. The groups that had only connected electronically fell apart, as members put their personal gains ahead of the group’s needs. This finding resonates well with many other experiments, which have shown that face-to-face contact leads to more trust, generosity, and cooperation than any other sort of interaction.
The very first experiment in social psychology was conducted by a University of Indiana psychologist who was also an avid bicyclist. He noted that “racing men” believe that “the value of a pace,” or competitor, shaves twenty to thirty seconds off the time of a mile. To rigorously test the value of human proximity, he got forty children to compete at spinning fishing reels to pull a cable. In all cases, the kids were supposed to go as fast as they could, but most of them, especially the slower ones, were much quicker when they were paired with another child. Modern statistical evidence finds that young professionals today work longer hours if they live in a metropolitan area with plenty of competitors in their own occupational niche.
Supermarket checkouts provide a particularly striking example of the power of proximity. As anyone who has been to a grocery store knows, checkout clerks differ wildly in their speed and competence. In one major chain, clerks with differing abilities are more or less randomly shuffled across shifts, which enabled two economists to look at the impact of productive peers. It turns out that the productivity of average clerks rises substantially when there is a star clerk working on their shift, and those same average clerks get worse when their shift is filled with below-average clerks.
Statistical evidence also suggests that electronic interactions and face-to-face interactions support one another; in the language of economics, they’re complements rather than substitutes. Telephone calls are disproportionately made among people who are geographically close, presumably because face-to-face relationships increase the demand for talking over the phone. And when countries become more urban, they engage in more electronic communications.”
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