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Book Review: Duncan Crary, The Kunstler Cast: Conversations with James Howard Kunstler…the tragic comedy of suburban sprawl.

Book Review: Duncan Crary, The Kunstler Cast: Conversations with James Howard Kunstler…the tragic comedy of suburban sprawl.

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Book Review: Duncan Crary, The Kunstler Cast: Conversations with James Howard Kunstler…the tragic comedy of suburban sprawl. New Society Publishers, 2011, ISBN: 978-0865716963 (Paperback). 285 Pages. $16.95
Book Review: Duncan Crary, The Kunstler Cast: Conversations with James Howard Kunstler…the tragic comedy of suburban sprawl. New Society Publishers, 2011, ISBN: 978-0865716963 (Paperback). 285 Pages. $16.95

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Theory in Action, Vol. 6, No. 3, July 2013 (© 2013) DOI:10.3798/tia.1937-0237.


Book Review: Duncan Crary, The Kunstler Cast: Conversations with James Howard Kunstler…the tragic comedy of suburban sprawl. New Society Publishers, 2011, ISBN: 978-0865716963 (Paperback). 285 Pages. $16.95 Reviewed by Debra Wetcher-Hendricks1 [Article copies available for a fee from The Transformative Studies Institute. E-mail address: journal@transformativestudies.org Website: http://www.transformativestudies.org ©2013 by The Transformative Studies Institute. All rights reserved.]
When we were teenagers, one of the routes that my friends and I used to travel between our houses took us on a long, straight road with nothing but rows of corn on either side. I remember considering it creepy and cool at the same time. In an ironic twist, my house now sits along that road. In fact, it’s not just my house. A huge housing development reaches far into what used to be the cool, creepy corn fields on both sides of the road. I can’t help but think at times that the endless rows of corn and, possibly, the prosperity of the farmer who tended to them were sacrificed for my domestic comfort. Duncan Crary and James Howard Kunstler, however, have helped me to assuage my guilt. In Crary’s book, The Kunstler Cast: Conversations with James Howard Kunstler …the Tragic Comedy of Suburban Sprawl, he presents a dialogue between Kunstler and himself. Kunstler has authored many novels but is likely most well-known for the tongue-incheek political commentary that he provides on his weekly podcast. He has also released three books in this vein. This time, however he has turned the writing duties over to his colleague, Crary, who appears to

Debra Wetcher-Hendricks, Ph.D., has authored Analyzing Quantitative Data: An Introduction for Social Researchers and has presented her analyses of statistical models in academic journals and at conferences. She received recognition in recent editions of Marquis Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who Among American Women, and Who’s Who in the World. Address correspondence to: Debra Wetcher-Hendricks, Moravian College, 1200 Main Street, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania 18018; e-mail: Wetcher-HendricksD@moravian.edu. 1937-0229 ©2013 Transformative Studies Institute 79


” (p. “Anyplace you allow the car to dominate. “It’s no maintenance – You never have to do anything to it. Kunstler explains. entitled “The Geography of Nowhere. perhaps. But. For one thing. Of course. Topics range from urban flight to Americans’ seeming collective sense of entitlement to diagonal parking. not me. He denounces the amount of land devoted to the “use and storage of cars. But. 61) and goes so far as to criticize government spending on repairs to highway systems while neglecting improvements to public transportation. action through embarrassment. even though they see that it’s starting to look crappy and grubby. It’s not the type of humor that causes the reader to laugh out loud but. but it has an enlightening element as well. The house gets dingier and dingier. implies Kunstler. the buildings will invariably end up turning their backs to that corridor. as stated on page 9. because they were told as part of the contract for sale that. In Chapter 1. touching upon many of the themes that Kunstler raises in his weekly podcasts.” So. eventually. it seems that this was Crary’s intention when writing the book…to invite self-realization and. These sorts of things. voicing his frustration with the lack of authenticity in our modern environment. “By golly. You start to see this gray soot accumulating under the eaves and at the edges and on the porch roof. he instigates a conversation with Kunstler about vinyl siding on homes. rather.” in which he urges readers 80 . I’m not going to maintain it!” (p. the book manages to have a humorous element. “The End of Suburbia.” for instance. 45) He continues this discourse. Somewhere within Crary’s challenging questions to Kunstler and Kunstler’s rants.” So.Debra Wetcher-Hendricks know exactly what to ask Kunstler and how to ask it to get the most engaging responses. Kunstler clearly supports the preservation of nature. I was enlightened to the fact that. I’ve rationalized that I can ultimately blame those who built the road through the cornfield. The overall tone of Crary’s book borders on ridicule. a sardonic type of humor that makes the reader chortle at the absurdities of the American people to which Kunstler calls attention. drive people out of the cities. that means that readers (including me) end up chortling at themselves. This notion carries into Chapter 2. the guys who own it won’t clean it. It takes the form of a dialogue between Crary and Kunstler. But the book offers much less self-centered insights than this example though. for destroying that rural landscape.

