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Mike Davis (scholar)

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Subject: Late Victorian Holocausts, NGO-isation, Ecology of Fear, Los Angeles School, City of Quartz
Collection: 1946 Births, American Historians, American Male Writers, American Marxist Historians, American Marxists, American Political Writers, American Social Sciences Writers, American Socialists, Historians of the United States, History of Los Angeles, California, Living People, MacArthur Fellows, Marxist Writers, Members of Students for a Democratic Society (1960 Organization), People from El Cajon, California, People from Fontana, California, People from San Bernardino County, California, Reed College Alumni, Truck Drivers, University of California, Los Angeles Alumni, University of California, Riverside Faculty, Urban Theorists, Writers from Los Angeles, California
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Mike Davis (scholar)

Mike Davis
Born 1946 (age 69–70)
Fontana, California, U.S.
Alma mater University of California, Los Angeles
Main interests

Mike Davis (born 1946) is an American writer, political activist, urban theorist, and historian. He is best known for his investigations of power and social class in his native Southern California.


  • Life 1
  • Career 2
  • Criticisms and reviews 3
  • Awards and honors 4
  • Works 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Born in Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) activist. He briefly studied at Reed College in the mid-1960s but did not begin his academic career in earnest until the early 1970s, when he earned BA and MA degrees but did not complete the PhD program in History from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Davis has stated that one of the moments prompting him returning to study after working was a violent strike, "I had this job with a bus-tour company when suddenly this insanely violent strike broke out. A strikebreaker ran a bus over one of our guys, and next thing I knew I was in a room with forty guys voting on whether each of us is gonna put up $400 to hire a hit man to kill the head of the strikebreakers. I said, 'Hey, guys, this is just crazy,' and made the best speech of my life. I was outvoted thirty-nine to one. I thought to myself, 'Typical American workers'; I think I said 'pussies.' Instead of coming up with a political strategy, they reach for their guns as soon as they see a scab driving their bus. And here I am about to become a freshman at UCLA, and I'm going to get arrested for criminal conspiracy." [1]

He was a 1996–1997 Getty Scholar at the Getty Research Institute[2] and received a MacArthur Fellowship Award in 1998.[3] He won the Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction in 2007.


Davis is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Creative Writing at the Socialist Workers Party of Great Britain. As a journalist and essayist, Davis has written frequently for, among others, The Nation and the UK's New Statesman.

He is a self-defined international socialist and "Marxist-Environmentalist".[4] He writes in the tradition of socialists/architects/regionalism advocates such as Lewis Mumford and Garrett Eckbo, whom he cites in Ecology of Fear. His early book, Prisoners of the American Dream, was an important contribution to the Marxist study of U.S. history, political economy, and the state, as well as to the doctrine of Revolutionary integrationism, as Davis, like Trotskyists such as Max Shachtman, Richard S. Fraser, James Robertson, as well as French anarchist Daniel Guérin, argued that the struggle of blacks in the U.S. was for equality, that this struggle was an explosive contradiction fundamental to the U.S. bourgeois republic, that only socialism could bring it about, and that its momentum would someday be a powerful contribution to a socialist revolution in the U.S.

Davis is also the author of two fiction books for young adults: Land of The Lost Mammoths and Pirates, Bats and Dragons.

Criticisms and reviews

Reviewers have praised Davis' prose style and his exposés of economic, social, environmental and political injustice. His book Planet of Slums inspired a special issue of Mute magazine on global slums.[5] City of Quartz is notable for describing some of the tensions that would lead to the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

In spite of the popular success of Davis' many critical studies, some have criticized them. Malibu Realtor Ross Ernest Shockley (aka "Brady Westwater") argued that Davis distorts or makes up facts to overdramatize his case against the contemporary capitalist city. This argument was subsequently repeated by Los Angeles communications professional Jill Stewart, who labeled Davis a "city-hating socialist" in the New Times Los Angeles. These views were brought to a broader audience in[6]

According to Todd Purdum's unfriendly 1999 piece, Davis "acknowledged fabricating an entire conversation with a local environmentalist, Lewis McAdams, for a cover story he wrote for L.A. Weekly a decade ago (in the late 1980s); he defends it as an early attempt at journalistic scene-setting."[7] However, in his October 2004 Geography article, "That Certain Feeling: Mike Davis, Truth and the City," Kevin Stannard held that this "controversy is explained by Davis's ambiguous balancing of academic research and reportage,".[8]

Jon Wiener has defended Davis in The Nation, maintaining that his critics are political opponents exaggerating the significance of small errors.[9]

Some academic leftists have also criticized Davis' focus on modern urban structures. Citing Jane Jacobs' attacks upon Lewis Mumford in her Death and Life of Great American Cities, Andy Merrifield (MetroMarxism, Routledge 2002) has attacked Davis' analysis as "harsh" (p. 170). Davis' work, particularly Planet of Slums, has been criticized by Merrifield and urban studies professor Tom Angotti as "anti-urban" and "overly apocalyptic."[10]

These critics charge that Davis fails to focus on activist groups among the poor and working class in solving problems—as advocated by Manuel Castells and Marshall Berman.[11]

As he states in Planet of Slums, however, Davis is not interested in such a "reformist" approach. He argues that most reforms have failed because they treat the symptoms rather than the cause: economic and political inequality. He argued in Ecology of Fear[12] that realistic solutions lie in a radical transformation of the city and of capitalism by the global working-class, as Lewis Mumford and Garrett Eckbo advocated.

