Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
Sennett's study of urban culture began with a discourse on public and private life, The Fall of Public Man ( LJ 12/15/76), and continued with the historical novel, Palais Royal ( LJ 12/86). This, the final installment of his loose ``trilogy,'' seeks to relate architecture, urban planning, and sculpture to the cultural life of cities, from the time of ancient Athens to late 20th-century New York. The author achieves a great deal more, for he offers a broad humanistic reflection on many of the elements that constitute modern culture: literature, spiritual rootlessness, philosophy, music, poetry, ballet, bars, and public baths. The central thesis, that modern humans suffer because of the dichotomy between their subjective private experience and their outside public life, is thoroughly persuasive. Almost every page of this elegantly written work of cultural history contains food for thought, e.g., ``The essence of developing as a human being is developing the capacity for ever more complex experience.'' For general collections.-- Bennett D. Hill, Georgetown Univ., Washington, D.C. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
The neutral, sterile environment of the modern city results from urban planners ``in the grip of a Protestant ethic of space,'' writes the author. Arguing that our grid-like streets, pubic plazas, shopping malls and tourist spaces signal a fear of exposure to human diversity and sensory experience, Sennett ( The Fall of Public Man ) traces urban alienation back to medieval Christian cities, which emphasized shelter within buildings. Most Enlightenment planners sought to take people outside--but into fields and forests rather than into streets filled with jostling crowds. Turning instead for inspiration to Renaissance street life, European town squares, English terrace houses and the glass architecture of greenhouses and arcades, Sennett offers a radical, original rethinking of our relationship to the built environment. Regrettably, he fails to examine how redirecting the material forces of money and politics might rehumanize the city. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Sennett returns again to a theme that he has been developing for several decades: the deadly impact of our separation of life into public and private spheres, a separation whose most telling features are found in the design of the built environment. Architects and urban planners have been so concerned with order that they have drained away opportunities for discovery, spontaneity, and diversity. Sennett's "data" are his own reflections on his routine movements around Manhattan. His journeys from his Greenwich Village home to his favorite restaurants on the East Side provides the background to his observations on the negative effect that segmented spaces have on the human potential for spiritual fulfillment. What is remarkable is that for all of the sadness and malaise Sennett finds, there remains in his writing a certain hope and promise that a more humane society, with appropriate scale and sense of place, is possible. This is not any easy book to read and is certainly not aimed at the general public but, for those concerned with urban society and with the human condition, it is an important contribution. -J. R. Hudson, Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg