Monday, July 29, 2013

Tom Reiss – The Black Count: Napoleon's Rival, and the real Count of Monte Cristo – General Alexandre Dumas.

Almost nobody will know however that the stories that inspired the often unbelievable, adventures The Three Musketeers or The Count of Monte Cristo was the life of Alexandre Dumas' father, Alex.

Here for instance, is a near contemporary account of the General who, at thirty-five, commanded three armies and was the toast of Revolutionary France, yet five years later was to die, ignored and dismissed by Napoleon's post-revolutionary regime.

“During the conquest of Italy... he went forward to observe enemy movements with about twenty dragoons detached as scouts.... Seeing how few men stood in their way, the Austrian cavalry charged vigorously; Dumas's escorting troops were defeated before Dumas could reach them.... Seeing the danger, General Dumas rushed alone to the bridgehead and held back a squadron of enemy cavalry for several minutes, forcing them to retreat. Surrounded by some twenty Austrians he killed three and wounded eight.”

General Dumas was an expert swordsman, an educated and clever man, brave and dedicated to his troops, who in turn lionised him. However, what makes Dumas so interesting is that he was black. The son of a French count who had gone to Haiti and married a slave.

General Dumas arrived back in pre-revolutionary France as a young man and as debts assailed him and his family, he joined the army. Not as an officer as his social position would have permitted, but as a private. His skills, loyalty and politics soon led him to rise upwards.

General Dumas was, according to the 1797 report, “every but of deserving of admiration as those of a native of the Old World. Indeed, who has a greater right to public respect than the man of color fighting for freedom after having experienced all the horrors of slavery? To equal the most celebrated warriors he need only keep in mind all the evils he has suffered.”

This was not hyperbole. Dumas' was his father's favourite son. His brothers and his mother were sold back into slavery by his father when he returned to France to claim his estate.

But the General's rise in the ranks was as much to do with the changing revolutionary world as his skills with sword and men. As Reiss explains, it was Revolutionary France, long before the Civil Rights movement, long before William Wilberforce that granted equality and freedom to everyone within its Empire. The abolition of slavery as part of the 1789 revolution helped inspire revolution and revolt by slaves across France's dominions, as well as inspire millions of other “slaves”. Within France the equality was real. Black people were treated the same by the revolutionary state in a way that would not be seen again until the 20th century. Reiss points out that this is particularly remarkable given that France's economy depended very much on the wealth generated by the slave plantations of Saint-Domingue.

Sadly, it was this that helped led to General Dumas' fall from grace. After leaving the Egyptian campaign, Dumas was captured and spent two years in an Italian prison, nearly dying from the deprivation. This story is the model for his son's Count of Monte Cristo. But, Dumas arrived back to a very different France. Napoleon's regime certainly wasn't concerned with equality. Black people faced discrimination and the return of slavery. Dumas however, never seems to have lost his ideals, those shared by millions during the revolution.

What makes Tom Reiss' book such fascinating reading is not simply his rediscovery of a forgotten figure of history, but the way that General Dumas' life is linked to the wider world. The rise of the French Revolution lifts the General up. He shares its ideals and aspirations and is prepared to die for them. His fall from grace and his forgotten story is a reflection of the degeneration of the Revolution. This is a wonderful well told story that should be read widely to remember that once "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" was something that millions of people were ready to fight for.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Bruce Neuburger - Lettuce Wars: Ten Years of Work and Struggle in the Fields of California

While in part biography, Bruce Neuburger's Lettuce Wars is really a history of life and work for agricultural labourers in California in the early 1970s. At its heart is the day to day struggle to make ends meet for tens of thousands of workers, mostly immigrant labour. But this is also a celebration of the struggle of those workers to get organised, and their victories against the bosses. Sometimes, this is in spite of their trade union leaders, and often it was because of a few individuals like Neuburger, prepared to stand up and be counted.

So here are the stories of the forgotten men and women, often working illegally who struggled to give others a voice and to improve their lot. Despite the remoteness of the fields and the language barriers, these struggles were not in isolation. People like Neuburger were heavily influenced by wider radical ideas - the struggle against the war in Vietnam, the women's liberation movements, and revolutionary socialist ideas. Some of the fascinating parts of the book are Neuburger's accounts of his involvement with the "coffee shops", setup to relate to soldiers heading to Vietnam.

