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Robert Neuwirth recommends

Before traveling, Neuwirth immerses himself in a country's written culture. Here are some books that have inspired him — and other resources related to communities and planning.

Fiction

Before I travel to any country, I try to read its fiction and poetry and immerse myself in as much of its written culture as I can. I've found that fiction and poetry often get there first and, beyond works involving individual countries, here are some books that inspired me as I was writing Stealth of Nations and Shadow Cities.

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    Pig Earth

    John Berger
    Vintage, 1992

    Berger finds poetry in the humdrum, and pragmatism in big dreams. This trilogy movingly chronicles the social dislocations and new social conglomerations of rural-to-urban migration.

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    Once in Europa

    John Berger
    Bloomsbury USA, 2000

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    Lilac and Flag

    John Berger
    Vintage, 1992

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    Texaco

    Patrick Chamoiseau
    Vintage, 1998

    Chamoiseau and Latife Tekin (below) offer evocative accounts in which squatters and street vendors are fully formed characters and participants in their own communities and political life. In Juan Goytisolo's book (also below), the street market functions as a welcoming oasis, the antithesis of a separated, elitist, regimented, rule-bound Western city.

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    Solibo Magnificent

    Patrick Chamoiseau 
    Anchor, 1999

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    Berji Kristin

    Latife Tekin
    Marion Boyars Publishers, 2000

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    Makbara

    Juan Goytisolo
    Dalkey Archive Press, 2008

Organizing

I was an organizer before I became a writer and I still believe in the power of disenfranchised communities to band together and grapple with 21st-century pressures.

Nonfiction

These are some visionary works that help flip standard perceptions on their head.

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    Freedom to Build

    John F. C. Turner, ed. and Robert Fichter, ed.
    Collier Macmillan, 1973

    Turner was the first builder/planner/architect to articulate the obvious: that squatters were creative neighborhood developers who ought to have the right to build their own communities.

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    Housing by People

    John F. C. Turner
    Marion Boyars Publishers, 2000

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    Congo-Paris: Transnational Traders on the Margins of the Law

    Janet MacGaffey and Rémy Bazenguissa-Ganga
    Indiana University Press, 2000

    This is an innovative look at a uniquely African version of globalization.

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    The works of Colin Ward

    The gentle British anarchist, who died in 2010, wrote widely on planning, housing and organizing. Some of his essays can be found at The Anarchist Library.

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    Owning the Earth

    Andro Linklater
    Bloomsbury USA, 2013

    Linklater's latest, and, sadly, last book (he died suddenly, as it was being published), started as an examination of the roots of the fiscal meltdown of 2008-2009 and morphed into a nuanced history of the power and perils of private property.