” the title and topic of Chapter 4. They. moving through the later chapters of the book. Among the things that Kunstler attacks are the placement and design of tattoos and the way Michael Jackson appeared shortly before his death. So. doesn’t focus on such concrete matters. First. I can hardly be held responsible for the ecological and social difficulties they cause. The idea appears again in Chapter 5. I realized that if other readers are like me. and skyscrapers using attention-grabbing imagery such as. “Getting There. monuments. while cars already existed long before I was born. and neoclassicism may make his claims seem foreign at first. and uses traffic engineers as an example of those with an overly-focused view. 174) for architectural styles. becomes an easy victim in this scenario.One thing is of course that there is probably nothing that destroys time in your life more than the Internet. the Internet. I defy any person who has read this chapter to travel through a city without quietly judging the 81 . similarly as I have being doing with regard to my home’s location on former farmland. to hold them accountable for the persistence and growth of the “unreality” he describes. they face two challenges. may justify their roles as mere consumers of what they encounter in life. the matter-of-fact nature in which he ties these ideas to elements of our everyday lives makes our involvement impossible to ignore.” (p. in our lives. “It’s been a very interesting and in some ways magical adventure that we’ve taken ourselves on…. fascism. though. The entire book. we must get over the It’s them. Kunstler is talking about US. 170) and emotionally-laden names such as “brutalism” (p. however. not me syndrome. they encounter the second struggle: anger! The unwillingness to accept blame. “a roller coaster blob of tortured metal” (p. it doesn’t take long to realize that Kunstler does not intend to belittle individuals but. Thus. And yet. that with this interpretation comes the compulsion to notice and criticize the elements of American culture about which Kustler speaks. can irritate the reader for whom Kunstler’s comments seem like personal attacks. So. Be warned. He also questions the relevance of technology. “Architecture. Once readers come to this realization. for example. 89). As he explains. He describes particular museums. But. specifically. like me.” which proposes a resurgence of railroads and water transit. I’m certainly not the one who made them or promoted their sale.Theory in Action to look at the “big picture. Crary also includes commentary from Kunstler about Americans’ beliefs and inclinations.” (p. His references to concepts like socialism. rather. 160) This quote in particular marked a new cognizance for me and.

cities that he actually likes! However.” (p.” Crary begins to portray Kunstler as less cynical than he seems in earlier chapters. This topic leads to remarks about the concentration of poverty in inner cities and the cycle of poverty that keeps poor people in these unfortunate circumstances. providing that information here would ruin the surprise for those who wish to read the book for themselves. positing. Crary makes a comparison between Kunstler and Cassandra. But. then jokes that he really may be. having read this book. By the time he reaches Chapter 6. a charlatan. in the final chapter of the book. 274) Kunstler agrees with this comparison. “But. Indeed. I doubt it. a mountebank. “The City in Mind. “Just a pure fake.” (p. In one of the most interesting portions of the book. this optimism doesn’t last. with Kunstler connecting it to racial inequalities. Kunstler identifies some U.S. Further. Cassandra from Greek mythology. not even Kunstler himself gives his predictions credit for having an impact upon people. she knew the future.Debra Wetcher-Hendricks looks of the buildings and wondering why somebody found them appealing. 275) But. Gentrification emerges as an important issue. Kunstler offers his predictions about population changes in American cities. The mood of Chapter 6 quickly changes as Crary and Kunstler move to a discussion about the conditions of buildings in inner cities. also a part of Chapter 6. The problem is that nobody would listen to her. At Crary’s request. 82 .

285 Pages. New Society Publishers. 2011. The New Press. $18. 2013. ISBN: 978-0865716963 (Paperback). ISBN: 978-1595588159 (Paperback). Game Over: How Politics Has Turned the Sports World Upside Down. The Kunstler Cast: Conversations with James Howard Kunstler…the tragic comedy of suburban sprawl.95 Debra Wetcher-Hendricks Book Review: Dave Zirin.95 Maureen Margaret Smith Journal of the Transformative Studies Institute . 240 Pages. $16.Volume 6 Number 3 July 2013 Theory In Action IN THIS ISSUE 1 35 52 67 79 83 Unjamming the Insurrectionary Imagination: Rescuing Détournement from the Liberal Complacencies of Culture Jamming Richard Gilman-Opalsky Theory in Action: Reclaiming the Political Thought of Christopher Caudwell Amy Buzby Common Tables and Democratic Solidarity Patrizia Longo The Ghana-Canada Global Community Service Learning Project: Teaching and Learning through Sharing and Praxis Charles Quist-Adade Book Review: Duncan Crary.

