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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster by Mike Davis


In Ecology ofFear, Mike Davis contends that Los Angeles is exceptional in the number of major natural and social disasters it experiences, and that both types of tragedy are intensified through similar types of human (in)action. The former argument largely fails because Davis does not control for the enormous size of LA. Nor does he compare the results of these disasters to other dangers threatening residents. He thus makes pointless an assessment of the overall importance of these avoidable tragedies. Unfortunately, his gloomy tone has led many critics to dismiss him as paranoid and to miss the importance of the latter argument. Here, Davis relates three historical accounts where social and political factors are at least as important as the truly natural in determining the understanding and attempted management of "natural disaster." The unsupported argument that LA is exceptional and the narrative power of the case studies, combined with the rest of the nation's latent contempt for LA, may leave readers fantasizing about the ruin of the City of Angels when, in fact, they ought to be bringing this insightful analysis to bear on their own disaster policy questions.

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