written by:
October 5, 2010

I fell hard for Lapham's Quarterly earlier this year when by chance I happened into a bookstore shortly before founder Lewis Lapham gave not so much a reading as a recounting of his decades as a journalist. He was as erudite as he was well-dressed and his talk ranged from his young days in San Francisco and with the San Francisco Chronicle through his time as the editor of Harper's to the founding of Lapham's Quarterly. His brand of intellectual inquiry is far ranging and deeply indebted to history, and reading through an issue of the journal feels less like a trek through the varieties of thought the last several milennia has produced than a perfectly made cache of knowledge with which to arm oneself for the next serious debate. The current issue of Lapham's Quarterly is dedicated to The City, and it's well worth your time.

This photograph of Bernard Hailstone painting in Blitz ruins is from the Art Archive / Imperial War Museum / Eileen Tweedy. Courtesy Lapham's Quarterly
This photograph of Bernard Hailstone painting in Blitz ruins is from the Art Archive / Imperial War Museum / Eileen Tweedy. Courtesy Lapham's Quarterly
2 / 2
Laphams Quarterly City Cover1

You can only see a portion of what's in the pages of the issue online, but it's a telling survey. I nodded vigorously despite myself when I heard Lapham he talked about the "poverty" of those who exist without a sense of history, and the majority of Lapham's Quarterly is dedicated to extracts of historical writings germane to the issue's theme.

A fine example in the City is the Athenian Pledge of Allegiance from 335 BC. Another has HL Mencken rhapsodizing about the beauties of San Francisco, though not before a scathing indictment of the cities of the east. Another entry comes from a letter from Hernan Cortes, describing Tenochtitlán.

This photograph of Bernard Hailstone painting in Blitz ruins is from the Art Archive / Imperial War Museum / Eileen Tweedy. Courtesy Lapham's Quarterly
This photograph of Bernard Hailstone painting in Blitz ruins is from the Art Archive / Imperial War Museum / Eileen Tweedy. Courtesy Lapham's Quarterly

Once you're through with your history lesson, Lapham includes essays from contemporary writers, the best of which comes from New Yorker writer George Packer. He posits that we westerners have essentially lost the ability to understand one of the great citys of literature: Dickens' London. But those who inhabit the teeming metropolises of the developing world might just have a better view of things. He travels from Singapore to Lagos, Nigeria in the essay, and it's a splendid take on Dickens' imagination of London, and one that equates the dirty, striving metropolis of English literature with those in the third world.

Recently we at Dwell did an issue on Megacities, and if that was at all inspiring, pick up the current issue of Lapham's Quarterly.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

A renovated brick house with metal standing-seam roof in Arlington, Virginia
With a new skeleton, a brick house on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., gets an eco-friendly upgrade—without losing its local charm.
May 05, 2016
simpler times australian vacation home vertical wood cladding
Robust materials and a flexible floor plan help the owners of an Australian vacation home reap maximum rewards.
May 05, 2016
sweet virginia vacation smart home facade granite stucco mahogany siding
This vacation home fosters connectivity in every sense of the word.
May 05, 2016
monkey see monkey do japan living dining room custom kitchen island stove vent eames chairs
And views of the wildlife aren't bad either.
May 05, 2016
Martis Camp 141 in Truckee California
Martis Camp 141 celebrates it mountainous surroundings with local materials.
May 05, 2016
havart 170
Updating standard pieces, designer Gaëtan Havart turns a misused space into a vibrant kitchen.
May 04, 2016
tech support stillwater dwellings prefab exterior napa
In Napa, a custom menu of apps helps a frequent traveler keep track of security—and his garden—from afar.
May 04, 2016
home for good renovation montreal family rear facade steel cladding footbridge garden
This family opens up an old structure and imagines a long-term house.
May 04, 2016
BKLYN DESIGNS 2016 location
From panel discussions to virtual reality demonstrations and more, this weekend will bring out the designer in everyone during BKLYN DESIGNS at the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint from May 6-8, 2016. Here are just a few activities and installations to check out.
May 04, 2016
cbill timmerman photography jarson residence l7c4109 0
After a successful kick-off program in San Diego, we’re now making our way to Scottsdale, Arizona for the second stop on our Dwell Home Tours series. As the only desert locale on our agenda, we’re giving visitors the chance to explore exquisite modern residences that are fully immersed in the city’s arid landscape.
May 04, 2016
Modern winery in Central California
An updated California winery captures a prestigious architecture award.
May 03, 2016
back to the garden rhode island cottage small space facade landscaping
Outside Providence, Rhode Island, a little retreat takes up no more space than a standard two-car garage.
May 03, 2016
White staircase with skylight and under-stair storage
With clever storage and a retractable skylight, a London apartment feels larger than its 576 square feet.
May 03, 2016
Off-the-grid prefab in pristine Tasmanian landscape by Misho+Associates.
In Tasmania, an eco-conscious architect builds a vacation home that can stand up to an untamed island.
May 03, 2016
30degree pendants by wrong.london
The Danish design brand never disappoints.
May 02, 2016
practical magic brooklyn renocation kitchen caesarstone countertop stainless steel ikea cabinetes green vola faucet
A creative couple flips the script on their family home, a former workman’s cottage on the northern edge of Brooklyn.
May 02, 2016
history lesson kansas city outdoor backyard facade porch saarinen round table emeco navy chairs
An architect pushes the vernacular architecture of Missouri into the modern realm.
May 02, 2016
mission possible san francisco renovation facade exterior french doors cedar
A dilapidated lot in San Francisco gets a second chance.
May 02, 2016
Eames Demetrios of Kcymaerxthaere
The Eames scion and "geographer-at-large" traverses the globe on behalf of Kcymaerxthaere, a network of markers and monuments that tells fictional tales about real-life communities.
May 02, 2016
marcel breuer architect letter office kansas city snower house
See a glimpse into the office of a master architect.
May 01, 2016
Santa Monica living room with an Yves Klein coffee table
Dwell editor-in-chief Amanda Dameron talks us through Dwell's May 2016 issue.
May 01, 2016
house that sottsass built maui hawaii memphis group home renovation ettore facade colored volumes
In Maui, of all places.
May 01, 2016
two of a kind padua italy matching family homes facade green roof doors color
For Dwell's annual issue dedicated to dream homes , we visited homes from Haiti to Italy. Here, we introduce you to the photographers and writers who made it happen.
April 30, 2016
houseofweek
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
April 30, 2016
W House living room
Our best reader reactions this week.
April 29, 2016
Vineyard house illuminated at night
Rammed-earth construction fuses this Portuguese house to the environment.
April 29, 2016
vintage Scandinavian furniture Kathryn Tyler
In southwest England, interior designer Kathryn Tyler built her home around her ever-expanding furniture collection.
April 29, 2016
steel facade home Seattle
On the sandy shores of Fauntleroy Cove in Seattle, renowned firm Olson Kundig Architects crafts a subtle home with striking steel accents.
April 29, 2016
seperate piece renovated guesthouse eames storage unit cork floor tiles living room
An architect and an interior designer put the tools to the test for this impressive renovation.
April 29, 2016
Ceramics by WrenLab
Manhattan doesn’t get to have all the fun during NYCxDesign. Brooklyn is set for the return of BKLYN DESIGNS at the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint from May 6-8, 2016. Here are just a few exhibitors we are excited to see this year.
April 29, 2016