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 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.”
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.
Kunstler’s newest, A History of the Future, is the third novel in the thrilling World Made by Hand series. Following the catastrophes of the twenty-first century–the pandemics, the environmental disaster, the end of oil, the ensuing chaos–people are doing whatever they can to get by and pursuing a simpler and sometimes happier existence. In little Union Grove in upstate New York, the townspeople are preparing for a Christmas without the consumerist shopping frenzy, when a series of events is set in motion following the return of a prodigal son and the shock of a Christmas Eve double murder. A History of the Future is attention-grabbing and provocative, but also lyrical, tender, and comic–a vision of a future of America that is becoming more and more convincing and perhaps even desirable with each passing day.