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In these deft portraits of St. Petersburg, Russia; Bombay, India; Shanghai, China; and Dubai, UAE; journalist Brook (The Trap) artfully condenses and illustrates three centuries of revolutionary urban development and globalizing impulses. From Peter the Great's decree that brought St. Petersburg into being in 1703 to the recent creations of towering skyscrapers in the Persian Gulf, these "instant cities modeled on the West have been built in the developing world in audacious attempts to wrench a lagging region into the modern world," with relative degrees of success and unforeseen consequences. Brook traces the commercial and authoritarian origins of these deliberately "dis-orient-ed" cities that slam West and East together. The intended goal of promoting commerce with the wider world inevitably created heady mixes of cultural and political mores: the Communist Party of China thrived in 1920s Shanghai, a portal to the West that sowed the seeds of the People's Republic; Bombay (now Mumbai) played a crucial role in fostering the movement that led to India's independence in 1947. While the ruling family of Dubai can now run it as a corporation-backed by studies and plans from McKinsey and Pricewaterhouse Coopers-Brook convincingly puts it in a continuum of cities that have taken on a life of their own, observing that "the only question is when, not if, its people will seize the opportunity its autocrats have unwittingly created." Agent: Larry Weisman. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Journalist Brook offers engaging accounts of four cities designed to awe the world: Russia's St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Dubai. Chronological chapters highlight major turning points. The first explores Peter the Great's plan for his namesake city to rival western European capitals; later chapters discuss how the culturally conservative Nicholas I abandoned that vision and analyze the city's Soviet and post-Soviet fate. Grounded in the best English-language scholarship as well as firsthand observations and interviews with planners, these urban portraits reveal the drama of urban development. All chapters include detailed discussions of exemplary building projects, illustrating how planners imagined the place of their cities within their nations/empires and the wider world. Brook argues that these four cities are the best examples of attempts to emulate the urbanism of the "West" in the "East." Despite his efforts to explain his use of these terms, the overall framework of the book is its least satisfying part. The urban portraits are quite delightful and informative, but most of the urban planning and design issues that Brook addresses are equally problematic and interesting in Brasilia, Singapore, Vancouver, and Las Vegas. Summing Up: Recommended. General, public, and undergraduate collections. K. E. Stapleton State University of New York at Buffalo
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
As different as the origins of St. Petersburg, Mumbai, Shanghai, and Dubai are, they share a characteristic as historical outposts of Western trade, architecture, and culture. Author Brook explores the ramifications in chronicles of each city, prominent among which are tensions between the modernizing influences of these cities and the traditional customs of the countries in which they are situated. If these four cities have looked outward as nodes of international commerce, at their backs in their hinterlands were always social forces and political movements with the potential to throttle the capitalist festivities. Within general narratives of when this happened the Communist revolutions in Russia and China; socialist economics in India Brook expresses a visual sense of each city's major streets and landmark buildings, describing and interpreting them through their builders' ambitions for the future, be it a grand train station in colonial Bombay or the world's tallest building in Dubai. Priming readers with the histories of these cities, including their politics and cosmopolitan demographics, Brook enthusiastically engages at the intersection of urban affairs and globalization.--Taylor, Gilbert Copyright 2010 Booklist