Mike Davis

Mike Davis with Jon Wiener is finishing a history of protest in LA in the 1960s.

El Diablo in Wine Country

Mike Davis, 2 November 2017

In​ 1942 Alfred Hitchcock recruited the author of Our Town, Thornton Wilder, to write the screenplay for Shadow of a Doubt, an innocence-versus-evil thriller set in an ‘idyllic American town’. After considering various candidates, Hitchcock and Wilder selected Santa Rosa, a picturesque agricultural community of 13,000 people, 55 miles north of San Francisco in Sonoma County. The...

Diary: California Burns

Mike Davis, 15 November 2007

Every year, sometimes in September, but usually in October just before Halloween, when California’s wild vegetation is driest and most combustible, high pressure over the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau unleashes an avalanche of cold air towards the Pacific coast. As this huge air mass descends, it heats up through compression, creating the illusion that we are being roasted by outbursts from nearby deserts, when in fact the devil winds originate in the land of the Anasazi – the mystery people who left behind such impressive ruins at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon.

From The Blog
14 October 2017

In 1942 Alfred Hitchcock recruited the author of Our Town, Thornton Wilder, to write the screenplay for Shadow of a Doubt, an innocence-versus-evil thriller set in an ‘idyllic American town’. After considering various candidates, Hitchcock and Wilder selected Santa Rosa, a picturesque agricultural community of 13,000 people, 55 miles north of San Francisco in Sonoma County. The following year, Santa Rosa was introduced to millions of filmgoers in a series of establishing shots that began with aerial views of its pretty countryside and ‘all-American’ downtown. Wartime restrictions had precluded set-building and the exterior locations were all real, but it was difficult to believe that sunny Santa Rosa hadn’t been confected by Norman Rockwell on a Hollywood back lot. Seventy-five years later, we contemplate another aerial view, this time of Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighbourhood. The scene, a thousand homes incinerated to their foundations, resembles the apocalypse Kim Jong-un keeps promising to bring to America.

From The Blog
11 February 2013

Racism, as readers of Richard Wright and Chester Himes know, sometimes drives its victims homicidally mad, as in the cases of Bigger Thomas in Native Son or the anonymous sniper in Himes’s extraordinary short story ‘Prediction'. But then again, ‘mad’ may be a cowardly liberal euphemism for a radical defiance that would rather kill and die than submit to further lies and humiliation. Both stories are so unsettling because they leave the reader to divide justice by horror and then ponder the terrifying quotient. Christopher Dorner’s 'Manifesto', the product, we’re told, of the unendurable depression that descended on the author after his dismissal from the LAPD, veers between bipolar extremes. In one section, Dorner taunts his former comrades in sneering acronyms that boast his expertise: 'Your APC are defunct... My POA is always POI.' But the rant is followed by sentimental acknowledgments to friends and several pages of fan notes to eclectic heroes who include Hillary Clinton (his first choice for president in 2016), Chris Christie (his second choice), Dave Brubeck, General Petraeus and Ellen DeGeneres. He’s also a passionate advocate (and argument for) gun control.

From The Blog
3 November 2012

In the spirit of Donald Rumsfeld we might distinguish between natural inevitabilities and unnatural inevitabilities. Someday, for example, the precarious flank of the massive Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma in the Canary Islands will collapse and send a mega-tsunami across the Atlantic. The damage from Boston to New York City will dwarf last year’s disaster in Japan. It’s inevitable, but volcanologists don’t know whether the destabilising eruption will occur tomorrow or in five thousand years. So for now, it’s merely a titillating topic for NOVA or the National Geographic Channel. Another, much more frequent example of natural inevitability is the pre-global-warming hurricane cycle. Two or three times each century a perfect storm has crashed into the US Atlantic seaboard and wreaked havoc as far as the Great Lakes. But a $20 billion disaster every few decades is why we have an insurance industry. And even the loss, now and then, of an entire city to nature (San Francisco in 1906 or New Orleans in 2005) is an affordable tragedy. But the construction since 1960 of several trillion dollars' worth of prime real estate on barrier islands, bay fill, recycled swamps and coastal lowlands has radically transformed the calculus of loss. Subtract every carbon dioxide molecule added to the atmosphere in the last thirty years and ‘ordinary’ storms would still collect ever larger tolls from certifiably insane coastal overdevelopment.

If any of us has seen the places in the developing world that Mike Davis catalogues remorselessly in Planet of Slums, it was probably from an aeroplane. That doesn’t always mean 35,000...

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Neo-Catastrophism: Sinful Cities?

Eric Klinenberg, 9 October 2003

In the 1990s New York was the capital city of America’s economic boom: now it is the epicentre of urban insecurity. The city is familiar with crisis, however, and no one could say it had...

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A Giant Still Sleeping: Mike Davies

Lorna Scott Fox, 4 April 2002

Mike Davis has gone from meat-cutting and truck-driving to a migrant professorship, from the hands-on New Left to the New Left Review, from California to Edinburgh, Belfast and back. He is one of...

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California Noir: Destroying Los Angeles

Michael Rogin, 19 August 1999

The first picture to greet the reader shows cars half-submerged under water, scattered in all directions as far as the eye can see. ‘January 1995 storm (Long Beach)’, the caption...

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The Power of Sunshine

Alexander Cockburn, 10 January 1991

‘City of Quartz’? Los Angeles is indeed bright, hard, opaque. Even the astonishing sunsets one can see from Interstate 15, looking west towards Pomona, have a sepulchral flush to them...

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