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The benefits of congestion

An awesomely erudite book about cities, including his home-town of Memphis, Tennessee

Cities in civilisation, a survey of urban cultural centres across 2,500 years of history, includes a long chapter on the glory that was Memphis-Tennessee, not Egypt. As a native of the Bluff City, I was taken aback by the author’s understanding of how a particular community segregated by race and class, could give rise to a unique amalgam of black and white musical traditions-the blues and country. Led by BB King, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, by Sam Phillips’s Sun Records and by Beale Street (which, Peter Hall writes, had “more whorehouses per square mile than anywhere in America…

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