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A History of Future Cities

Daniel Brook (Author)

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One of The Washington Post's "Favorite Books of 2013"

A pioneering exploration of four cities where East meets West and past becomes future: St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Dubai.

Every month, five million people move from the past to the future. Pouring into developing-world “instant cities” like Dubai and Shenzhen, these urban newcomers confront a modern world cobbled together from fragments of a West they have never seen. Do these fantastical boomtowns, where blueprints spring to life overnight on virgin land, represent the dawning of a brave new world? Or is their vaunted newness a mirage?

In a captivating blend of history and reportage, Daniel Brook travels to a series of major metropolitan hubs that were once themselves instant cities— St. Petersburg, Shanghai, and Mumbai—to watch their “dress rehearsals for the twenty-first century.” Understanding today’s emerging global order, he argues, requires comprehending the West’s profound and conflicted influence on developing-world cities over the centuries.

In 1703, Tsar Peter the Great personally oversaw the construction of a new Russian capital, a “window on the West” carefully modeled on Amsterdam, that he believed would wrench Russia into the modern world. In the nineteenth century, Shanghai became the fastest-growing city on earth as it mushroomed into an English-speaking, Western-looking metropolis that just happened to be in the Far East. Meanwhile, Bombay, the cosmopolitan hub of the British Raj, morphed into a tropical London at the hands of its pith-helmeted imperialists.

Juxtaposing the stories of the architects and authoritarians, the artists and revolutionaries who seized the reins to transform each of these precociously modern places into avatars of the global future, Brook demonstrates that the drive for modernization was initially conflated with wholesale Westernization. He shows, too, the ambiguous legacy of that emulation—the birth (and rebirth) of Chinese capitalism in Shanghai, the origins of Bollywood in Bombay’s American-style movie palaces, the combustible mix of revolutionary culture and politics that rocked the Russian capital—and how it may be transcended today.

A fascinating, vivid look from the past out toward the horizon, A History of Future Cities is both a crucial reminder of globalization’s long march and an inspiring look into the possibilities of our Asian Century.

Book Details

  • Paperback
  • April 2014
  • ISBN 978-0-393-34886-6
  • 5.5 × 8.3 in / 480 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Other Formats

  1. Book CoverA History of Future Cities

    Hardcover

Endorsements & Reviews

“[An] inspired tour of the postmodern city. . . . Invigorating.” — Harper’s

“Persuasive and lushly detailed.” — New York Times

“Uncommonly interesting and intelligent.” — Washington Post

“The pleasure in Mr. Brook’s unusual history is in his descriptions of the creation of these cities. The deeper message, though, is about the tensions such cities create.” — Wall Street Journal

“An interesting thesis about the city’s role in fomenting political change in the modern era.” — The New Yorker

“‘Instant cities’ like Shenzhen, China, may seem like twenty-first-century twins of ‘disposable cities’ like rust-belt Camden, New Jersey. But in this probing new book that is at once both charming and reflective, Daniel Brook tells the story of urban hybrids conceived to fuse Western cosmopolitanism and local culture. His close but never pedantic reading of these metropolises puts the city back at the center of our vision, reminding us that in new and old towns alike, the urban amalgam of creativity, diversity, and mobility offers a key that not only unlocks the past but also opens the door to our future.” — Benjamin R. Barber, author of Jihad vs. McWorld

“An intimate, canny comparative study . . . . Accessible, entertaining. . . . Enormously elucidating and relevant.” — Kirkus Reviews

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