5 Books about urban life you should read in 2016
From the history of life in the city to the cultures that have come out of it, there’s a lot you need to get your head around. Luckily, there’s a lot of information out there waiting for you to pick it up. Here are some books about urban life we think are important to read in 2016.
Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art – Carlo McCormick
Trespass isn’t just a chronology of Street Art. Working with the artists whose work features in the book, it’s an insight into how they feel about the medium. Clear from the title, Trespass is first of all focused more on graffiti in its role as an outsider art form. As a form of self expression and protest, the book shows how graffiti took on meaning and importance. From the outside, it’s a thoughtful look into why street art developed. From the inside, it covers what inspired both individual artists and generations. The book also has previously unseen art from a number of the featured in the book. Less comprehensive than other books, it highlights important parts of the growth of street art with insight you don’t get elsewhere.
The London Hanged – Peter Linebaugh
This book seems like a less contemporary addition to the list. However, though published in 1991 about the hanging of criminals in 18th century London it has a surprising amount of relevance now. The public spectacle of hanging thieves puts the struggle between rich and poor in an urban environment at centre stage. The Tyburn Gallows were leveraged by the rich to place property rights over the rights of people. The London Hanged shows the long term effect this has had on shaping the working class. It lays the foundations for the cycles that still trap people today. It’s an important book to understand how cities have been shaped. With insights about urban environments that can teach the reader a lot about the world they’re in, it’s an important read. ‘Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.’
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – Michelle Alexander
Author Michelle Alexander is a civil rights advocate and Associate Professor of Law. She knows what she’s talking about when it comes to legally indoctrinated racism. The book’s main premise is that the War On Drugs in the U.S is one of the driving forces behind a new kind of racism. Less overt than racial segregation, the social control of the war on drugs has a stranglehold on young black men. Michelle Alexander breaks down the facts and data to present the truly worrying reality of the situation. Therefore, she argues, one needs to be a frontline issue for civil rights groups. The New Jim Crow argues that these policies are not passive ones but actively victimise black communities. She traces the origins of them back to the work of CIA and government officials in the eighties. They assisted Contra factions in Nicaragua who were funnelling drugs into american cities. By blocking the DEA’s attempts to expose this, the government directly caused the explosion of drug use in inner city neighborhoods. Required reading for anyone wanting to understand institutional prejudice.
Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation – Jeff Chang
Can’t Stop Won’t Stop is by no means light reading. Clocking in at nearly six hundred pages it’s one of the most comprehensive books on the history of hip hop. Jeff Chang’s takes with the people who were there from the start; DJs, graffiti artist, gang members and social activists. It covers the birth of hip hop from the earliest days in The Bronx and Kingston to its global presence. Rather than just covering the facts, Chang uses the interviews to talk about the circumstances that allowed hip hop to take off. The death of the disco scene and a generation of talented artists with no outlets. The book is written with a genuine love of hip hop and understanding of its impact. It is at times a bit rose tinted, stretching to present hip hop as a political force. In spite of this, the book is one of the best out there.
Hush – Jacqueline Woodson
This book is more for a teenage audience but it’s reflections on issues like police brutality are important. Hush follows Toswiah Green and her family as they enter the Witness Protection program. After her father, a police officer, testifies against two white colleagues about the killing of a black boy, their lives are torn apart. The book covers Toswiah’s attempts to adjust to a new name and new life as her family collapses. Her father becomes depressed, her mother turns to religion and her sister plans to leave. The book is an honest and engaged account of the events that doesn’t condescend to young readers. Written in 2006 it is especially relevant now.
These are some of the books we thing reflect important parts of urban life. What have we missed? Let us know in the comments.