Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books





Recommended Books on Urbanization

Cities of the WorldCities of the World: World Regional Urban Development
Stanley D. Brunn, Maureen Hays-Mitchell, and Donald J. Zeigler, editors

This fully updated and revised fourth edition offers a comprehensive set of tools for understanding the urban landscape, and by extension the world's politics, cultures, and economies. Providing a sweeping overview of world urban geography, a group of noted experts explores the eleven major global regions. Liberally illustrated with a new selection of photographs, maps, and diagrams, the text also includes a rich array of boxed vignettes. 2008, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers

The CityThe City: A Global History
Joel Kotkin

Kotkin's evolutionary narrative offers a strategic, accessible narration of urbanism in general from ancient Mesopotamia to the present. As places "sacred, safe, and busy," cities rise and thrive by their ability to become and remain concentrated, effective sites of worship, security, and commerce. Cities struggle when they fail to cultivate a sense of community and common identity among their diverse inhabitants. Whether threatened by barbarians or suburbs, Kotkin points out, a city's health depends upon its ability to keep the centrifugal forces of politics and economics from dispersing its sacred urban space. 2006, Modern Library

The Death and Life of Great American CitiesThe Death and Life of Great American Cities
Jane Jacobs

A direct and fundamentally optimistic indictment of the short-sightedness and intellectual arrogance that has characterized much of urban planning in this century, The Death and Life of Great American Cities has, since its first publication in 1961, become the standard against which all endeavors in that field are measured. In prose of outstanding immediacy, Jane Jacobs writes about what makes streets safe or unsafe; about what constitutes a neighborhood, and what function it serves within the larger organism of the city; about why some neighborhoods remain impoverished while others regenerate themselves. She writes about the salutary role of funeral parlors and tenement windows, the dangers of too much development money and too little diversity. Compassionate, bracingly indignant, and always keenly detailed, Jane Jacobs's monumental work provides an essential framework for assessing the vitality of all cities. 1992, Vintage

Ecological UrbanismEcological Urbanism
Mohsen Mostafavi and Gareth Doherty, editors

The premise of Ecological Urbanism is that an ecological approach is urgently needed both as a remedial device for the contemporary city and an organizing principle for new cities. Ecological urbanism approaches the city without any one set of instruments and with a worldview that is fluid in scale and disciplinary approach. Design provides the synthetic key to connect ecology with an urbanism that is not in contradiction with its environment. The book brings together design practitioners and theorists, economists, engineers, artists, policy makers, environmental scientists, and public health specialists, with the goal of reaching a more robust and practical understanding of ecological urbanism. 2010, Lars Muller Publishers

Green MetropolisGreen Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability
David Owen

While the conventional wisdom condemns it as an environmental nightmare, Manhattan is by far the greenest place in America, argues this stimulating eco-urbanist manifesto. According to Owen, New York City is a model of sustainability: its extreme density and compactness—and horrifically congested traffic—encourage a carfree lifestyle centered on walking and public transit; its massive apartment buildings use the heat escaping from one dwelling to warm the ones adjoining it; as a result, he notes, New Yorkers' per capita greenhouse gas emissions are less than a third of the average American's. The environmental movement's disdain for cities and fetishization of open space, backyard compost heaps, locavorism and high-tech gadgetry like solar panels and triple-paned windows is, he warns, a formula for wasteful sprawl and green-washed consumerism. Owen's lucid, biting prose crackles with striking facts that yield paradigm-shifting insights. The result is a compelling analysis of the world's environmental predicament that upends orthodox opinion and points the way to practical solutions. 2010, Riverhead

Planet of SlumsPlanet of Slums
Mike Davis

Urban theorist Davis takes a global approach to documenting the astonishing depth of squalid poverty that dominates the lives of the planet's increasingly urban population, detailing poor urban communities from Cape Town and Caracas to Casablanca and Khartoum. Davis argues health, justice and social issues associated with gargantuan slums get overlooked in world politics, with politicized campaigns against terrorism, drugs and crime occupying much of the limelight. Davis paints a bleak picture of the upward trend in urbanization and maintains a stark outlook for slum-dwellers' futures. 2007, Verso

The Places We LiveThe Places We Live
Philip Gourevitch and Jonas Bendiksen

As of 2008, for the first time in human history more people live in cities than in rural areas. This triumph of the urban, however, does not entirely represent progress, as the number of people living in urban slums--often under abject conditions--will soon exceed one billion. From 2005 to 2007 Magnum photographer Jonas Bendiksen documented life in the slums of four different cities: Nairobi, Kenya; Mumbai, India; Caracas, Venezuela; and Jakarta, Indonesia. His lyrical images capture the diversity of personal histories and outlooks found in these dense neighborhoods that, despite commonly held assumptions, are not simply places of poverty and misery. 2008, Aperture

