Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization

Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization

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By (author) Richard Sennett

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  • Publisher: WW Norton & Co
  • Format: Paperback | 432 pages
  • Dimensions: 155mm x 231mm x 20mm | 567g
  • Publication date: 17 March 1996
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0393313913
  • ISBN 13: 9780393313918
  • Edition statement: Revised ed.
  • Illustrations note: Ill.
  • Sales rank: 116,430

Product description

Flesh and Stone is the story of the deepest parts of life-how women and men moved in public and private spaces, what they saw and heard, the smells that assailed them, where they ate, how they dressed, the mores of bathing and of making love-all in the architecture of stone and space from ancient Athens to modern New York. Early in Flesh and Stone, Richard Sennett probes the ways in which the ancient Athenians experienced nakedness, and the relation of nakedness to the shape of the ancient city, its troubled politics, and the inequalities between men and women. The story then moves to Rome in the time of the Emperor Hadrian, exploring Roman beliefs in the geometrical perfection of the body. The second part of the book examines how Christian beliefs about the body related to the Christian city-the Venetian ghetto, cloisters, and markets in Paris. The final part of Flesh and Stone deals with what happened to urban space as modern scientific understanding of the body cut free from pagan and Christian beliefs. Flesh and Stone makes sense of our constantly evolving urban living spaces, helping us to build a common home for the increased diversity of bodies that make up the modern city.

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Author information

Richard Sennett teaches sociology at the London School of Economics and New York University

Review quote

"An enthralling subject... A compassionate and inquiring [book]." -- Richard Jenkyns "Fascinating ... the drama of urban life springs alive for the reader." "Flesh and Stone is a fascinating excursion with an erudite guide. Sennett writes with intelligence and grace..."

Editorial reviews

An expansive history of Western civilization's evolving conception of the human body and that concept's influence on the erection of cities. Sennett (Sociology/New York Univ.; The Conscience of the Eye, 1991, etc.) argues that the homogenization of contemporary culture is aided and abetted by the failure of modern architecture and urban planning to accommodate the physical and sensory needs of the human body. This is more than mere postmodern sterility to Sennett. He sees this failing as an extension of the "enduring problem" of Western civilization: the inability or refusal of those with the power to build cities to honor "the dignity of the body and diversity of human bodies." From Pericles' Athens to Robert Moses's New York, Sennett incorporates discussions of sexuality, religion, politics, medicine, and economics into a historical grand tour of great cities whose buildings, streets, and public squares elevated the status of the ruling elite and diminished that of common citizens. Along the way, we find out how it felt to witness an execution by guillotine in revolutionary Paris, attend a Roman banquet, and observe a trial in ancient Greece, where courtrooms reflected the demands of a participatory democracy - three-foot-high walls and a jury box big enough for the minimum 201 jurors. Though Sennett ably surveys the ideological landscapes of the ancient, medieval, and modern worlds, these quotidian revelations are what enliven the book. By exposing the principles of individualism and personal comfort that form the most fundamental assumptions of 20th-century consumer culture, Sennett reminds modern readers that they trade a great deal for comfort - namely their engagement with one another. In so doing, he debunks the myth that the evolution of cities has been one of unfettered progress, or that progress is synonymous with improvement. Passionate, exhaustively researched, and original. (Kirkus Reviews)