The Future Cities Readers’ Group is a book club with a difference providing an alternative to the conventional focus on fiction books. We meet monthly to discuss all kinds of contemporary texts from architecture to anthropology and population to philosophy.
Readers’ Groups are invite only. For further information, or if you wish to be added to the Readers’ Group mailing list, email us at email@example.com
Our next Readers’ Group discussion
4 June 2013
The Reward Society
Tom Monion says that we now accept as normal the ‘dishonesty, idleness and lack of thought for others that in the past wouldn’t have been tolerated. He suggests a combination of casino capitalism and welfare dependency has undermined personal responsibility, either by encouraging a sense of entitlement or by rewarding people for staying poor and seeing themselves as victims.
This book seems skeptical of the plethora of interventions by the state into the lives of ordinary people such as social workers intervening in the lives or ‘anti-social’ families which he argues actually will increase dependency. Instead, he wants to create a culture of thrift, hard work, good diets, neighbourliness and civic pride. But are these solutions really innovative? Can the state encourage people to be responsible without infantalising them?
Email us for further information or if you wish to be added to the Readers’ Group mailing list.
16 April 2013
There is No Such Thing As a Free Press… and we need one more than ever
Whatever the latest twists in the negotiations over press regulation in the aftermath of Leverson, all sides appear to agree that the press is too free to run wild and must be tamed one way or another. Whether statutory regulation or a royal charter, the fine print of how the press is to be regulated seems to come before standing up for the bigger principles of press freedom.
This month’s Readers’ Group book is There is No Such Thing As a Free Press….and we need one more than ever by Mick Hume who argues that there are problems with the way we view the press today. He both challenges the distorted perceptions about the role of the media and makes a bold argument for true freedom of the press.
Buy this book from Amazon UK
12 March 2013
Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives
‘Food shapes cities, and through them, it moulds us’. For Steel, feeding cities arguably has a greater social and physical impact on us and our planet than anything else we do. She sets out to use food in order to trace the critical path of urban civilisation, viewing it as a means to rethink the future of cities.
Buy this book from Amazon UK
29 January 2013
‘The New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalization and the End of Mass Production’ by Peter Marsh
Many believe that in the West the game is up for the old industrial and manufacturing economies and that economic power is inexorably shifting east. However, a new brand of optimist – epitomised by Peter Marsh, the Manufacturing Editor of the Financial Times – believe that the west still has an important economic role in which manufacturing is key. With a broad historical sweep, here Marsh makes the case for and lays out the features of what he believes to be a fifth industrial revolution.
12 December 2012
‘Invisible Cities’ by Italo Calvino
Upon hearing of Italo Calvino’s death in September of 1985, John Updike commented, “Calvino took fiction into new places where it had never been before, and back into the fabulous and ancient sources of narrative.” Invisible Cities has been described as ‘classically modernist’ and ‘giddily postmodern’, and according to Gore Vidal it is “perhaps the most beautiful work.” So is it over-hyped or a contemporary classic? Come and discuss over a Xmas glass of wine.
Buy this book from Amazon UK
7 November 2012
‘The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better’ by Tyler Cowen
“America is in disarray and our economy is failing us.” In the year of a lacklustre American election, a generalised sense exists that the future ain’t what it used to be. The Great Stagnation suggests an alternative to blaming the banks and instead explores whether the era of rapid economic growth, particularly of improvements associated with technological progress, may have been at an end for some time – and if this means that a prolonged period of economic stagnation could lie ahead. Is the argument true? If so, what might it imply? And what might be the means to overcome it?
Buy this book from Amazon UK
4 September 2012
‘Ground Control: Fear and happiness in the twenty-first Century’ by Anna Minton
From Canary Wharf to the Olympic park, the last 30 years have seen considerable regeneration in our cities. But at what cost? For Anna Minton, the desire to renew our cities has inadvertently led to a divided country that segregates rich and poor, ensures that all new build benefits corporations at the expense of public good, and facilitates a sanitised and sterile society. Does this tell the whole story? Why is it that innovation in urban planning seems to be driven by the needs of finance and consumerism and does it matter as long as the architecture is good? Is equality more important in how we plan our cities or should we set our sights on a more inventive as well as a more free vision of city life?
12 July 2012
Film screening of ‘Utopia London’
Utopia London directed by Tom Cordell, described as a “visually stunning documentary about the 20th century rebuilding of London by modernist architects” These modernist architects were united around a vision -using science and art to create a society of equal citizens. The film shows how they revolutionised life in the city in the wake of destruction from WWII and eliminated the poor living conditions inherited from the Industrial Revolution.
12 June 2012
‘Emerging Africa: how 17 countries are leading the way’ by Steven C. Radelet
The prevailing view of Africa in the West is that Africa is a basketcase, a hopeless continent. Radelet argues that this view is increasingly out of date. Across the continent many countries have defied expectations and have launched a remarkable, if little noticed, turnaround.
‘Together: the rituals, politics and pleasures of co-operation’ by Richard Sennett
Together traces the evolution of cooperative rituals in medieval churches and guilds, Renaissance workshops and courts, early modern laboratories and diplomatic embassies. In our lives today, it explains the trials and prospects of cooperation online, face-to-face in ethnic conflicts, among financial workers and community organizers. Exploring the nature of cooperation, why it has become weak, and how it could be strengthened, this visionary book offers a new way of seeing how humans can live together.
