Today's cities shine brightly at night, illuminated by millions of
street lamps, neon signs, and incandescent and fluorescent bulbs
burning in the windows of office blocks, apartment buildings, and
homes. Indeed, the modern city is in large part defined by this
brilliance. In contrast, cities before the end of the 19th century
were dominated by shadows and darkness, their oil lamps mostly
ineffectual against the night. The introduction of modern lighting
technologies in the 1870s--at first natural gas and later
electricity--transformed urban life in America and around the
This promethean story and its impact on the shape and pace of
life in the American city is engagingly recounted by John A. Jakle
in City Lights. Jakle reveals how artificial lighting became a
dynamic instrument that altered every aspect of the urban landscape
and was in turn shaped by the growth of America's automobile
culture. He examines the technological and entrepreneurial
innovations that made urban illumination possible and then explores
the various ways in which artificial lighting was used to enhance
-- for reasons of commerce, safety, aesthetics, and mobility --
such public spaces as streets, festivals, world's fairs, amusement
parks, landmarks, and business districts. From the corner street
lamp to the dazzling display of Broadway's "Great White Way," City
Lights offers a lively and informative investigation into the
geography of the night.
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