... [an] excellent, thought-provoking, heady urban chronicle ... Like the urban venues that Mr. Wilson cherishes, this book can be tortuous. A given chapter might nominally be about Paris, London, medieval Baghdad or New York, but some metropolitan detail will prompt forays through time and space. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Reading this book is like visiting an exhilarating city for the first time—dazzling, frazzling, sometimes both simultaneously. Metropolis teems with information and observations; therefore it isn’t too difficult to cavil about certain judgments and omissions. For instance, why didn’t the Paris section discuss the Paris Commune, an event that played a momentous role in French history? On a lighter note, the 1964 New York World’s Fair is disdained as 'an embarrassing and costly failure.' I take exception to that: My friends and I loved it ... More often, Metropolis occasioned some intriguing reflections ... Fear not, dear reader; don’t be dismayed by the author’s apparent promotion of chaos. He is really eminently sensible, as when he says that, from the early days of Uruk to now, 'the basic principles of urban life have not changed all that much.'
... Wilson’s fascinating history of cities, Metropolis, lacks a central thesis (its only significant flaw), but it’s not hard to supply one: cities intensify life ... In construction, Wilson’s book is more rambling east London than centrally planned Haussmann Paris. His progress is roughly chronological and the only reliable theme is that with each chapter the cities get bigger. By the final chapter we’ve reached megacities that are so enormous they are changing the course of nature ... Wilson is cheery by the book’s final pages.
Reading Metropolis, Ben Wilson's ambitious history of the city writ large, is akin to confronting all this urban potential energy. Chapters are tied to specific times and places, but the scale of the undertaking and the interconnectedness of the globe mocks a truly linear approach ... Overall there is more to recommend Metropolis than to fault it, however, and Wilson has done an admirable job wrangling his topic down to an easily digestible size. And like any trip to the city, there will be spots you want to revisit, and others you're happy to never see again. It doesn't mean you shouldn't make the journey.