Jesus J. Lara is an assistant professor in the Knowlton School of Architecture and teaches in the Landscape Architecture and City & Regional Planning programs.
What are your five favorite books and why?
My research and pedagogy are centered on sustainable urban design, community development, and sociocultural factors in design, so it’s no surprise that my favorites are books related to cities and urban sustainability. These topics have been influential during formative academic years and I bring them to my students in the classroom.
The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. This book was released in 1961 and it is a classic for all those dealing with city planning and architectural design. Jane Jacobs was writer and activists and her work provides a critical analysis of how cities actually work, rather than how they should work according to urban designers and planners. Jacobs effectively describes the real factors affecting cities, and recommends strategies to enhance actual city performance. Jacobs writes about what makes streets safe or unsafe; about what constitutes a neighborhood, and what function it serves within the larger organism of the city; about why some neighborhoods remain impoverished while others regenerate themselves. This book is an inspiration and provides common sense for anyone seeking bringing cites from the edge.
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. This is an amazing book for anyone interested in sustainability. The authors go beyond the notion of having recycling as the final step in a process flow; they focus on the necessity of designers to change their common approach to product development. The authors argue that it is essential that we begin creating products that are good for the environment, not just “less bad.” They dispute that the key to working within, rather than against, nature is to respect biodiversity, “respect the elegance and abundance of what is around us, and begin our design process with the notion of there is no such thing as waste”. This is an inspirational book that establishes a roadmap for a more sustainable way of living for current and future generations.
A World Without Us by Alan Weisman. This is very provocative book that offers a totally original approach to questions of humanity’s impact on the planet. The author asks us to envision our planet, without us. Weisman explains how our massive infrastructure would collapse and finally vanish without human presence; what of our everyday stuff may become immortalized as fossils; why some of our earliest buildings might be the last architecture left; and how items like plastic, bronze sculpture, and some man-made molecules may be our most lasting gifts to the universe. Weisman puts forward unlikely scenarios of how our species could vanish. This book provides a stimulating, and sometimes depressing look at the fate of the environment. It makes us ponder what would be our legacy.
City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age by P.D. Smith. This book was published in 2012 and it is intrinsically related to my areas of research and teaching “Cities and Urban Life”. From large urban areas to small urban spaces, we cannot deny that the power and influence of cities is truly global. The book takes the reader on a journey through the past, present and future of the world’s cities. The book is organized in a unique format that allows the reader to open the book anywhere and begin – there are no set routes. It is just as you exploring a real city the elements of surprise and discovery are important and this book provides them. The book is enjoyable and easy to read but also provides a multi-dimensional journey through urban life. It is recommended for anybody who can appreciate cities as more than just the place they commute to or they live in.
City of God by Paulo Lins. Translated from Portuguese, by Alison Entrekin. This is a novel identified as a true crime story based in part on Lins’s childhood in the Rio de Janeiro favela known as Cidade de Deus, or City of God. It is a multifaceted story about hellish life and early death in a Brazilian slum. The book includes an omniscient narrator who jumps around revealing the most brutal and intimate details of the lives of gangster’s and regular people alike. Despite the convoluted plot, it’s entertaining enough to follow and you can’t help but feel for so many characters and their plight. City of God is a raw, powerful portrait of the countless millions of poor people all over the world. It offers a view of the socio-economic issues present in some of the most underserved and forgotten parts of our cities.
What is the last book you’ve bought?
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, this is the true story of the mysterious life and death of Christopher McCandless who kept a sporadic record of his wanderings and adventures in a series of journal entries. McCandless was a talented young man from a good family who inexplicably turned his back on everything he seemed to have going for him. McCandless was inspired by the idealism of writers like Leo Tolstoy, Jack London, and Henry David Thoreau, all of whom disdained material wealth. The book is about his odd seclusion from society and a lifestyle. Throughout the many years he spends on the road from California to Alaska, McCandless meets and affects many people, though never long enough have a lasting impact or be lured away from his wandering. It is a very powerful story of idealism and self-survival.
What “important book” have you not read and why haven’t you read it?
There are several important books that I have not read yet, but one that a stands out is Lord of the Flies by William Golding, a Nobel Prize-winning English author. I have read other novels by Golding including To the Ends of the Earth (Trilogy). The reason for not having read Lord of the Flies is that as a very young age I saw the film adaptations both the 1963 and the 1990 versions.
What genre of literature do you prefer to read (history, fiction, biography, etc) and why?
I do prefer both history and fiction and find both really enjoyable. I tend to go read history, and then get burned out on it and want to escape reality and then go on a fiction binge. I usually enjoy a good mystery that takes place in a distant culture or in a foreign country.
What magazines do you subscribe to and why?
I consider myself to be an avid traveler and urban explorer. Understanding the dynamics of humans and cities has been fundamental to my academic career, and travel and exploration are essential in my field of study. During the summer times I travel for up to two months. Last summer I had the opportunity to travel to Scandinavia and Turkey. Most of my favorite magazines (electronic) subscriptions and a websites are related to such topics and include: National Geographic, National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, AFAR and Lonely Planet just to name a few. These publications and websites provide multiple points of view, thus facilitating a more balanced perspective of places around world. They help me prepare and plan for future travels and explorations, and keep me relevant.