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Category Archives: Books on Cities

Books on Cities: Lawrence Osborne, Paris Dreambook (1990)

“You can’t have Bach, Mozart and Beethoven as your favorite composers,” Michael Tilson Thomas once declared. “They simply define what music is.” By the same token, we might say you can’t have New York, London, and Paris as your favorite cities, collectively defining as they do the standard against which we measure — and usually […]

Books on Cities: Michael Sorkin, All Over the Map (2011)

When the coronavirus pandemic arrived in the United States, Michael Sorkin became one of its earliest high-profile casualties. He died in New York City, where he’d lived since 1973 and about which he’d written since at least the early 1980s. Throughout that decade he was the architecture critic for the also-late Village Voice, a position in […]

Books on Cities: Jason Horton, Abandoned and Historic Los Angeles (2020)

When you hear something described as “only in L.A.,” rest assured of its being neither unique to nor representative of Los Angeles. Take, mundane though it may be, the definite article preceding freeway numbers — “the 10,” “the 5,” “the 405” — a linguistic tic mythologized, by a kind of soft cultural conspiracy, as unheard […]

Books on Cities: Rem Koolhaas, “Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan” (1978)

When Rem Koolhaas published Delirious New York in 1978, he hadn’t yet built his best-known work. Central China Television Headquarters was 35 years away, the Seattle Central Library was 26 years away, and even the Maison à Bordeaux (subject of the documentary Koolhaas Houselife) was 20 years away. In fact he hadn’t yet built anything at all, having established his Office of Metropolitan Architecture […]

Books on Cities: Jeff Speck, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time (2012)

Anyone with an interest in American cities today has heard of Walk Score. Launched in 2007, the web site calculates the proximity of any given address to various necessities and amenities — grocery stores, schools, restaurants, hospitals, movie theaters — and assigns it the eponymous numerical rating. When I first heard of it, I naturally punched […]

Books on Cities: Andrei Codrescu, “New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writings from the City”

Andrei Codrescu moved to New Orleans in 1985, and Hurricane Katrina followed two decades later. “New Orleans will be rebuilt, but it will never again be the city I know and love,” he declares in the final chapter of his anthology New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writings from the City, published the year after […]

Books on Cities: Ben Wilson, “Metropolis: A History of the City, Humankind’s Greatest Invention” (2020)

I wonder: have I ever described the city as “humankind’s greatest invention”? It’s not impossible, given the proclamation’s tempting combination of boldness and obviousness — which it would retain if applied to, say, language, another of my own interests. Reading Ben Wilson’s Metropolis: A History of Humankind’s Greatest Invention, I realized its subtitle sounded familiar because […]

Announcing my new Substack newsletter, Books on Cities

There have surely been better times for city aficionados than the summer of 2020. I write you from Seoul, which as I observed in the New Yorker this past spring has so far managed without serious disruptions to its everyday life. (In fact I just got back from a haircut, albeit a masked one.) But then, for the past […]