From a brilliant young historian, a colorful journey through 7,000 years and twenty-six world cities that shows how urban living has been the spur and incubator to humankind's greatest innovations.
In the two hundred millennia of our existence, nothing has shaped us more profoundly than the city. Historian Ben Wilson, author of bestselling and award-winning books on British history, now tells the grand, glorious story of how city living has allowed human culture to flourish. Beginning with Uruk, the world's first city, dating to 5000 BC and memorably portrayed in the Epic of Gilgamesh, he shows us that cities were never a necessity but that once they existed their density created such a blossoming of human endeavor--producing new professions, forms of art, worship, and trade--that they kick-started nothing less than civilization.
Guiding readers through famous cities over 7,000 years, he reveals the innovations driven by each: civics in the agora of Athens, global trade in ninth-century Baghdad, finance in the coffeehouses of London, domestic comforts in the heart of Amsterdam, peacocking in Belle Epoque Paris. In the modern age, he studies the impact of verticality in New York City, the sprawl of L.A., and the eco-reimagining of twenty-first-century Shanghai. Lively, erudite, page turning, and irresistible, Metropolis is a grand tour of human achievement.
Historian Wilson (Empire of the Deep) offers a sweeping survey of how the rise of cities over the past 6,000 years has shaped human history. Before 1800, Wilson notes, no more than 5% of the world's population lived in "sizable urban areas," but demographers project that by 2050 cities will be home to two-thirds of humanity. To examine "the people who settled in cities and the ways they found to cope with and survive the pressure cooker of urban life," he profiles a diverse array of metropolises at critical moments in their history. Medieval Baghdad, for example, evokes the convergence of far-flung culinary traditions that has long been a trademark of large cities. The rush to build "bigger, better and more profitable" skyscrapers in early-20th-century New York City illustrates the powerful market forces at play in urban centers, while a portrait of post-WWII L.A. examines how white flight, the rise of suburbia, and globalization contributed to the modern-day phenomenon of the "supersized megacity." Wilson also describes the "Paris Syndrome," in which 19th-century tourists with romantic notions of the French capital were scandalized by the grime, overcrowding, and rudeness they encountered there. An amiable and well-informed tour guide, Wilson stuffs his account with intriguing arcana and analysis. Armchair travelers will be enlightened and entertained.