A tour of ‘4 Misplaced Cities’ reveals trendy ties to historic folks

Four Lost Cities cover

4 Misplaced Cities
Annalee Newitz
W.W. Norton & Co., $26.95

It’s a well-recognized trope in films and books: A bright-eyed protagonist strikes to the large metropolis looking for fame and fortune. Amid the bustle and lights, all hopes and goals come true. However why can we cling to this cliché? In 4 Misplaced Cities: A Secret Historical past of the City Age, writer Annalee Newitz explores historic settlements to seek out out why folks flock to huge cities — and why they depart.  

The ebook is split into 4 pleasant, snack-sized sections, one for every metropolis. Every part is accompanied by a useful map, drawn by artist Jason Thompson with participating, cartoon-style aptitude.

Reasonably than dry historical past, Newitz makes a particular effort to focus on the eccentricities and improvements that made these cities distinctive. Take Çatalhöyük, the oldest metropolis they function, which thrived from 7500 to 5700 B.C. in what’s now Turkey. This historic metropolis continued for practically 2,000 years regardless of missing issues that we’d think about essential to a metropolis, corresponding to roads, devoted public areas or purchasing areas.

illustrated map of Çatalhöyük
4 Misplaced Cities consists of illustrated maps, together with this one in all Çatalhöyük, to assist information readers, in addition to providing a little bit of perception into the artwork of historic cultures.Jason Thompson

Newitz’s additionally explores Pompeii (700 B.C to A.D. 79 in modern-day Italy). When paired with Çatalhöyük, it presents insights into how people developed the excellence between private and non-private areas and actions — concepts that might not have made sense earlier than people started dwelling in massive settled teams. The part on Cahokia (A.D. 1050 to 1350) — positioned in what’s now Illinois, throughout the Mississippi River from St. Louis — presents an sudden purpose for a metropolis’s emergence. Many individuals hyperlink cities with capitalism and commerce. Cahokia’s 30-meter-tall pyramids, 20-hectare plazas and a inhabitants (on the time) larger than Paris recommend that religious revival may also construct a serious metropolis. Cahokia and Angkor, which reached its peak from A.D. 800 to 1431 in what’s now Cambodia, additionally present how cities can type when energy will get concentrated in just a few influential folks. 

By way of touring such various cities, Newitz exhibits that the transfer to city life isn’t only a setup for a hero of a narrative. It’s a standard setup for a lot of historic cultures.

Every metropolis, after all, ultimately fell. Çatalhöyük and Angkor suffered from droughts and flooding (SN: 10/17/18). Pompeii felt the fury of a volcano (SN: 1/23/20). However Newitz additionally reveals one thing else: Collapsing infrastructure offered the ultimate push that saved folks away. Right here we glimpse our potential future, as local weather crises and political instability threaten our personal city networks. However Newitz’s vivid imaginings, vivid prose and boundless enthusiasm handle to maintain the tone optimistic. These cities did finish, sure. But the individuals who constructed them and resided in them lived on. Even in Pompeii, many inhabitants made it out. Collectively, they went to new locations and spurred new development.

4 Misplaced Cities is about how cities collapse. However it’s additionally about what makes a metropolis succeed. It’s not glamour or Wall Avenue. It’s not good eating places or huge factories. It’s folks and their infrastructure. It’s clear water, public areas, first rate roads and alternatives for residents to stay with dignity and enhance their lot, Newitz explains. And when infrastructure crumbles past restore, folks inevitably transfer on. “Our forebears’ eroded palaces and villas warn us about how communities can go unsuitable,” they write. “However their streets and plazas testify to all of the occasions we constructed one thing significant collectively.”


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