Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization

Sennett, Richard

Flesh and Stone is a new history of the city in Western civilization, one that tells the story of urban life through bodily experience. It is a story of the deepest parts of life - how women and men moved in public and private spaces, what they saw and heard, the smells that assailed their noses, where they are, how they dressed, the mores of bathing and of making love - all in the spaces of the city from ancient Athens to modern New York. Early in Flesh and Stone Richard Sennett probes the ways in which the ancient Athenians experienced nakedness, and the relation of nakedness to the shape of the ancient city, its troubled politics, and the inequalities between men and women. The story then moves to Rome in the time of the Emperor Hadrian, exploring the Roman beliefs in the geometrical perfection of the body. This mechanical view of the flesh was expressed in the strict geometry of urban design and in the hard lines of Rome's imperial power. It also provided Christianity with a monolith to confront, setting up a great struggle in history - the things of Caesar versus the things of God. The second part of the book examines how Christian beliefs about the body related to the Christian city. Christ's physical suffering on the Cross offered medieval Parisians a way to think about places of charity and sanctuary in the city; these spaces nestled uneasily among streets given over to the release of physical aggression in a new market economy. By the Renaissance, Christian ideals of community were challenged as non-Christians and non-Europeans were drawn into the European orbit; these threatening differences were brutally articulated in the creation of the Jewish Ghetto in Venice and the fear of touching that the Ghetto exemplified. The final part of Flesh and Stone deals with what happened to urban space as modern scientific understanding of the body cut free from ancient pagan and Christian beliefs. Harvey's science, revealing the body as a circulating system, paral This completely unique history tells the story of urban life over 2,500 years through the bodily experience of men and women: what sights, smells, and noises they took in, how they dressed, how they made love, when they bathed, and more--in great cities from ancient Athens to modern New York. Editorial Reviews Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly Sennett (The Fall of Public Man) has produced an engrossing history of the city told through its people's movements: how they dressed, bathed and made love, where they ate, what they saw and heard. He first examines Athenians' celebration of nakedness and the Romans' use of geometrical images derived from the human body to impose order on their imperial realm. Next he brings us to the 13th-century Paris of Notre Dame Cathedral, where burgeoning enterprises challenged the Christian sense of place and community. A New York Univeristy sociologist, Sennett discusses the creation of Venice's Jewish ghetto in the 16th century, then links William Harvey's discoveries about blood circulation to individualized movement and bodily freedom in revolutionary 18th-century Paris. In the modern multicultural metropolis, he says the buildings contribute to a lack of emotional connection, as well as monotony and sensory deprivation. Sennett forces us to rethink architecture, social history and urban design and planning. Photos. (Sept.) Library Journal Sennett (sociology, NYU) has constructed a truly unique study of the human history of cities. He tackles the history of the development of the city in terms of the human body's function and perception. He describes the city's activities in the terminology of physiology (i.e., veins, arteries), in political terms (i.e., class, race), and through other labeling and divisive terms. His examination includes city plans, architectural design and public transportation, and the movement of peoples. Sennett's examples span the continuum of Western civilization. He explores the concept of the body in Athens, Rome, Paris, Venice, London, and New York. His prose is direct and accessible to even the most beginning student. However, his "body" metaphors at times stray from his purpose, diluting his otherwise fascinating presentation. Recommended for academic libraries and only larger public libraries.-Jenny Presnell, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, Ohio Donna Seaman In such books as "The Conscience of the Eye: The Design and Social Life of Cities" 1990 and this highly original, multidisciplinary history, Sennett explores the link between perception of our physical self and the shape of our cities. He has selected six cities at significant points in their evolution, beginning with ancient Athens and the cult of nakedness. For the city's male citizens, exposure was proof of strength and power, and they displayed their bodies in public places notable for their openness and airiness. In Hadrian's Rome, on the other hand, the "visual order" of symmetrical design reassured a populace more attuned to the body's vulnerability to illness, age, and violence. Moving forward in time, Sennett analyzes shifting attitudes toward the body, spirituality, health, sexuality, politics, prejudice, and economics, uncovering rarely considered facts about life in the Jewish ghetto of Renaissance Venice, in Paris during its medieval and revolutionary eras, in Edwardian London, and in contemporary New York. In each setting, he demonstrates the ways in which increased medical and scientific knowledge influenced the structure of cities as well as the interface between church and state, body and soul. New York Review of Books An enthralling subject. . . . A compassionate and inquiring [book].-- Richard Jenkyns Chicago Tribune "Fascinating . . . the drama of urban life springs alive for the reader." Washington Post Book World "Flesh and Stone is a fascinating excursion with an erudite guide. Sennett writes with intelligence and grace. . . ." Richard Jenkyns - New York Review of Books "An enthralling subject. . . . A compassionate and inquiring [book]." New York Review of Books - Richard Jenkyns "An enthralling subject. . . . A compassionate and inquiring [book]."

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