The Great Cities in History

John Julius Norwich


Today, for the first time in history, the majority of people in the world live in cities. The implications and challenges associated with this fact are enormous. But how did we get here?

From the origins of urbanization in Mesopotamia to the global metropolises of today, great cities have marked the development of human civilization. The Great Cities in History tells their stories, starting with the earliest, from Uruk and Memphis to Jerusalem and Alexandria. Next come the fabulous cities of the first millennium: Damascus and Baghdad, Teotihuacan and Tikal, and Chang’an, capital of Tang Dynasty China. The medieval world saw the rise of powerful cities such as Palermo and Paris in Europe, Benin in Africa, and Angkor in southeast Asia. The last two sections bring us from the early modern world, with Isfahan, Agra, and Amsterdam, to the contemporary city: London and New York, Tokyo and Barcelona, Los Angeles and Sao Paulo.

The distinguished contributors, including Jan Morris, Michael D. Coe, Simon Schama, Orlando Figes, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Misha Glenny, Susan Toby Evans, and A. N. Wilson, evoke the character of each place—people, art and architecture, government—and explain the reasons for its success.


The book is packed with such savory detail, relayed by writers and historians who appear to eat, sleep and breathe their cities.

— Tunku Varadarajan The Wall Street Journal

[T]his collection stimulates serious reflection.

— Booklist

Accessible, well indexed…this is not simply a reference work; the essays on each city and on each historical age are worth close reading. Highly recommended.

— Choice

A careful historian’s vision of a man’s metropolitan history. There are 68 cities here included. Each is accorded a short chapter written by contributors…. The cities under discussion range from the primordial Uruk to modern monsters like Sao Paulo, taking in, along the way, a host of conurbations from the ancient, the medieval, and the early modern periods… Packed with such savory detail, relayed by writers and historians who appear to eat, sleep and breathe their cities.

— The Wall Street Journal


John Julius Norwich

Edited By

John Julius Norwich has written widely on architecture and music, and has presented some thirty BBC television historical documentaries.