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Publisher's Summary

A pioneering exploration of four cities where East meets West and past becomes future: St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Dubai.

Every month, five million people move from the past to the future. Pouring into developing-world "instant cities" like Dubai and Shenzhen, these urban newcomers confront a modern world cobbled together from fragments of a West they have never seen. Do these fantastical boomtowns, where blueprints spring to life overnight on virgin land, represent the dawning of a brave new world? Or is their vaunted newness a mirage?

In a captivating blend of history and reportage, Daniel Brook travels to a series of major metropolitan hubs that were once themselves instant cities - St. Petersburg, Shanghai, and Mumbai - to watch their "dress rehearsals for the 21st century." Understanding today's emerging global order, he argues, requires comprehending the West's profound and conflicted influence on developing-world cities over the centuries.

In 1703, Tsar Peter the Great personally oversaw the construction of a new Russian capital, a "window on the West" carefully modeled on Amsterdam, that he believed would wrench Russia into the modern world. In the 19th century, Shanghai became the fastest-growing city on earth as it mushroomed into an English-speaking, Western-looking metropolis that just happened to be in the Far East. Meanwhile, Bombay, the cosmopolitan hub of the British Raj, morphed into a tropical London at the hands of its pith-helmeted imperialists.

Juxtaposing the stories of the architects and authoritarians, the artists and revolutionaries who seized the reins to transform each of these precociously modern places into avatars of the global future, Brook demonstrates that the drive for modernization was initially conflated with wholesale Westernization.

©2013 Daniel Brook (P)2013 Audible, Inc.

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Engaging and Memorable

Very engaging. The stories of how St. Petersburg, Bombay, Dubai and Shanghai came to be what they are today are complex. At times they're inspirational, a testament to the power that one person's vision can have to influence a huge number of people, but just as often, the history of these cities are cautionary tales of what happens when idealism trumps pragmatism and power is concentrated too narrowly. Well worth the read.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Andy
  • Westport, CT, United States
  • 06-27-13

in many ways, deja vu

Daniel Brook does a great job here sharing the story of how and why several world class cities developed. Even more interesting was when he dives into how these cities changed over time, what similarities they share and what may happen in the years ahead.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating comparative case study of four cities

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would because it offers astute comparisons of four cities and how their drive for modernity and an adoption of some Western values impacted their inhabitants and larger countries. Given the breakneck speed of globalization, such a discussion is interesting and timely.

What about Michael Butler Murray’s performance did you like?

He was very clear and easy to understand and kept a brisk pace.

Any additional comments?

Very interesting book where the author takes four non-Western cities (St. Petersburg/Leningrad; Bombay/Mumbai; Shanghai; and Dubai) that were all built with an eye to the West. In the author's fun turn of phrase, "Their occidental looks are anything but accidental." All four cities have odd blends of Western looks in Eastern cities, and all four have had issues where the visual and economic modernity of the cities (and their partial embrace of the West) ran afoul of other ideals (including, in almost every case, an avoidance of certain Western values like freedom of speech). <br/><br/>The book lays out the history (in broad strokes) of each city, how each came into being, the image it was trying to project, the tensions it caused with the broader culture of the home country, and what it meant to local identity. The overview is fascinating, with similarities and differences offering much food for thought (e.g., what difference did it make that St. Petersburg and Dubai were envisioned by their respective country's elites, where Bombay and Shanghai were devised by foreign conquerors?). I come away very interested in reading more about St. Petersburg (and Peter the Great), learning more about Shanghai and Bombay/Mumbai, and keeping an eye on developments in Dubai.