Cover Image: Metropolis

Metropolis

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Member Reviews

From ancient times, people have chosen to live in cities again and again. Ben Wilson's thorough and well researched book provides a unique insight into the history of the city as a whole. An interesting angle and perspective on a fascinating subject.
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An interesting book, which took me a while to read, but which was well worth the effort.  I would definitely recommend it.
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I found this book quite difficult to get into. Despite several attempts sadly my opinion did not change. It is well written but not the book for me I'm afraid.
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	Cities are hardened to death and disease. Six per cent of Chicago’s inhabitants died in the cholera pandemic of 1854; an outbreak in Hamburg in 1892 killed 8,600; the Great Plague claimed the lives of 100,000 Londoners — almost a quarter of the population — in 1665-66.

The metropolis was traditionally dingy. The gleaming hubs of modern cities, now emptied by Covid-19 lockdowns and the fear of infection, are historical anomalies. “The river is almost black, and is covered with black barges; above the black housetops . . . rises a dusky wilderness of masts,” Henry James wrote of Greenwich in south-east London in 1887.

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Metropoles have always fascinated me, their complex personality and their inhabitants' diverse lives, their dynamics, and their tales. I have realised that Dickens and the Victorian image of them, and hence my adoration of London, have played a huge part in this. Ben Wilson's history of Metropolis did not disappoint. It is a wide-ranging exploration of the history of Metropolis, from its early days until now. I would totally recommend this book for anyone interested in the subject. It is not light reading but it is thoroughly researched, and it is fascinating.
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A sweeping look at the history of city life over thousands of years. There's a lot of information in this well written book, and it kept me entertained for hours.

Thank you to NetGalley and to the publisher for allowing me to read this in exchange for an honest review.
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This was worth dipping into occasionally but wasn't in the league of other non-fiction titles I have enjoyed. I felt I could have read an abbreviated version of this in a Guardian Long Read for more impact. If you are a bigger non-fiction fan than me, you may well enjoy it more.
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A fascinating well researched look at human city living since c.4000BC to the modern Western City. With so much information to absorb I had this down as definitely a dip in dip out book but its accessible style had me reading great chunks at a time. 
A great piece of non-fiction.
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This is not a book that can be rushed as there is just too much fascinating information to absorb and so that finds me still reading this book and definitely finding it mind expanding.

The whole concept of a metropolis is not something that I can say I ever really spent much time thinking about until I discovered this book. Having discovered it, I can truthfully say that it has opened my mind to the ways that villages grow from rural to urban and on to becoming a sprawling metropolis. Frankly, in some ways, I would have been happier not knowing! I just wish I could explain this feeling in one or two sentences.

The physical growth of society has always worried me as it leaves little for the individual and is all aimed at the financial growth and the "me too" society of goods and chattels and the pressure that way of life exerts on people. This book does a very good forensic job of explaining the how of those changes.

Definitely a book worth exploring, just be aware you may discover that the life you are being persuaded to lead may not be in your best interests!
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For someone like me who relishes cities .. and it's where we go on holiday every year .. this is a terrific book .. full of information and common histories .. how urban life develops ..writing was gripping .. I absolutely loved this!!
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From its origins over 7000 years ago to the present day and into the future this book looks at the rise of the city and the spread of urbanisation.  It doesn't take a completely euro-centric viewpoint which is refreshing and although each chapter is focused on a particular city in a particular era, the exploration veers across the millenia.  This is a really fascinating book which draws together lots of strands of global history.
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This is a very readable and fascinating book, full of interesting, unusual facts which liven up the text, although I was a bit surprised that I could find no direct reference to Gottmann's influential 1960s work, "Megalopolis ", on city region clusters. The author describes the birth and development of cities throughout millennia but - for me at least - the question of the initial trigger for a permanent settlement in any specific location was not adequately answered. 

With thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for giveing me a copy of "Metropolis" in exchange for this honest review.
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This is an excellent book covering a wide-ranging history of the city from prehistory to the present day.  It's a huge topic and a huge book that views cities throughout history not just through the history of that city itself but looks at themes that are mirrored throughout history. 

It can be dense at times but sits on the line between academia and more easily accessible non-fiction really well and at no point did I feel bogged down by, what I supposed I could describe as, the light density. It was fascinating for anyone with an interest in history and overarching themes. What makes a city successful, migrations to cities, multiculturalism within cities from the dawn of history and cities as receptacles of knowledge and learning.

I'd highly recommend this to anyone with a curious mind who wants to know more about how we got to where we are now.

With thanks to NetGalley for an ARC in return for an honest review.
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A book which is informative and entertaining at the same. It's well researched, well written and  full of food for thought.
An extensive history of cities and a reflection on their role.
It's very interesting and I strongly recommend it.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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Metropolis is an incredibly in-depth examination of the histories and cultures of cities, from the early days of Uruk to modern Lagos. Wilson presents a whole world of ideas, facts, curious tidbits and trivia you never knew you needed to know. Each chapter has a focus on a particular city (or cities) over a specific period of time, but this is used as an effective gateway to explore different themes of urban life such as the history of coffee or the evolution of worldwide trade links.

This book blew me away on every page. While dense and detailed, I found Metropolis to be an incredibly easy read. The writing style is inviting and simple, at times fairly casual, yet it still retains a strong air of academia and wonder.

A brilliant book for anyone interested in the history of cities on a global scale, looking not only at how cities are made, but how cities made and moulded the people who live within them.
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thank you for the ARC of this book.  I was totally hooked at the beginning of this book. The author's description of early city development such as Uruk and the indus cities drew me in quickly and  completely.  I found the narrative style too be pitched just right, not too high brow but certainly no dumbing down  and I think it will have wide appeal.  For me it lost interest in the later more modern renderings of the city  which at times felt repetetive and to have drowning detail.  

I struggled so mush with the referencing which was difficult to access on the ARC and ended up with me having the book open on 2 devices - one fore reading and one for references.  I think this is probably better read in the physical edition
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Basically, this is an encyclopaedic voyage through the evolution of the city, some of which is supported by legitimate sources, but much if which is based on the author’s speculative musings. So long as this is borne in mind it makes for a reasonably enjoyable, engaging and informative journey. We are forewarned, of course, by the book’s strapline - ‘A History of Humankind’s Greatest Invention’.  Nevertheless, the author’s evident enthusiasm for his subject often expresses itself in an inappropriately ebullient style and the seeming lack of objectivity can be somewhat wearing. An early example, of this occurs on only the second page, on which Wilson suggests that ‘someone approaching Uruk for the first time at its height in about 3000 BC, […] would have had his senses assaulted’.  In all likelihood, this is probably true: it is easy to forget that the ‘built environment’, in the sense of the planned construction we take for granted, is a fairly recent development in the history of human activity, by comparison to the appropriation and modest modification of that which already existed.  So, perhaps it is reasonable to suppose this coincided with the need for radically different ‘ways of seeing’.  For example, moving from largely natural landscapes, with relatively far horizons, to cityscapes with relatively near horizons, might be just one way in which the ‘senses’ may have been ‘assaulted’, until perceptions responded and gradually adapted to change. Nevertheless, it is a common example of ‘retro-fitting’ modern humans’ values, attitudes and sensibilities onto those of our ancient ancestors’; something fraught with potential error.

The book is structured chronologically, so the journey begins at the supposed beginning, as far as current archaeological evidence suggests, and this is with the Mesopotamian city of Uruk, which the book dates from around 4000 to 1900 BC.  Along the way we take in the ‘usual suspects’; e.g. Babylon, Athens, Alexandria, Rome and end up in London, Paris and New York. However, to its author’s credit, ‘Metropolis’ doesn’t focus solely on the ‘Western canon’ but does, rightly, consider cities in continents other than Europe and the near East’ e.g. Tenochtitlan (circa 1500 AD), which occupied the site of modern-day Mexico City.  

