HUMAN SCALE by Kirkpatrick Sale
Kirkus Star


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It seems strange that a book devoted to the benefits of proportioned, balanced living should be done in the bludgeon style of public persuasion. Sale (Power Shift: The Rise of the Southern Rim and SDS) is aware of the irony of having written such a big book; that it's also eclectic may escape the attention of others too as they come upon one after another intriguing, emotionally appealing view. Drawing on virtually everything, Sale weaves his way through various aspects of social existence--architecture, urbanism, nation-states, multinationals, families, energy, etc.--and in each case argues that there is an appropriate ""scale"" for human beings. But each time the scale has a different basis. Sale first claims that the bigger the government the bigger the woes, and maintains that the possibility of war increases with the size of governments; the German principalities, he says, were pretty peaceful, but unified Germany. . . ! Well, the peaceful German principalities were kept that way by the giant powers around. From this broadly generalized argument, Sale shifts to a numbers game on architecture, and community and urban space--discovering that the optimal scales are 48 to 72 feet for street lengths, 30 to 42 feet for building heights, 500 people to a neighborhood, and so on. These figures derive from studies on perception (e.g., how far a human being can be distinguished) and personal contacts (e.g., how many people one can know by name). The regularities are impressive, especially when renaissance piazzas and local villages turn out to verify the numbers. But how this demonstration goes along with the one on wars or with the vilification of conglomerate publishing houses is not at all clear. Sale argues--from Mancur Olson's The Logic of Collective Action--that people will only act in group interest in small groups, ignoring the market (not human) rationality that informs Olson's model; and then he turns to anthropological material based on completely different types of rationality to argue for ""society against the state."" This isn't an argument, it's an encyclopedia. As an encyclopedia, it's pretty thorough (though annotation would have helped) and may capture some of those susceptible to large-scale visions. As a theory of scale, though, it's pretty confused.

Pub Date: June 18th, 1980
ISBN: 1897408064
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan