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The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects

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The city’s development from ancient times to the modern age. Winner of the National Book Award. “One of the major works of scholarship of the twentieth century” (Christian Science Monitor). Index; illustrations.

657 pages, Paperback

First published April 1, 1961

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About the author

Lewis Mumford

165 books261 followers
Lewis Mumford (October 19, 1895 – January 26, 1990) was an American historian and philosopher of technology and science. Particularly noted for his study of cities and urban architecture, he had a tremendously broad career as a writer that also included a period as an influential literary critic. Mumford was influenced by the work of Scottish theorist Sir Patrick Geddes.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 81 reviews
Profile Image for Andrew.
1,989 reviews699 followers
September 17, 2010
Mumford is, in many ways, a total precursor to the postmodernists. He maintains a skepticism towards Enlightenment as well as a strong respect for the subjective, vital forces of humanity. Like any good contemporary social thinker, he recognizes that the parsing of culture into numeric bits and pieces is only one among many methods of attaining knowledge.

There's a certain Eurocentrism which is to be expected for a writer from his era, but what troubles me more is what I deem "urbanocentrism." He has a way of viewing all history through the lens of the city, thus excluding the discourse of societies beyond the city-- which was, until a few years ago, most of the world's population-- and consequently only seeing a sliver of humanity. However, if we read Mumford as a meticulous analyst of the course of development of the Western city, we get a much stronger narrative.
Profile Image for Bryan--The Bee’s Knees.
407 reviews56 followers
January 3, 2019
My first experience reading Lewis Mumford was a collection of his writings for The New Yorker, where he served as architecture critic, and which impressed me by exposing a way of looking at building design which I hadn't even considered before, in a way that was easy to grasp. (This 'ease' was facilitated by interest, of course--if one is immune to the charms of architecture and design, then it's doubtful his essays would appeal.) The New Yorker essays made me want to read more, and I was extremely happy to find a copy of his National Book Award winner The City in History--high expectations and anticipation no doubt contributed to much of my later disappointment.

As the book's subtitle indicates, Mumford traces the origins of the city and describes the changes it underwent up until his own time of the early 60s. As it has to be, the origin of the city is based on conjecture--Mumford posits a mating of the masculine warrior society with the feminine hunter/gatherer village, which begins a cycle of domination where the players may have changed over time, but not the script. From the earliest indications of cities to the more advanced form they took in Mesopotamia and Egypt, he describes the structures that enforced entrenched power: the citadel, the city's walls, the temple, the palace. While this concentration of people in one place set humanity on the road to civilization, it also began to steadily erode the touchstones that made life worth living.

A section on the early Greek polis delineates how there were opportunities to create a different kind of city and society, though many of the same mistakes crept back in, and ultimately proved too difficult to overcome. The Romans, on the other hand, took the worst aspects of the city and doubled down on them by creating an almost unlimited sprawl. The apex of city design and living, according to Mumford, came in the Medieval period: cities were organized along lines that promoted human interaction--they were places where life was worth living.

But as soon as the absolute monarchs were able to consolidate their power, the aspects of the citadel returned. In what he terms the 'Baroque' design of city, he shows how the purpose was to portray power, regardless of ordinary human occupations. Perhaps it might help to picture Versailles at the time of the Sun King--meant to display wealth and power, dedicated to the luxury of the few; sterile, antiseptic.

The next step is 'Coketown', the fictional setting of Hard Times by Dickens: here Mumford catalogs the ills of the industrial city and the appalling human toll, when the unregulated despotism of Baroque power is replaced by unregulated capitalism. Lastly he leaves us with the mid-century situation--sprawl and uncontrolled money interests and fear of nuclear devastation.

What The City in History argues for at every point is a symbiotic relationship between people and the technology they use--or are saddled with. The very design of most modern cities, he argues, is intended to keep those in power in power, or is a direct result of serving technological and pecuniary interests rather than that of the common man. Instead of a technological scale, he emphasizes the human scale.

This is, I think, what Mumford's book is best at--raising our awareness concerning the way we live. In the actual living of day-to-day, I think it's easy to ignore or dismiss the blight (of the city or of our lives), or, feeling that we may be powerless to stop or correct these abuses, to act out in ways which we feel we can affect other aspects of our lives. (This last is more what Mumford's book made be consider rather than anything specific he brings out). The City as a reflection of power and powerlessness.

For its ultimate effect on me, I probably should rate the book higher, but, unfortunately it ended up being a slog. Perhaps another time, and I would have found it enthralling. But Mumford's style here seems bogged down by conjecture and repetition. And there are too many instances to count where the author gives us his opinion to buttress his argument as if they were facts. One example, picked more-or-less at random: this on the changing environment brought about by suburbia,

Compulsive play fast became the acceptable alternative to compulsive work: with small gain either in freedom or vital stimulus. Accordingly, the two modes of life blend into each other; for both in suburb and in metropolis, mass production, mass consumption, and mass recreation produce the same kind of standardized and denatured environment.

Maybe this is true. Maybe it is relatively true. Perhaps it was a solid fact in 1960. I myself might even believe this sometimes, but time after time the author leaves us with these kind of generalizations for support of his larger argument, and which I thought subtracted from the overall effectiveness, even as I was generally sympathetic to his points.

Mumford gives us examples of superior city planning throughout the book, but, in the end, the solution to the much more prevalent ills is, essentially, that we must want something better and be willing to work for it. Like many philosopher/humanists before him, I think he overestimates human nature--he assumes the mass of humanity not only wants what he would want, but is actually willing to work toward that direction. This point, to paraphrase a quote from his essays in the New Yorker, is a matter upon which good men may differ.

Profile Image for Lori.
342 reviews60 followers
February 12, 2018
Reviewing such a monumental book is in of itself a monumental task, one for which no one is up to task, least of all me. There are many observations that you will simply not find in here. No review, no summary, could ever substitute reading this book.

The best one sentence summary of the book is given by this sentence:
"When both the evil and the remedy are indistinguishable, one may be sure that a deep-seated process is at work." — p. 544

To give a sense of scale to each potential reader: the book is partitioned in chapters and subchapters, the latter averaging about 5 pages each. And almost all of which lend themselves to a book of their own.

In order to read Mumford one must understand that we all find ourselves on very murky ground (especially when studying ancient history) in terms of what we know, or even can now, because most of it has been lost to us, as the author readily admits, and makes extremely clear [10]. Therefore, some speculation on the author's part is understandable. Furthermore, Lewis Mumford is very careful not to project our own involuted social theories onto the past, as he deservingly criticizes Thomas Hobbes [20], and contemporary social scientists of doing [30]: "the supposedly combative 'cave man,' whose purely imaginary traits strangely resemble those of a nineteenth-century capitalist enterpriser."

Furthermore, Mumford is a generalist, a dialectical thinker, and a moral philosopher. Weaving together the science of many domains with a unique moral acuity [25], [26], [27] in an absolutely beautiful dance of history.

