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Mike Davis (1946–) is a prolific Marxist labor historian whose renown stems from a memorably trenchant, provocative mix of scholarship and reportage on urban issues, especially those concerning Los Angeles. Davis labels himself a “writer-activist,” “former meat cutter and long-distance truck driver,” and “Marxist-environmentalist”; his perspective on American cities is consciously that of someone who grew up in a southern California marked by deindustrialization, suburbanization, and racism. Alongside these working-class credentials stand prestigious MacArthur and Getty fellowships, two books—City of Quartz (1990) and Ecology of Fear (1998)—on the Los Angeles Times bestsellers list simultaneously, and celebrity status within and outside of academia.

Davis has directed much of his analysis and critique of urban conditions toward the detrimental effects of economic restructuring and welfare state shrinkage for ...

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