New And Notable: Los Angeles From The Air Then And Now, Makeshift Metropolis & Down The Asphalt Path

Avid readers of local history are usually intrigued by photos of historic sites juxtaposed against contemporary images. This format of visual history has a particularly strong impact when the subject is Los Angeles: a city that grew up — and outward — so quickly.

Those seeking pictorial overviews will likely have checked out aerial photography books as well.

Los Angeles From The Air: Then And Now (San Diego: Thunder Bay Press, 2010) is a hybrid of these two types of pictorial books. It presents decades-old photographs of both familiar and lesser-known landmarks along side more current ones.

This takes the reader on a trip through Los Angeles like never before, featuring inspiring, sky-high then-and-now images of some of LA’s most famous locations.

Some of the landmarks’ origins are well-known, but the authors provide context for both familiar and hidden pieces of Los Angeles history.

Many of the photos feature snow-capped peaks in the distance — a testament to our clear Winter days being the best for photography.

Unfortunately, the work falls flat in its description of transportation in downtown Los Angeles. The authors write:

“Metrolink [sic] provides service to Union Station in the form of three rail lines — Red, Purple, Gold…”

While Metro and Metrolink may sound similar to those outside of Los Angeles (the book is, after all, published in San Diego), it gives one pause that other information found here may not be entirely accurate. Ultimately, one can ignore the text entirely, as these beautiful photos speak for themselves.

In Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas About Cities (New York: Scribner, 2010), noted architecture writer Witold Rybczynski offers a glimpse of an urban future that might very well serve as a template for cities around the world.

Rybczynski integrates history and prediction of the development of the American city in a brisk look back that takes us from colonial town planning to the Garden City and City Beautiful initiatives of the early 20th century and on to the “Big Box Era.”

He also examines how contemporary urban designers and planners are revisiting and refreshing older urban ideas, such as bringing gardens to a blighted Brooklyn waterfront.

Rybczynski’s study is kept relevant by his focus on what the past can teach us about creating the “cities we want” and “cities we need.”

The prose is instructive and always engaging, and the author’s enthusiasm for the future of cities and his enduring love of urban settings of all kinds is evident.

He not only writes about what people want from their cities, he inspires the reader to imagine the possibilities.

In Down The Asphalt Path: The Automobile And The American City, author Clay McShane examines the uniquely American relationship between “automobility” and urbanization.

Writing at the cutting edge of urban and technological history, he depicts how new technology, namely the private automobile, and the modernization of the American city redefined each other.

The author motors us across the country — from Boston to New York, from Milwaukee to Los Angeles and the suburbs in between — chronicling the urban embrace of the automobile.

The New York Times calls this work “A treat to read, loaded with interesting facts…a notable book about urban transportation.”

Barron’s wrote that “this fascinating, well-researched history of the automobile industry…is written from a social and cultural perspective rarely included in traditional books about the business.”

The Whole Earth Review claims “this fascinating treatise is the most credible look yet at how automobiles have changed American society for better or worse.”