Cities Are Good for You: The Genius of the Metropolis by Leo Hollis; Bloomsbury Press, 408 pages ($28)


Leo Hollis – who has written two books about London, where he lives – sees the city as a landscape of limitless possibility that may hold the key to our survival, since we are increasingly “an urban species.”

He explains: “In 2007 the UN announced that for the first time in human history 50 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities. … by 2050, it is projected that 75 percent of the world’s populations will live in cities.” When Hollis refers to this expanding urban population, he’s not talking about the cities of the West. He spends much of the book discussing cities such as Shanghai, Singapore and Dubai, which operate according to a different model. His thesis, which he uses these metropolitan models to illustrate, is that “the city is not a rational, ordered place but a complex space that has more in common with natural organisms such as beehives or ant colonies.”

Such an argument has its roots in Jane Jacobs’ groundbreaking 1961 study “The Death and Life of American Cities.” Hollis invokes Jacobs often, citing her contention that “(i)t was the street itself that was the principal object of study, and the metropolis’ organizing force.”

Unfortunately, this also highlights a key issue, which is that Hollis spends too little time in the street. His accounts of various cities – Beijing in the days of Marco Polo, New York in the 1960s, contemporary Bangalore with its IT economy – skim over the question of what they feel like, what we might call their quality of life.

– By David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times


The Beginner’s Guide to Running Away from Home by Jennifer Larue Huget, illustrated by Red Nose Studio (aka Chris Sackels); Schwartz & Wade Books, $17.99. Ages 4 to 8.


The author’s hugely amusing take on a boy’s plans to run away from home (“Forget about tying a bandana to a stick; That’s so old school”) is elevated to another plane entirely by the marvelously detailed photograph illustrations from Red Nose Studio, otherwise known as Chris Sackels. (His marvelous first picture book, “Here Comes the Garbage Barge,” was a New York Times best illustrated book.) Sackels spent 13 months creating his elaborate sets, using wire, cloth and found objects like candy wrappers, spoon handles etc.

The human figures (our red-headed hero with striped socks, mom with her sculpted hairdo, baby with her face contorted in a howl) are posed against elaborate backdrops, whether the kitchen with artwork taped to the fridge, a boy’s room with bookcase and toys. Children will enjoy examining the illustrations, the drama, the humor, the sweet ending. In one hilarious detail, we see howling little sister in her swing with a note (“tape the note where your parents can’t miss it”) pinned to her shirt.

– Jean Westmoore