Shadow Cities
Short List of Best Natue and Environmental Books

Shadow Cities: a Billion Squatters, a New Urban World
Robert Neuwirth

In this superbly probing book, investigative reporter Neuwirth relates the struggles and successes of some of the world's most resourceful poor people, among the one billion urban squatters in countries like Brazil, India, Kenya and Turkey. Neuwirth dismantles many common preconceptions about the so-called slums in which they live. The vast, bustling favela of Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro, for example, has distinct neighborhoods, apartments for rent, dance parties in the street and local entrepreneurs, as well as drug lords and gangs. In Nairobi's Kibera, many squatters have white-collar jobs, yet lack the income to rent more than a simple mud hut. Neuwirth closely attends to the characters, historical particularities and human potential of the squatter communities he encounters. 2004, Routledge

The Smart Growth ManualThe Smart Growth Manual
Andres Duany, Jeff Speck and Mike Lydon

In The Smart Growth Manual, two leading city planners address the pressing challenges of urban development with easy-to-follow advice and a broad array of best practices. The authors have organized the latest contributions of new urbanism, green design, and healthy communities into a comprehensive handbook, fully illustrated with the built work of the nation's leading practitioners. 2009, McGraw-Hill Professional

Suburban NationSuburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream
Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck

The authors challenge nearly half a century of widely accepted planning and building practices that have produced sprawling subdivisions, shopping centers and office parks connected by new highways. These practices, they contend, have not only destroyed the traditional concept of the neighborhood, but eroded such vital social values as equality, citizenship and personal safety. Adapting the precepts that famed urbanologist Jane Jacobs used to critique unhealthy city planning, Duany, Plater-Zyberk and Speck call for a revolution in suburban design that emphasizes neighborhoods in which homes, schools, commercial and municipal buildings would be integrated in pedestrian-accessible, safe and friendly settings. This visionary book holds out hope that we can create "places that are as valuable as the nature they displaced." 2001, North Point Press

Sustainable Urbanism
Short List of Best  Nature and Environmental Books

Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design With Nature
Douglas Farr

Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature is both an urgent call to action and a comprehensive introduction to "sustainable urbanism"--the emerging and growing design reform movement that combines the creation and enhancement of walkable and diverse places with the need to build high-performance infrastructure and buildings. Douglas Farr makes a powerful case for sustainable urbanism, explaining how to implement it through leadership and communication in cities, communities, and neighborhoods. The book emphasizes the practical importance of increasing sustainability through density; integrating transportation and land use; and creating sustainable neighborhoods, including housing, car-free areas, locally-owned stores, walkable neighborhoods, and universal accessibility. 2007, Wiley

Triumph of the CityTriumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier
Edward L. Glaeser

As Edward Glaeser proves in this myth-shattering book, cities are actually the healthiest, greenest, and richest (in cultural and economic terms) places to live. New Yorkers, for instance, live longer than other Americans; heart disease and cancer rates are lower in Gotham than in the nation as a whole. More than half of America's income is earned in twenty-two metropolitan areas. And city dwellers use, on average, 40 percent less energy than suburbanites. With skillful reportage, keen analysis, and eloquent argument, Glaeser makes an impassioned case for the city's import and splendor. He reminds us forcefully why we should nurture our cities or suffer consequences that will hurt us all, no matter where we live. 2011, Penguin Press

State of the World 2007State of the World 2007: Our Urban Future
Worldwatch Institute

The Worldwatch Institute's award-winning research team focuses on the urbanization of our planet to provide comprehensive analysis of the environmental problems we face, together with descriptions of practical, innovative solutions. The report shows what is needed to foster sustainable cities on a planet where urban areas are home to half the human population and use a far larger share of natural resources. 2007, W. W. Norton

Whole Earth DisciplineWhole Earth Discipline: Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, Restored Wildlands, and Geoengineering Are Necessary
Stewart Brand

Stewart Brand, co-author of the seminal 1969 Whole Earth Catalog, reflects on lessons learned from more than 40 years as an environmentalist in Whole Earth Discipline, a compelling attempt to inspire practicable solutions to climate change. He exhorts environmentalists to become fearless about following science; his iconoclastic proposals include transitioning to nuclear energy and ecosystem engineering. Brand's fresh perspective, approachable writing style and manifest wisdom ultimately convince the reader that the future is not an abyss to be feared but an opportunity for innovative problem solvers to embrace enthusiastically. 2010, Penguin

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