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City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles
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City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  3,110 ratings  ·  261 reviews
The hidden story of L.A. Mike Davis shows us where the city's money comes from and who controls it while also exposing the brutal ongoing struggle between L.A.'s haves and have-nots. ...more
Paperback, 462 pages
Published March 10th 1992 by Vintage (first published March 10th 1990)
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 ·  3,110 ratings  ·  261 reviews

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Feb 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
The ultimate world-historical significance -- and oddity -- of Los Angeles is that it has come to play the double role of utopia and dystopia for advanced capitalism.

The enormity of the subject is reflected in this protean book, one of such distinct (almost disparate) chapters, each almost at odds with each other in an assemblage as pasted-on as the utilities must be in the emerging communities which are tacked on to the greater metropolitan area. The opening section on the art of LA, or perhaps
David McCormick
May 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
It's great to see that this old book still generates lively debate. "City of Quartz" is so inherently political that opinions probably reflect the reader's political position. Davis makes no secret of his political leanings: in the new revised introduction he spells them out in the first paragraph. For a leftist, his arguments about the geographic marginalization of the Los Angeles' poor and their exploitation, neglect and abuse by civic and religious hierarchies will be fascinating and sadly un ...more
Howard Olsen
Sep 16, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My favorite song about Los Angeles is “L.A.” by The Fall. It’s got an ominous synth line, a great guitar riff, and Mark Smith’s immortal lyrics: “L.L.L.A.A.A.L!L!L!A!A!A!” It’s the perfect soundtrack for reading this excellent book. Davis has written a social history of the LA area, which does not proceed in a linear fashion. Instead, he picks out the social history of groups that have become identified with LA: developers, suburb dwellers, gangs, the LAPD, immigrants, etc. By the end of the boo ...more
Jun 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A reliably lefty history of Los Angeles, City of Quartz was a fascinating read for a recent transplant from the east coast. Mike Davis' collection of essays eschews the day-to-day history, choosing instead to focus on several underlying factors to the ur Angeleno character: Architecture-as-fortress, crime-as-byproduct-of-disenfranchisement; the Catholic church as institution of greed, power, and racism; the boom/bust of manufacturing; etc. Davis makes a compelling case for why the city operates ...more
Oct 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is as good as I remember it…though more descriptive, less theoretical, easier to read. I guess practice (as a reader of such things) does make perfect.

This is a story of the ‘contradictory impact of economic globalization upon different segments of Los Angeles society’ (vi), but written in very unexpected ways. No doubt why it has become such a classic, and why so many people I’ve met here in London know Los Angeles through this book. I grapple with what exactly it says about globalisation
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: urban-studies
Mike Davis a scarily good – he's a top notch historian, a fine scholar and a political activist. His analysis of LA in City of Quartz is excellent – he unpacks the political economy of the sprawling suburban mass that takes up so much of southern California and influences so much of the world by delving into the lives, the influences, the cultural and economic existence that is the past and present LA. As one who avoids the place like the plague, Davis is one of the few reasons why I'd go: he ma ...more
Michael Burnam-Fink
May 04, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012, academic, history
What is it that turns smart people into Marxists?

I cannot write this review without prefacing the perspective that I come from: I'm from LA, a member of a West Side Jewish family involved in real estate development, and these days a grad student in science and technology studies. What I was interested in was what Los Angeles means; is it the American dream or the American nightmare? Davis almost gets there, but instead gets stuck reproducing the shibboleths of political economy.

Davis chronicles
When I first read this book, shortly after it appeared in 1990, I told everyone: this is that rare book that will still be read for insight and fun in a hundred years. Rereading it now, nearly three decades later, I feel more convinced than ever that this prediction will be fulfilled.

