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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

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  1,942 ratings  ·  171 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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Sarah
Reading this book alarmed me so much that I didn't know what to do with it, although I've been finished and sitting on it for over 2 months now.

So there I was, 350 happy pages into Davis's verbose, rejected PhD dissertation, totally into it anyway because it was a big book about Los Angeles and because it was legitimately fascinating at times, and because Davis looked to be a nice academic who took the time to wonder who was getting screwed in the battle to rule commercial and cultural Los Ange
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Howard Olsen
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
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
Ben B
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
Dan
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
Andrea
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
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Annie
Jun 27, 2008 Annie rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
Malcolm
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
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
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Athena
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
Lily
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
Andy
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
Grantimatter
Feb 04, 2013 Grantimatter rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
Phillip
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
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Oyster
Los Angeles has been loved, hated, and immortalized in popular culture. MacArthur Genius, Mike Davis, looks to the city’s rich and diverse past, from its architecture to its commodification of the American dream, to see what’s in store for the future of Tinseltown.
Jeremy
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
Nick
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
Susan
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.
Jason
Apr 20, 2008 Jason rated it 5 of 5 stars
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.
Lindsey Bahr
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 though...so now I'm really behind on the progress (?) of the last 20 years.
Karlo Mikhail
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
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Ben
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.
Noah
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
Amazing decoding of oppressive infrastructure in L.A. Extremely dramatized, thick with conspiracy - but is never far from the truth about spatial control.
Suzanne
Jul 22, 2011 Suzanne rated it 4 of 5 stars
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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Dan
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
Albert
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Derek
In City of Quartz, Mike Davis attempts the historical equivalent of film noir. He offers a dark, almost unrelievedly oppressive picture of life in a tough, hardhearted city where the ruling elite crushes the poor, whites exploit people of color, public space is turned into fortresses, police abuse the citizenry, and traffic, pollution and urban decay conquer all. "City of Quartz" is the nonfiction equivalent of the novels of Nathanael West at his most somber. Not for Mr. Davis are the idyllic sc ...more
Camille
City of Quartz can at best be called a loose collection of essays and falls short of proposing an encompassing conclusion about the vast and various subjects covered
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Davis opens with a chapter focusing on his usual obsession with the Los Angeles constructed by its boosters’ and blasphemers’ (Davis would later pervert this obsession into an endless, unwieldy chapter on LA’s destruction via science fiction in Ecology of Fear, utilizing an orgy of drawn out plot descriptions of various alien invasi
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Deron
Full confession: I read about 80% of this book. I skipped over a lot of the developers chapter, all of the Catholic chapter and most of the final chapter on Fontana. After the introductory chapter that talks about the failed socialist city of Southern California, Llano del Rio and the first chapter titled "Sunshine or Noir?" which deals with the cultural image of L.A. created by movies, fiction, and its first residents I thought I was going to love the entire book. As I've said before I have a d ...more
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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.
More about Mike Davis...
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