Cambridge Univ. Jun. 2022. 300p. ISBN 9781108424523. $29.99. HIST
This grand history by Nightingale (urban history, Univ. of Buffalo) traces 6,000 years of Earth’s urban evolution, beginning with ancient riverside settlements like Uruk in Mesopotamia and racing across six continents. Cities have played vital roles as centers of trade, finance, government and innovation. Population density made city life riskier than rural existence. As empires developed, capital and provincial cities grew. Nightingale points out effects of climate change: optimum temperature periods led to population increases and a greater built environment. He also notes detrimental results of air pollution and deforestation. City-based capitalism went global after 1500 CE, as Europeans looted precious metals from Africa and the Americas to pay for wars. While run by elites, cities have also been sources of popular uprisings and revolutions. Nightingale sees hope for the future if we can make an equitable transition from “hydrocarbons” to mass solar and wind power. Maps and contemporary illustrations aid the narrative.
VERDICT Offering a unique point of view that includes many valuable insights about cities, however, it regularly departs from the urban theme to discuss global issues such as colonialism and slavery. This can give the feeling of two different books in one.
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