Synopses & Reviews
A dark age is a culture’s dead end. In North America, for example, we live in a virtual graveyard of lost and destroyed aboriginal cultures. In this powerful and provocative book, renowned author Jane Jacobs argues convincingly that we face the coming of our own dark age.
Throughout history, there have been many more dark ages than the one that occurred between the fall of the Roman Empire and the dawn of the Renaissance. Ten thousand years ago, our ancestors went from hunter-gatherers to farmers and, along the way, lost almost all memory of what existed before. Now we stand at another monumental crossroads, as agrarianism gives way to a technology-based future. How do we make this shift without losing the culture we hold dear—and without falling behind other nations that successfully master the transition?
First we must concede that things are awry. Jacobs identifies five central pillars of our society that show serious signs of decay: community and family; higher education; science and technology; governmental representation; and self-regulation of the learned professions. These are the elements we depend on to stand firm—but Jacobs maintains that they are in the process of becoming irrelevant. If that happens, we will no longer recognize ourselves.
The good news is that the downward movement can be reversed. Japan avoided cultural defeat by retaining a strong hold on history and preservation during war, besiegement, and occupation. Ireland nearly lost all native language during the devastations of famine and colonialism, but managed to renew its culture through the steadfast determination of its citizens. Jacobs assures us that the same can happen here—if only we recognize the signs of decline in time.
Dark Age Ahead is not only the crowning achievement of Jane Jacobs’s career, but one of the most important works of our time. It is a warning that, if heeded, could save our very way of life.
"Jacobs can write, and so by the end her arguments and admonitions all appear persuasive and disquieting. Crisp, entertaining, scholarly, scary." Kirkus Reviews
"Probably no single thinker has done more in the last fifty years to transform our ideas about the nature of urban life." Chicago Tribune
"Jacobs' sound urban-studies foundation...[and] a solid analysis of demographics that keeps this book's alarming thesis from being simply alarmist." Booklist
"Despite its Cassandralike title, this book reads less like a convincing wake-up call than a collection of random jottings, glossed with unnecessary daubs of hyperbole and only occasional flashes of vintage Jacobs insight." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
Visionary thinker Jane Jacobs uses her authoritative work on urban life and economies to show us how we can protect and strengthen our culture and communities.
In Dark Age Ahead, Jane Jacobs identifies five pillars of our culture that we depend on but which are in serious decline: community and family; higher education; the effective practice of science; taxation and government; and self-policing by learned professions. The decay of these pillars, Jacobs contends, is behind such ills as environmental crisis, racism and the growing gulf between rich and poor; their continued degradation could lead us into a new Dark Age, a period of cultural collapse in which all that keeps a society alive and vibrant is forgotten.
But this is a hopeful book as well as a warning. Jacobs draws on her vast frame of reference from fifteenth-century Chinese shipbuilding to zoning regulations in Brampton, Ontario and in highly readable, invigorating prose offers proposals that could arrest the cycles of decay and turn them into beneficent ones. Wise, worldly, full of real-life examples and accessible concepts, this book is an essential read for perilous times.
About the Author
JANE JACOBS is the legendary author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, a work that has never gone out of print and that has transformed the disciplines of urban planning and city architecture. Her other major works include The Economy of Cities, Systems of Survival and The Nature of Economies. She lives in Toronto.