While this book is city-centric, it is by no means a failed analysis of the emergence of civilization itself (given that for most of history most people lived in rural areas). Mumford tries to carefully point out the roots of modern civilization in the early city, and counterpoise this with its potentialities. A staunch critic of hierarchy and centralization, Mumford offers a unique developmental history of the city, and with it of the "container" (as the author calls it) through which the first rigid forms of social organization have evolved and perpetuated themselves through history.

Mumford traces the emergence of the city to the ziggurat and the priestly class — not unlike Abdullah Öcalan. What is interesting is that he considers that this form of organization wasn't reinvented multiple times in different parts of the world, but rather it spread from the cradle of civilization in ancient Mesopotamia [40], and points to the fact that it is again our own biases who find it unimaginable that the city traversed oceans.

The author then goes through the ancient Greek civilization, which he admires, but breathlessly critiques. Espousing some of the best critiques of Plato [50] and Aristotle [60], from which he identifies the lost potentiality of Greek civilization achieving a stable order of social organization through confederation [70] that would counterbalance the parochial nature of a single city, thus giving it the chance of surviving the onslaught of Roman civilization that would eventually overwhelm it.

"All the magnitudes will be stretched in Rome: not least the magnitude of debasement and evil. Only one symbol can do justice to the contents of that life: an open sewer. And it is with the sewer that we shall begin." — p. 214 [90]. Rome stands tall as the first Necropolis in Mumford's analysis: congested by traffic [91], "real-estate" used for speculation [92], and creating a living hell for the most downtrodden of society [93]. Almost a perfect image of the horrors of capitalist society, perfectly present in our past.

I will now elide all the other periods treated by Mumford lest this review go on forever. Do not mistake this as dismissal of the content. If anything, the analysis of the medieval city is the most important part of the book. It dispels myths about their democratic character, its sanitary conditions. Baroque city came as the grave-digger of the organic medieval city, thus laying the ground for the cities of capitalist society [120] with their almost inevitable march towards a new Necropolis.

Ruthless critic of capitalist modernity [121], and of about everything the city has become, Lewis Mumford lifts the fog of the past and gives the reader a unique vision that cuts through time. Laced with amazing poetic language [130] this book is a sheer pleasure to read.

So far I have only praised Mumford, but there is room for criticism. The distinction between speculation and "fact" is a bit muddled, and is hard to discern from the non-specific biography. But this is the consequence of the broad strokes through which Mumford paints the picture of history.

One might also impute to Mumford that he does not offer any solutions to the boundless critiques (well deserved) of the development of city into Megapolis and towards Necropolis. But the very insistence on universal solutions to such a general problems is part of the problem. What Mumford proposes is a ultimately an ecological process, very much dependent on the particularities each city finds itself in, with the only generalizeable actions of: dispersion, diffusion within the environment, and confederation of cities as a method of arresting the death march towards Necropolis.

[10] p. 55
This inquiry into the origins of the city would read more clearly were it not for the fact that perhaps most of the critical changes took place before the historic record opens. By the time the city comes plainly into view it is already old: the new institutions of civilization have firmly shaped it. But there are other difficulties no less formidable; for no ancient town has yet been completely excavated and some of the most ancient cities which might reveal much, still continue in existence as dwelling places, smugly immune to the excavator's spade.

The gaps in the evidence then, are baffling: five thousand years of urban history and perhaps as many of proto-urban history are spread over a few score of only partly explored sites. The great urban landmarks, Ur, Nippur, Uruk, Thebes, Heliopolis, Assur, Nineveh, Babylon, cover a span of three thousand years whose vast emptiness we cannot hope to fill with a handful of monuments and a few hundred pages of written records. On such swampy ground even the most solid hummock of fact may prove treacherous, and too often one must choose between not advancing at all and being dragged down into a bottomless bog of speculation. Let the reader be warned: he proceeds at his own risk!

In addition to the imperfection of the visible remains, the two great civilizations in which the city first probably took shape, Egypt and Mesopotamia, present disconcerting contrasts, which only become sharper if one includes Palestine, Iran, and the Indus Valley. While all these differences bring out significant alternatives in urban evolution, they make it difficult to give anything like a generalized picture of the origin of the city.

[20] p. 24
The primal war of "each against all" is a fairy tale: Hobbes' bellicose primitive man has even less historic reality than Rousseau's noble savage. As with the birds, 'territoriality' may have amicably settled boundary claims that only later, under more 'civilized' concern for property and privilege, led to savage conflicts.

[25] p. 74
Lack of adequate artificial light remained one of the greatest technical imperfections of the city till the nineteenth century. But by 2000 B.C., at all events, most of the major physical organs of the city had been created. The nineteenth-century observer would hardly have felt at home in the confused mythological conceptions, the bold sexual obscenities, or the bloody sacrificial rituals of the dominant urban religions; but scarcely any part of the physical city would have been unfamiliar to him. Those of us who are sufficiently conscious of the collective irrationality and decadence of the present age would feel equally at ease—or, better, equally ill at ease —in both territories.

[26] p. 176
If we continue in science and technology along the lines we are now following, without changing our direction, lowering our rate of speed, and re-orienting our mechanisms toward more valid human goals, the end is already in sight. [..] Instead of deliberately creating an environment more effective than the ancient city, in order to bring out the maximum number of human potentialities and the maximum amount of significant complexity, our present methods would smooth out differences and reduce potentialities, to create a state of mindless unconsciousness, in which most of man's characteristic activities would be performed only by machines.

[27] p. 102
Though we apply terms like hunter, miner, herdsman, peasant to Stone Age groups, we are thus actually transferring a later urban usage to an early phase of human development. If we could recapture the mentality of early peoples, we should probably find that they were, to themselves, simply men who fished or chipped flint or dug as the moment or the place might demand. That they should hunt every day or dig every day, confined to a single spot, performing a single job or a single part of a job, could hardly have occurred to them as an imaginable or tolerable mode of life. Even in our times primitive peoples so despise this form of work that their European exploiters have been forced to use every kind of legal chicane to secure their services.

[30] p. 25
The fact that human beings are naturally curious did not lead inevitably to organized science; and the fact that they are given to anger and pugnacity was not sufficient in itself to create the institution of war. The latter, like science, is an historic, culture-bound achievement—witness to a much more devious connection between complexity, crisis, frustration, and aggression. Here the ants have more to teach us than the apes—or the supposedly combative 'cave man,' whose purely imaginary traits strangely resemble those of a nineteenth-century capitalist enterpriser.

