Nearly forty years after The Death and Life of Great American Cities forever changed the field of urban studies, Jane Jacobs--one of the few contemporary thinkers whose works will remain in print for generations--brings us a modern classic on economies and ecology. Original and eloquent, this new book looks at the connection between the economy and nature, arguing that the principles of development, common to both systems, are the proper subject of economic study.
Jacobs's 1961 classic, Death and Life of Great American Cities, broke new ground in its insistence that humane urban planning could result from looking intently at people's everyday lives as a microcosm of the needs of city, economic and national life. The book also showcased Jacobs's superb ability to weave her own and her neighbors' personal stories into her theories of urban planning and development. In this important, essentially philosophical new work on patterns of social and economic growth, Jacobs immerses herself in the role of storyteller, building her arguments through a series of conversations between a group of environmentally aware, countercultural friends talking about what it means for humans to interact, understand one another and dwell safely and without causing harm in the world. Jacobs's choice to explore this material within a Socratic dialogue might seem pretentious or simplistic in less skilled hands. Yet her tone and style are so assured that it is hard to imagine a straightforward, expository examination of the same ideas that conveys as much nuance. The approach also amplifies Jacobs's theme of exploring the myriad ways in which humans exist "wholly within nature" and not, as some environmentalists claim, as "interlopers." Drawing upon examples from nature, the physical sciences, evolutionary theory, mathematics and quantum physics, Jacobs cogently illustrates how human beings and the civilizations they create can be in harmony with the world around them. Sounding the same themes she has been investigating for the past 40 years, this witty, beautifully expressed book represents the culmination of Jacobs's previous thinking, and a step forward that deftly invokes a broader philosophical, even metaphysical, context. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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March 13, 2001
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Excerpt from The Nature of Economies by Jane Jacobs
Theories and other abstractions are powerful tools only in the limited sense that the Greek mythological giant Antaeus was powerful. When Antaeus was not in intimate contact with earth, his strength rapidly ebbed. The aim of the talkative characters in this book is to bring rarefied economic abstractions into contact with earthy realities, meaning universal natural processes of development, growth, and stability that govern economic life.
The theme running throughout this exposition-- indeed, the basic premise on which the book is constructed-- is that human beings exist wholly within nature as part of natural order in every respect. To accept this unity seems to be difficult for those ecologists who assume-- as many do, in understandable anger and despair-- that the human species is an interloper in the natural order of things. Neither is this unity easily accepted by economists, industrialists, politicians, and others who assume-- as many do, taking understandable pride in human achievements-- that reason, knowledge, and determination make it possible for human beings to circumvent and outdo the natural order. Readers unwilling or unable to breach a barrier that they imagine separates humankind and its works from the rest of nature will be unable to hear what this book is saying.