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Imaginary Cities

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  334 ratings  ·  51 reviews
Inspired by the surreal accounts of the explorer and ‘man of a million lies’ Marco Polo, Imaginary Cities charts the metropolis and the imagination, and the symbiosis therein. A work of creative nonfiction, the book roams through space, time and possibility, mapping cities of sound, melancholia and the afterlife, where time runs backwards or which float among the clouds. I ...more
Paperback, 576 pages
Published July 16th 2015 by Influx Press
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Average rating 3.84  · 
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Oct 23, 2016 rated it it was ok
I really liked the concept of this book but, in retrospect, should perhaps have been suspicious of its grand ambitions. The blurb claims that it, 'rethinks ideas of utopia and dystopia' and 'seeks to move beyond the clichés of psychogeography and hauntology'. The fact of the matter is, I got 164 pages in and not a single chapter was longer than five pages. Indeed, most were a mere three pages long. Each chucked a couple of vaguely worded ideas about cities at the reader, supported by several quo ...more
Jackie Law
Jul 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Imaginary Cities, by Darran Anderson, is vast in scope and scale. It looks at cities throughout time, their founding and evolution, the effect their existence has had on man. The cities discussed are not restricted to those which can be visited. They include cities which exist only in history, those of myth and legend, fictional cities, and those which were conceived but never born. The cities are examined from a variety of perspectives but always with a view to their influences and effect. This ...more
Aug 09, 2016 rated it liked it
Imaginary Cities is definitely worth a read but just be aware of what you're getting into.

Do not expect to be taken by the hand and guided through a world view. This is more like a train ride whizzing past sites, trying to get a glimpse as it all flies past.

The author covers a remarkable amount of ground but in doing so sacrifices any real depth. This is not necessarily a bad thing - and I don't think I've ever highlighted so many passages from any book - but this makes it feel a bit unsatisfa
Nov 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: misc-non-fiction
Some interesting ideas but no cohesive structure to be found. Could have benefited a lot from some serious editing, culling and redrafting.
Nicolas Schneider
Jul 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
I almost gave it up several times, but there were enough interesting passages scattered throughout the book to keep me reading. 'Imaginary Cities' is sprawling, and reflects in that way the immense knowledge of its author. However, as other users have already pointed out, its structure is flawed: asymmetric chapters, repetitions, non-sequiturs and a very problematic lack of clarity often made it difficult to see what the point was. What bothered me too was the author's apparent inability to expr ...more
Maria Longley
May 02, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: ma, non-fiction, 2016
Imaginary cities is a rich exploration of the city in myth, fiction and history. The breadth of topics mentioned and the knowledge of Darran Anderson is breath-taking, but there is so much going on and it's so wide ranging that it's a little bit difficult for it all to be memorable. I enjoyed reading it all at the time, but looking back it's quite tricky to remember all that was covered in the book as there's practically something new being discussed on each of the 570 pages... It was fun encoun ...more
Aug 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
Real cities, mythical cities, fantasy cities, lost cities, submerged cities, cities in the sky or on the surface of the sea, cities in space, cities on the move, vertical cities, buried cities. Cities, cities and more cities.

The birth, evolution and death of cities.

Architecture and more architecture.

Utopia and dystopia.

Real cities that inspired fictional cities. Fictional cities that inspired real cities.

This is one of those books that takes an age to read. Partly because it is nearly 600 dense
Dec 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Whew. I have approximately 8,000 things to look up now. I'm surprised he failed to mention Zaha Hadid's work, and the book is (he admits occasionally) very western focused. But fascinating, all the threads he pulls together. ...more
Sep 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this book much more than I actually I did. Anderson writes prose like a poet, which is fine, and his exploration of the concept of City - in imagination and in reality; in the past, present, and future; in high, low, and pop culture - is intriguing. But ultimately, I found the book to be a real slog, with no continuous thread or logical progression that I could discern. The sources and quotations are footnoted, but not in any coherent manner, and it can be difficult to tell whic ...more
Babak Fakhamzadeh
Like a very, very long essay, but one that lacks focus and draws no overarching conclusions. Interesting for its many associations, all loosely related to 'the city', there are plenty deductions the author implies as obvious that I have an issue with, leaving me with the impression that, at best, the book is a showcase for how much Darren Anderson has read. ...more
Joseph Schreiber
Jan 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A vast and sprawling journey through the city as it has existed in the imagination, the ideal, and as echoed in reality—past, present and probable future.
Working on review for publication/Spring 2017. My review for The Quarterly Conversation can be found here:
Jun 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Take your time. This isn't a normal read.