[40] p. 90-92 (most content elided)
But what one finds in the New World is not just a collection of houses and buildings, which might have had the same common ancestor in the mesolithic hamlet. One discovers, rather, a parallel collection of cultural traits: highly developed fertility ceremonies, a pantheon of cosmic deities, a magnified ruler and central authority who personifies the whole community, great temples whose forms recall such functionally different structures as the pyramid and the ziggurat, along with the same domination of a peasantry by an original hunter-warrior group, or (among the early Mayas) an even more ancient priesthood. [..]
These traits seem too specific to have been spontaneously repeated in a whole constellation.
Thus one may account for the many differences between Egyptian, Sumerian, Indian, Chinese, Cambodian, Mayan, Peruvian, and Aztec urban centers, without denying their underlying similarities, and without setting any arbitrary barrier, not even the Pacific Ocean, against the possibility of their slow diffusion from a few points.
Would it not be more sensible, now that the mobility of early peoples, even on the sea, is becoming apparent, to admit that the idea of the city may have reached the New World from afar,

[50] p. 175
When Plato turned his back on the disorder and confusion of Athens, to rearrange the social functions of the city on an obsolete primitive pattern, he also turned his back, unfortunately, on the essential life of the city itself, with its power to crossbreed, to intermingle, to reconcile opposites, to create new syntheses, to elicit new purposes not predetermined by the petrified structure itself. In short, he rejected the potentiality—not unrelated to what Plato would have regarded as inadmissible confusion of transcending race and caste and overcoming vocational limitations. He saw no way of unifying the divided selves of man without freezing them into so many fixed, graded, and classified parts of the polis.

[60] p. 188
What Lavedan has said of the influence of Plato and Aristotle on later city planning and municipal order errs, I fear, on the generous side. "It consisted in preparing the mind to accept a certain number of restrictions dictated by the collective interest." But the fact is that they were not, by anticipation, either apologists or publicists for the new order, which shaped the growing Hellenistic cities without their help, and with little respect for their beliefs. Neither Plato nor Aristotle had any just insight into the happy moment that Athens, and in some degree all other Greek cities, had lived through, from the time of Solon to that of Pericles: therefore their ideal cities made no provision for continuing and strengthening these creative forces. They had no vision of a wider polis, incorporating the ideal principles of Cos, Delphi, and Olympia and working them into the generous complexities of an open society. Their ideal city was still just a small static container, under the grim direction of the citadel: for support, it had only a self-contained economy, supported, at least for Aristotle, by a robust middle class. The cultural center of gravity of such a city fell within its own base; but on such terms the burgeoning mind of the actual polis would have withered and wilted.

[70] p. 143
But Greek practice was far in advance of Greek theory: indeed, theory accentuated the separate, the particular, the static, the archaic, and neglected the new tendencies toward dynamic cultural intercourse and political federation. Aristotle examined the constitutions of 158 Greek cities, each sufficiently different to merit separate analysis; but there is no record of his paying attention to the efforts at creating a general league of cities, though this had begun as early as the sixth century, and before Rome had wiped out the last vestige of Greek freedom, Greece would produce some twenty such confederations.

[90] p. 214
All the magnitudes will be stretched in Rome: not least the magnitude of debasement and evil. Only one symbol can do justice to the contents of that life: an open sewer. And it is with the sewer that we shall begin.

[91] p. 218
As soon as the increase of population created a demand for wheeled traffic in Rome, the congestion became intolerable. One of Julius Caesar's first acts on seizing power was to ban wheeled traffic from the center of Rome during the day. The effect of this, of course, was to create such a noise at night, with wood or iron-shod cartwheels rumbling over the stone paving blocks, that the racket tormented sleep: at a much later date, it drove the poet Juvenal into insomnia.

[92] p. 219-220
These tenement houses bore the same relation to the spacious palaces and baths of the city as the open cess trenches did to the Cloaca Maxima. The building of these insulae, like the building of the tenements of New York, was a speculative enterprise in which the greatest profits were made by both the dishonest contractors, putting together flimsy structures that would barely hold up, and profiteering landlords, who learned how to subdivide old quarters into even narrower cells to accommodate even poorer artisans at a higher return of rent per unit. (One notes, not without a cynical smile, that the one kind of wheeled traffic permitted by day in Rome was that of the building contractors.)

[93] p. 230
Even before Rome had changed from Republic to Empire, that city had become a vast collective torture chamber. There, at first under the guise of witnessing the just punishment of criminals, the whole population, as Seneca remarked, daily punished itself. So thoroughly was Rome committed to this evil that even the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the State did not do away with the practice. When the Vandals were hammering at the gates of Hippo, Augustine's city, the groans of the dying defenders on the wall mingled with the roar of the spectators in the circus, more concerned with their day's enjoyment than with even their ultimate personal safety.

[120] p. 507-508
"At the bottom of this miscarriage of modern technics lies a fallacy that goes to the very heart of the whole underlying ideology: the notion that power and speed are desirable for their own sake, and that the latest type of fast-moving vehicle must replace every other form of transportation. The fact is that speed in locomotion should be a function of human purpose. If one wants to meet and chat with people on an urban promenade, three miles an hour will be too fast; if a surgeon is being rushed to a patient a thousand miles away, three hundred miles an hour may be too slow. But what our experts in transportation are kept by their own stultifying axioms from realizing is that an adequate transportation system cannot be created in terms of any single limited means of locomotion however fast its theoretic speed.

What an effective network requires is the largest number of alternative modes of transportation, at varying speeds and volumes, for different functions and purposes. The fastest way to move a hundred thousand people within a limited urban area, say a half mile radius, is on foot: the slowest way of moving them would be to put them all into motor cars. The entire daytime population of historic Boston could assemble by foot on Boston Common, probably in less than an hour if the streets were clear of motor traffic. If they were transported by motor car, they would take many hours, and unless they abandoned their unparkable vehicles would never reach their destination.

Our highway engineers and our municipal authorities, hypnotized by the popularity of the private motor car, feeling an obligation to help General Motors to flourish, even if General Chaos results, have been in an open conspiracy to dismantle all the varied forms of transportation necessary to a good system, and have reduced our facilities to the private motor car (for pleasure, convenience, or trucking) and the airplane. They have even duplicated railroad routes and repeated all the errors of the early railroad engineers, while piling up in the terminal cities a population the private motor car cannot handle unless the city itself is wrecked to permit movement and storage of automobiles.

If technical experts and administrators had known their business, they would have taken special measures to safeguard more efficient methods of mass transportation, in order to maintain both the city's existence and the least time-wasting use of other forms of transportation. To have a complete urban structure capable of functioning fully, it is necessary to find appropriate channels for every form of transportation: it is the deliberate articulation of the pedestrian, the mass transit system, the street, the avenue, the expressway, and the airfield that alone can care for the needs of a modern community. Nothing less will do."

[121] p. 530
'Free competition' which was the slogan that broke the old feudal and municipal monopolies gave way to large-scale efforts to achieve monopoly or quasi-monopoly, now called 'oligopoly,' so that a minority of organizations could control the market and fix prices almost as successfully as if they were in fact one unit. The great metropolis was both an agent of this process and a symbol of its overwhelming success.

