Jane Jacobs. Dark Age Ahead. Vintage, 2004.
Jane Jacobs, like Studs Terkel and John Kenneth Galbraith, was one of the wonders of the world, a source of powerful inspiration. All three of these prophets lived nearly to or beyond their 90s as productive, perceptive analysts of the human condition–and purveyors of affirmative, humanistic values to the end–even amidst sharply critical and perceptive evaluations of the modern world.
Jacobs, author of the classic, The Life and Death of Great American Cities, published her final book when she was 88, just two years before her death. Dark Age Ahead has a grim title. Jacobs argues that our modern, technology-worshiping Western culture is heading into decline–identifying five key areas where she sees this: community and family, higher education, the effective practice of science, taxation and government, and the self-regulation of the learned professions. Most thoughtful readers could easily add to her list.
The several years since this book came out have only reinforced her dire warnings. She does not ultimately despair, though. Throughout her career, Jacobs was able to identify important ways in which human societies do manifest a resilience and inclination toward adaptation that makes humane responses to crises possible. She does so here in her final writings as well. This isn’t exactly a book of big hope, but we do find glimmers. Jacobs’ challenge to us–for which we should be grateful, along with our gratitude for her entire body of work–is to cultivate those glimmers of hope in the belief that humanity is inclined toward healing its problem.