The Geography of Nowhere
by James Howard Kunstler

Okay, so for starters: this book was such horseshit, I fought myself throughout chapter 4 and then gave up. I couldn't subject myself to it anymore- the level of ahistorical omissions in the early chapters honestly made me real life angry, and in the fight between 'let's see how bad it gets' VS 'don't piss yourself off on purpose for a stupid book' I'm glad it was the latter that won.

I picked this book up at the start of the month, after it had been sitting in my library list for a good while. I think saw it highly reccomended on a tumblr post a while back (which I will link here if I ever manage to find it again in the wild) that was discussing the struggles of suburbia and why suburban life is... such a nightmare. The post itself seemed well-informed, and I was already interested in the ways that city planning intersect with enviromental and social issues. Given the political lean of tumblr (or at least my corner of tumblr) I'd assumed this book would have more information on the history of the rise of cars, or how white flight developed the hellscape of surburbia that we see today.

This was not the case.

The introductory chapter was well enough, the author talking about his childhood moving to various types of town, and seeing the stark differences between them. I learned some fun words, like conurbation and primogenature, and then....... it got weird.

"Individualism, at first, only saps the virtues of public life; but in the long run it attacks and destroys all others and is at length absorbed in selfishness."

Not that this statement, a quote from Alexis de Tocqueville on page 27, is weird in and of itself- but what makes it weird is that Kunstler included it- see, on his wikipedia page, he has his own section for political views. Views that I would not exactly describe as being, uh, compatable with this specifc quote. And so I wondered- this book was published in 1993, and all of the covid-denalism / Trump worship couldn't possibly come into play until the 2010s- so maybe the rest of this book was normal and then the slide of madness came later? It was possible! Right?

No. It was not the case.

Chapter two was full of pages describing the robust middle-class ethics of a doomed dutch colony, while making startling comparisons between it's temporary success and slaveholding southern states, and dispite these early chapters being primarily concerned with the early days of colonization in north america, Native Americans were only mentioned once- when discussing the failures of an english colony that probably would have survived were it not located between two warring tribes.

It was baffling.

I finally put the book down at this quote, which is discussing the urban planning practices that dominated after America gained independance from England:

"The Grid was a product of the era's neoclassical spirit, at once pratical and idealistic. It was rational, mathematical, and democratic. It was fair and square, and easy to understand."

....yeah, that's exactly how I would describe the genocidal hey-day of landgrabbing- what the fuck? God.

The part of me that wanted to continue at this point was purely curious as to how Kunstler would describe the development of suburbia, and in what banal way the racism of segregated housing would be glossed over- but, I didn't want to. There's other things to read in the world, things I would enjoy a lot more.

The remaining question of this work that I do have is more focused on that tumblr post, though- who fucking reccomded this piece of shit book? Did they even read it, or was it just in a google search of 'books about suburbia' that they pulled from a list? The former, while a depression possibility, isn't unlikely- all too often indegenous peoples are glossed over in modern history, and the average American White's understanding of USA history in particular is riddled with these blind spots. Maybe the reccomender didn't even notice- but that's what makes me so sad.

Anyways, fuck this awful book.





curator - home - book club