The best books on cities and their power to change lives and attitudes

John Rennie Short Author Of The Unequal City
By John Rennie Short

The Books I Picked & Why

Cities in Civilization

By Peter Hall

Book cover of Cities in Civilization

Why this book?

A magisterial review of the role of cities in economic and social change. Superbly written it is packed with information on cities at significant periods in social and economic transformation. The writer’s love of cities and their role in innovative change are crystal clear. He is so optimism about our urban futures that he gives me hope 


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The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844: Frederick Engels

By Frederick Engels, Florence Kelley Wischnewetzky

Book cover of The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844: Frederick Engels

Why this book?

The boring title masks a great book written by Marx’s collaborator. It has all the anger and verve of an angry young man appalled by the conditions of English cities in the mid-nineteenth century. It is classic that reads as it was written yesterday. It is not only evocatively descriptive it also passionately engaged with moral outrage. A classic of urban writing and social concern.


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Capital: The Eruption of Delhi

By Rana Dasgupta

Book cover of Capital: The Eruption of Delhi

Why this book?

It reads like a great novel but is a great work of non-fiction. The subject is India’s capital as it undergoes massive change and growing polarization. The book gets under the surface of change to reveal some of its costs and consequences. The book is a great blend of reportage, political critique, and sympathetic accounts of the varied citizenry, from the very wealthy to the very poor. A fascinating and empathetic account of rapid change in one of the city's largest cities in one of the world's most populous countries as it both fashions and is impacted by globalization. 


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Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

By Matthew Desmond

Book cover of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Why this book?

A book that gives a thick description of poverty and rental property in the American city. Its subject is eviction and how people get moved out of their homes in informed yet heartwrenching detail. It is deeply researched work that to gives a voice to those on the sharp edge of economic marginality and social dislocation.


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Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City

By Russell Shorto

Book cover of Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City

Why this book?

The writer loves Amsterdam that much is clear. He deftly shows how this one city grew from the most unpromising location to become not only a great city in its own right, but also the city where tolerance, markets, and the ideals of liberal tolerant capitalist society were forged and burnished. Our modern liberal cosmopolitanism was created in Amsterdam. We owe a great deal to Amsterdam and its citizens. 


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