But these radical ideas were not just those of the socialist left that Neuburger was part of. They had currency amongst much wider sections of the agricultural workers and their organisations. Neuburger mentions wearing a Chairman Mao badge and being asked by all his "crew" in the fields if they could have one too. A even clearer understanding of the world is demonstrated by a stunning photo of evicted families living in tents in 1972, one of which has posted a sign, "La Posada - My Lai. Same enemy - US bosses and guns".

Neuburger explains how the bosses in the fields knew exactly how to turn people against each other, using faster workers to encourage slower ones, or encouraging harder work by offering bonuses if certain amounts of vegetables were cut or boxed in an hour. They also used racial divisions to divide people - on a couple of occasions, Neuburger is offered promotion because of his white skin.

Neuburger's experience in the fields and working with these labourers transformed his wider understanding of the world, and developing his Marxism in a way that just reading books alone can never do:

"Rather than seeing farmworkers as isolated from mainstream middle class life, I began to regard the urban middle class as isolated in the big cities, cut off from the reality of those who supplied their food. And because the conditions in which the farmworkers labored and lived had more in common with billions of oppressed people in communities around the world,, I felt the situation in the fields more closely reflected the broad reality of the world than the privileged world I'd come from. I also began to feel in a very personal way how different social realities affect our consciousness, giving form to Marx's observation that 'social being determines social consciousness'."

The "conditions" that the author refers to are horrific. Overcrowded, dirty dormitories, rundown housing with no hot water to clean off the mud from the fields, no toilets in the fields, lack of holiday pay or overtime. It is these conditions that the workers organise against and the struggle which Neuburger involves himself in.

There was a long history of union organising by workers in the fields. But the union was not perfect. Inspired by wider struggles of the 1960s and early 1970s and led by the charismatic and confident Cesar Chavez the union made important and rapid gains. But as time went forward the union itself became less confident to challenge the farm bosses. Its bureaucracy began to look both to the Democrats as a potential ally, and to the benefits accrued from deals made with the bosses themselves. As this happened strikes began to be more of a threat than a central part of the workers tactics. Rank and file activists, particularly those who were communist or socialist like Bruce Neuburger were targeted and forced out.

To those of us in the European union movement, the level of violence in US class struggles is always shocking. But so is the violence deployed against the left during the 1970s, as Chavez sought to strengthen his hold on the union. "Chavez", Neuburger writes, "used anti-communism as an internal bond. It also served to cement ties with the Democrats and the establishment in general. I think this, in part, explains his fanatical, out of proportion preoccupation with leftists in the union." A not unfamiliar situation for those of us in certain British unions today.

Even more shocking was the racism that the union used against immigrants, arguing that attacking migrants and illegal immigrants would protect its members' jobs; despite them coming from similar backgrounds. Neuburger relates that:

"the union set up tents along the border to stop workers coming across the border, to prevent them from breaking the strike. There were rumors about union actions on the border, not very pretty ones."

To Neuburger's credit he and other leftwingers argue against this capitulation to divide and rule, but are themselves further isolated and eventually defeated by the union bureacracy. Sadly, Neuburger understood even then that what was needed more was the militancy of the left to fight the bosses, rather than the support of the Democratic Party.

For those of us today organising to strengthen radical trade unionism and socialist organisation, there is a certain inspiration in Neuburgers descriptions of his early attempts to produce radical newspapers and literature. His satisfaction at seeing the paper passed from hand to hand, or read aloud. As well has his early naivety when the paper upsets the union bureaucracy. For those organising today, in the fields, or in call centres there is still much to learn here.

In his epilogue, Bruce Neuburger returns to the fields. He finds there are more than two million year-round and seasonal workers in the US, including 100,000 children. One in ten of them is a US citizen. Today, US capital relies very much on the cheap labour it can get from Mexico and Latin America. Neuburger points out though that the difference is that it is not just agriculture, but other industries too. Conditions are better in some ways - portable toilets seem more common - but overcrowded homes and the threat of the immigration police remain. Interestingly pay seems far worse than in the 1980s.

So today the struggles for justice by some of the poorest and most exploited workers in America continue. But Neuburgers book demonstrates beyond doubt that when those workers do organise they can make real gains, holding immense power in an industry which makes enormous profits from their labour. While some socialist readers, may consider Neuburgers' Maoist politics incorrect, it is hardly a distraction from one other lesson - that a network of socialists, arguing socialist ideas can make a crucial difference to workers' struggles. As such, this book is recommended to everyone trying to organise to change the world today.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Neil Smith - Uneven Development: Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space

Neil Smith's Uneven Development is a classic work of Marxist geography that deserves to be read by everyone trying to understand the way that capitalism shapes, and reshapes the natural world. Smith's central thesis is that capitalism has transformed the natural world, but it has also transformed our "social relation with nature" in unprecedented ways.

Smith's analysis draws heavily on Marx. Like John Bellamy Foster in Marx's Ecology Smith emphasises the dialectical interaction between humans and nature, and develops the concept of metabolism. Describing the work of the Marxist, Alfred Schmidt, he writes:

"The concrete form taken by this metabolism may change historically... In the pre-bourgeois era, 'man is as yoked to his natural existence as to his body,' and there there is an 'original... abstract identity of man with nature.' With the emergence of bourgeois conditions of production, this identity changes into its equally abstract opposite; the radical divorce of labor from its objective natural conditions."

Smith argues that rather than thinking of human society dominating nature, we must consider the "much more complex process of the production of nature". Smith writes:

"Where capitalism is unique is that for the first time human beings produce nature at a world scale. Hence Marx's brilliant observation, over 120 years ago, that 'the nature that preceded human history... today no longer exists anywhere (except perhaps on a few Australian coral islands of recent origin)'."

Smith has, however, a sense of the alternative to this. That in the process of struggling against capitalism, the working class has the potential to "truly define human nature". The working class itself is unnatural, a product of capitalism. The victory of that struggle would bring a "historically unique opportunity for human beings to become the willing social subjects not the natural subjects of their own history."

Smith then takes his explanation of the production of nature into a discussion of the production of space. In earlier societies he argues, there was no differentiation of "space" from matter, force or power. There was a "unity of nature... space, substance and meaning were one".

But our concepts of space change historically, the "spatial form of the capitalist city, for example, is quite different from the feudal city". Under capitalism, space becomes a commodity, and this is not restricted to the creation of "physical space", but "the production of space also implies the production of the meaning, concepts and consciousness of space which are inseparably linked to its physical production." Rather neatly Smith explains that in "Euclidean terms" the height of an apartment in a block of flats might be equivalent to the height of a tree, but the "distance between floors of the tenement can also be measured in terms of social rank and class, whereas the height of the tree cannot". Or, consider how under feudalism the serfs were tied to the land, so a definition of class relations also included a definition of the absolute space of the peasants work.

Smith analyses the development of capitalism in the later part of the book. He places particular emphasis on the way that capitalism is founded upon the division between town and country, industry and agriculture. This doesn't begin with capitalism, but is inherited from the developing capitalist relationships under feudalism. The separation of town and country becomes the foundation for capitalism.

In turn, capitalism reshapes the world "after its own image". This doesn't simply mean that capitalism reshapes nature in its image and for its interests, but "the dynamism of geographical space is equally  an expression of the image of capital." The tendency of capital to centralise and create monopolies, the tendency for the system to leap upon areas where new markets are to be found, or new profits to be made, creates an unequal, uneven capitalist space. Capitalism creates unevenness within itself, and this is reflected in the unevenness of the system around the world, but also in social inequalities - rich and poor, cheap and expensive housing. And, in a powerful comment, Smith points out that uneven development of capitalism is at the heart of imperialism - "uneven development, thy name is war" he writes.

Abolishing this inequality is not simply a social struggle, Smith argues, but a "geographical project". This might sound strange to those of us thinking of geography as a school subject about rivers and mountains, but Smith is putting across  the idea that capitalism is a system that shapes and creates space on an enormous scale, and it can only be challenged on that scale.

In the afterword to the third edition, published a few years before his death. Smith points out that unevenness has only got worse since the book was first published. "The pay of CEOs in 1982 in the US was 42 times that of wage workers.... it has risen to an astonishing ratio of 364:1". Unusually for an academic, Smith doesn't abandon his belief that things can be changed, concluding that it "may not be too optimistic to begin again to encourage a revolutionary imaginary".

While this is not an easy book, and covers some complex and difficult ideas, it is an important one, and Neil Smith deserves reading to do just what his conclusion suggests, encourage a revolutionary vision.