Sit with a second screen and search Google for the endless names and references and phenomenal work by thousands of artists. It was a wonderful learning experience for me.

Really, this is an internet pop-up book for adults.

A student could do a great extra credit assignment making a web page with the thousands of references in this book.
Valters Bruns
May 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Exceptionally well-written kaleidoscope of dreams of space around us.
Although packed with information to the level I had to use a pen as my bookmark, it still leaves the impression of being poetry in disguise.
Thank you for the trip. 10/10
Jamie Delano
Nov 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating, erudite, informative and compendious. Recommended.
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I came to this book as a fan of the author's twitter feed, one of the best curated and consistently fascinating on that hellsite. This book is impressive for many of the same reasons, and operates in a way that will maybe appeal most to those used to hyperlinked blogs. The only regret is that it does feel limited by the printed page, as so many images are referenced that I would have been better off reading slowly with a web browser open the entire time instead of on the train. It certainly made ...more
I loved the associations and ideas in this, but reading it was something of a chore. It's hundreds of pages of micro-chapters, with very little cohesion or structure. I give this book credit for adding to my TBR, but overall, it was too scattered and superficial for my taste. ...more
I really, really wish I didn't have to write this - I wanted so much to like it and everything about it should be something I like - but despite an absolutely fascinating premise, this book falls flat in its attempt to...well, I'm not sure. The semblances of topic sentences are absent from everywhere. The book follows a vague progression of meandering subjects, perhaps illuminating connections but more often than not merely appearing one after the other in a grouping of quasi-similar areas.

Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What can I say? Undoubtedly one of the best books I've ever read. I found it in London, it traveled with me to the other side of the world, it lived with me in Seoul, it has been lost, found, lost again, re-bought, brought back to Amsterdam, and finally finished after almost 3 years. Most of that time I spent dipping into it and googling virtually every reference. I've learned so much. Invisible Cities is really an absolute treasure trove of hidden gems, quotable prose, and labyrinthine knowledg ...more
Edward Giordano
Sep 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Darran's book is very ambitious, covering fictional, real and planned architecture all in the same criss-crossing chapters. I came to this book for world-building ideas and I left with a million book recommendations and buildings I had to constantly google image search to see what they looked like. I loved the way Darran interrogated the concept of city from almost every conceivable angle. I came for inspiration, but left with an appreciation for buildings like songs frozen in time, their shapes ...more
Sara Shakouri
Oct 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This could be an interesting book if the author inserted some basic idea of himself, and expanded the book around it. Without this central idea, the books falls into fragmentary pieces, each bringing up an aspect/idea/meditation, listing several examples in art or architecture, and then moving to another piece. For the first 50 pages it is interesting, but turns to a tedious read, despite Anderson's encyclopedic knowledge of the topics. ...more
Martin Raybould
Aug 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Sprawling, challenging but, ultimately, highly rewarding study of how art affects architecture and vice versa.
Ruben Baetens
Dec 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
The book lacks any structure as a guide through the history of imaginary cities and their architecture; leaving the reader faltering from essay to pamphlet.
Oct 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a very difficult book to describe. The back cover calls it a work of "creative non-fiction", which I guess is as good a place as any to start. It's about cities that, by some definition, don't exist. Whether that's cities or buildings imagined by architects but never built; cities thought up by writers and poets; cities as they could or should be; or cities that have died.

The book is split into different sections, with short chapters within each section. To be honest, I found it difficul
Jonathan Natusch
Jul 01, 2018 rated it liked it
It took me a very long time to read this book. Not because it's a bad book. It's actually very well written, with plenty a quotable line. The reason it took me so long to read is because every few pages I would be sent down some rabbit-hole, where I wanted to know more about a morsel of information that Anderson had dropped into mix. Or it would send me to a completely different book, leaving me to surface weeks later for another chapter of Imaginary Cities.

It's certainly not a book that will be
Jul 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I bought this book in October 2016 and finished it in the spring of 2019. For those two and a half years, it was an ever present feature of my life, always beckoning, always inviting me to go on another strange walk with Mr. Anderson.

Imaginary Cities is so dense with fantasias, historical revelations, and unexpected insights that I have found it best consumed one slim chapter at a time. Even then, I was forced to turn to the internet as reference on so many occasions that I had to go back and r
May 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This one was worth the wait. I'd been following Darran Anderson on Twitter for some time and was anxiously awaiting a U.S. publication of this one, it lives up my highest expectations. A thorough, amazingly well researched and cited trip through the evolution of imaginary (and more real than you'd expect) cities and landscapes throughout history. Even with every single page jam-packed with references and notes (seriously, I'm going to need to re-read this just to compile all of the many, many to ...more
Our Frank
Mar 01, 2019 rated it it was ok
Surpringly, for a book on imaginary cities, God was mentioned quite a few times. As was Sci-fi. And quotes. Many, many quotes. So, here's one and I'm throwing it out there, for arguments sake or maybe for balance, where I perceived imbalance in the book.
The physicist, Shevek speaks to Kimoe, the physician, in Ursula K Le Guin's 'The Dispossessed' (1974)

'"In Pravic the word religion is is one of the Categories: the Fourth Mode. Few people learn to practise all the Modes. But the Mode
Oct 14, 2019 rated it liked it
A meditative, rambling, overlapping, interweaving, repetitive tone poem of a book. Dense with references and asides, mostly from the Western canon, it is a strong, strong argument for an editor.

It is the loosest collection of themes that cross themselves and loop back and forward, messy with spelling errors, but with a shaggy beauty as it mirrors the palimpsest nature, ethereality, and overbuilding of its very subject.

You can pick up any part and start reading, be amused and then lost. It seems
Jan 12, 2019 rated it did not like it
There are a lot of cool references and info here but the book as a whole is a real mess. Is this a scholarly book or some kind of psychogeographic treatise? It doesn’t work as either. The content isn’t tied together and the author seems to expect the reader has read/seen everything he cites because there’s not enough info given to clue the reader in (also there’s no bibliography so the copious footnotes are often useless). Nothing is engagingly drawn together or expanded on. There’s neither a co ...more
May 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: urbanism
A marvelously erudite work of creative nonfiction, speculating and riffing on the meaning of urban space, existence, and imaginaries. It is organized as a kind of psychogeographic dérive (in the Situationist sense): a meander through literary time and space that pauses to make discrete observations and speculative extensions without striving for an overarching thesis, much less metanarrative. Protean and resolutely anti-pastoral, Anderson clearly loves cities and the sociabilities that only the ...more
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Darran Anderson is an Irish nonfiction writer who lives in London. He is the author of ‘Inventory’ (Chatto & Windus/Farrar, Straus & Giroux) and 'Imaginary Cities' (Influx Press/University of Chicago Press).


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42 likes · 13 comments
“We would do well, as Orwell counselled, to see the traces of the dystopian around us, to find the ends of those threads and how far along we are; the most accurate prophecy being that people, and the allure of domination, never really change. We can Copenhagenise our future cities, make them as green and smart as we can, but provided we are still embedded in systems that reward cronyism, exploitation and short-term profiteering, that require poverty and degradation, it will be mere camouflage. Dystopias will have cycle lanes and host World Cups. What may save us is, in Orwell’s words, a dedication to ‘common decency’ and the perpetual knowledge that it need not be like this.” 1 likes
“Time is the hidden constituent to architecture and the power that is wielded through it. The awe of architecture, the intractable monumental weight, seeks to concretise authority into history forever.” 0 likes
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