Davis, Mike 1946-
Davis, Mike 1946-
CAREER: Writer. Taught urban theory at the Southern California Institute of Architecture and the Getty Institute; Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY, instructor; University of California, Irvine, professor of history.
AWARDS, HONORS: Havens Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1997; MacArthur grant, 1998, for Ecology of Fear; Getty fellowship; Isaac Deutscher Award, London School of Economics, and Best Book in Urban Politics, American Political Science Association, both for City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles; Carey McWilliams Award, for Magical Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the U.S. City; Erich Shelling award, 2004; Esther McCoy Award, University of South Carolina Architectural Guild.
Prisoners of the American Dream: Politics and Economy in the History of the U.S. Working Class, Verso (London, England), 1986.
(Editor, with Manning Marable, Fred Pfeil, and Michael Sprinker) The Year Left 2: Toward a Rainbow Socialism, Verso (London, England), 1987.
(Editor, with Michael Sprinker) Reshaping the U.S. Left: Popular Struggles in the 1980s, Verso (New York, NY), 1988.
City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, photographs by Robert Morrow, Verso (New York, NY), 1990, revised edition, 2006.
(Editor, with others) Fire in the Hearth: The Radical Politics of Place in America, Verso (New York, NY), 1990.
Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster, Metropolitan Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Magical Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the U.S. City, Verso (New York, NY), 2000.
(Editor, with Hal K. Rothman) The Grit beneath the Glitter: Tales from the Real Las Vegas, University of California (Berkeley, CA), 2001.
Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World, Verso (New York, NY), 2001.
Dead Cities: And Other Tales, New Press (New York, NY), 2002.
(With Kelly Mayhew and Jim Miller) Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Will Never See, New Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Cronache Dall’s Impero (essays), introduction by Benedetto Vecchi, Manifestolibri (Rome, Italy), 2004.
The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu, New Press (New York, NY), 2005.
(With Justin Akers Chacon) No One Is Illegal: Fighting Violence and State Repression on the U.S.-Mexico Border, photographs by Julian Cardona, Haymarket Books (Chicago, IL), 2006.
Planet of Slums: Urban Involution and the Informal Working Class, Verso (London, England), 2006, Verso (New York, NY), 2007.
In Praise of Barbarians: Essays against Empire, Haymarket Books (Chicago, IL), 2007.
Buda’s Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb, Verso (London, England), 2007.
(Editor, with Daniel Bertrand Monk) Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism, New Press (New York, NY), 2007.
(With Forrest Hylton) Governments of the Poor: Politics and Survival in the Global Slum, Verso (London, England), 2007.
“ISLANDS MYSTERIOUS: WHERE SCIENCE REDISCOVERS WONDER” SERIES
Land of the Lost Mammoths, Perceval Press (Los Angeles, CA), 2003.
Pirates, Bats, and Dragons, Perceval Press (Los Angeles, CA), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Mike Davis is an American author, urban theorist, and historian known for his writings concerning issues relevant to Southern California. He was born in 1946 in Southern California, the son of Midwestern Irish-Welsh parents who hitchhiked to the Golden State during the Great Depression. At a young age, he developed an interest in social justice and was greatly influenced by an angry Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) demonstration in 1963. David Montgomery wrote in the Nation: “A veteran of civil rights, antiwar and trade union activity in the United States, and a member of the editorial collective of New Left Review, Davis has drawn attention to the structures of social power that have historically divided workers, frustrated their collective undertakings, limited their objectives and secured hegemony of capital.”
In Southern California Davis became involved in community organization. At that time he joined the Communist Party. He worked for a short time as a Hollywood tour guide, a job that sparked his interest in discovering the truths behind the gloss of Los Angeles. He learned of California’s history in part by reading the books of Southern California historian Carey McWilliams. At the age of thirty, Davis returned to formal study, taking on coursework in labor history at the University of California at Los Angeles. He then accepted an invitation to edit and write for the London-based Marxist journal New Left Review, and thus began his official writing career. He spent six years working at the journal’s London office. During his tenure, he instituted the “Haymarket” series at Verso, the publisher of the New Left Review. The series focused on radical studies of American culture and politics.
Verso published his first book, Prisoners of the American Dream: Politics and Economy in the History of the U.S. Working Class, a sobering critique that investigates the disorganization and depoliticization of American capitalism from the nineteenth century through the Reagan era. It is a collection of essays that explore the relationship between the socialist movement and American labor. Montgomery commented that the “more original and most important portion of his book is the study of the economic and social basis of contemporary American politics,” and found it to be a “perceptive and rigorous structural analysis.” Jonathan Kirsch in the Los Angeles Times Book Review stated: “Davis unabashedly seeks to rewrite history, although he chooses a curiously antique and overheated rhetoric in which to do so.”
Davis wrote City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, which presents a disquieting view of Los Angeles. Davis looks at the city’s history and finds that it has always been a land of inequities and conflict, from the eradication of Spanish farming in the 1840s to the gang fighting and police mismanagement of the early 1990s. In the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Alex Raksin found that “Davis mounts a successful attack on the notion of growth-as-panacea in a brilliant exegesis on how cities cannot prosper by wealth alone.”
Davis’s Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster offers another pessimistic view of the city. It argues that Los Angeles is a “uniquely explosive mixture of natural hazards and social contradictions,” and as such is continually threatened to collapse altogether. “Although theoretically unconvincing and factually dubious,” wrote Nick Gillespie in Reason, “Ecology of Fear is nonetheless a compelling document.” John Leonard, writing in the Nation, called it a “brilliant book,” while Harold Henderson, in Planning, found that “Davis’s masterful rhetoric is backed up by his instinct for the jarring composition.”
Davis envisioned City of Quartz and Ecology of Fear as being two volumes in a trilogy about Los Angeles. Suzanne Mantell, in an interview with Davis for Publishers Weekly, wrote: “The trilogy, he explains, derived from a fantasy. Three great thinkers, Walter Benjamin, Fernand Braudel, and Friedrich Engels, each with a different understanding of history and society, meet in a bar. They talk, trade ideas, agree to take a look at L.A. Benjamin writes City of Quartz. Braudel writes Ecology of Fear. Engels writes the third.”
With Magical Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the U.S. City, Davis follows the trend of the increasing Latino demographic, which he notes will result in social, economic, and linguistic change, and what he sees as a vibrant, blended international community of various Latino cultures. First, however, a number of obstacles must be overcome, including racism, and Latinos must strive for, and be given, more political and economic power. Library Journal reviewer Stephen L. Hupp wrote: “Davis’s political manifesto stands as a powerful statement on modern America.”
Davis and Hal K. Rothman, a history professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, are editors of The Grit beneath the Glitter: Tales from the Real Las Vegas, a collection that profiles the people who populate and bring Las Vegas to life and a study of the metamorphosis of the gambling town into an entertainment and tourism mecca.
Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World is Davis’s history of famines that occurred in Latin America, Asia, and Africa during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. He estimates that in three countries alone, Brazil, China, and India, between thirty-two and sixty-one million people died, with lower numbers of fatalities occurring in other countries. Davis writes of the two causes of the deaths, the “El Nino-Southern Oscillation” (ENSO) that resulted in agricultural losses, and the lack of social and economic policies to deal with the famines.
In reviewing the history in the New York Times Book Review, Amartya Sen wrote: “It is an illustrative book of the disastrous consequences of fierce economic inequality combined with a drastic imbalance of political voice and power. The late-Victorian tragedies exemplify a wider problem of human insecurity and vulnerability related, ultimately, to economic disparity and political disempowerment. The relevance of this highly informative book goes well beyond its immediate historical focus.”
In reviewing Dead Cities: And Other Tales, Booklist reviewer Donna Seaman called Davis an “intrepid scholar, and fiery writer.” Davis profiles cities, begining with New York and the events of September 11, 2001, noting the vulnerability of skyscrapers. He then focuses on cities that consume vast quantities of resources, particularly water, such as Las Vegas. He notes towns that have been forever contaminated by radioactive waste, the aftermath of weapons testing, most of which are in the West, and theorizes as to the consequences of another large meteor or asteroid striking earth or the collapse of the Arctic ice shelf. Seaman called this volume “an intense and significant intellectual journey.”