Related Reviews

Foster - Marx's Ecology

Friday, July 19, 2013

Chris Stringer - Homo Britannicus: The Incredible Story of Human Life in Britain

Chris Stringer's Homo Britannicus is a short, popular introduction to the history of humans living in the region that we now know as the British Isles. Anyone silly enough to infer from the title that this is a history that gives justification to the lunatics of the far right who believe that being British means tracing your ancestry back to some far distinct British caveman, will be disappointed. Instead what Stringer does is to present the evidence that humans in Britain have come and gone over an immense period of time, stretching back to well before the most recent Ice Age. In addition, the geography of Britain has changed substantially - not just from changing sea levels, but also through the erosion of a chalk ridge that connected south east England to north western France.

Human history goes back a long way, and Stringer takes us through the complex and often conflicting scientific evidence for our earliest history. The timescale is enormous. We have clear evidence that early species of humans were using stone tools in Africa more than two million years back. Even in British sites, evidence such as the "vole clock" place the tool use at one site as long ago as 700,000 years.

The "vole clock" is one of the fascinating examples of the archaeological process that Stringer uses to illustrate how scientists know so much about the ancient past. Here, the different species of voles, known to have evolved or gone extinct at specific points in the past, are used to date contemporary human remains. Much of the book is based on the work of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) project. Indeed the last section is a series of descriptions of those involved in the project, and how they came to work in this career. It is notable that only one of the AHOB scientists is a woman, reflecting a wider problem of female under-representation in science.

Stringer tells us the story of human history (as well as that of our cousins such as the Neanderthals) but he also tells us about the voyage of discovery that science has also gone through. From early scientists trying to explain the presence of hippo bones in England or linking the age of the Earth to Noah's flood, Stringer shows us not just what we know, but how we know it.

For anyone wanting an entertaining introduction to our early history, as well as insights into the work of archaeologists, there probably isn't a better book. While the section on climate change at the end felt a little like a polemic shoe-horned in, it doesn't detract too much from a more general discussion on the position of humans in a wider natural world. It's also the first work of anthropology that I have ever read, which begins with the description of ancient women and children eating warm, moist hippo brains.

The paperback has some wonderful illustrations, but if possible you might want to try and get the hard-back which has even more photographs and diagrams.

Related Reviews

Stringer - The Origin of our Species

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Larry Niven - Destiny's Road

Destiny's Road is a return to a science fiction theme that made Larry Niven famous. Like in his classic Ringworld series, the hero of this novel is exploring an alien planet, and the reader, through Jemmy Bloocher's eyes is doing the same.

The planet Destiny was first colonised from Earth some 250 years ago. Their mothership disappeared and the landing craft also vanished, but in the process it burnt an enormous road across the landscape. The road begins as a spiral, giving the name to the small town that grows up there. But no one has ever seen the end, other than the merchants who periodically arrive in Spiral Town trading wares, in exchange for the products of Spiral Town's remaining Earth technology.

The merchants also bring something else - "speckles" - a spice like food product that humans must eat to survive, as natural life on Destiny appears to be missing some vital ingredient.

After accidental killing someone, Jemmy Bloocher flees Spiral Town and tries to travel the length of the Road. His adventures and discoveries form the basis for the book.

Sadly though, this 1997 Larry Niven novel is not a patch on his earlier work. While there is some interesting stuff, particularly the descriptions of alien life forms, and cooking them, Niven has copied too much from Ringworld. Rather like in that novel, Niven has an obsession with leading characters shagging anyone they meet. In Ringworld this was justified as an attempt by alien beings to relate to each others strangeness, in Destiny's Road it seems merely an attempt to appeal to a particular type of fan. While Niven does eventually provide the reader with a plot device to explain this behaviour, it feels like an after-thought, rather than a startling revelation.

Fans of Larry Niven will already have read this. It probably should only be picked up by newer fans trying to read all his works. It doesn't deserve the "truly remarkable" accolades on the cover and there is far better SF out there, including works by Niven himself.

Related Reviews

Niven - Ringworld
Niven - Ringworld's Children
Niven - Crashlander

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Anna Minton - Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-First-Century City

Ground Control is an excellent study of the modern urban space, and the way that neo-liberal politics, post Margaret Thatcher have shaped our towns, our housing and ourselves. Anna Minton begins with that icon of capitalism, Canary Wharf in East London. When I lived in Tower Hamlets the flashing light on the top used to shine straight into my bedroom on a council estate, symbolically ruining my sleep in a metaphor for the destructive power of capitalism.

Canary Wharf symbolises capitalism, but it also is a perfect example of the way that neo-liberal economics benefit only a tiny minority. Those living in overcrowded flats on estates a few minutes walk from the privatised space around the tower's base have got nothing out of the millions spent on the complex around the tower. Built with the idea that economic growth on its own would benefit all, Minton argues that "Trickle down hasn't worked in Docklands... Yet this model endures because of the high rates of growth it beings in good times, even if the benefits are very unevenly spread, entrenching enclaves of poverty as well as wealth."

In order to make it easier for venture capitalists to throw up buildings, shopping centres and the like, Thatcher altered many planning regulations, removing controls and democratic accountability on the process. The result has been a plethora of ill thought out sites that have begun to fundamentally reshape our cities. Sadly New Labour did nothing to reverse these trends, indeed what happened under Blair was "to find a way around planning restrictions, shopping centres have moved wholesale into the centre of cities".

These private shopping centres often have an identikit feel to them. The same shops, designs and even similar names. Minton explores them, and uncovers some worrying trends. Part of this is about access and public space. Like Canary Wharf, few of these new sites are public land and private companies have extraordinary powers to restrict access. Those who don't fit the image or have enough disposable income are removed. The designs themselves, lacking seating or atmosphere don't encourage the elderly or infirm to sit and relax. That would give the wrong impression. As one manager tells Minton these spaces are not about people, they are about profit:

"We're a commercial organization which retailers invest in to improve the retail environment. It's nice to make it clean, but we're not doing it for the community agenda, we're doing it for the bottom line."

Contrast this approach with the results of a 2007 study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that looked at how people used public space. It found "that one of the most important functions of public space is to allow people to 'do nothing'... an 'essential role which shouldn't be eradicated'."

Minton explores many other aspects of urban life. The way that long standing communities have been broken up in order to re-market areas or sell homes to others for higher prices. Again a vision of reshaping cities in the interest of a minority, not the existing communities. Minton, like Owen Jones in Chavs locates the problems today in the lack of public housing as being rooted in the decision to allow council tenants to buy their own homes, but prevented councils reinvesting this cash in the building of further homes. Minton develops the vision of public housing much further, arguing that the original idea of mixed areas would still serve us well today. A mixture of families and couples or individuals, with different backgrounds and social positions would help to create a much better and enjoyable community atmosphere.

A central, and fascinating part of the book is Minton's exploration of gated communities, a subject that she has spent some time studying and writing about. She shows how those who live behind gates and bars, fearing the outside world, reinforce their fears and stereotypes - becoming more isolated and more worried. Combined with an analysis of the way the media systematically over reports declining violent crimes, Minton shows how certain sections of society have become more and more fearful of the wider population, with very little reason. Shades of the Victorian fear of "the mob".

This is a readable and fascinating book. Unlike some other books I've read recently on modern cities, Minton begins with those who live, work and play in the areas. So she interviews and follows council workers, bored youngsters and those on council estates in the shadow of Canary Wharf. She also introduces us to those who have struggled against the developers and campaigned to defend their communities.

My over-riding conclusion after finishing it however, was that the real barrier to the sorts of communities that we would all love to see, is a system that puts profits first. Anna Minton's excellent book is a good explanation of what is wrong with urbanisation under capitalism and offers some fascinating insights into how things might be.

Related Reading

Jones - Chavs
Hanley - Esates: An Intimate History
Hollis - Cities are Good for you

Thursday, July 04, 2013

John Wyndham - Web

John Wyndham is best known for three superb science fiction novels, The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes and The Chrysalids. He is less well known for his short stories, which are often marked by wonderfully subtle British humour (I recommend Pawley's Peepholes as a wonderful example of this), or a great sense of the macabre.

Web was not published until ten years after his death. In a bare 140 pages Wyndham tells a terrifying tale of human fallibility in the face of nature. Its a tight novel, shorn of any embellishment. While there are lots of characters, we know a minimum about them, because the story here is not really about people, but what happens to them.

A millionaire English lord desperate to be remembered for posterity for more than simply endowing a college fund, decides to create a Utopia in the middle of the Pacific. Choosing the remote island of Tanakuata he dispatches a small group of colonists, armed with the latest technology and backed up by large sums of money.

The island is the real story here. Shaded in mist at the beginning, we know little of the physical place, but we know its history. Tales of shipwreck and cannibalism and more recently the betrayal of the islanders who lived there before the place was hit by radiation from a nearby testing of a nuclear bomb. Readers will not be surprised to know that it is here that it all goes wrong.

