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Book Reviews


Benson Bright Gillespie - writing for Cite Magazine, the architecture and design review of Houston - has posted a kind review for City Ubiquitous. Here's an excerpt:

The oscillation between analytical discourse and narrative provides a good balance to the text. The book reads like something between a textbook and a novel.

I strongly recommend City Ubiquitous: Place, Communication, and the Rise of Omnitopia to anyone who lives amidst the enclaves about which Wood writes so passionately.

Read the entire review: Book Review: City Ubiquitous

John Coleman, author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (from his Amazon review)

In my time as a management consultant, I visited dozens of disparate locales, but my experiences in those places inevitably bled together. Hotels in Ohio felt like those in New York. Starbucks in Singapore looked a lot like Caribou Coffee in Atlanta; and airports - the broad walkways, constant motion, and fleeting encounters with "single-serving friends" - exuded a similar anti-septic aura from Hong Kong to Chicago. I travelled extensively, but wrapped in the enclave of my Blackberry, an iPod, and these carefully manufactured corporate surroundings, I always felt as if I was missing something.

Professor Andy Wood captures these tensions perfectly with his newest work, City Ubiquitous: Place, Communication, and the Rise of Omnitopia. Wood, author of works as disparate as Motel America: A State By State Tour Guide to Nostalgic Stopovers and Online Communication: Linking Technology, Identity, and Culture, uses his latest book to synthesize his thoughts on modern life; and the result is an engaging, insightful read that works as both scholarly discourse and personal revelation.

At base, City Ubiquitous is a sophisticated academic treatise that explores a theoretically frame for understanding life in the 21st century. Wood has deployed the term "omnitopia" to help describe the way in which we can now "flow from place to place, experiencing it all as one vast interior, cocooned in [our] own bubble[s], interacting with other people and natural parts of the world only as a series of objects..." And he offers up a careful account of the ways in which this omnitopia manifests for contemporary Americans - in hotels, malls, airports, and the "aural enclaves" of our iPods and mobile phones - even as he marshals a rigorous knowledge of both history and academic research to support his claims. Despite this rigor, Wood's writing is never dry - the text is sprinkled with commentary on topics as diverse as Tom Hanks' performance in The Terminal, the origins of the Holiday Inn, and the hopefulness of Battle Mountain, Nevada (the so-called "The Armpit of America"). Throughout the book his arguments are nuanced, intelligent, and compelling.

On a second level, however, City Ubiquitous reads as a deeply personal journey and a work of passion. Wood isn't writing about the world as a detached observer. He's a fascinated tenant of Omnitopia seeking to make sense of the enclaves around him, and my favorite parts of the book detail Wood's own eclectic personal journeys. The introduction initiates this journey with a fitting tale - Wood's attempt to travel the entire length of the United States by car without speaking to anyone along the day (he succeeds, speaking only 5 words in 3,000 miles); and chapter after chapter proceeds with anecdotes of Wood's personal experiments in omnitopian life. He shoots zombies in West Edmonton Wall. He spends the night in an airport just to see what it feels like. He journeys to play baseball on the original "field of dreams". And the pages of City Ubiquitous are sprinkled with vivid imagery from the author's private collection of postcards and photographs that illustrate his principles. Wood isn't purely an academic. He is a resident. And that personal touch makes all the difference.

It's hard to categorize City Ubiquitous. It's an academic volume, a personal journey, and an accessible perspective on a new world that - for better or for worse - we now hold in common. Throughout, Wood manages to combine theory and story in a way that's both enlightening and enlivening, and his thoughts on our new omnitopian reality resonated deeply with me. I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a way to explain that unsettling feeling that, in our age, we're all both homeless and always at home.

Matthew J. Smith, co-author of The Power of Comics: History, Form, & Culture (from his Amazon review) [Full disclosure: Matt and I have co-authored books together.]

I recommend "City Ubiquitous" for anyone who has ever traveled, shopped, or otherwise negotiated our increasingly disassociating public spaces. Traveler and scholar Andy Wood has produced keen insight into how human interaction is being shaped by spaces such as airports, conference hotels, and shopping malls, among others. Wood argues that such sites have become portals to a place called "omnitopia," which is characterized by a sameness of experience and, more importantly, a distinct sense of isolationism that emphasizes a loss of traditional, communal connections.

Wood's argument is well-crafted and informed both by his extensive travel experience and his rigorous scholarship. The book's foundational chapters establish the historical precedents for this condition in World's Fair exhibition of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the early interstate highway system. It includes in-depth considerations of how omnitopia is practiced in more contemporary sites such as those listed above and is mirrored in popular culture such as Steven Spielberg's feature film, "The Terminal." The concluding chapters examine where the road from omnitopia leads next: to even further isolation through the use of technologies such as the iPod or to a rejection of omnitopian domination, as evident in the practice of roadside memorials.

These are complex and challenging ideas about our urban spaces that Wood is presenting to us, but "City Ubiquitous" is blessed with the author's keen ability to make theoretical generalization accessible through apt examples, many of which are visually punctuated with Wood's own photography. And there are flashes of Wood's endearing wit evident throughout the book, including one gem where he visits a shooting gallery in one of the world's largest shopping malls. Referencing the cult classic film, "Dawn of the Dead," wherein zombies attack a shopping mall, Wood selects targets with depictions of zombies for his own shooting practice and later writes, "The owners of the Wild West Shooting Centre in West Edmonton Mall thought something . . . elemental: `It would be fun to shoot zombies at a mall." People like me would pay for the experience." And so he does.

I'm so glad Wood went to the West Edmonton Mall and to the Blue Swallow motel and all of the other locations visited in his travels (including the stops along a fascinating cross-country driving trip in which he spoke only five words!). I'm even gladder that he wrote about the experiences in such a reflective way and shared them through "City Ubiquitous." It has enabled me to re-examine the spaces around me--and they way I interact within them--in a more critical fashion.

© 2009
Andrew Wood
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