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Twelve Cities by John Gunther
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Twelve Cities (1967)

by John Gunther

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Journalist presents a sort of biography of great contemporary cities -- declaiming this "the age of great cities". I agree. Same author writes the "inside __" books regarding countries and continents.
  keylawk | Mar 16, 2013 |
The author was an American press and TV journalist, born at the turn of the last century and most known for a series of travel narratives based on the ”inside” look. He authored over 40 books and died in 1970.

This work was written over several trips in 1967 and is therefore, of course, somewhat dated as to the cities descriptions, politics and populations. Partly this is because of his choice of cities – Moscow, Warsaw, Jerusalem, Beirut and Tokyo – form a sort of epicenter of dynamics and change. His narrative is written in a fairly conventional and conversational prose, no sparkling interplay like Jan Morris, or Paul Theroux would offer the reader, and one repeated “twitch” he allows himself all too often, infuriated this reader. On several instances in the midst of descriptions of history or culture he deploys that rather strange excuse “… but space forbids further explanations here… in this work”. I actually margin-scribbled about the third of fourth time – “Take the ploody space man – tell us!”

He is heart-wrenching in Warsaw and the figures and descriptions of two million Jewish slaughtered there in the uprising against the Nazis still disturb – no matter how often we may have read of then before, and he is lyrical of Beirut, as it was in the still French-influenced time before the period of the “Six Day War” in the region. Of the current squalor, trash, and corruption he writes…” Beirut commits treason against itself.”

A turn of phrase that none of us who remember her in earlier years would dispute. An interesting book for any arm-chair traveller, but not recommended or offered as a guide for any current trips.
  John_Vaughan | Aug 1, 2012 |
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Still as easily readable as ever, these summary cityscapes confirm what Gunther's audience may have seen or is most likely to see. Where possible there are the overall judgments: Paris--""balance, lucidity, precision""; London--""grace, durability, style""; while Rome provides ""no easy answers."" Although the emphasis varies from city to city, there are general perspectives of politics, quartiers, foods and nightclubs (the only aspects of Hamburg and Vienna considered), services, social strata, sites and sights, arts and letters.
 
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Dedicated with pleasure to DeWitt and Lila Acheson Wallace -- Pleasantville 1938 - Tokyo 1966
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