[130] p. 527
Sociologists and economists who base their projects for future economic and urban expansion on the basis of the forces now at work, projecting only such changes as may result from speeding up such forces, tend to arrive at a universal megalopolis, mechanized, standardized, effectively dehumanized, as the final goal of urban evolution. Whether they extrapolate 1960 or anticipate 2060 their goal is actually '1984.'
Profile Image for Julie Mickens.
180 reviews30 followers
August 5, 2019
Just a brief 650 pages! Mumford was a prolix guy who saw no need to keep his sentences short, but he knew his subject matter and wasn't shy about making sweeping evaluations of entire centuries and/or millennia. Why not? He's probably right. Here is what Louis Mumford thought about the urbanism achievements of various eras (as ever-so-SLIGHTLY simplified by me):

Neolithic villages: Underrated matriarchy!

Sumer: Underrated in importance, but overrated on the quality-of-life index. Irrigation is nice, but compulsory residence, brutal centralized control, frequent wars, and theocracy is a drag.

Ancient Egypt, the People of the Nile: Highly and correctly rated!

Minoans: Underrated!

Mycenaeans: Maybe underrated?

Archaic Greece: Underrated! Great at spawning new-village-colonies so they didn't exceed their agricultural carrying capacity. Earthy and vigorous. Awesome smiley statues, not creepy at all, just optimistic!

Classical Greece: Overrated! Mumford likes Ancient Greece's early stuff, the first few albums on the indie label before they got big.

Ancient Rome: Overrated! Mean-spirited and decadent.

Dark Ages/Early Medieval: Underrated! Then again, it's rated so bad there's nowhere to go but up. Early monastic life kinda cool, ya know, from an urban and landscape design POV.

High/Late Medieval: Quite underrated! Don't believe those "Age of Enlightenment" smears.

Late-medieval Venice: Underrated!

Renaissance: There was no such thing! At least not on the subject of urbanism. Better to call it the Baroque.

OK then, Baroque Period: Overrated! Autocracy and the beginning of capitalism. Weird-ass fort shapes. Weird wigs! Not as much "Enlightenment" as they like to think of themselves. But on the plus side, sensual and impious.

Industrial Capitalism aka "Coketown": Extremely overrated! And it's not rated that great. 100+ years of Dickensian hellscapes.

Urban Reformer Ebenezer Howard (late 19th/early 20th C): Extremely underrated! Invented the greenbelt and linear parks. Proposed to capture land appreciation value for community benefit. Garden City idea was very sound but got misunderstood as either horticulture-oriented or mistaken for bedroom suburbs or suburban sprawl. Promise fulfilled in a few examples, but still untapped potential. Wrongly scorned by later Modernist snobs and midcentury technocrats; Le Corbusier thinks he's hot but he's not.

Streetcar era: Probably underrated -- but only if you compare it to the auto age!

Auto age/suburbia: Overrated!

1963, the year of this book's publication: Overrated! Fear of nuclear annihilation, you see.

Profile Image for David Eppenstein.
687 reviews164 followers
December 14, 2014
A book definitely not meant for the casual reader. This is an understandably long and ponderous trek through the history of man's efforts at building cities. If this is a subject you're interested in then this is a fascinating journey. If it isn't your cup of tea then Uncle Mumfie, as he was affectionately called by my classmates and me, will bore you to tears.
289 reviews17 followers
February 8, 2015
This book's importance is mainly historical. As a work of urban planning analysis and history, it is a failure.

"The City in History" was written in an era when hand-waving and appeal to "common knowledge" were acceptable ways to argue a point. There is little to no primary source information or data to support Mumford's claims about the causes or impacts of various elements in the evolution of urban design. E.g. on p. 448-9 he points to the addition of new crops to the food supply as a key force behind population growth in the middle ages/renaissance, but provides no empirical data to prove this. Other technological advancements (lower infant mortality rate; better medicine; better sanitation; and so on) are likely also to have contributed to the increase in population. This is one of many arguments he puts forth that is half-baked or presented without data to support it.

In short, if this book was being graded by a contemporary professor of history or urban planning, it would receive a failing grade.

I think it's an interesting book to read for metahistorical perspective, but does little to present a rigorous analysis of the evolution of human settlements.
Profile Image for Piotr Smolnicki.
15 reviews5 followers
August 22, 2015
It's an obligation to read this book for every urban researcher to know what innovative thoughts are just reinventions of ones in the past.
Profile Image for Czarny Pies.
2,484 reviews1 follower
December 5, 2014
Lewis Mumford's "The City in History" is great fun to read. He provides a dazzling show of erudition moving from De Tocqueville to Gilgamesh to Frederick Law Olmsted to Proust and to Vitruvius with dazzling speed somehow always tying his eclectic stable of references into a coherent narrative history. In my case the pleasure of was greatly enhanced by the fact that my prejudices in most instances with those of Mumford which are:
1. The Urban Sprawl of the twentieth century was out of control with profoundly detrimental effects on the environment and the spiritual needs of mankind
2. The current urban sprawl is the result of the tendency noted by De Tocqueville for modern, democratic man to focus only on his personal needs as opposed to the needs of the community
3. The primary role of the city in society is be a "sacred space" in the sense used by Mircea Eliade when man's cultural and scientific power can flourish
4. The history of our cities has been calamitous. The cities are laid with one purpose in mind and then develop in a different historical context. The perpetual contradiction between vision and reality leads to a perpetual cycle of growth, decay and destruction.
Mumford argues that cities grew from an innate desire for man to have a central, sacred place for burial. Nomadic societies all tended to create special holy places for this purpose. Hence the first cities were for the dead rather than the living.
When man the transition from a nomadic to a sedentary existence, the former sacred places became the first cities. Kingship as an institution appeared at the this time. Accordingly the first cities were laid out with wide avenues and elevated temples as a political statements endorsing kingship.
The trading cities of classical Greece produced a great age in which cities were designed for the citizens. There was a great deal of thought about the optimal population and physical dimensions of cities. By setting these two parameters correctly the Greeks believed that cities would foster prosperity and cultural development. The period of Classical antiquity produced the greatest urban planning of human cities. Cities were hygienic, prosperous and culturally rich.
In the dark ages, cities become fortresses. True urban planning suffered. Public hygiene and sanitation suffered. The poor were forced into tenements. A long era of catastrophic plagues and epidemics set in.
During the age of the enlightenment, the orientation turned towards showiness. Huge overgrown urban plans like the Place de la Concorde in Paris or the l'Enfant Boulevard in Washington were created.
The age of industrialism in the nineteenth century created the blighted urban concentrations we now live in. The needs of the transportation system (first trains and then cars) came before the needs of the people. Cities became extremely noisy. Air quality deteriorated rapidly due to the burning of coal and other fossil fuels. In a rapidly, growing industrial societies sprawled created massive conurbations with no centre.
Mumford concluded that at the time of his writing in the 1960s the situation was simply out of control . The urban expansion was accelerating. Cities no longer generated a sense of community and man's cultural development was being suffocated. More than 50 years, later Mumford's description of our urban society still seems to hold. The problems which were once most visible in North America and Western Europe have simply become global.
Unfortunately, Mumford really does not offer much of a solution. He appears to believe that urban planning could be implemented on a national scale so that instead of one massive conurbation, nations would be composed of a network of smaller optimally sized cities. However, there is no road map for getting to this ideal state. Presumably it is the duty of this generation to make such a road map.
The main criticism of this book is that it is based on eclectic, hodgepodge of readings running from Saint Augustine to Daniel Burnham to Marcel Proust and essentially lacks any sort of methodology. It can then be dismissed out of hand as being nothing more than the expression of an opinion, albeit a very erudite one. Despite agreeing with Mumford on most issues, I myself wished at times that he could prevent or more systematic defense of his case.
97 reviews5 followers
August 4, 2017
1961 Copyright Harvest Book by Harcourt, Inc 575 pages

