Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Genius Reviews

Two reviews of Genius of Common Sense are making the rounds today online, it seems. The first has a front-and-center spot on Arts & Letters Daily: Howard Husock writes, at City Journal, "Not only did Jacobs draw important inferences about how cities, the quintessential human ecosystems, grew and prospered organically; she was able, despite her lack of advanced degrees or even a college diploma, to attract the support of elites through the power of her original ideas. Her position as a staff writer at Architectural Forum lent her views credibility and helped convert the likes of Lewis Mumford, then the architectural critic for The New Yorker, making it respectable for elected officials to oppose Moses. Bronx residents, in their struggle to stop construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, had tried demonstrating against Moses, but to no avail. He had always been able to rely on planning elites, newspaper editorial pages, and his own social background and connections to make 'slum-dwellers' look self-interested and benighted. In Jacobs, Moses faced a foe who employed hardball political tactics and sarcasm as well. She dared to condescend to him."

And over at Seth's Blog he writes, "Genius of Common Sense is plainly a labor of love, with a great selection of photographs and a belief in Jacobs’s importance that you might say “shines through the book like a watermark” (Nabokov). The subtitle is 'Jane Jacobs and the story of The Death and Life of Great American Cities' but that isn’t right: It’s mostly about how Jacobs and her neighbors fended off Robert Moses to preserve Greenwich Village. Which is a lot more visual. As I read it I kept wondering what I would have thought of it had I picked it up as, say, a third grader. I read a lot of biographies for children back then. I might have been attracted by the weird title and helped along by the high ratio (1 to 1) of picture space to word space. I would have liked the underdog aspect." Me too!

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