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Dedication To the whistleblowers and leakers who keep the idea of democracy and transparency alive: Bradley Manning. . Julian Assange – WikiLeaks. and Edward Snowden.

University of California. London Peter McLaren. Moravian College Founding Editor John Asimakopoulos. Schlaerth Deric Shannon Jeffrey Shantz Stephen Sheehi Kyung Ja (Sindy) Shin Stevphen Shukaitis Caroline Tauxe Bill Templer Sviatoslav Voloshin Debra Wetcher-Hendricks Ali Shehzad Zaidi . Moravian College Associate Book Review Editors Lisa Doris Alexander.I. SUNY-Canton Associate Editors Corey Dolgon. Wayne State University Debra Wetcher-Hendricks.Editor-in-Chief John Asimakopoulos. Stonehill College Dave Hill. Los Angeles Deric Shannon. Middlesex University. CUNY-Bronx Editor Ali Shehzad Zaidi. University of Connecticut Book Review Editor Joel Nathan Rosen. CUNY-Bronx Editorial Board Mihaela Albu Lisa Doris Alexander William Armaline John Asimakopoulos Steve Best Marc Bousquet Graham Cassano Jay Corwin Abraham DeLeon Corey Dolgon Luis Fernandez Victoria Fontan Ben Frymer Carol Gigliotti Richard Gilman-Opalsky Rodica Grigore Richard Van Heertum Dave Hill Joy James Patrrice Jones Paul Jonker Nathan Jun Caroline Kaltefleiter Ruth Kinna Michael Loadenthal Elsa Karen Márquez-Aponte Peter McLaren Mechthild Nagel Jesus Lopez Pelaez Michael Parenti Emma Pérez Clayton Pierce Joel Nathan Rosen Christian A.

6.CONTENTS Vol. Game Over: How Politics Has Turned the Sports World Upside Down. ISBN: 978-1595588159 (Paperback). 285 Pages. 3 1 July 2013 Unjamming the Insurrectionary Imagination: Rescuing Détournement from the Liberal Complacencies of Culture Jamming Richard Gilman-Opalsky Theory in Action: Reclaiming the Political Thought of Christopher Caudwell Amy Buzby Common Tables and Democratic Solidarity Patrizia Longo The Ghana-Canada Global Community Service Learning Project: Teaching and Learning through Sharing and Praxis Charles Quist-Adade Book Review: Duncan Crary. The Kunstler Cast: Conversations with James Howard Kunstler…the tragic comedy of suburban sprawl. 2013. $18. 240 Pages. No. ISBN: 978-0865716963 (Paperback). $16.95 Debra Wetcher-Hendricks Book Review: Dave Zirin. 2011.95 Maureen Margaret Smith 35 52 67 79 83 . New Society Publishers. The New Press.

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AFL-CIO “Corey Dolgon’s “singing lecture” is a hit.S. and other social movements were entertaining. United American Nurses. all received a good time and good learning. President.edu.” --Chris Dale.” --John Ralston. Folksinger & Sociologist Corey Dolgon. U. a Ph. of Louisville Labor-Management Center “Corey’s wonderful voice. This singing lecture covers labor history from a multicultural perspective and examines the function of folk songs in workers’ lives. From union retirees to active union members. “I learned about the importance and power of strikes and labor unions.D in American Culture and Sociology Professor has been performing “singing lectures” for almost a decade. labor. and organizing.” --Cheryl Johnson. [The lecture] made the period come alive for me. and great knowledge about folksongs. Please contact Corey for scheduling a lecture or receiving a sample CD at 617-298-0388 or at cdolgon@worcester. Professor of Sociology. More info @ www. He is a long-time labor activist and community organizer and has used folk songs to build solidarity on the line and engage students in the classroom. Corey’s words and music bring both history and theory to life. from academics to management. William Patterson U. I never knew there were songs about them. Professor of Sociology. very informative.coreydolgon. Focusing on the role that folksongs play in the U.In Search of One Big Union: A Singing Lecture by Corey Dolgon. abundant energy. labor movement.com . I encourage other unions to add Corey's talents and expertise to their agendas. labor.” --Kathleen Odell Korgen. New England College “Corey's music added tremendous spirit to our National Labor Assembly.” --Stonehill College student “Corey’s work weaves together a coherent and accessible narrative about labor struggles with a tour de force of labor songs that moves audiences. and inspiring.


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