The author describes the design of cities in Europe and the USA as a place for humans to live by periods: ancient (pre-historical Mesopotamia, Egypt, Crete), classical (historical, Greece and Rome) medieval (8th to 16 centuries), baroque (16-18th centuries, the industrial revolution), suburbia and contemporary (up to 1960). His descriptions include economic, religious, military and ethnic factors that influence the development of cities and their design. His perspective is humanistic, that is, he regards cities as a place for the common person to live and realize his/her full potential. Needless to
say, most cities through most of history have not been successful in this regard. What makes this history compelling is just this perspective: it causes one to consider his/her own life and its potential. Social interactions in the city are deemed essential for the social development of one's self. Predictably, Athens is portrayed as a high point, generating the familiar great Greeks such as Sophocles and Socrates. Venice and Amsterdam also win high praise as does the townships and villages of New England. The village is his ideal community size for social development. Community religious pageants are considered very important. In several chapter sections, he opines about democracy and the gap between the rich in control and the poor workers. He is very realistic but his sympathy is definitely for the exploited workers. Most of the grand monuments and structures that we visit today were built on the exploitation of ignorant workers inured to tyranny. Spaciousness, especially green space, as in parks has his recommendation and approval.

His vision: (The purpose of the city: ) "That magnification of all the dimensions of life, through emotional communion, rational communication, technological mastery, and above all, dramatic representation, has been the supreme office of the city in history." (- the next-to-the-last sentence in the book).

There is a wealth of information and insights in this history with a good bit of opinion thrown in. It is well-written but somewhat verbose and his opinions are somewhat repetitious. These are opinions about the gap between the rich and the poor, exploitation of the workers and democratic governance. He detests ostentatiousness and conspicuous waste of wealth. The palaces,
cathedrals and monuments were built with taxes from the common people. The narrative heats up with some passion at these points which roused me on several occasions in agreement. He has a refreshing evaluation of the Greek culture as exemplified in Athens: Athens was a democracy only for free men, not for women nor slaves. It also was piratical, subjugating other Greek cities to get tributes (taxes), instead of forming a confederation as equals for mutual defense and aid.

His ideal city is rather vague: discussing suburbs he likes openness and greenery and variety of design but complains that they are too insulated from the problems and social interactions of the city. Describing inner cities, he complains that they need green space and more privacy. The ideal still seems to be the prehistoric village. So his criteria seems to shift somewhat from one case to another.

One glaring deficiency seems to be total disregard for efforts to tolerate and assimilate other cultures within neighborhoods.. His vision is limited to homogenous neighborhoods where a common religion is shared. I imagine that he would support assimilation if he were alive today. But I don't see how the envisioned communal-self can be achieved with large cultural and religious

Lewis Mumford was not a historian on a collegiate faculty, but rather a journalist, serving as an architectural critic for the New Yorker magazine for 30 years. He is the author of many books about design and cities. This book was the National Book Award winner in 1961. He is very well-read in this field as his bibliography testifies.

I rated it 4 stars mostly due to vision and scholarship. I did not give it a 5 because of verbosity and some repetition. Actually, 4.5 would be accurate. This is a very thought-provoking read, causing me to reflect on my own life and how to achieve my maximal potential.
Profile Image for Matt.
46 reviews
February 19, 2017
Possibly the most valuable book I have read. An education in what a city should be.
Profile Image for Enzo De Borja.
6 reviews
February 5, 2023
A comprehensive and eye-opening tracing of the city's place in history and a call to action to save it from the worst of humanity's tendencies. Though published in 1961, Mumford's observations, thoughts, and predictions remain relevant today, especially as the world becomes more urbanized than ever.
35 reviews
September 21, 2014
At a basic level, the book largely consists of the ramblings of a technophobe advocating the humanization of technology (as if there were anything more eminently human than technology). Solutions to the city's woes (housing, congestion) are not provided, nor even suggested, but criticism is freely dished out.

As others have pointed out, Mumford was an advocate of the medieval city, and a more "organic" approach to city planning, as opposed to the more formalistic baroque, and indeed contemporary, method of planning cities. Some interesting points are made regarding the direct relationship of population densities and transportation congestion, or the role of the citadel and city walls in ancient cities.

However, unfortunately, the book manages to branch out to topics only tangentially related to the history of urbanism as well. This includes the university tenure system, the inconveniences of nuclear war, or the monastic movement.

Overall, I would say that although the book contains interesting points, they are diluted in the hundreds of pages of ramblings where one cannot easily distinguish opinion from fact. For, though the author was an academic and the book ends with a copious bibliography, "The City in History" does not reference other works by means of footnotes or endnotes once in all its 657 pages.

Thus, I would only recommend this work to those that, like Mumford, feel that significant improvements to the city will only come through applying art to the city's central human concerns (pg. 575). To those actually looking for solutions, I would suggest they look somewhere else.

325 reviews13 followers
May 1, 2023
Pese a que ha transcurrido más de medio siglo desde su publicación, "La Ciudad en la Historia" sigue siendo uno de los textos más disfrutables de la particular erudición holística y transversal de ese gran humanista que fue Lewis Mumford.

Con un estilo sugerente y literario, huyendo de las sombras grises de la historia positivista, la narración hipnotiza al lector por la mezcolanza de perspectivas y disciplinas empleadas: antropología, filosofía, psicoanálisis, arquitectura, historia, arte... Lo que se consigue es una inmersión cultural de alto nivel donde las reflexiones y aspectos que hayan podido quedar superados (cierto aroma romántico en la defensa de los gremios, por ejemplo) se perdonan fácilmente.
Profile Image for Andrew Noselli.
412 reviews8 followers
December 18, 2022
Although somewhat out of date from the point of view of a contemporary approach to the sociology of city planning, Mumford's grim assessment of the evolution of society, from the dawn of civilization in Mesopotamia to the postwar interregnum before Vietnam, is a marvel of in the scholarship of cultural history. Mumford confesses that he is a generalist and I, as a fellow generalist, can only sympathize with his approach to sketching an architectonic historical perspective that takes in everything from the dynamics of art history to epistemology.