If this were all it was, it would be very little different from a modern-day travel guide.  However, Wilson also employs each of the cities in its temporal and geographical context to illustrate various cultural aspects of the civilizations that city exemplifies; e.g. when we ‘visit’ Rome (30 BC – 537 AD) Wilson treats us to a treatise on bathing and the significance of water and washing to the political, social and cultural life of Romans, both plebeian and patrician, which, of course, contrasts starkly, to the unwashed barbarians beyond its city walls.  Similarly, when in Bagdad (537 – 1258 AD), the focus shifts to gastronomy, spices, herbs and, most prominently, black pepper, before moving on to Lubeck (1226 – 1491 AD), to examine ‘Cities of War’ (Chapter 6), the obvious theme of which is revisited in Warsaw (1939 – 45 AD) and ‘Annihilation’ (Chapter 12).  Finally, we end up in Lagos (1999 – 2020 AD) and the contemporary, ‘Megacity’, in which, messiness, is not a sign of ‘poverty and shame’… ‘but something to be embraced’, as a ‘dynamic feature of urban development’.

Ultimately, there is much to be had by taking the journey.  But, perhaps, not all in one go: by the end of this quite comprehensive, but somewhat rambling and repetitious account of urban life and development, the reader might be somewhat travel-weary and glad to put her or his ‘feet up’ and, having gone ‘travelling’ – conclude that ‘it’s so much nicer, yes it’s so much nicer, to be home’.
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This excellent book tracks the development of the city in chronological order, from the very first to the most futuristic.

Filled with fascinating insights and delightful digressions, the common threads of urban settlements become clear and are investigated with interest.

I found that I learnt a great deal from this book, with even the chapters on cities I teach containing anecdotes I wasn't previously aware of.

In fact, I have found this book so useful I will be buying a copy for my teaching - I can see that it will be useful for promoting student discussion in the classroom for both Classics and History.

As someone with somewhat weak geography, I found the map at the start of the book invaluable. I would have found further illustrations useful for better visualising city layouts but other than that cannot fault this book - a fantastic read!
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Ben Wilson absolutely adores cities, and his book is open and honest about that commitment. The book's subtitle declares cities to be the best invention of humankind, so I knew that this would be the approach taken throughout. The history here is deeply interesting, and I'd suspect not widely known. Cities are one of those things we take for granted just because they're part of our general backdrop, so digging deeper was a pleasure. The words are colourful and the breadth of coverage is huge, from considering public spaces to technology, trade, and even the concept of suburbs. I liked how the author 'stopped off' in many cities that are universally recognised and learning just a little extra about each one was great. However, if you hate cities, it's probably not for you!
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This is a superb, highly informative, examination of what a city is, where they came from and why, even when they are dirty, crime ridden and over-populated we still choose to live in them. 

This book covers a whole range of cities, from Uruk one of the first cities, through Rome and Baghdad to present day mega cities this book delves into each with great insight. 

The stories of how these cities came to be, what motivated people to move there, how they rose and fell would be enough, but it's the side tangents and asides that makes this book as good as it is. For instance whilst talking about Baghdad we get a fair bit around the street food of London (and other cities), in the opening chapters there  is a bit about the Epic of Gilgamesh as it features Uruk, later we get swings into film and the underbelly of Los Angeles. These asides instead of feeling separate and distinct work perfectly, blending together to build a fascinating account of how cities come to be and why we are continually fascinated with them.

It's not a huge book in length, but it is heavy in terms of the sheer amount of information it has in it (it's clearly been very well researched) that never stops it being readable and enjoyable though, and anyone who loves learning new things will get a big kick out of this book. It's better read in digestible chunks then all in one go, but I really, really, enjoyed it.
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