cover image Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster

Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster

Mike Davis. Metropolitan Books, $27.5 (484pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-5106-3

""I'm not summoning Armageddon,"" affirms Davis, a social historian and urban theorist whose 1990 NBCC-nominated, dystopian history of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, City of Quartz, is now a cult classic. Maybe so, but the portrait of a city on the brink presented in this powerful, if sometimes scattershot, follow-up volume is sure to remind readers of the Book of Revelations. The book takes Davis in a new direction--away from the politics of L.A. urban planning, toward geophysical threats to the city, ranging from earthquakes to fires, floods and killer bees. Davis's polemic will raise as many hackles as concerns: while L.A. officials proclaim each earthquake, flood, mud slide and wildfire as an exceptional event, southern California has been actually enjoying a benign climatic and seismic period, and more serious disasters lie ahead, he argues. These natural catastrophes have been compounded by the fact that in building L.A., developers have largely disregarded the region's topography and environment and built in areas prone to such ravages as wildfires and floods. As the population continues to spread into new areas, there will be, predicts the author, an increase in confrontations between the region's wildlife and settlers, a situation rendered more explosive by the widespread poverty and racial problems endemic to the city, and the vast disparities of relief services. As tense as the situation has become, it will worsen as the gap between the have and have-nots widens, he says. The future Davis envisions is credible and alarming, and his argument is bolstered by prose that is machete sharp and accompanied by an archive of stunning photos. Satellite photographs of L.A. during the riots of 1993 resembled those of an erupting volcano, he shows. Which, in Davis's blistering critique, is precisely what it is. Editor, Sara Bershtel (Aug.) FYI: Davis is a 1998 recipient of a McArthur Fellowship grant.