Weaving together archeology, history, and contemporary observations, Monica Smith explains the rise of the first urban developments and their connection to our own. Cities is an impassioned and learned account full of fascinating details of daily life in ancient urban centers, using archaeological perspectives to show that the aspects of cities we find most irresistible (and the most annoying) have been with us since the very beginnings of urbanism itself. Smith also proves the rise of cities was hardly inevitable, yet it was crucial to the eventual global dominance of our species–and that cities are here to stay.
Reading Cities for what it is—not a history of 6,000 years but a miscellany on delights and difficulties of urban living—I relished many odorous pages on sewers, latrines and garbage ... Charmingly, the author is ecologically heretical, considering trash-heaps a part of the glory of cities: 'a small price to pay . . . for feeling fully alive.' Ms. Smith speckles her canvas with vivid dots but is less adept in joining them up ... Unpardonably, the author ignores evidence of writing—in the sense of systematic symbolic notation—earlier than Mesopotamian examples. It is shocking to find an archaeologist who supposes that early 'had relatively few needs other than food,' as if our ancestors were less emotionally complex than ourselves ... Ms. Smith seems unable to shed the sensibilities of a fashionably attuned Californian ... Ms. Smith recognizes the disparity among classes, but does not mind very much. Bourgeois privilege, like choking levels of trash, seems to be, for her, a necessity worth making a virtue of. She regards middle-class 'mojo' as motivating civic 'flow,' without acknowledging the role of dictatorial drive.
There’s much to wonder about in archaeologist Monica L. Smith’s thought-provoking, capacious, often witty new book ... An archaeologist and professor of anthropology at UCLA, Smith has excavated ancient sites around the world and brings her wide and deep experience to her perspective on urbanism. Throughout her engaging book, she also affords the casual reader a glimpse of the tools and techniques of her trade ... In other chapters, again drawing on her knowledge of ancient civilizations, she notes the vital importance of infrastructure ... She describes these projects and project managers in surprisingly, almost shockingly contemporary terms. Can it be that ancient city-dwellers were not so different from 21st-century urbanites?
Although drawing a clean conceptual binary between the rural and the urban is quite uncommon in contemporary urban studies, doing so, to follow Smith’s arguments, illuminates patterns and continuities that are often overlooked. The book engages a simple question: 'Why cities?’ Are they a natural step in human habitation’s evolution or a response to something else?' Drawing from decades of field and analytical work in archaeology and weaving with it a rich exploration of history, geography, and current research, Smith’s argument places cities at the center of human social experience ... Cities is an unusual and compelling journey from city life in ancient urban centers to the present and beyond.