Blogs > HNN > Jane Jacobs, RIP

Apr 26, 2006 1:02 pm


Jane Jacobs, RIP



This is the second memorial post I've had to write in a row. I regret I can't quite do either person justice right now.

I finished reading Jane Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American Cities eleven years ago--it was the spring of 1995--in a hotel room in Chicago. (I bought it and started reading it in that very deadest and most dismal of American cities, South Bend, Indiana.) I still remember the sense of exhiliration I felt when I read the last word on the last page and closed the book. The experience is as vivid to me as events that might have taken place yesterday or last week. Her prose was like that: it had the vividness of a classic novel and the clarity of classic philosophy. I can't say that of very much that I've read in the eleven years since I read Death and Life.

I read nearly all her books, but my favorites happen to be Death and Life and the under-appreciated and philosophically rich Systems of Survival, which made a lasting impression on me. It is, I think, symptomatic of our culture and discourse that Systems of Survival is so little discussed or understood, and that it inspires feelings of anger and contempt in so many ill-informed and undiscerning critics.

It almost seems an act of ingratitude to leave it at that, but for now, I'll have to content myself with linking to the New York Timesobituary, which captures at least a bit of the moral and intellectual excitement she generated.

A real loss for the republic of letters.

P.S. I just noticed that I wrote a small appreciation of Systems of Survival a year ago on the Amazon website:

an excellent, underrated book, March 26, 2005 Reviewer: Irfan A. Khawaja

This is a superb, underrated book. Ignore the"sophisticated" naysayers and read it for yourself. There is, page for page, more insight here than you'll find in almost any work of academic philosophy or sociology on the same subjects. It will, of course, strike you as"simplistic" if you're offended by the book's message, its implications, or the unapologetic clarity with which the author defends her thesis. But that's not much of an objection.
I couldn't have said it better myself.



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