Awards and honors



  • Beyond Blade Runner: Urban Control, The Ecology of Fear (1992)
  • Prisoners of the American Dream: Politics and Economy in the History of the U.S. Working Class (1986, 1999)
  • City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (1990, 2006)
  • ¿Quién mató a Los Ángeles? (1994, Spanish only)
  • Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (1998)
  • Casino Zombies: True Stories From the Neon West (1999, German only)
  • Magical Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the US City (2000)
  • Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World (2001)
  • The Grit Beneath the Glitter: Tales from the Real Las Vegas, edited with Hal Rothman (2002)
  • Dead Cities, And Other Tales (2003)
  • Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See, with Jim Miller and Kelly Mayhew (2003)
  • Cronache Dall’Impero (2005, Italian only)
  • The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu (2005)
  • Planet of Slums: Urban Involution and the Informal Working Class (2006)
  • No One Is Illegal: Fighting Racism and State Violence on the U.S.-Mexico Border, with Justin Akers Chacon (2006)
  • Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb (2007)
  • In Praise of Barbarians: Essays against Empire (2007)
  • Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism, edited with Daniel Bertrand Monk (2007)
  • Islands Mysterious: Where Science Rediscovers Wonder – a Trilogy, illustrated by William Simpson
    • 1. Land of the Lost Mammoths (2003)
    • 2. Pirates, Bats, and Dragons (2004)
    • 3. Spider Vector (forthcoming)

Articles and essays

  • The Democrats After November, New Left Review, 43, January–February 2007
  • Vigilante Man
  • A Paradise Built on Oil
  • Has Time Run Out? – The Coming Avian Flu Pandemic
  • The Mysteries of New Orleans – Twenty-five Questions about the Murder of the Big Easy
  • Poor, Black, and Left Behind
  • Remembering Bill and Ivan
  • The Perfect Fire
  • "The Flames of New York", New Left Review, 12, November–December 2001
  • "Planet of Slums", New Left Review, 26, March–April 2004
  • "Cry California"
  • "The Winged Killer Flies In", Red Pepper, December 2005
  • "Believer Interview", The Believer, February 2004
  • "Who Is Killing New Orleans?", in The Nation, April 10, 2006
  • The Rag BlogArticles by Mike Davis at


  1. ^ Adam Shatz. The American Earthquake. Retrieved March 23, 2015.
  2. ^ Getty Research Institute. Scholar Year 1996/1997. Retrieved September 3, 2008.
  3. ^ John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. MacArthur Fellows July 1998. Retrieved September 3, 2008.
  4. ^ Book review, Journal of World History, Vol. 14 No. 3, December 2003 (accessed 2008-05-29)
  5. ^ Mute, Co. 2 No.3, August 2006 (accessed 2008-05-29)
  6. ^ "Is Mike Davis' Los Angeles all in his head?", Website (accessed 2008-05-29)
  7. ^ Todd S. Purdum: "Best-Selling Author's Gloomy Future for Los Angeles Meets Resistance", New York Times, January 27, 1999. (accessed 2008-05-29)
  8. ^ Kevin Stannard, "That Certain Feeling: Mike Davis, Truth and the City", Geography, October 2004. (accessed 2008-05-29)
  9. ^ Jon Wiener: "LA Story: Backlash of the Boosters", The Nation, February 22, 1999. (accessed 2008-05-29)
  10. ^ Planet of SlumsReview of Mike Davis' , The Struggle for the City, June 2008
  11. ^ Merrifield, MetroMarxism, and Tom Angotti, "Apocalyptic Anti-Urbanism: Mike Davis and his Planet of Slums", International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Volume December 30, 4, 2006, pp.961–7. (accessed 2008-05-29)
  12. ^ Davis, Mike. 2000. Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster. New York: Vintage.
  • Review of "Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World"

External links

  • Mike Davis at the Internet Movie Database
  • Faculty page at Univ. of California, Irvine
  • Faculty page at Univ. Of California, Riverside
  • Mike Davis' articles in The Nation.
  • Davis interviewed by Bill Moyers Video, transcript and recent articles. March 20, 2009
  • "The American Earthquake – Mike Davis and the Politics of Disaster By Adam Shatz, in Lingua Franca, (September 1997).
  • profile, 1999LA Weekly
  • profile, 1999
  • "L.A. Story: Backlash of the Boosters" by Jon Wiener Nation (February 4, 1999).
  • "Best-Selling Author's Gloomy Future for Los Angeles Meets Resistance" Todd S. Purdum, New York Times
  • Audio of Mike Davis's lecture "Who Will Build the Ark: The Architectural Imagination in an Age of Catastrophic Convergence" delivered at the Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities on November 6, 2008.
  • Discussion with Susan Straight January 2008
  • A collection of reviews of Planet of Slums
  • "Seven Oaks" Planet of Slums review, by Derrick O'Keefe
  • Planet of Slums reviews in Mute Magazine
  • Planet of Slums Review from (Johannesburg) Sunday Independent
  • "Slums, resistance and the African working class" A friendly critique of Planet of Slums by Leo Zeilig and Claire Ceruti in International Socialism journal
  • Interview with Orhan Ayyüce of Archinect, October 12, 2009.
  • Interview with Juris Jurjevics of San Diego Reader, April 6, 2006.
  • Interview with the editors of Voices of Resistance from Occupied London, an anarchist journal from the United Kingdom, February 23, 2007.
  • Interview with IRIN News, the news service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, September 2007.
  • Interview on Bill Moyers Journal, March 20, 2009.
  • Podcast of Mike Davis discussing his article "Can Obama See the Grand Canyon?", October 15, 2008.
  • BOMB Magazine Interview with Mike Davis by Lucy Raven. Summer 2008
  • Tomdispatch Interview Part I: Mike Davis, Turning a Planet into a Slum
  • Tomdispatch Interview Part II: Mike Davis, Green Zones and Slum Cities
  • Mike Davis on Rag Radio Interviewed by Thorne Dreyer, October 14, 2011 (56:53)
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