Novelist │Urban Planning Advocate │Journalist │Social Critic
James Howard Kunstler had a successful career as a novelist and journalist when the scene outside his window, on his street—on most of the cities and streets in America—caught his attention: "the tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that
makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work."
Stunned by the pervasiveness of this all-fronts assault, he wrote his first critique of American architecture and urban planning, The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape
(1993). The book earned much attention and praise, launching him into the spotlight as a commentator on America’s man-man landscape: “Kunstler provides an accessible overview that’s all the more interesting and effective for his frankly expressed and all-enveloping viewpoint” (Kirkus Reviews
The book launched him into the spotlight as a commentator on America’s man-made landscape—a topic that he treats with great urgency. “A land full of places that are not worth caring about will soon be a nation and a way of life that is not worth defending.” Reminding us that we are where we live, he says, “The future will require us to build better places, or the future will belong to other people in other societies.”
In print and in person, Kunstler speaks in a provocative, entertaining voice, applies a critical eye and has the good sense to write from passion. The Christian Science Monitor
noted that “disturbing others’ sense of normality is something Kunstler does well….everyone who knows his work acknowledges his power to wake up a crowd.”
He followed Geography
with Home from Nowhere: Remaking Our Everyday World for the Twenty-First Century in 1996.
Mike Weilbacher of The Philadelphia Inquirer
described it as a “deliciously wicked over-the-top nonfiction romp across the tortured terrain of suburban America. This book is a wonderful whack-on-the-side-of-the-head to an increasingly complacent country bent on turning everywhere into Nowhere.” The City in Mind: Meditations on the Urban Condition
(2001) is Kunstler’s third book in this urban-planning trilogy. In it he examines eight cities—Paris, Atlanta, Mexico City, Berlin, Las Vegas, Rome, Boston, and London—and discusses the ways in which their architecture and design have shaped their cultures and successes.
For his next work, Kunstler trained his eye on the oil crisis. The bestselling book The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of the Oil Age, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century
(Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005), expands on his past work on sprawl and automobile culture by exploring the sweeping economic, political and social changes that will result from the end of access to cheap fossil fuels.
“What sets The Long Emergency
apart from numerous other books on this theme is its comprehensive sweep—its powerful integration of science, technology, economics, finance, international politics and social change—along with a fascinating attempt to peer into a chaotic future. And Kunstler is such a compelling, fast-paced and sometimes eloquent writer that the book is hard to put down…Kunstler, like George Orwell, understands that being honest about the past and present is the only way to prepare ourselves for an uncertain future.”
His newest, Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation
(2012), expands on The Long Emergency. Kunstler evaluates what has changed in the last seven years, scrutinizing and questioning the various technologies being heralded as “magic bullet” solutions to the energy crisis, including vertical farms, fracking, and corn ethanol, but finds none he thinks can sustain a society fundamentally unwilling to significantly alter its energy-dependent lifestyle.
A seasoned journalist, Kunstler continues to write for The Atlantic Monthly, Slate.com, Rolling Stone, The New York Times Sunday Magazine
and the Op-Ed page where he often covers environmental and economic issues. He has lectured extensively about urban design, energy issues and new economies for the TED Conference, the American Institute of Architects, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the International Council of Shopping Centers, the National Association of Science and Technology as well as at numerous colleges and universities, including Yale, MIT, Harvard, Cornell, University of Illinois, DePaul, Texas A & M, West Point, and Rutgers University.
Kunstler aptly describes his lectures as stand-up comedy with some dark moments. His audience knows he is dependably acerbic, witty, well-read and exceedingly alert, drawing from a tremendous store of hard facts and idealism that ends on a good note: well-earned and reasoned hope.
Selected Lecture Topics
- Too Much Magic: Technology and environmental policy
- The Long Emergency: Energy and environmental policy
- The Geography of Nowhere: Urban planning and sustainability
- Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation (Grove/Atlantic, 2012)
- The Witch of Hebron (Grove/Atlantic, 2010)
- The World Made by Hand (Grove Press, 2008)
- The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of the Oil Age, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century (Grove/Atlantic, 2005)
- The City in Mind: Meditations on the Urban Condition (Free Press, 2001)
- Home from Nowhere: Remaking Our Everyday World for the Twenty-first Century (Simon & Schuster, 1996)
- The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-made Landscape (Simon & Schuster, 1993)
"Prophet and Loss" Interview, Seven Days, March 2012.
"Back to the Future," Orion Magazine, Summer 2011.
"Making Other Arrangements," Orion Magazine, Spring 2007.
TED Talk: James Howard Kunstler explores the tragedy of Suburbia:
Commonwealth Club of California: James Howard Kunstler Lecture
For more information about James Howard Kunstler and his work, please go to www.kunstler.com.