A formidable intellectual history of how Los Angeles, the locus of postwar American dreams, became the avatar of national...


ECOLOGY OF FEAR: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster

A formidable intellectual history of how Los Angeles, the locus of postwar American dreams, became the avatar of national nightmares of physical and social destruction. In this decade, L.A. has witnessed natural phenomena as staggering as those inflicted upon Egypt in the Book of Exodus: the 1994 Northridge earthquake, floods, tornadoes, Malibu fires, even the invasion of ""man-eating"" mountain lions and beach snakes. And like ancient Egypt, L.A. may be reaping the whirlwind for arrogance and social injustice, argues Davis (City of Quartz, not reviewed), an urban theorist who has taught at the Getty Institute and has contributed to the Nation, Sierra magazine, and the Los Angeles Times. In Davis's liberal worldview, the stampede to build edge cities, freeways, and subdivisions paved the way for nature's revenge as surely as mass poverty and racial unrest were the raw materials for the 1992 L.A. riots. In the first three decades of this century, a""selfish, profit-driven presentism"" ruled southern California, as politicians and developers rejected proposals to preserve parks, beaches, playgrounds and mountain reserves for the community. Davis chillingly details how the vast infrastructure built to service the suburban sprawl was based on a disaster record of only the last 50 years, how ""feedback loops"" in the delicate ecosystem multiply the potential for disaster, and how narrowly L.A. escaped devastation even worse than its well-chronicled catastrophes (e.g., none of the state's last 10 major earthquakes has occurred during school hours). His lucid explanations of scientific phenomena are mixed with spiky observations (e.g., on how southern California's Mediterranean climate differs from the tranquil paradise proclaimed by early civic boosters: ""It is Walden Pond on acid,"" he notes). Davis concludes this disturbing history by analyzing racist dystopian fantasies set in L.A. (including The Turner Diaries) and how high-tach trends may cater to affluent Angelenos' mania for security. A dazzling mix of environmental studies, urban history, and cultural criticism.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 1998

ISBN: 0375706070

Page Count: 466

Publisher: Metropolitan

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998