Rereading this book has been a revelation. When I first read it in college, it seemed a spooky analytic apparition, explaining with hallucinogenic precision the 1980s Los Angeles I had grown up in, including the str
May 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Thematically sprawling, thought-provoking (often outraging - against forms of oppression built into urban space, police brutality, racist violence, & the Man), and at times oddly entertaining. e.g., in describing anti-homeless design of outdoor elements in cities (hostile architecture/deterrents) Davis writes, "Although no one in Los Angeles has yet proposed adding cyanide to garbage, as happened in Phoenix a few years back, one popular seafood restaurant has spent $12,000 to build the ultimate ...more
Jun 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all the SoCal kids or anyone who wants to figure us out
Mike Davis is from Bostonia. It's a community totally forgotten now but if you must know it was out in El Cajon, CA on the way to Lakeside. It had an awesome swapmeet where I spent a month of Sundays and my dad was a patron of the barbershop there. I like to think that Davis and I see things the same way becuase of that. He's a working class scholar (yeah, I know he was faculty at UCI and has a house in Hawaii) with a keen eye for all the layers of life in a city, especially the underclass. Utte ...more
Jul 29, 2011 rated it liked it
I've been interested in reading more about the history of Los Angeles since having read Lou Cannon's Official Negligence, a book that's rich with L.A. history. City Of Quartz seemed as good a place to start as any. The first few chapters, which deal with the founding movements and philosophical ideas (e.g. Socialism, Boosterism, and the obsession with "Mission" culture) that form the roots of much of L.A.'s gestalt, were fascinating, and seem to hold the polemic to at least a somewhat reasonable ...more
Peter Landau
Oct 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
It feels like Mike Davis is screaming at you throughout the 400 pages of CITY OF QUARTZ: EXCAVATING THE FUTURE IN LOS ANGELES. He’s mad and full of righteous indignation. Los Angeles will do that to you. A native, Davis sees how Los Angeles is the city of the 20th century: the vanguard of sprawl and land grabs, surveillance and the militarization of the police force, segregation and further disenfranchisement of immigrants, minorities and the poor. The book opens at the turn of the last century, ...more
Nathan Mabry
May 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: california
-Most depressing view of LA that I've ever been witness to. (but, may have been needed)
-Goes on at length (ad nauseum) about power structure and it's relation to property values.
-HATES Frank Gehry
-Mr. Davis offers no real solutions to problems presented in examples.
-Overall: Great book for facts and overall pictures of where power comes from in LA (in a historical sense). However, you may have to buy a ticket to Disneyland or head to the beach after finishing this piece of work due to the massiv
Apr 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book made me realize how difficult reading can be when you don't already have a lot of the concepts in your head / aren't used to thinking about such things. However if I *were* thinking about such things I'd find it really rewarding to see all of them referenced. Really high density of proper nouns. I used wikipedia, or just agreed to have a less rich understanding of what was going on. In fact I think I used just enough google to get by. Anyway now I know that LA was built up on real esta ...more
Aug 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, non-fiction
As a native of Los Angeles, I really enjoyed reading this great history on that city - which I have always had an intense love/hate relationship with. At times I think of it as the world's largest ashtray - other times I am struck by the physical beauty and the feeling I get when I'm there, (which is largely nostalgic these days).

But Davis starts in the days when LA was little more than Mexican farmland and deconstructs the political history of the place - revealing the east side - west side ri
Dec 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Angelinos
Shelves: sociology, history
Mike Davis is a mental giant. I knew next to nothing about Los Angeles until I dove into this treasure trove of information revealing the shaddy history and bleak future of the City of Quartz. For me, Davis is almost too clever and at times he is hard to follow, but that is why I like his work. Check out how he traces the rise of gangs in Los Angeles after the blue-collar, industrial jobs bailed out in the 1960s. Must read if you consider LA home.
Jennifer Ozawa
The chapters about the Catholic Church and Fontana are beautifully written. I’ve had a fascination with Los Angeles for a long time. This isn’t a history of the area as much as a discussion of the main issues facing the region and how they came to be.
Emmanuel Garcia
Mar 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An amazing overview of the racial and economic issues that has shaped Los Angeles over the last 150 years. This book placed many of the city's peculiarities into context.

Amazing book.
Sep 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
City of Quartz by Mike Davis is a history and analysis of the forces that shaped Los Angeles. Although the book was published in 1990, much of it remains relevant today.

