Sunday, December 20, 2009

Lost London

John Carey reviews Lost London 1870-1945: English Heritage by Philip Davies in the Sunday Times:
'We think of cities as solid, dependable things, fixed points, enduring landmarks. In reality, though, they are fluid, and as transient as a breath. It is usually poets or preachers who tell us truths like these...'.

Based on the English Heritage photo archive
Lost London Davies, takes the reader on a 'tour of destitution, the maze of squalid streets and alleys around Drury Lane and Clare Market that Kingsway put an end to, the labyrinths of Bankside and Bermondsey, old Westminster, only a stone’s throw from parliament, but notorious for its chronic poverty until well into the 20th century, and the East End, three square miles of densely packed terraced housing, known as the City of Dreadful Night. The districts change but the essential features remain the same: soot-blackened brick walls, sunless, airless, treeless, grassless courts and yards, stone paving, kept scrupulously clean, because hunger and want allow nothing to go to waste.'

Read John Carey's perceptive review in full, on the Sunday Times website:

[link shortened at tinyurl]

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Art of Not Being Governed

I've not read this yet, but it is one book which is going on my new year reading list: James Scott: The Art of Not Being Governed, recently reviewed in The Boston Globe by Drake Bennett. Its about an area of Asia which has been given the name of Zomia - a 'rugged swath of Asia that for 2,000 years has remained culturally aloof from the traditional centers of power and the pull of empires. Its inhabitants, Asia’s “hill people,” have earned a reputation for egalitarianism, insurrection, and independence'.

From Drake's review:
'In Zomia’s small societies, with their simple technologies, anti-authoritarian tendencies, and oral cultures, Scott sees not a world forgotten by civilization, but one that has been deliberately constructed to keep the state at arm’s length. Zomia’s history, Scott argues, is a rejection of the mighty lowland states that are seen as defining Asia. He calls Zomia a “shatter zone,” a place where people go to escape the raw deal that complex civilization historically has been for those at the bottom: the coerced labor and conscription into military service, the taxation for wars and pharaonic building projects, the epidemic diseases that came with intensive agriculture and animal husbandry.'

Its a fascinating subject - articulately reviewed.

Read the full review here: