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California Noir

Michael Rogin: Destroying Los Angeles

19 August 1999
Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster 
by Mike Davis.
Picador, 484 pp., £18.99, June 1999, 9780330372190
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... signs,’ we are told, ‘floods, drought, fires, earthquakes lifting mountains two feet high in Northridge. Yet people turn from His ways.’ These remarks are not by the author of Ecology of Fear, MikeDavis, but the Southern California congresswoman Andrea Seastrand, speaking on behalf of Jehovah. Although the Los Angeles Times reassured its readers that ‘as far as can be determined’, the ...
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 following year ...


Eric Klinenberg: Sinful Cities?

9 October 2003
The Unfinished City: New York and the Metropolitan Idea 
by Thomas Bender.
New Press, 287 pp., $30, September 2002, 1 56584 736 9
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Dead Cities: and Other Tales 
by Mike Davis.
New Press, 448 pp., $16.95, October 2003, 1 56584 844 6
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... in denial or is it simply entering another stage of what the historian Max Page sees as a continuous process of creative destruction, refusing to let any obstacle block its path? Thomas Bender and MikeDavis are two of America’s leading urban scholars. Bender is a cultural historian known for his accounts of the intellectual and aesthetic life of US cities, and for tracing the distinctively ...


Mike Davis: California Burns

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 ...

The Power of Sunshine

Alexander Cockburn

10 January 1991
City of Quartz: Excavating the Future of Los Angeles 
by Mike Davis.
Verso, 462 pp., £18.95, November 1990, 0 86091 303 1
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... consciousness that has not appropriated the American experience, even if in opposition, has something reactionary about it.’ He was talking about Los Angeles, where he and Horkheimer allowed (as MikeDavis puts it) ‘their image of first sight to become its own myth: Los Angeles as the crystal ball of capitalism’s future’. They exhibited as little interest as their fellow exile Brecht in the ...

It Migrates to Them

Jeremy Harding: The Coming Megaslums

8 March 2007
Planet of Slums 
by Mike Davis.
Verso, 228 pp., £15.99, March 2006, 1 84467 022 8
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Buda’s Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb 
by Mike Davis.
Verso, 228 pp., £12.99, March 2007, 978 1 84467 132 8
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... If any of us has seen the places in the developing world that MikeDavis catalogues remorselessly in Planet of Slums, it was probably from an aeroplane. That doesn’t always mean 35,000 feet, for as Davis points out, poorer people tend to colonise the marginal land of cities where air terminals were once built at a comfortable distance from prosperous centres of medium or high population density ...

A Giant Still Sleeping

Lorna Scott Fox: Mike​ Davies

4 April 2002
Magical Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the US City 
by Mike Davis.
Verso, 202 pp., £10, November 2001, 9781859843284
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... MikeDavis 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 the last ...
7 March 2019
... after a seven-year trial. A century of East India Company rule in India was attended by regular famines and the pattern persisted after governance transferred to the British Raj. During what MikeDavis has called the ‘late Victorian Holocausts’ of the 1890s, at least 12.9 million died in India alone, even though, by the 1870s, the most doctrinaire colonial officials had accepted that modest ...


Slavoj Žižek: Leftist Platitudes

2 September 2004
Free World: Why a Crisis of the West Reveals the Opportunity of Our Time 
by Timothy Garton Ash.
Allen Lane, 308 pp., £17.99, July 2004, 0 7139 9764 8
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... Mexico City and other Latin American capitals through Africa to India, China, the Philippines and Indonesia, is perhaps the crucial geopolitical event of our times. The case of Lagos, according to MikeDavis, ‘the biggest node in the shanty-town corridor of 70 million people that stretches from Abidjan to Ibadan’, is exemplary: no one even knows the size of its population. Davis quotes a UN ...

The Leveller

Ben Ehrenreich: Famine in East Africa

16 August 2017
... lives and culture are tied to the rhythms of the land, she suggested, will have no choice but to learn to fish. ‘It will take a long time. Everything will change.’In Late Victorian Holocausts, MikeDavis argued that the massive famines which struck the global south in the late 19th century – he estimates a combined death toll of between thirty and sixty million in India, China and Brazil ...

Kindergarten Governor

Gary Indiana: It’s Schwarzenegger!

6 November 2003
... with $1.3 million of his own money, or at least what he claimed was his own money. What had begun as a quixotic canard then became a surrealist juggernaut, culminating in the ousting of Governor Gray Davis and the risible election of Arnold Schwarzenegger, action figure, as the custodian of the world’s fifth largest economy. Like Schwarzenegger, Congressman Issa has a piquant history. In the early ...

Rising above it

Russell Davies

2 December 1982
The Noel Coward Diaries 
edited by Graham Payn and Sheridan Morley.
Weidenfeld, 698 pp., £15, September 1982, 0 297 78142 1
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... You may not like the book, but you will be impressed by the index. There’s Bette Davis and Joe Davis and Sammy Davis Jr. There’s Basil Dean and James Dean, Jack Warner of Dock Green and Jack Warner of Hollywood. Jayne Mansfield lines up alongside Mantovani, and Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery is discovered ...

Welcome Home

Sukhdev Sandhu: Memories of Michael X

4 February 1999
Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multiracial Britain 
by Mike​ Phillips and Trevor Phillips.
HarperCollins, 422 pp., £16.99, May 1998, 0 00 255909 9
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... so many times that it is now a commonplace. Yet their tales of being stranded between ‘expansion and failure, ecstasy and impasse’ constitute by far the most interesting section of Windrush, Mike and Trevor Phillips’s history of postwar black England. Early arrivals who had been weaned on Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Dickens imagined the metropolis as ancient and archival. They had peered at ...

The Unpredictable Cactus

Emily Witt: Mescaline

22 December 2019
Mescaline: A Global History of the First Psychedelic 
by Mike​ Jay.
Yale, 297 pp., £18.99, May 2019, 978 0 300 23107 6
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... down into a brew and ingested, it activates an alternative experience of consciousness.‘No mind-altering substance has been described more thoroughly and from such a variety of perspectives,’ Mike Jay writes in his new history, Mescaline. Its use in the Americas dates back thousands of years. It was the first psychedelic analysed by Western scientists, and in the early decades of the 20th ...

Where are all the people?

Owen Hatherley: Jane Jacobs

26 July 2017
Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs 
by Robert Kanigel.
Knopf, 512 pp., £34, September 2016, 978 0 307 96190 7
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Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs 
edited by Samuel Zipp and Nathan Storring.
Random House, 544 pp., £16.99, October 2016, 978 0 399 58960 7
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... in town-planning clichés: social exclusion, mixed use, mixed tenure, active frontages. Jacobs’s transformation from cranky freelancer to feted urban guru (‘the Mother Theresa of urbanism’, as MikeDavis, a rare dissenter from the church of St Jane, once put it) came about through her encounter with the slum, as a concept and, less and less over time, as a reality. It was the slum, in the eyes ...

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