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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

4.10  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,231 Ratings  ·  189 Reviews
The hidden story of L.A. Mike davis shows us where the city's money comes form and who controls it while also exposing the brutal ongoing struggle between L.A.'s haves and have-nots.
Paperback, 480 pages
Published March 10th 1992 by Vintage (first published March 10th 1990)
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Ben B
Jan 14, 2013 Ben B rated it it was ok
This has to be the most painfully frenetic, confusingly concocted book I've ever read. The writer interrupts himself with parentheticals almost every other sentence; he drops names and factoids without ever describing their significance; worst of all, instead of referring to things in plain English, he makes use of an unending stream of unexplained, mixed, and half-hearted metaphors, as though he were undecided about whether this should be a history book or something more "poetic." It's obvious ...more
Howard Olsen
Oct 21, 2007 Howard Olsen 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
David McCormick
May 23, 2012 David McCormick 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
Apr 13, 2016 Dan 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
Michael Burnam-fink
May 04, 2012 Michael Burnam-fink rated it liked it
Shelves: academic, history, 2012
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
Jun 27, 2008 Annie 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
Apr 15, 2014 Andrea 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
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
Sep 18, 2011 Andy 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
Aug 06, 2011 Malcolm 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
Peter Landau
Oct 21, 2015 Peter Landau 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
Jul 14, 2016 Stephen rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Any good socialist, or someone who wants further proof that the wealthy, in general are bad.
Recommended to Stephen by: Graduate Scool
Shelves: favorites
I finished it. It is the most difficult Mike Davis book I have read. I read small portions of it in graduate school, a class on Theories of Urban Design. It is the concluding book of the trilogy I decided to read on my return from a trip to visit family in LA. The first was Joan Didion's "Slouching Towards Bethlehem, number two - Reyer Banham's "Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies," and thirdly, this monstrosity! On a return trip, without a doubt, I will look at the city with a radic ...more
Jan 25, 2010 Dan 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
Apr 06, 2010 Lily 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
Feb 04, 2013 Grantimatter 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
Aug 05, 2008 Phillip rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, history
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
Mar 02, 2015 Wendy 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 27, 2010 Jeremy 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
Nathan Mabry
Jul 29, 2015 Nathan Mabry rated it really liked it
-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
Dec 29, 2015 Leonardo marked it as to-keep-reference
Las tendencias de la arquitectura urbana en las megalópolis mundiales demuestran un aspecto de estas nuevas segmentaciones. A medida que los niveles de riqueza y pobreza han aumentado y la distancia física entre ricos y pobres ha disminuido en ciudades globales como Los Ángeles, San Pablo y Singapur, de han tenido que elaborar medidas para mantener su separación. Los Ángeles tal vez sea el líder en lo que Mike Davis llama “arquitectura de fortaleza”, con la cual no sólo los hogares privados sino ...more
Sep 10, 2014 Nick rated it liked it
City of Quartz is an excoriating look into the vast and complex metropolis of Los Angeles. More of a collection of essays than a coherent argument about the city, the book is broken down into sections about culture, crime, suburban development, and more. Though the accuracy of Davis' scholarship has been called into question (though I think that was largely his later book, Ecology of Fear), I did not find any of the facts to be overwhelmingly objectionable. If anything, the author was more prone ...more
Apr 03, 2012 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
This is the best book I have ever read on the history of the development of Los Angeles. It has it all: water wars, the destruction of the public transportation system in favor of the freeways, payoffs, bribes, insanity, and death. I found it sbsolutely fascinating, and not just because this is my home town. If you've ever wondered about the real story behind the film, "Chinatown," this is the book for you. Very well researched and written. I highly recommend this.
Apr 20, 2008 Jason rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Angelinos
Shelves: history, sociology
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.
Lindsey Bahr
Jan 01, 2010 Lindsey Bahr rated it it was amazing
A bit apocalyptic, but Davis is a terrific essayist who has taken great pains to chronicle the history of Los Angeles in a compelling way - from the noir image we're presented by films and books, to the intense class polarization of the city layout. It's from the early 90s now I'm really behind on the progress (?) of the last 20 years.
Karlo Mikhail
Oct 22, 2014 Karlo Mikhail rated it it was amazing
Mike Davis' 'City of Quartz' is a superb account of what the band Rage Against the Machine euphemestically called 'The Battle of Los Angeles', the insoluble contradiction between classes. This is a battle that has so far titled in favor of big capital and which has driven the growth of Los Angeles from its beginnings as backwater station at the edge of the American frontier to become one of the world's largest megapolis today.

The first chapter 'Sunshine or Noir' follows the ideological and cultu
Jun 19, 2007 Ben rated it it was ok
Fun, if you treat it as a work of fiction. Read it like you'd read a dystopian sci-fi novel, like 'Snowcrash.' Which admittedly, sometimes Los Angeles feels like. To paraphrase Royal Blue, "L.A. ain't so bad." Experience it for yourself.
Apr 14, 2014 Noah rated it really liked it
This book ties together threads about land developers, early 20th century boosterism, the Catholic church, racial tension, police misbehavior, and then some to paint a picture of the forces that shaped LA from a sleepy desert output into maybe the quintessential American megacity in less than a century. I don't agree with everything in this book, and it doesn't all stand up to the benefit of hindsight 25 years later, but I liked it nonetheless. In particular, the chapter on homeowners as a polit ...more
Andrew Boes
Jul 30, 2009 Andrew Boes 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.
Jun 23, 2015 Ron rated it it was amazing
An indispensable book about L.A. Relentlessly, and, at times, absurdly pessimistic and bleak, but full of passages of deep, dark, frightening beauty. Davis likes nothing better than to revel in descriptions of the dark beauty of the city he loathes and fears, but obviously loves, in his own perverse, obsessive way. The chapters on Prop 13 and homeowners associations (Homegrown Revolution) and the spatial control in L.A. (Fortress L.A.) are especially powerful. If you're interested in L.A., you h ...more
Jul 22, 2011 Suzanne rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Kerry
Shelves: l-a
Angelenos – who we are and how we got that way-- or rather Southern Californians, as this book really covers the whole region. As a second generation native, found this exhaustively researched and wide-ranging commentary really fascinating. A three-month project and I learned a lot! It was published in 1990, so is missing the last 20 years, which would be instructional, but it is still valuable to see how we got on the road we’re on.

Chapters are thematic and the book covers huge amounts of terri
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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.
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“Here, one wants to create the Paris of the Far West. Evening traffic on Hollywood Boulevard attempts to mimic Parisian boulevard life. However, life on the Boulevard is extinct before midnight, and the seats in front of the cafes, where in Paris one can watch street life in a leisurely manner, are missing. . . . At night the illuminated portraits of movie stars stare down from lampposts upon crowds dressed in fake European elegance – a declaration that America yearns to be something other than American here. . . . Yet, in spite of the artists, writers and aspiring film stars, the sensibility of a real Montmartre, Soho, or even Greenwich Village, cannot be felt here. The automobile mitigates against such a feeling, and so do the new houses. Hollywood lacks the patina of age.75” 0 likes
“Despite the mountain of gold that has been built downtown, Los Angeles remains vulnerable to the same explosive convergence of street anger, poverty, environmental crisis, and capital flight that made the early 1990s its worth crisis period since the early Depression.” 0 likes
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