Cities In Layers: Six Famous Cities Through Time – by Philip Steele,  illustrated by Andrés Lozano

 Cities In Layers: Six Famous Cities Through Time – by Philip Steele,  illustrated by Andrés Lozano, Big Picture Press, (9781536203103), 2020

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Hardcover

What did you like about the book?  This large and handsome book compares six famous cities over time: Rome, Istanbul, Paris, Beijing, London and New York City. It opens with some basic facts about cities (a definition, how they began, similar features, etc.) and then places the 6 candidates on a stack of timelines so we can compare and contrast. Each metropolitan area gets eight pages and is viewed during three different periods, including today. We always meet three famous people who lived in each city and then have the opportunity to leaf through three sets of maps with elaborate keys to important features. Through the die-cut hole, you can glimpse one or two features that have existed from the earliest map to the latest, for example, the Flavian Amphitheater in Rome, later re-named the Colosseum. The artwork is very attractive, with each city having its own evocative color palette: sunny yellows and reds for Constantinople or greys and purples for London. There’s a lot of detail to pour over in each large double-page spread.

Anything you didn’t like about it? It’s a beautiful book, but I think the information might be more enticing in a digital format. The sheer number of entries for each city during each era is overwhelming and the print is very small.  And there’s no context for most of the notations, so we’d have to assume that elementary school readers would know the meaning of terms such as French Impressionism, cathedral, William Shakespeare or moneylenders. The famous people are similarly problematic; I find it hard to believe that one sentence about Sun Yat-sen, describing him as “leader of a revolutionary movement that overthrew imperial rule in China” would be very illuminating. Why not show us three ordinary people who lived in the cities during the time periods? It’s a significant oversight that there’s no city located in Africa or South America, which would have made for a fascinating contrast with Paris or London. Despite the introductory passages about what makes a city a city, the maps and keys don’t show us city walls, roads, railroads or name the important bodies of water.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Very studious and eagle-eyed readers who love maps. 

Who should buy this book? Public libraries

Where would you shelve it? 790

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: August 13, 2020

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