Ecology of Fear – Mike Davis

Metropolitan Books
1998

Ecology of Fear is Mike Davis’ follow-up to his groundbreaking City of Quartz,
that most wonderful alt-history of Los Angeles. Ecology of Fear is not so fiery, and concerns itself mostly with the L.A. basin’s propensity to natural disaster. The chapters focus on one disaster type each: Earthquakes, Fires, Tornados, Wild Animal Attacks, and such. Later chapters approach the subject from a different angle–one traces the literary history of the destruction of Los Angeles (a fascinating chapter) and another is more of a revisiting of the themes of City of Quartz, that is of the class segregation and class war.
Davis shows a weakness here not seen in City of Quartz, in that his rhetorical tactics start to show through. When he believes a danger is real, he accuses the authorities of being complacent. When they are not, the authorities are over-reacting. Of course, this varies due to the danger, but it’s still there.
The book drags a bit, as Davis tries to get every example of a disaster in their appropriate chapter. After a while, the rare L.A. tornado got a bit dull to me. I did, however, love his hagiography of disaster novels, and how their heritage is racist and reactionary–natural disasters usually being an excuse for a good ol’ “final solution” style mass death, which we still find today in those awful “Left Behind” Bible-porn books. I also liked Davis’ history of forest fires, which is a collection of dumb rich people building in fire zones and then watching them go up in flames. Mostly, Davis questions ideas of historical data–how can we say what is “normal” for Southern California when records have only been kept for 150 years? When the Owens Valley lake was drained, opponents protested this destruction of a natural object. However, at the bottom of the lake, they found tree stumps, evidence that very long ago, a drought had stayed long enough in California for a forest to grow. And we think a seven year drought is bad…

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