This is a genuinely creepy novel, that doesn't shy from some interesting philosophical musings on the relationship between humans and nature. But its one that will probably sit longer in the mind than some longer and more detailed books. It'll also probably make you check for cobwebs before you sleep.

"Strange, so few birds... I'd have expected thousands of birds."

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

John Reader - Cities


Çatal Hüyük a large Turkish neolithic site has been described as the world's first city. Stretching back over 9000 years, at times up to 10,000 people might have lived there. Certainly it is a site of immense historic and social importance. John Reader argues it wasn't a city, more of an overgrown village, and indeed, after reading this sweeping history of "cities" it is hard to see how such a neolithic site could be a city in the sense that we understand today.

Nonetheless, permanent settlements like Çatal Hüyük were extremely important. True permanent settlement could only occur when agriculture developed. Only then could a surplus be provided that could support non-agricultural workers. Reader argues though that the dynamic was more complex and that early urban areas encouraged the further development of agriculture, rather than the other way around.


But Çatal Hüyük is remarkable in one other respect. It is the site of the first known example of art, where humans portrayed themselves within a recognisable landscape. The Çatal Hüyük wall painting includes the outline of a nearby volcano as well as buildings. The painters deliberately noted a site of economic importance - the volcano which provided the rich soil that enabled farmers to support the city.


Here then is the real importance of the city; once humanity moves towards an urban environment, that urbanisation dominates and shapes both people, and the world around them.


While much of Readers' book concentrates on the development of the modern city, the chapters on ancient cities are fascinating. An extended discussion of Rome, for instance, brings home just how much the economic dynamics of that Empire worked. In particular the way that Rome was absolutely in hock to countries that could supply the vast amounts of grain needed to feed the population. Here environment, politics and economics combine to give Rome both its power, but also its strategic weakness.


As early as 1200 CE a network of European cities was in place. Some of them came from older cities, many of them much newer, and again rooted in the development of agriculture and trading. The growth of these cities was rooted in the surrounding agriculture, but they were also dependent on the surroundings to maintain the population. As Reader explains:


"The fact is that until recently (and then only in the developed world) more people died in cities than were born in them. So here is another way that the city parasites the countryside.... Just as city-dwellers could not produce their own food, nor could they raise enough children to replace the citizens who died... the Agricultural Revolution had not only powered the Industrial Revolution - it had also fuelled the Demographic Revolution that filled the cities."


And fill them it did. London went from a population of about 80,000 in 1551 to 865,000 just 250 years later. This despite London's birthrate being 13% lower than in the countryside, and a 50% higher death rate.


Much of the discussion of modern cities concentrates on trends that we still see today - housing, pollution, transport and other "problems". There is a fascinating discussion about sewage that mirrors much of debates that inspired Karl Marx's own concerns around the degradation of agricultural soil and the "waste" of human excrement in the Thames. Reader looks at similar cases in Paris and notes a more rational approach to the question, which will fascinate anyone who has read John Bellamy Foster's Marx's Ecology. 


This book was written in 2005 and in its ecological discussion it is perhaps most dated. Few today might share Reader's optimism that we can deal with environmental crisis through technological innovation. But that said, he does explore solutions in terms of solar cell technology.Similarly, Reader's discussions on the links between the urban environment (and the domestication of animals) with the growth of disease and epidemics are very interesting.


Unfortunately the greatest weakness of this book comes with the discussion of the future. Reader rightly concludes that the future lies in cities; but rather like Leo Hollis' more recent book on the city; he looks to enlightened planning procedures and politicians as the answer to over-crowding and pollution. No one should dismiss these factors and Reader rightly points to some of the weaknesses.


But what is missing here again is any sense of the city as a site of class struggle. This is not to simply glorify revolution, strikes or workers' protest. But a sense of the way that cities themselves have been shaped by mass movements. It was the fear of revolution, for instance, that lead to Baron Haussman designing Paris' enormous boulevards to make it harder to build barricades. 


Nor is there any sense of the collective struggles that fought to improve slums, reduce rents which helped lead to the building of public housing in Britain in the 20th century. Certainly there is no mention of the struggles that have come from those on the periphery of the developing worlds' great cities - struggles that have been fought over water and electricity, and problem stand more of a chance of shaping the future cities than many an enlightened planning officer.


Related Reviews

Hollis - Cities are Good for you

Harvey - Rebel Cities