In Mumford's opinion, man's unyielding drive to search for new sensations resembles both the quest for eternal youth and, simultaneously, the archaic drive for an abundant supply of animal food. His adherence to a life of aesthetic Romanticism demonstrates that these desires have been replaced by a mantra of ritualistic observance, in an attempt to propitiate the Gods, to whom, in the name of infinity, we sacrifice our children, seeking to bestow an aura of eternality of the sign-symbols out of which his life is made, most specifically in art and ceremonies of worship. The cultural artifacts of prehistoric man were simultaneously the coalescence of man's carnal desires and the living embodiment of the rewards earned in the primitive's collective hunt for food.

Mumford highlights the feminine root of civilization, showing how in ancient Egypt the hieroglyphs for house and town are also symbols for mother; in Greek society houses, rooms and tombs were usually round structures, it is thought that they were modeled on the mythic shape of Aphrodite's breast. Mumford continues his historical reflections on the development of power, and traces its descent through a line of kings that runs parallel to a collective shift from a matriarchal-centered observation of fertility rites to a cult of physical power.

With the establishment of cities, hunts for single victims were replaced by mass extermination and mass destruction. The sacrificial act, once done to insure abundant crops or the fertility of the tribe's women, turned into an exhibition of power, under the name of its God as represented in its priest-king, an act which sought the total destruction of the enemy. Men's thought in bigger terms, much as that a child's dream became an adult nightmare. Projection of infantile trauma on society has warped the development of all civilizations even down to our own day. To make the magical ends of war plausible, even when disguised by what were supposedly incontrovertible economic demands, it is necessary that war take the shape on the enactment of a religious performance; the shock and awe campaign of the U.S. military is in effect a wholesale ritual sacrifice carried out on a monolithic scale.

As the dominance of the city grew, so did it develop in terms of its capacity of the kingly power: the city became a permanently mobilized standing army, so that in terms of the power of numbers alone, the city could dominate other, smaller populated areas, and further increase its power and establish a primitive hegemony to resist and counter neighboring groups.

Thus the ancient city tended to transmit a collective personality disorder, a personality structure whose more extreme manifestations are now recognized as pathological; the Nietzschean idea that language evolved as a system with the express intention of hiding meaning, as a disguise used to mask subject-predicate relations; not only did the walled city give a permanent collective structure to the paranoid claims of kingship, but the division of labor and castes normalized the schizophrenic personality structure.

Not unlike being in the theater, the characteristic illusion produced by the city is that the actors seem bigger than they actually are; the urban center is actually a theater. This sense of the theatricality of cities is so ingrained in our American culture that, with the rise of modern society, war in the sense of sportsmanship gained a permanent place in society, typically for honor more than for material gain.

The church, Mumford explains, was created as the embodiment of the institutionalization of warfare; the secret, scientific knowledge of the priestly caste conferred social and political leadership on a weapons-bearing minority; it was its reason for existence in that, just as the institutions of child sacrifice and cannibalism that were discarded, war was given a durable and concrete form and a magic pretext for the church's existence. According to the theology of Thomas Aquinas, the city of God is itself an urban artifact where the saved collect to meet and worship in the sacred architectural space that houses the divine presence in a real, unmediated way. That this Thomistic conception of Heaven as what Mumford calls an "urban artifact" has gone wrong by the 20th century is seen in the fact that all developments in the bureaucratic structure of an early modern city have resulted in the loss of autonomy and the increasing anomie of the individual, as was depicted in Kafka's The Trial. Now the postmodern age has set the stage for an assault upon Heaven by internet communication technology.

The other deleterious effects of enlightenment of the city is that is has led to the fetishization of women's sexual attractiveness through pornography, mainly as a projection of the desire for the avoidance of death; the idea that was commonly held among men prior to the sexual revolution, that genius was not associated with women, that they were simply an ornamental sex, culminates in the mass-production of desire, and what is equivalent to a messianic desire to produce enlightenment of a religious significance from machine-based technologies and techniques.

While Mumford suggests that, contrary to the opinion of Max Weber, the protestant ethic originally positioned itself against the abuses of capitalism, he also admits that, with the innovations of capitalism, came the practice of practice of postponing present pleasures for the promise of future rewards; as he puts it, "habits of abstemiousness, abnegation and systemic order" were transferred from religion to business, and the gains they produced were visible signs of what the capitalist means by freedom: escape from protection, regulation, corporate privilege, municipal boundaries, legal restrictions, charitable organizations. What do conservatives mean by capitalism and freedom? Many conservative intellectuals, from Milton Friedman to F.A. Hayek, have written books where they fashion arguments defending capitalism. Unlike Mumford, these proselytizers for capitalism seek to defer the question of how best to counter socialism and what methods can we use to assuage the sour moralizing of capitalism, where the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer.

Were he to be alive in the present, Lewis Mumford would not be surprised to learn that the global material footprint has continued to grow in lockstep with the exponentially rising global economy (GDP) since the industrial revolution to the present day. This is largely because of egregious consumption standards by the 1% in a socioeconomic system founded on growth without limits. Can we resolve this fundamental conflict between the quest for limitless growth and the consequent environmental destruction? Indeed, this belief in constant, unlimited growth was pervasive; the working population was guaranteed a minimum wage level to ensure reproduction of their class; the higher classes sought to ensure a superior connection with the past but were at the same time privileged to witness unlimited growth. Mumford, unlike Friedman and Hayek, seems to believe that an economy based on ever increasing economic growth and profit-motives was doomed; like H.G. Wells, he wanted to see a workable socialized receivership come into existence, where a fiscally sound arbitrairement of good and services was conducted so that the ethical interests and concerns of the citizens took first place.

What is most clear in this book about the history of civilization is that the productive relations of the self-consuming society is dominated by capitalism itself and, as such, the economic forces of the profit system create a form of tunnel-vision that leads to destruction in even those of the politically and psychologically healthy society. In my opinion, social cooperation is not enough in order to influence behavioral development; it appears that our last superstition is that of an indefinitely expanding economy. Will our society have a chance, given the weight of historical evidence that Lewis Mumford projected upon his picture of a developing America which has been entitled as the leader of the free world? History awaits the result of the predictions made in this outstanding book.
26 reviews
June 15, 2020
Lewis Mumford (1895 - 1990), American writer, historian, social commentator, architectural critic, student of cities...
His book The City in History was required reading for us as students of town & regional planning planning. The book was (and still is) an intimidating tome: 576 pages of small print in hard bound format. As a student, I never read the whole book; only selected passages from it, where I then thought were the most relevant content to the essay to be submitted!
Just before Christmas 2019, I decided: this is nonsense! As a student and practitioner of spatial design, the planning of regions and towns, I just cannot retire (if at all) before reading the book. So, there!
Uncle Lewis impressed me immensely with his grasp of the grand historical palette: he places his description of the character and development of cities through the ages in context of the socio-political-technological essence of each age. He has profound insight in the human-settlement system - a complete systems-thinker.

