For a Midwesterner like myself, Los Angeles can seem like a strange and mysterious place: it certainly is a different kind of city compared to the older cities of the Midwest and Northeast. The book City of Quartz by sociologist Mike Davis adds to the mystery while also explaining why Los Angeles is the way it is. Some quick thoughts on this book:
1. The scope of this book is tremendous and includes discussions about history, politics, conservative revolts from suburbanites, policing, and culture. The scope is staggering and fascinating.
2. Davis would seem to fall into the Los Angeles School of urban sociology. While action and development can usually be explained by politics and money, his emphasis is also on the disjointed nature of the metropolis. With the downtown core continually struggling to assert its authority, the tale of LA includes many other actors, including the Westside and suburbanites, trying to promote their own goals.
3. Davis continually plays with the idea of LA as suburban paradise and exposes the dystopian reality behind this facade. While it may have sunshine, orange groves, and movie stars, the city has a daunting list of troubles including race relations, pollution, sprawl, water shortages, and crime. Most of the stories in here are heavily tinged with this dystopian vision.
Overall, this is the sort of urban sociology text that I find incredibly engaging. It is lacking in a few areas such as potential solutions for LA, comparisons to other cities (is LA completely anomalous or was it simply the first of its kind?), and not being up-to-date (published in 1990). But for someone looking to understand Los Angeles and all of its strangely fascinating complexity, this is an excellent read.