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A History of Future Cities

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  739 ratings  ·  99 reviews

One of The Washington Post's "Favorite Books of 2013"

A pioneering exploration of four cities where East meets West and past becomes future: St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Dubai.

Every month, five million people move from the past to the future. Pouring into developing-world “instant cities” like Dubai and Shenzhen, these urban newcomers confront a modern world cobble
Kindle Edition, 481 pages
Published February 25th 2013 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2013)
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I finished the book and it went more or less as I anticipated: tons of new information on Shanghai and Mumbai, then torture with St. Petersburg. Thank God later Dubai joined it as a whipping boy. All in all impression left by the book: St. Petersburg and Dubai is hubris, two others are shining examples of daring human spirit.

Just started. Intro was inspiring. Along came Chapter 1 on my native Russia and the city I lived 2 years in and a monarch about whom Robert K. Massie wrote a stunni
David Sasaki
Aug 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first history book I've read in over a year, and like all good history books it offers its readers a glimpse of the making of the modern world by focusing on one particular slice. Or, four slices in this case — four cities that I've always wanted to visit: St. Petersburg, Mumbai, Shanghai and Dubai.

Prior to this book it never occurred to me what these four cities have in common. (Other than that three of them rhyme.) All four cities began as deliberate efforts to change the values an
Harsha Varma
Cities are fascinating endogenous growth engines with tremendous power to lift people out of poverty. This book is about four cities in the East purposefully built to look as if they are in the West – St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Dubai and Mumbai. I wish I could’ve read this before I visited any of the four cities but I’ll stick to Mumbai (or Bombay) as I was just a fleeting visitor in the others.

The book starts with a glorious history of the city: the Portuguese etymology of its erstwhile name (B
Seward Park Branch Library, NYPL
Daniel Brook's 'A History of Future Cities' makes for an excellent history in a sense that it is very good at explaining how the cities in question—St. Petersburg/Petrograd/Leningrad/St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Bombay/Mumbai, and Dubai—came into being. What's the common denominator? They are all cities which pursued a variety of aesthetic principles to realize themselves, appealing to whatever international tastes were currently in vogue, or however 'international tastes' had styled themselves. Th ...more
Mal Warwick
Jun 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
"The journey from developing world hinterland to globalizing city has become the defining journey of the twenty-first century," writes journalist Daniel Brook. In his A History of Future Cities, Brook traces the story of that journey toward urbanization and globalization to 1703 in St. Petersburg, Russia. That was the year when Tsar Peter the Great captured a Swedish fort at the mouth of the Neva River and began building what later became for a time the most advanced city in Europe.

A study of th
Andrew Fairweather
Daniel Brook's 'A History of Future Cities' makes for an excellent history in a sense that it is very good at explaining how the cities in question—St. Petersburg/Petrograd/Leningrad/St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Bombay/Mumbai, and Dubai—came into being. What's the common denominator? They are all cities which pursued a variety of aesthetic principles to realize themselves, appealing to whatever international tastes were currently in vogue, or however 'international tastes' had styled themselves. Th ...more
Jan Chlapowski Söderlund
* * * * ½ - I more than liked the book, but not full 5*-amazing.

This is a highly recommendable read, although with a few reservations. The fundamentals of the book, is a description of the rise (and often fall) of 4 major cities: St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Bombay/Mumbai and Dubai.

What Daniel Brook delves into in his narrative, are the premises of why these cities were built, how it came to happen and what consequences it brought about.

The historical overview the book gives is splendid. D.B. gi
Andrew Martin
Absolutely fantastic. Future Cities is a yarn - a "gather-round-the-fire, children, and listen to tales of fantastic cities in faraway lands" kind of yarn. A yarn about buildings (ok about development) and what they can tell us about what we believe and what we value. Also, Nevsky Prospect!

Brook brings the analytical tools of a historian or economist (his explanation for 'why Dubai?' is amazing) with the narrative eye of an novelist, a rare, and welcome, combination. This is a book unlike any I'
Sep 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, history
This is a very good description of the imposed and organic growth of four cities--Mumbai, St. Petersburg, Shanghai and Dubai--that serve as nerve centers of four fascinating countries. The author also analyzes what these different structural histories meant for the political and cultural development of their countries. He is very skilful at choosing just enough history--economic, political, cultural, architectural--and introducing just enough players to keep the story coherent. His writing contr ...more
unputdownable! Which is saying ALOT considering this is nonfiction and coming from me, who's a complete fiction (and preferably escapist, Victorian science-fiction at that) addict.

A really fascinating history and present-day analysis of three cities - St. Petersburg, Shanghai and Mumbai/Bombay. Brook's argument, that we can only understand the idea of modern global cities (and in particular the rapidly-growing cities of what he terms the Asian Century) by understanding their pasts - is made int
Mar 21, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: planning
3.5 Stars

This is an interesting look at Dubai and the cities that inspired it (St Petersburgh, Shanghai, and Mumbai). It was crafted very thoughtfully and full of interesting themes and causes. Each history was broken down by eras and the book moved back and forth between the cities. I found it to be quite a good rainy day read. I think I would enjoy a history just on St Petersburgh thought, as that was the most intriguing.

Unlike many other non-fiction books of late, there is no fictionalized a
Jul 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a fabulous way to think about what your home town could be...
This was an interesting read as I learned not only about St Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai and Dubai, but reflected upon what creates social justice in urban settings.