What I initially found strange - him being an American - was his aversion to capitalism. I soon realised that it was based on his opinion of capitalism’s pervasive debilitating influence on the quality of the city and city living. Read the chapter “Paleotechnic paradise: Coketown”, then you will understand where he comes from. Whilst reading this part, especially his brutal description of the destruction of landscapes caused by mining, it reminded me of Richard Llewellyn’s lament over the tragic demise of the Welsh mining landscape as related by him in "How green was my valley". I have to confess: I am in agreement with uncle Lewis, me being largely influenced by the writings of Norberg-Schulz (Genius Loci), Rachel Carson (Silent Spring) and Aldo Leopold (A Sand County Almanac - probably the most beautiful ode to nature, ever).

The City in History was published in 1961. This dates Mumford as one of the early agitators against pollution and ecological damage of the modern industrial consumer economy. I regard him with the same reverence as I do Rachel Carson (Silent Spring was published in 1962).

The City in History is not a walk-in-the-park-reading; sometimes it is heavy going but other passages read like a novel. Some passages did test me, because of Mumford’s oratory use of English (heavens, many times I had to refer to a dictionary to understand)!
A profound book, I would say.
Profile Image for Talie.
195 reviews1 follower
December 5, 2021
This is the kind of book that could easily kill a man, either in its usual function or as a blunt object. It was also first penned in 1961 and revised in 1989, so there were points that sounded dated, or where the information is now outdated - but after a look on Wikipedia, it seems to be the only one of its kind and so still has value as a broad overview of (mostly European) urban history.

It's also an unusual balance of academic writing and a philosophical treatise; I'm no stranger to lofty prose but there were times that his syntax was so obscure that it was nigh illegible. Maybe this is just my own pet peeve, but I believe any sentence that has more than 4 commas should be rejigged to be clearer in meaning. I was also unprepared for the mix of straight fact and personal opinion. At one point Mumford used the first person and I had an almost physical reaction - perhaps had I approached the book with the knowledge that it would straddle these genres I would have dealt with it better.

The scope of the subject matter is honestly mind-boggling, and it makes his achievement all the more impressive. From the mix of paleolithic and neolithic cultures that first birthed the city up till modern day, Mumford examines the motivations behind historic moments, sociological patterns exhibited in the urban container, and how the physical surroundings have in turn shaped humanity. He is scathing at the world leaders who brought the prospect of mutually assured destruction via nuclear weapons so close to fruition, and although the Cold War is over his message unfortunately still seems relevant.

This book is not perfect, but it made me think and taught me so many things I didn't even know I wanted to know. For example, during the shift from the relatively hygienic medieval times to the baroque period there was so much overcrowding that cemeteries were incorporated inside a city's walls, which lead to DIRTY CORPSE WATER contaminating the local drinking supply. On a lighter note (pun intended), Antioch already had street lighting at night in the 5th century AD. Remarkable!

Even though it's over 700 pages long, taken the better part of a year to read, and inspired me to write over 20 A4 pages of notes, it's been worth it.
Profile Image for Jon.
285 reviews9 followers
April 8, 2016
Lewis Mumford tells us about the spiritual and cosmic origins of the city so that we can get a handle on how we can best forge the city of tomorrow. To do that, he must scope out all of Western history, denoting where the city has been and what it could possibly become. All that said, this was a long and often laborious read that has left me in many ways a bit more befuddled than illuminated. Mumford's own words often take off in poetic flights of fancy that are heroic or elegiac; they are beautiful, but such is not something I'm accustomed to reading in serious sociological nonfiction--and it rarely helps to make the message clearer.

The book starts off especially slowly, because Mumford starts essentially at the dawn of man. Most of this information is prehistory, so there's some archeology and anthropology and a whole lot of conjecture. For Mumford, early cities start with death, with graveyards--places where people go to visit their ancestors. It's these ancient rituals that gather people together and make, eventually, for civilization. An interesting theory, but one based largely on the fact that it's graveyards that mostly survive. What of the things that did not survive? And is all human history rooted in such spiritualism? Is the more secular instinct merely one of modern man?

I could not wait for Mumford to get to the time when there were written records, so that I could read about actual city planning and theory. Although he talks a bit about the Egyptians, it is really only when we get to Greek society that such discussion takes off. Here, several different ideas of the Greeks are unfolded. Interestingly, we learn that the Greeks are among the first to have created checkerboard plans for cities, laying out straight streets on a grid pattern. More interestingly, we learn of various ideas that Greek philosophers had about the ideal city, which was not to be more than about five thousand inhabitants (there's is some question as to whether than included women, children, and slaves--probably not); beyond this, the city became too large to manage, unable to serve its purpose. Mumford seems to agree that cities can be too large, that size does not a better city make.

From there, Mumford follows the development of the Roman city, and in one passage writes elegantly of Rome's incredible debauchery (with its coed baths where sex was not uncommon).

But where the book really picks up is with the Middle Ages. It is in the city, as it came to exist after Rome's fall, that Mumford seems to find an ideal. With the destruction of a central government, people looked to the church for protection and to various nobles and dukes that would eventually become kings. The walled city was reintroduced as a means to protect people--to keep people out, to keep people in. But these cities were nicely sized and able to function much better than most historians have given them credit for. Streets were often laid out by function, winding with geography.

It is in the baroque city, what comes after the medieval city, that Mumford begins to find displeasure, for in it he sees the beginning of the modern city. The baroque city came to be as kings gained greater power. With that also came the desire for grand architecture and monumentation. No longer was function the height of city "planning"; rather, it was glory. Streets were straightened or widened to show off military might and government power (and to aid with the quick movement of troops).

We might see similarities to more contemporary cities with their focus on the capitalist and profit-making machine, wherein people are secondary to the function of business. Indeed, modern cities are criticized for just that by Mumford. And for their gargantuan size, which cuts people off from their surroundings.

Mumford sees much hope in Ebenezer Howard's Garden Cities. Rather than letting suburban sprawl eat up all the surrounding land, adding forever to traffic, Howard sets out a plan for smaller towns surrounded by green zones.

Mumford's account of the creation of the suburb is interesting in its own light. It was, of course, founded in the idea of letting people get back to nature. The suburb was at first something for the upper class, so that it could avoid the dirt and grime of the city proper. But like so many things, those desires trickled down to lower classes, and with time, more and more moved to the suburb to be out among nature. This was aided by advances in transportation--first the railway and then the car. But as more people do that, move into the outskirts of the city to be in the trees, the more nature recedes, and the very purpose for which the suburb was founded no longer is fulfilled (sans the creation of new suburbs even further out).

