by Richard Sennett ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1994
An expansive history of Western civilization's evolving conception of the human body and that concept's influence on the erection of cities. Sennett (Sociology/New York Univ.; The Conscience of the Eye, 1991, etc.) argues that the homogenization of contemporary culture is aided and abetted by the failure of modern architecture and urban planning to accommodate the physical and sensory needs of the human body. This is more than mere postmodern sterility to Sennett. He sees this failing as an extension of the ""enduring problem"" of Western civilization: the inability or refusal of those with the power to build cities to honor ""the dignity of the body and diversity of human bodies."" From Pericles' Athens to Robert Moses's New York, Sennett incorporates discussions of sexuality, religion, politics, medicine, and economics into a historical grand tour of great cities whose buildings, streets, and public squares elevated the status of the ruling elite and diminished that of common citizens. Along the way, we find out how it felt to witness an execution by guillotine in revolutionary Paris, attend a Roman banquet, and observe a trial in ancient Greece, where courtrooms reflected the demands of a participatory democracy -- three-foot-high walls and a jury box big enough for the minimum 201 jurors. Though Sennett ably surveys the ideological landscapes of the ancient, medieval, and modern worlds, these quotidian revelations are what enliven the book. By exposing the principles of individualism and personal comfort that form the most fundamental assumptions of 20th-century consumer culture, Sennett reminds modern readers that they trade a great deal for comfort -- namely their engagement with one another. In so doing, he debunks the myth that the evolution of cities has been one of unfettered progress, or that progress is synonymous with improvement. Passionate, exhaustively researched, and original.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994
Page Count: 448
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1994
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