Davis’ book is like an anti-tourist guide. It takes you into all the places that the shiny world doesn’t want to be seen. Although it’s only 200 pages, it’s a sprawling, comprehensive guide to a the urban populations of all every continent on earth. Davis readily skips from Kinshasa to Quito, Shanghai to Cairo. He brings an encyclopaedic knowledge to bear on the issues that blight the vast expansive super-cities which have evolved over the course of the last 30 years. The details are terrifying. From sanitation and sewage to education and child labour, he reveals how most of the world is inhabiting a new Dickensian nightmare, whilst the G7 politicians congratulate themselves on their successes. One chapter mercilessly skewers the notion that privatisation leads to better living standards, dissecting the way in which the IMF/ World Bank’s SAP policy (Structural Adjustment Program) has only enhanced poverty in third world slums. The section on Kinshasa is devastating.
Besides its academic value, Davis’ book is invaluable because it casts a light on a world which is neglected and ignored. How can we still exist in a world where the imbalances between rich and poor are so invidious, and becoming more so? Whilst people from the Western world holiday in far-off climes, bringing back stories of exotic life-affirmation, the countries they visit possess poverty on a scale that seems unimaginable. Davis’ work helps to make the invisible visible. Although, in reading Plante of Slums. one is also made aware of how little those of us who live in more privileged regions have access to information regarding the actual conditions under which a vast proportion of the world’s population subsists.
How we move on to the next stage of creating a more equitable society, given the failures of the neoliberal model, is the challenge the book lays down.