As for the writing, I found the historical chapters on these cities quite readable. Once we arrived at the last 30 years, the links between topics and characters were much less smooth. Perhaps this was because his sources were more varied. It may also be more difficult
Alex Stein
Dec 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The cunningly titled A History of Future Cities tells the tale of four metropolises - St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Bombay (now Mumbai) and Dubai - which were founded in an attempt to emulate the West and now find themselves - at the start of this Asian Century - leading the world. The first two-thirds of the book provides an easy overview of each city's history, while the final third turns polemical, as the author looks more critically at the architectural and political follies of each city. It's a ...more
Joni Baboci
A fantastic book looking at the growth and development of 3+1 world class cities: St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai + Dubai. Diversity and Trade as well as possibility and a chance at succeeding seem to be drivers of change in developing booming urbanscapes. Cultures, races, architecture, cheap labor, and total lack of any sense of egalitarianism seemingly are the ingredients one would need to be able to propel border towns and fringe ports into megacities. A very interesting read into city-makin ...more
May 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating account of four cities, St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Dubai, that have been "built to look as if they were not where they are." Brook weaves together history and theory and creates a lot of excitement in thinking about what cities mean and what a utopian city might be. ...more
Dec 17, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It seemed like a better idea than it was. Insufficiently focused, interesting or comprehensive. I'm left with a collection of interesting facts about some interesting cities, and little to bind them together. ...more
Jun 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Fascinating, beautifully written.
Joshua Monthei
Jul 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fabulous read for those with a dual interest in history and urban planning.
Alex Givant
Excellent book about cities, how they grow and shrink based on world events.
May 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. The main contention is that St Petersburg, Shanghai, and Mumbai all follow similar historical patterns, in that they were formed as transplantations of West to East, but were primarily only transplantations of the exteriors of the Western cities, without their values. As such, they developed into hotbeds of Western value importation (i.e. freedoms) which eventually led to crackdowns by the authorities until they spurred liberation movements. However, given their forei ...more
Written from a Left Leaning Corporate Globalist perspective, which is confusing in itself, A History of Future Cities offers an interesting history of globalization via the histories of St Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Dubai.

Essentially, Mr. Brook is engaged in a demonstration that civilization, as a local phenomenon is a quaint bit of xenophobia and it is only through the effacing of local identity and the adoption of a global identity that humans may find prosperity. Little is said, that
David Montgomery
Dec 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An intriguing case study of four attempts to plant Western cities in the global East: St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Bombay and Dubai. The first and last were created by local autocrats, the middle two by foreign imperialists, but all four saw a polyglot population, an architectural mashup and cultural collision.

All four also saw significant limits to the rights and freedoms normally granted in the Western cities they emulate, intense poverty alongside opulent riches and simmering tensions between l
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: life-changers
This book offers an amazing overview of the origins, highlights and lowlights of St. Petersburg, Shanghai and Bombay (Mumbai). It effectively connects the influential factors from Western culture which acted upon these sister cities, eventually leading to unity of citizens of each of the respective countries and the current state of these cities today.
In a sweeping tale which incorporates a bulky amount of history, the author has somehow managed to make it all coherent and interesting. He brushe
Heather Denigan
Nov 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, culture
Fascinating parallel histories of St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Dubai. I don't know if this book could have been written and published today, a few short years later, with the rise of "grievance studies" without substantially more apologies for imperialism and capitalism. The paradoxes, contradictions, cultural clashes, and fault lines of these international cities are well told with humor and compassion. Brook is never over-reverential toward any one figure or place but he is equally fa ...more
Nov 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: architecture

The book makes the reader see the described cities in a new light through a historical journey explaining political, social, psychological and architectural factors which formed Saint-Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai and Dubai. I really enjoyed the idea of describing urban development through analysis of the historical environment.

Also very interesting are the ideas on how cities create outstanding personalities and how those personalities influence later the cities they represent.

What I didn’t
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mcpl, holton
This book took me a long time to read, but I powered through and finished it. It took a long time to read, not because it was boring, but because the amount of information required time to process. An interesting look at cities that were built for specific purposes, rather than growing over time, it focused on St. Petersburg, Shanghai, and Bombay/Mumbai. The last few chapters also looked at Dubai, a modern purpose built city. I found the chapters on Shanghai especially interesting as I was there ...more
Michelle Elizabeth
Great perspective of history, politics and your favorite rulers.

Ok, that was a bit hurried. I was watching the BBC's documentary on the Tsars and was fascinated with Peter the Great and Catherine the Great and how Peter toured Europe incognito and worked many professions as an apprentice. Because of his love of everything west he went home, built a navy, conquered the Swedes and built a new European city, St. Petersburg on reclaimed swamp land. Catherine continued his ideals. I was walking down
M- S__
May 29, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's more interesting as a premise. Starting your interrogation of these cities by looking at their architecture is as good a place as any to start. And the expansive urban histories Brook is able to weave together are worth reading. I'm just not sure it earns its excellent title. I wish I could've gotten a better sense for the imagination and daring (or the terror and ridicule) of the people who dreamed their city's future.
Christine Schmidt
Sep 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Impressive research linked to a unique idea in historical exploration. As a teacher of history, I was somewhat familiar with most of the history but still learned much
Father Gapon was a labor organizer.
Gandhi disliked Bombay because he had not been able to crack its Indian British-educated elite.
The Sikh police force of Shanghai was co-opted by the Japanese invaders.
The siege of Leningrad was the longest of any city in history.
So much for the history buff to enjoy.
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