Davis recounts a history of killer flu epidemics beginning with the 1918 outbreak in The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu, then goes on to describe the consequences if the flu that infects fowl is transmitted to millions of humans worldwide. Humans have died of H5N1 in poorer countries, and these are the populations Davis most fears for, those who lack the resources and protections of wealthier nations. Many poor countries have no public health system, and even in the United States, the majority of states have no plan should a pandemic become an actuality. Davis also writes of the failures of government and private industry to provide adequate vaccines, in many cases based on profit-and-loss factors rather than need. As Davis wrote this book, two companies were manufacturing vaccines for the United States, while in 1976, there were thirty-seven U.S. manufacturers.
New York Times Book Review contributor Matt Stein-glass, who described this work as “brilliant,” felt that Davis’s explanation of “the virus’s avidity for mutation is among the finest ten pages of science journalism you are ever likely to read.”
In No One Is Illegal: Fighting Violence and State Repression on the U.S.-Mexico Border, Davis and Justin Akers Chacon compare anti-immigration sentiment and actions to the persecution of individual groups in the past and offer compromise solutions that would enable guest workers to cross into the United States within a controlled program. They write that if day workers can be documented, they can safely keep their jobs, and agribusiness would be pressured to raise poverty-level wages.
Planet of Slums: Urban Involution and the Informal Working Class is Davis’s study of the growing number of urban poor and those so poor that they are literally “warehoused” in slum conditions, with inadequate housing, sanitation, and clean water, often in swamps, on flood plains and toxic waste sites, and on the slopes of volcanoes. Davis notes many of the causes, including colonialism, particularly British, war, poverty-induced debt repayment, and neo-liberalism in international policymaking, that have resulted in more than one billion slum dwellers.
Progressive writer Amitabh Pal wrote: “This book is not for the faint of heart. The cataloging of the horrors of urban deprivation is hard to bear, even if Davis has a wry style that smooths the hard edge off some of his depictions.”
In Buda ’s Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb, Davis notes that in 1920, anarchist Michael Buda filled a horse-drawn wagon with explosives and detonated it on Wall Street, killing forty and wounding two hundred people. He goes on to study other individual cases in which such devices were used by terrorists and criminals and describes the ease with which they can be made and the fact that they cannot be easily detected. Writing in Military Review, Peter Molin commented: “Buda’s Wagon offers much to think about. Davis’s ability to recall and make vivid forgotten chapters in the history of low-intensity combat is impressive.”
Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism is a collection of essays edited by Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk that study how the growth and development of many urban cities is planned around the wants and needs of the elite.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Journal of Economics and Sociology, review of The Grit beneath the Glitter: Tales from the Real Las Vegas, p. 595.
American Scientist, January-February, 2006, Robert Dorit, review of The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu, p. 72.
Architecture, May, 2006, Liane Lefaivre, review of Planet of Slums: Urban Involution and the Informal Working Class, p. 95.
Arena, March, 2006, Annie Davis and Rachel Power, review of Planet of Slums, p. 54; April-May, 2007, Ben Gook, review of Planet of Slums, p. 52.
Booklist, September 15, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of Dead Cities: And Other Tales, p. 185; July 1, 2007, Brendan Driscoll, review of Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism, p. 13.
Canadian Dimension, September-October, 2006, Bryan D. Palmer, review of Planet of Slums, p. 53.
Capital & Class, spring, 2007, Richard Leitch, review of Planet of Slums, p. 146.
Economist, February 17, 2007, review of Buda’s Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb, p. 87.
Financial Times, August 19, 2000, Ludovic Hunter Til-ney, review of Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster, p. 5.
Geographical Review, July, 2000, Daniel D. Arreola, review of Magical Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the U.S. City, p. 456; October, 2002, Pauliina Raento, review of The Grit beneath the Glitter, p. 617.
Houston Chronicle, October 9, 2005, Allan Vorda, review of The Monster at Our Door, p. 18.
Internet Bookwatch, November, 2006, review of No One Is Illegal: Fighting Violence and State Repression on the U.S.-Mexico Border; November, 2007, review of In Praise of Barbarians: Essays against Empire.
Journal of International Affairs, spring-summer, 2006, John O’Kane, review of The Monster at Our Door, p. 373.
Journal of the American Planning Association, summer, 2004, Clara Irazabal, review of The Grit beneath the Glitter, p. 376.
