Comptes rendus bibliographiques

TELLIER, Luc-Normand (2009) Urban World History. An Economic and Geographical Perspective. Québec, Presses de l’Université du Québec, 629 p. (ISBN 978-2-7605-1588-8)[Notice]

  • Pierre Filion

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  • Pierre Filion
    University of Waterloo

One cannot paint a fuller picture of the urban phenomenon than Urban World History. It literally covers the entire history of this phenomenon throughout the world. But the book has a loftier ambition: Its objective is not only historical but also to test and formulate laws of spatial economics. How better to verify and improve the explanatory power of these laws than by exposing them to the ultimate empirical evidence – the worldwide history of urbanization? Everything about Urban World History is writ large: its historical narrative, its conceptual aspirations, its size. Tellier takes us from the appearance of the first urban settlements in the Sumer Region around 3,200 BC to the present urban context, marked by the dominance of New York, London and Tokyo, and the sprouting of massive metropolises in the developing world. The historical narrative describes the economic, political and demographic circumstances associated with the different waves of urban development throughout history. The reader witnesses the rise and fall of urban systems as empires, nations and trading blocs emerge and vanish. The urban contexts of different periods are described with remarkable precision and even estimates of the populations of individual cities at different times in history are included. In a sense, although Urban World History is an echo of Mumford’s The City in History, it proceeds more systematically through the different periods of history. Like Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, it also touches on the derivation of general laws in its broad historical sweep. One perspective borders on the occult. This is true of the topodynamic corridors, the conceptual lynchpin of this work, whose graphic representation is repeated throughout the book. Topographic corridors are a planetary transposition of a concept that was developed at a regional scale. According to this view major urban centres both emerge within, and contribute to the existence of these global axes of development. There is no doubt that trade routes and sea currents, the core of this concept, are significant factors of development, but what of other elements accounting for the concentration of economic, demographic and urban growth? Given its importance in the book, the concept of global corridors deserved much more development to avoid the possibility of spatially deterministic interpretations. In sum, Urban World History presents an impressive history of the urban phenomenon, but its conceptual contribution is less marked.