Author: Daniel Brook
Date read: Julu 2018
How strongly I recommend it: 7/10
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Unless you are an urban architrecture (or history) fanboy, A History of Future Cities is one of those books that you'd like to read à la Naval Ravikant.
For me, it was a fascinating big book that I picked up every time I was in search of a challenging, enlightening read.
I need to come clean: I didn't read it all. But you don't need to. You can do like I did, and pick the cities and/or time frames you are keen on learning more about. You'll be fine.
Personally, I enjoyed reading about the origins of St. Petersbourg and how Dubai became the Arab business powerhouse it is today.
Both are fascinating cities, built by a single personality with grandiosity in mind, yet compleetely different.
If you are travelling to St. Petersbourg, Dubai, Shangahai or Mumbai, pick up this book. You'll look at the city in a completely different way. You'll feel like an insider.
As mentioned, I didn't read the entire book. But two lessons struck a cord with me.
First, if you want to learn, learn by doing. In 1696, Peter I, Tsar of All The Russians, announced his intention to journey to the West, and steal their technology for the betterment of Russia.
Since he knew he wouldn't be welcome, he travelled as Peter Mikhailov, a Russian carpenter hoping to hone his skills. He spent years in Amsterdam, honing his crafts and learning from masters.
The result: Saint Petersbourg.
Second, and most importantly, progress was challenged and feared everywhere since the beginning of times, and specially if it intervenes with the powerful.
We can see it today with the Uber expansion in cities like Barcelona or Buenos Aires. But it's a common theme in history. In ancient China, the emperor refused every technological advancement that might threaten his position of power.
Under the gloss of Chinese cultural chauvinism, the emperor used his authority to quarantine technology in Shanghai, the modern world in a single city.
He prohibited taipans of Shanghai to build railroad in China, wary that they would help foreigners and damage the Chinese economy. Similarly, the telegraph and electricity were obscured and quarentined in Shanghai.
In 1866, the American firm Russel & Co. had built a telegraph connecting Shanghai's French Concession with the newly merged British Settlment. That was all within foreign limits, but when the firm proposed a regional expansion into Chinese territory, it was stopped after a man died under the shadow of a telegraph pole.
People will go to extreme, ridiculous lengths to protect their positions of power.