Mike Davis has gone from meat-cutting and truck-driving to a migrant professorship, from the hands-on New Left to the New Left Review, from California to Edinburgh, Belfast and back. He is one of the last relics of madder, more eclectic days. The poet and environmentalist Lewis MacAdams claims that 'in a Greek restaurant one night I saw him talk his way through an entire dinner, from the spanakopita to the baklava, without taking a bite.' That struck a chord with me because some way into the first two parts of his projected Los Angeles trilogy - City of Quartz (1990) and Ecology of Fear (1998) - I found myself praying I would never sit face to face with Mike Davis in a pub. He writes as if he had rivers of knowledge gushing out of his head under their own momentum. One just knows he'd be a hopeless conversationalist. Magical Urbanism may seem pedestrian by comparison with the books on Southern California, whose success led to reprisals by the powerful sectors in LA he had upset by his exposures. According to Ben Ehrenreich, he was 'driven from the city by a campaign of Red-baiting disguised as fact-checking'. His portrayal of a region wrecked by systematic racism, profiteering and environmental irrationality, now controlled by an urban planning of surveillance and segregation, was furiously denied, its author discredited on every front, from his political record to his journalistic accuracy and marital recidivism (six counts).
LRB 4 April 2002 | PDF Download