Joseph Schreiber at The Quarterly Conversation:
Unlike the standard guidebook, Anderson offers his traveler no pictures, maps, or diagrams. This is intentional. Side trips are encouraged as the fancy strikes, and generous footnotes are provided for those who wish to follow up on quotes and references. (Of course, there is also the ease of stopping into Google for quick access to an image, biography, or further background material.) Anderson’s extended essay feels like spending time with an entertaining, well-read explorer who has traversed the cities of the imagination and returned with exotic tales that stretch back into pre-history and out into the solar system. We are in the presence of a modern-day Marco Polo who understands that “all cities can, and should be read.” His aim is to help us learn to trace these narratives ourselves.
Our guide is an Irish writer living in Scotland. He is neither an academic nor an architect, but his focus of attention lies in the intersection of culture, architecture, and technology. In a recent podcast, Anderson traced the genesis of this project to long-standing fascinations with cities and with the point at which reality and myth meet. As he became increasingly obsessed with architects and started looking through their plans, he found that beyond their iconic structures, each had drafted countless schemes and designs that would remain, for a variety of reasons, unrealized. With a different set of circumstances, then, the skylines and urban landscapes we know now could have been very different—as they once were in the past and will be in the future. The modern city is in flux and can perhaps best be understood only through a shifting kaleidoscope of angles and perspectives.