My strongest endorsement for this book is that after reading it, I see my city totally differently. I don't mean that in an abstract sense. I mean literally, while driving last week, I noticed aspects of the physical environment I had never noticed before. (Davis has a sharp eye for irony, and if you enjoy his essay on urban desi
Despite having been an urban studies major in college, I put off reading City of Quartz for a long time because I was under the impression that it contained a lot of minutiae about Los Angeles politics that I didn't care to learn about. I was right about that, and struggled through the two chapters of the book ("Power Lines" and "Homegrown Revolution") that focused primarily on local politics -- the ten or so pages of these chapters that were interesting to me were buried in 40+ pages of excruci ...more
Jul 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Robert Caro's The Power Broker was the definitive book for understanding the modalities of power in the 20th century city. In Caro's story, power was anthropomorphized (and vilified) in the despotic person of Robert Moses, master-builder of New York City. City of Quartz updates that sprawling, kaleidoscopic depiction of the city on the west coast. But in some ways Davis' mural is more complex, more subtle. In L.A., power is ephemeral and fragmented; substance is ephemeral; reality (this is L.A., ...more
Feb 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People interested in Los Angeles; subculture enthusiasts
Recommended to Grantimatter by: Steve
Every time I pick this book up, I start to feel like it's not really written for me... it's written for some newly arrived L.A. denizen from 1990 or so. And I figure I'll put it down after the next page. And then Davis hits me with some amazing bit of weird trivia from left field - a discussion of urban planning will suddenly veer into a mini-biography of Jack Parsons (Crowley disciple, rocket scientist, free love advocate, explosive suicide), or a discussion of irrigation problems in the San Fe ...more
Feb 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Always a gem of a refresher to re-read Mike Davis and remind myself about the evil machinations of developers (of all kinds), and the role they play in ruining and tainting basically everything: progressive city planning, Public ownership or power, good jobs with living wages, community and youth resources,neighborhoods... just everything! I think it might be a little too Insider baseball for the uninitiated policy/socialist/public goods wonk- font size is also small, dense heavy text, but overa ...more
Mar 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
I lived in LA from 1999 to 2010, longer than I've lived anywhere else -- but I took the city on its own terms and didn't really understand the full spectrum of interests that molded the city into what it was. I don't have a background in urban studies, but this book (passionately argued on a constellation of loosely related topics) was definitely a disturbing eye-opener. From the disenfranchised roots of local gangs to the politics of the Catholic archdiocese, from real estate speculation and HO ...more
Oct 19, 2010 added it
Shelves: sociological
I found this really difficult to get through. While Davis's approach is very wide ranging and comprehensive, I often found myself struggling to keep up with all of the historical examples and various people mentioned in this account. Having never been there myself and knowing next to nothing about the area's history, I often felt myself overwhelmed, struggling to keep track of the various people and institutions that helped shape such a fractured, peculiarly American locale. I think it would hav ...more
Quinn Slobodian
Dec 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
I finished this flying over the Pacific Palisades and into the L.A. maw. It was amazing to see the fractal subdivisions that Davis talks about tendriling off to Fontana on the horizon. The book is, of course, amazing for being both loving and damning of the city but I would suggest skipping chapters 2, 3 and 6. Davis is best when he's playing the cultural critic and less so when he's the motormouth metro-desk reporter, expecting you to know and care about every switch in the City Council from 19 ...more
Nov 03, 2008 added it
Shelves: urbanism
This is the sort of book I recommend to friends when they ask me about why I'm interested in geography as a discipline. Davis maintains theoretical rigor while still presenting us with a readable, even journalistic account of the postmodern city. My sole major reservation is that Davis seems excessively pessimistic. While the postmodern city is indeed a fucked up environment, Davis really does ignore a lot of the opportunities for subversion that it offers, even as it tries to oppress us. ...more
critical for making any sense of LA. i did find myself wishing for an updated version, since this was written 30 years ago (!) and LA has changed tremendously since then, but still, every angeleno should read this.
Andrew Boes
Jul 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
Amazing decoding of oppressive infrastructure in L.A. Extremely dramatized, thick with conspiracy - but is never far from the truth about spatial control.
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
There's a lot to say about this book! It is a somewhat left-leaning history of Los Angeles that was written in 1990, and is split into eight sections (counting the prologue): The story of socialist suburb Llano del Rio; the history of LA's dueling narratives as epitomizing either the American dream or a futuristic dystopia; history of LA's regional political and economic elites; the political rise of the Homeowners; the rise of police state architecture; the story of the LAPD's war on poor and b ...more
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Mike Davis is a social commentator, urban theorist, historian, and political activist. He is best known for his investigations of power and social class in his native Southern California. He is the recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship and the Lannan Literary Award. He lives in San Diego.

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