Manchester and Chicago – the 'battering rams of modernity'
A new book explores the importance of cities
By Alistair Kleebauer
The six-year-old girl worked from five in the morning until nine at night in a dust-filled room. She understood very well that if she flagged, she would be hit with a strap. Her work lifting baskets gradually pulled her bones out of place and by age 13 it had deformed her body so much that she had to go to the poorhouse.
This disturbing account of working in a textile factory in 19th century Manchester appears in Metropolis: A History of Humankind’s Greatest Invention by British historian Ben Wilson. Spanning 7,000 years, it explains how cities have shaped humanity from the first city of Uruk in what is now Iraq to today’s megacities such as Lagos and Mumbai. The title of the book might seem jarring when read alongside an anecdote like the one about the poor, deformed girl, but Wilson has made it his project to explore every dimension of the growth of cities.
Manchester’s past from 1830 to 1914, during which time it earned the nickname Cottonopolis, is vividly exp…