Journal of the Southwest, winter, 2001, Theodore Hamm, review of Ecology of Fear, p. 747.
Journal of World History, December 14, 2007, Christopher Cottrell, review of Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World, p. 577.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2002, review of Dead Cities, p. 1277.
Library Journal, June 1, 2000, Stephen L. Hupp, review of Magical Urbanism, p. 172; April 1, 2002, Andrew Brodie Smith, review of The Grit beneath the Glitter, p. 128; October 15, 2002, Tim Delaney, review of Dead Cities, p. 86; September 15, 2005, Irwin Weintraub, review of The Monster at Our Door, p. 86; March 1, 2007, Stephen L. Hupp, review of Buda’s Wagon, p. 94.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 29, 1986, Jonathan Kirsch, review of Prisoners of the American Dream: Politics and Economy in the History of the U.S. Working Class, p. 7; December 9, 1990, Alex Raksin, review of City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, pp. 1, 12.
Military Review, November-December, 2007, Peter Mo-lin, review of Buda’s Wagon, p. 117.
Monthly Review, December, 2003, Brett Clark, review of Dead Cities, p. 33.
Mother Jones, November-December, 2002, review of Dead Cities, p. 79.
NACLA Report on the Americas, January-February, 2007, Stuart Schrader, review of Planet of Slums, p. 46; September-October, 2007, review of Evil Paradises, p. 50.
Nation, July 19, 1986, David Montgomery, review of Prisoners of the American Dream, p. 52; October 5, 1998, John Leonard, review of Ecology of Fear, p. 35; February 22, 1999, Jon Wiener, “LA Story: Backlash of the Booster”; January 6, 2003, Jane Holtz Kay, review of Dead Cities, p. 32.
National Catholic Reporter, March 12, 1999, John Ol-inger, review of Ecology of Fear, p. 10.
New York Times, January 27, 1999, Todd S. Purdum, “Best-selling Author’s Gloomy Future for Los Angeles Meets Resistance.”
New York Times Book Review, February 18, 2001, Amartya Sen, review of Late Victorian Holocausts, p. 12; November 3, 2002, John Sutherland, review of Dead Cities, p. 7; November 27, 2005, Matt Ste-inglass, review of The Monster at Our Door, p. 27.
Planning, September, 1998, Harold Henderson, review of Ecology of Fear, p. 23.
Progressive, June, 2006, Amitabh Pal, review of Planet of Slums, p. 42.
Progressive Architecture, August, 1992, Richard Weinstein, review of City of Quartz, p. 77.
Publishers Weekly, August 31, 1998, Suzanne Mantell, interview, p. 42; May 15, 2000, review of Magical Urbanism, p. 103; September 2, 2002, review of Dead Cities, p. 64; January 22, 2007, review of Buda’s Wagon, p. 174; May 14, 2007, review of Evil Paradises, p. 43.
Reason, March, 1999, Nick Gillespie, review of Ecology of Fear, p. 62.
Science, April 27, 2001, Vaclav Smil, review of Late Victorian Holocausts, p. 644.
Times Literary Supplement, January 9, 1987, Alex Key-ssar, review of Prisoners of the American Dream, p. 31.
Traffic, January, 2006, Melissa Kamp, review of Planet of Slums, p. 218.
UN Chronicle, September-November, 2006, David Sat-terthwaite, review of Planet of Slums, p. 27.
Victorian Studies, spring, 2003, James Epstein, review of Late Victorian Holocausts, p. 529.
BLDGBLOG,http://bldgblog.blogspot.com/ (May 22, 2006), “Interview with Mike Davis: Part I.”
LA Weekly Online,http://www.laweekly.com/ (December 14, 2007), interview.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (December 14, 2007), Veronique de Turenne, “Is Mike Davis’s Los Angeles All in His Head?,” interview.
San Diego Reader Online,http://www.sdreader.com/ (April 6, 2006), Juris Jurjevics, “Planet of Slums,” interview.
Seven Oaks,http://www.sevenoaksmag.com/ (April 8, 2006), Derrick O’Keefe, review of Planet of Slums.
Voices of Resistance from Occupied London,http://occupiedlondon.org/davis/ (February 23, 2007), “Resisting, Subverting and Destroying the Apparatus of Surveillance and Control: An Interview with Mike Davis.”*