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The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  310 ratings  ·  27 reviews
In The Geography of Nowhere, James Howard Kunstler declared suburbia "a tragic landscape of cartoon architecture, junked cities, and ravaged countryside" and put himself at the heart of a fierce debate over how we will live in 21st century America. Now, Kunstler turns his wickedly mordant and astute eye on urban life both in America and across the world. From classical Rome to the ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published January 7th 2003 by Free Press (first published December 31st 2001)
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Feb 10, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own

If you accept that Kunstler here has written meditations,* which his subtitle asserts, rather than a book with an argument about how cities are and how they should be, supported by case studies, this book is perfectly serviceable. It’s a little flabby and unfocused, in contrast to his earlier work The Geography of Nowhere. He covers eight cities – Paris, Atlanta, Mexico City, Berlin, Las Vegas, Rome, Boston, and London – each in different ways. For Mexico City we get 23 pages of Aztec history (including a theory on
Aug 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: thisyear
I like this book because Kunstler's attitude about American cities is similar to mine (exacerbated by my time living in Europe). He does an excellent job of connecting the following: urban planning; oil; cars/public transportation; health/obesity; architecture (form, function, and everything in between); unpredictable circumstance (war, finance, natural disasters); conflicting priorities of urban vs. rural; the stagnating effect of history; clash of cultures; political leadership. Among others. ...more
Stefan Stasik
Jan 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Amazing, brilliant, funny, despondent book on the state of modern 'built' America and suburban sprawl. This was one of the first 'new-Urbanism' books that I read when I started to discover this movement in the mid-2000's, and this book just blew my mind. All these things I observed as a teenager and young adult living in suburban Boston, then when I moved into the 'old' city proper of Boston, and why I felt so much better and healthier living in a old, proper, walkable city like Boston than I ev ...more
Jun 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Great book for anyone interested in urban archeology. Explores why some cities work fantastically and why others built w/out the thoughts of sustainability, community, and walkability are doomed to fail. Highly recommended.
Feb 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is a bit different from most in the urban planning field. The author uses much more bombastic and colorful language than one might expect. It's refreshing once one realizes and accepts the tone of the book.

I like that architecture, aesthetic, and design are a sizable component of the book. I think those components that tie into the subjective feel of a city are too often overlooked. This is apparent when I look around at many of the new mixed-use developments being built th
Ellie Danisch
May 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Unfortunately, this novel and all its facts within it was written in the 2008 era, so reading this post-2016 wasn't as fulfilling due to certain societal, financial, and political circumstances inevitability changing with time. Although, James Kunstler organizes his ideas in a well-mannered function that leaves readers well acknowledged with specific urban conditions at its worst and its best allotments. It's actually kind of interesting to digest the history Kunstler suggests and how it all aff ...more
Jun 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
Not a fan at all. Do I agree with some of his points about where urban planning has gone wrong, yes. But I feel like he simplifies the social element of the urban order a bit too much. He is extremely opinionated in a way that comes across as condescending...let's just say you can imagine that he does a lot of mansplaining. He totally lost me when he started citing psych research that indicated the Aztecs somehow had less psychological sophistication than the European invaders. I stopped reading ...more
May 27, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: city-planning
I know, I know. Calling it "just OK" is harsh. But a good non-fiction work shouldn't preach to the choir. This one does, and by the end, makes this choirboy briefly question whether he even belongs in the fold.

Kunstler's opening salvo -- at least, the one I read first -- was The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape, an eye-opening book that had me nodding my head and that I happily rated at the four-star level.

Nearly two decades later, though,
Dec 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
i was really excited to read this book.

cities can differ from each other widely, and in many ways. aside from their languages, economies, densities, and architecture, i find that the culture that permeates a city is in many ways what effectively defines it. the trouble with this however, is that it's often difficult to pin such a thing down without sweeping generalizations, anecdotal evidence, or personal experience, which of course will vary from person to person. some places are ju
Apr 15, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: those who have an inkling that something is not quite right with America
Shelves: urbanplanning

City in Mind is an eclectic set of essays on the best and worst the world's cities. Like his earlier books "Geography of Nowhere" and "Home from Nowhere", this book too offers up hard-hitting attacks on American manifest destiny culture of consumerism, corporate greed, suburbanization, and its eventual role in what will be our civilization's decline.

When I first read this book as university student, I shared the view of many of his critics, that he was overly cynical and exaggerating
Jan 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in urban studies, urban design, architecture, sociology.
The City in Mind continues in the same vein as Kunstler's previous non-fiction works (Geography of Nowhere, etc.) with criticism of the oil dependent modern American city and praise for classicism. Kunstler examines the histories and current (as of 2001) predicaments and successes of eight cities--Paris, Atlanta, Mexico City, Berlin, Las Vegas, Rome, Boston, and London.