Introduced by Dave Clements. Read his review here
‘The First London Olympics: 1908′ by Rebecca Jenkins
“In the light of the forthcoming Olympics of 2012, it seems appropriate to revisit the first London Games. This is a tale of the extraordinary endeavours of ordinary men – sugar bakers and policemen and market gardeners. And more – there is a White City of palaces built by an Hungarian showman and a heroically dutiful sporting aristocrat and the greatest stadium in the world (at the time).”
Read Alison Walker’s introduction to the discussion here
’The Lure of the City: from slums to suburbs’ edited by Austin Williams and Alastair Donald
Cities, by their very nature, are a mass of contradictions. They can be at once visually stunning, culturally rich, exploitative and unforgiving. This book explores the potential of cities to meet the economic, social and political challenges of the current age. The short, accessibly written essays are guaranteed to spark debate across the media and academia about the place of cities and urban life in our ever-changing world.
’The End of the West: the once and future Europe’ by David Marquand
Has Europe’s extraordinary postwar recovery limped to an end? It would seem so. David Marquand argues that Europe’s problems stem from outdated perceptions of global power, and calls for a drastic change in European governance to halt the continent’s slide into irrelevance.
Read David Bowden’s introduction to the discussion here
‘Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity’ by Raymond Tallis
Tallis exposes the exaggerated claims made for the ability of neuroscience and evolutionary theory to explain human consciousness, behaviour, culture and society and promises to show that human beings are infinitely more interesting and complex than they appear in the mirror of ‘biologism’. By minimising the differences between humans and their nearest animal kin, we may find reasons for treating each other like them.
’Made in Britain: How the Nation Earns its Living’ by Evan Davis
Looking at how Britain pays its way in the world today. This book is about the things that Britain produces from physical goods that we can see and feel, to intangible services that are much harder to quantify. We shouldn’t assume finance is modern, and manufacturing. What matters is what sells and for how much.
‘The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen’ by Kwame Anthony Appiah
Over the last few centuries, new democratic movements have led to the emancipation of women, slaves and the oppressed. What drove these modern changes, Appiah argues, was not imposing legislation from above but harnessing the ancient power of honour from within.
‘The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life’ by Bettany Hughes
Socrates’ aphorism ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’ may have originated 25 centuries ago, but it’s a founding principle of modern life.
‘The Genius in All of Us: why everything you’ve been told about genes, talent and intelligence is wrong’ by David Shenk
David Shenk argues that talent- for piano playing, sprinting, designing computers, you name it – is not a thing we’re gifted from birth and coded in our genes, but a process – a lifelong project. Integrating cutting-edge research from cognitive science, genetics, biology, child development – Shenk portrays a highly optimistic new view of human potential.
‘The Beijing Consensus: How China’s Authoritarian Model Will Dominate the 21st Century’ by Stefan Halper
Foreign Affairs magazine writes: “Disagreeing with those who think that a search for respectability will lead China to scale back its relations with rogue states, Halper argues that Beijing is locked into such relationships due to its dependence on natural resources. Likewise, he doubts that China will democratize as it grows richer, because it is wealth that underwrites the regime’s legitimacy. In Halper’s telling, the real threat facing the West is the West’s own failure to practice and promote its values.”
‘Beauty’ by Roger Scruton
“Everything I have said about the experience of beauty implies that it is rationally founded.”
Is beauty in the eye of the beholder, or is there some eternal essence that transcends personal experience? This is a fascinating book about beauty, that doesn’t attempt to define it.
‘Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents’ by Ian Baruma
Baruma asks whether religious ideas and practices undermine the very notion of the independent functions of a secular society; but he also wonders whether a secular framework of the rule of law is enough without the role of ethics, ideals, values and beliefs.
Introduced by Steve Nash. Read his review here
‘Whole Earth Discipline: An ecopragmatist manifesto’ by Stewart Brand
With a combination of scientific analysis, Brand attempts to show where the sources of our dilemmas lie and offers a bold and “creative” set of policies and solutions for producing a more sustainable society.’
Introduced by Rob Lyons, Deputy Editor of Spiked Online. Read his review here
‘Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy’ by Stephen Duncombe
With probably the most uninspiring general election in living memory almost upon us, is the solution to the lack of ideas in politics to dream, to connect more with the aspirations of people? Duncombe grappled with a similar problem in the wake of the Bush assendancy. But was Obama a successful attempt to utilise what he calls ‘Dreampolitik’ and why did it go sour? Could it work over here?
’Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World’ by Barbara Ehrenreich
“Barbara Ehrenreich confronts the cult of positive thinking in America – from the women with breast cancer who find themselves surrounded by pink ribbons and platitudes, to the refusal to consider negative outcomes in business which contributed directly to the recent economic disaster.”
‘The Bully State: The End of Tolerance’ by Brian Monteith
“We won’t lose the freedoms that we cherish by a military coup or some great cataclysmic war engulfing us, but through the gradual invasion of our private lives by the very politicians we elect to protect us – and all in the cause of looking after our health.”