Friday, November 14, 2008


Ian Volner takes on Smogtown, by Chip Jacobs and William J. Kelly, in the new issue of Bookforum: "A meticulous chronicle of the city’s signature airborne grime and of the civic and social forces that emerged to stop it. The authors, Los Angeles–based journalists Chip Jacobs and William J. Kelly, bring LA back to its unglitzy basics in a story of greed, pollution, and molasses-slow political change. Their history describes a decidedly dreary Los Angeles: Patio furniture fades, flowers die, and a man’s coral-colored tie turns bluish-purple over the course of an afternoon—all due to the smog that rolled into the city quite unannounced one morning in 1943. 'The blocked skies,' write Jacobs and Kelly, 'were tantamount to acne on a beauty queen.' . . .But the point of Smogtown is well made: that the truth really is inconvenient. Nearly fifty years after the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, we are coming to know the cost of environmental stewardship in blood, sweat, and dollars. The story of Smogtown is that of a city vying against time to reconcile incommensurables. Any city, or any country, is only as amenable to improvement as its citizens are prepared for change. It’s an uphill slog the whole way."

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