Kunstler's wit for the tragic suburban landscape is insightful and biting as he describes Atlanta as "one big-ass parking lot u
Mar 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: urbanism
While providing stinging criticism of some the the world's leading urban places, Kunstler reviews the unique histories and his insights from eight cities in Europe and North America. Published in 2003, his predictions of a 'repo economy' that we now know as the sub-prime mortgage crisis have largely come to past. The smashing denunciation of the American suburban economy Kunstler pioneered in "The Geography of Nowhere" (1993) has finally gained mainstream traction.

I enjoyed the histo
Munthir Mahir
Mar 06, 2016 rated it it was ok
Exactly what it says it is on the cover, "notes on the urban condition." Incoherent notes though, they are marshelled to build a case for the authors disparate theory of urbanism. A theory he either deliberately ignores to articulate or fails to articulate. There is no method in his examinations of urbanism, in times reducing the examination to a single feature on a column and in times detailing in one too many pages, and in an almost hubris manner, the link and relation of Aztec social and poli ...more
Jun 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in urban design or travel
This book offers descriptions and analysis of the style and character of eight cities in Europe and North America, focusing on how each city came to be as it is as well as how the structure of the city affects the lifestyle of those who live there. In earlier books, Kunstler has talked about how urban design can help give meaning to urban life, and in this book he examines if and how it has been accomplished in several of the world's great cities. While the automobile is not the only wrench in t ...more
Sep 30, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: intellectua
Excellent historical read on the development and state of cities in the world, taken city by city. The chapter on the history and state of Mexico City is mind boggling. Cities are the product of human reasoning applied to our environment. So too can cities be judged according to reasonable criteria. There are reasons why some cities are great and others suck. Read on to know why..
Mar 13, 2010 rated it liked it
More good stuff from JHK. This is the history of the western world as told through the stories of Paris, Atlanta, Mexico City, Berlin, Las Vegas, Rome, Boston and London. Where we went right and where we're going wrong (Mexico City, Atlanta, Las Vegas -- no surprise there). Worth reading but not up to the level of his The Geography of Nowhere and Home from Nowhere.
Feb 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010, urban-planning
Informative and irreverent, textbook and editorial at the same time. Kunstler has the ability to concisely describe the strengths and weaknesses of various types of urban form. His grasp of world history allows him to link physical traits of a city with its historic events or periods. If I could choose one person to trade brains with, I would choose Kunstler.
Jul 31, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Interesting tidbits, biting commentary, exaggerated prose. Snapshots of some cities through the lens of a very biased mind -- but not really a balanced perspective of city life. Also, the author has an annoying tendency to assume I know more about architecture than I do!
Jun 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The third book an unofficial trilogy by Kunstler. This book is the perfect closing statement to both of his "Nowhere" titles.

This book has a more historical perspective which only serves to educate us further about these great living organisms we call Cities.
Richard Bravman
May 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A stimulating and enjoyable commentary on the (not so good) state of urbanism in the US and beyond, how we find ourselves here, and what we might do about improving our lot. Highly recommended for anyone caring about cities and their impact on our quality of life.
May 20, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: urban planning geeks or history nerds
This book is hilarious! This guy can smack talk cities like no ones business. Read his comments on Atlanta and Las Vegas for some good laughs. And he has some pretty interesting things to say about the history of certain major cities as well as what works and what he thinks are their tragic flaws.
Apr 24, 2012 rated it liked it
Parts of this were so funny I laughed out loud. Other parts were so offensive I was embarrassed to be reading it in public. I'd say it started strong and got less and less interesting as it went along.
Dec 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
Tells us where we've been and maybe even where we're going as far as our cities are concerned. Very candid and well researched.
Mar 25, 2008 rated it liked it
Basically the planning history of some famous cities. Kunstler gives us insights into the consequences of our actions. Who knew so much was at stake in those boring city council meetings?
Aug 08, 2009 rated it liked it
Best in his discussion of Paris (which he clearly loves). His history is a bit weak when it comes to Aztec cities. Not up to the standards of some of his other books on the urban environment.
Bonnie Jeanne
Jan 25, 2009 marked it as to-read
The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition by James Howard Kunstler (2002)
Jun 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
i'd like to thank james howard kustler, the academy, buddha, mohammed and jove that i don't live in america.
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Oct 03, 2007
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Dec 13, 2007
Amor Kan
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Jan 09, 2013
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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