Howard's Garden Cities aim to end this constant growth at the edges. Rather, cities are planned for specific populations of around thirty thousand, enough that there are physical and cultural amenities while still leaving things close enough together that traffic is not a continual muddle. These towns are then surrounded by green space, so that all people can easily leave town to be in the city. And those towns, in turn, are connected across the green space.

Mumford does not think too well of megalopolises either. But he does see potential in sharing culture (interlibrary loan is given as an example, or traveling museum exhibits) across a network of smaller cities. In this manner, culture comes to the city rather than it being hoarded in one large center, and local centers maintain their unique histories and cultural components.

In theory, I like Mumford's ideas and even the concept of the Garden City. Smaller towns are easier to live in from a practical perspective. There is a sense of community. Infrastructure is not overburdened. But scale does seem, to me, to be of some import, even if one town might share with another its various cultural artifacts. The fact is that smaller towns are not always enough of a center to support things that might appeal to obscure tastes, even on an on-loan basis. There is a reason larger cities tend to have arthouse movie theaters and playhouses and museums and sporting facilities and Vietnamese-Mexican fusion cuisine restaurants while smaller towns don't. Sure, one museum might lend part of a collection to another town, but at what cost? And how many people are going to visit the museum to make it worth that cost?

Of course, the Internet has changed many of these concerns. No longer are we as people as dependent on our immediate surroundings for alternative cultural opportunities. But in a sense, that too is a loss, for as we sit in front of our screens engaging the wider world from the limited perspective of our small town, we fail to engage with the immediate community.
97 reviews3 followers
July 23, 2021
This book is a journey. I actually don't even remember how I came across this book in my urban studies readings, but it is certainly a key book in the field. Mumford's work focuses on three aspects of the city, the Container (or the physical locale and walls of the city) the Magnet (the features of the city which attract the people there), and the people themselves. This is a great philosophy, and Mumford does a great job tracking how these things intially started (the magnet being burial grounds), and evolved over time, with walls for defense, and agorae and fora for transacting. All the way through the middle ages and renascence, Mumford does a great job taking an objective view of the city.

However, during the baroque period and onwards, the book takes a slightly different bent, taking an anti-capitalistic view of city development, and city intercourse. Some of these points are valid, but many of them are not actually the fault of or consequences of Capitalism, but instead of market intervention. Drawing a comparison to Penn Station, capitalism and democracy are equally responsible for the landmark commission as they are for the tearing down of Penn Station. And the New York of Robert Moses was neither democratic nor free market based.

In the more modern periods, there are also many fine points related to city planning; a notable one being a rejection of the terrible ideas of Le Corbusier, and a fine discussion about the havoc that the Automobile wreaks on the city.

All in all, this is a great read.
Profile Image for Pablo Lopes.
37 reviews1 follower
February 25, 2020
O autor traça a história da humanidade a partir da dialética entre a aldeia e a cidade, sendo a primeira responsável pelos traços de comunidade, vitalidade e igualdade, a segunda pela reunião das potencialidades humanas, mas também incluindo, desde a sua fundação, os aspectos negativos da dominação e da guerra. Escrevendo à sombra do holocausto nuclear, o autor vê com preocupação a concentração de poder que enfatiza estes aspectos negativos, numa era em que a humanidade tem o potencial de aniquilação total. Ele prega uma fusão das duas concepções, aldeia e cidade, na instituição da cidade regional, centros auto-sustentáveis e auto-organizados, com um limite populacional, relacionados entre si através dos rápidos meios de transporte de forma a criar unidades maiores e escapar do provincianismo inerente à aldeia. Senti falta de uma maior atenção as diversas formas que a cidade assume ao longo da história, as ilustrações são confusas e pouco explicativas. De resto, contém ideias preciosas e atuais sobre que tipos de cidade devemos construir.
Profile Image for Jean Rockfort.
31 reviews2 followers
April 15, 2020
Ouvrage d’une érudition remarquable, l’auteur analyse le développement des cités de l’âge de pierre à nos jours, des cités états de Sumer aux cités autonomes du Moyen âge, aux désastres urbains du XXème siècle, résultat des politiques capitalistes. Une critique acerbe de l’autoritarisme qui a cédé la place du marché à l’économie de marché, plaidoyer pour un retour au bien commun sur une base de coopération sociale et d’entraide. Sans équilibre écologique nos cités seront condamnées à n’être qu’un cauchemar aux services des plus riches.
450 reviews3 followers
June 7, 2022
There's a lot of odd, undersourced speculation in this. That problem is most evident where you'd expect - in prehistory.

As a history of the City, it cleaves to Western history, with only a few scant references to cities elsewhere. But that is, understood as a limitation, valuable in creating a sense of heritage and development of a given lineage. He may be missing places where influences passed back and forth, but does a compelling job of thinking about the connection between material conditions, aesthetic interest, and cultural values that define and redefine cities.
March 14, 2018
I gave up. His writing is so arrogant and tedious and the first chapters on ancient cities are filled with so many unfounded speculative “perhaps”es, the book was unreadable. It’s written in a dated, wannabe-British mid-century New York style of “oh I’m so amused by my own wit”, when I was looking for a historical survey. I love the history of cities, so maybe I’ll try again some day when I have more patience.
Profile Image for James Violand.
1,212 reviews61 followers
October 24, 2019
For all its worth, this book is tedious. It may be appreciated by anyone who loves history but be forewarned: you will fall asleep. Never-the-less, I recommend it to architects, civil engineers and historians because it acts as the mortar to the bricks of civilization. It is so unexciting that pages turn as slow as mortar takes to dry. In the time it took me to read this one book, I would normally read six!
Profile Image for Edward Champion.
683 reviews25 followers
August 25, 2020
My full thoughts on this incredible volume will eventually be found here:


But this is a monumentally thoughtful volume on urban developments from the beginning of time. It took me a long time to read because Mumford will point to one development of the city that is so fascinating, but that will send you down an Internet rabbit hole.
Profile Image for Karl.
40 reviews4 followers
May 13, 2017
Astonishing in its breadth and clarity. Although the book starts slow (and, unfortunately, with some tired-if-not-upsetting gender stereotypes), Mumford hits his stride with his description of Rome. By the end of World War II, his prose his hard to match.
Profile Image for Luke.
60 reviews1 follower
September 21, 2019
a prosaic survey of historical development combined with an impassioned treatise rallying against the alienation and ennui engendered by an anomic urban environment devoid of community and connection. brilliant.
Profile Image for Rosie.
110 reviews6 followers
October 4, 2017
First half is solid. Second half is what you'd expect from a white historian writing in the 1960s about urban issues.
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