Los Angeles has become a magnet for the American apocalyptic imagination. Riot, fire, flood, earthquake...only locusts are missing from the almost biblical list of disasters that have struck the city in the 1990s.
From Ventura to Laguna, more than one million Southern Californians have been directly touched by disaster-related death, injury, or damage to their homes and businesses. Middle-class apprehensions about angry underclasses are exceeded only by anxieties about blind thrust faults underlying downtown L.A. or about the firestorms that periodically incinerate Malibu. And the force of real catastrophe has been redoubled by the obsessive fictional destruction of Los Angeles--by aliens, comets, and twisters--in scores of novels and films. The former "Land of Sunshine" is now seen by much of the world, including many of L.A.'s increasingly nervous residents, as a veritable Book of the Apocalypse theme park.
In this extraordinary book, Mike Davis, the author of City of Quartz and our most fascinating interpreter of the American metropolis, unravels the secret political history of disaster, real and imaginary, in Southern California. As he surveys the earthquakes of Santa Monica, the burning of Koreatown, the invasion of "man-eating" mountain lions, the movie Volcano, and even Los Angeles's underrated tornado problem, he exposes the deep complicity between social injustice and perceptions of natural disorder. Arguing that paranoia about nature obscures the fact that Los Angeles has deliberately put itself in harm's way, Davis reveals how market-driven urbanization has for generations transgressed against environmental common sense. And he shows that the floods, fires, and earthquakes reaped by the city were tragedies as avoidable--and unnatural--as the beating of Rodney King and the ensuing explosion in the streets.
Rich with detail, bold and original, Ecology of Fear is a gripping reconnaissance into the urban future, an essential portrait of America at the millennium.
"I'm not summoning Armageddon," affirms Davis, a social historian and urban theorist whose 1990 NBCC-nominated, dystopian history of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, City of Quartz, is now a cult classic. Maybe so, but the portrait of a city on the brink presented in this powerful, if sometimes scattershot, follow-up volume is sure to remind readers of the Book of Revelations. The book takes Davis in a new direction--away from the politics of L.A. urban planning, toward geophysical threats to the city, ranging from earthquakes to fires, floods and killer bees. Davis's polemic will raise as many hackles as concerns: while L.A. officials proclaim each earthquake, flood, mud slide and wildfire as an exceptional event, southern California has been actually enjoying a benign climatic and seismic period, and more serious disasters lie ahead, he argues. These natural catastrophes have been compounded by the fact that in building L.A., developers have largely disregarded the region's topography and environment and built in areas prone to such ravages as wildfires and floods. As the population continues to spread into new areas, there will be, predicts the author, an increase in confrontations between the region's wildlife and settlers, a situation rendered more explosive by the widespread poverty and racial problems endemic to the city, and the vast disparities of relief services. As tense as the situation has become, it will worsen as the gap between the have and have-nots widens, he says. The future Davis envisions is credible and alarming, and his argument is bolstered by prose that is machete sharp and accompanied by an archive of stunning photos. Satellite photographs of L.A. during the riots of 1993 resembled those of an erupting volcano, he shows. Which, in Davis's blistering critique, is precisely what it is. Editor, Sara Bershtel FYI: Davis is a 1998 recipient of a McArthur Fellowship grant.