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The Cities Book: A Journey Through The Best Cities In The World    by Lonely Planet order for
Cities Book
by Lonely Planet
Order:  USA  Can
Lonely Planet, 2006 (2006)

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Following The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the World, Lonely Planet now bring us a spectacular Cities Book. Again, it's coffee table size and full of gorgeous color photographs of 200 exotic cities and the people who live there. The cities were selected through a survey of Lonely Planet staff and travellers, asked for their favorites (the top five picks were Paris, New York, Sydney, Barcelona and London.) Roz Hopkins says in her Foreword that 'Cities are often chaotic, frequently overpopulated, polluted, bursting at the seams with energy, buckling at the knees with the weight of history, and propelled ever forward by the driving force of technology. And we wouldn't have it any other way.'

A series of essays introduce cities, 'Past, Present & Future', in this 'urban millennium' - an amazing photo of a Japanese woman in traditional kimono beside a bullet train says it all. We learn about ancient Sumerian cities, the great melting pot that was Rome, the library of Alexandria, and Great Zimbabwe. The 'essence of livability' of modern cities is discussed, as well as the pleasures of sampling city cuisine and wandering on foot, of festivals and city nightlife. The future of cities is addressed, with examples of artificial city islands under construction in Dubai, a city being built in S. Korea on a 556-hectare landfill, an 'organic, sustainable city' in Arizona, and the possibility of a lunar city. After the essays come a series of maps, highlighting city locations, then the places themselves.

Each city (presented in rank order from the survey) gets two pages, split between information and color images. The text for each includes: Vital Statistics like birthdate, population and nickname (Istanbul is 'City of the World's Desire'); a summary sentence; its Anatomy; its People and how they are perceived; its Defining Experience (hiking Table Mountain in Cape Town); Strengths (vibrant street life in Dubrovnik) and Weaknesses (coffee in New York); what it gets a Gold Star for (theater in London); Cityspeak (what people are talking about); movies it's appeared in; Imports and Exports; what to See, Eat, Drink, Do (in daytime and After Dark), Watch, Buy; and an Urban Myth. I enjoyed descriptions like the comparison of Jerusalem to 'a religious onion - layered and tearful.'

I was delighted to realize that I'd visited eight of the top ten cities (missed Rome and Cape Town) and two thirds of the top thirty, but I'd never heard of many, including #200, Ashgabat. Though embarrassed that I'd missed the Defining Experience where I live (in #20, Montreal) I'm happy to say that I've never eaten at the Insectarium there either. And I'd argue that Galway deserves a higher rating than 80 and Esfahan than 82, but I'm sure every reader will mentally reorder these ratings. The Cities Book is an amazing resource. It shows people's similarities no matter their location, and is guaranteed to generate conversation and travel plans - and make feet itch until they're realized!

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