James Howard Kunstler

James Howard Kunstler
Kunstler in December 2007
Kunstler in December 2007
Born (1948-10-19) October 19, 1948 (age 71)
New York City, New York, U.S.
OccupationAuthor, social critic, blogger

James Howard Kunstler (born October 19, 1948) is an American author, social critic, public speaker, and blogger. He is best known for his books The Geography of Nowhere (1994), a history of American suburbia and urban development, The Long Emergency (2005), and Too Much Magic (2012). In The Long Emergency, he argues that when peak oil is reached, oil depletion will result in the end of industrialized society and force Americans to live in smaller-scale, localized, agrarian (or semi-agrarian) communities. Starting with World Made by Hand in 2008, Kunstler has written a series of science fiction novels about such a culture in the future.

Kunstler gives lectures on topics related to suburbia, urban development, and the challenges of what he calls "the global oil predicament", and a resultant change in the "American Way of Life." He has lectured at the TED Conference, the American Institute of Architects, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the International Council of Shopping Centers, the National Association of Science and Technology, as well as at numerous colleges and universities, including Yale, MIT, Harvard, Cornell, University of Illinois, DePaul, Texas A & M, the USMA, and Rutgers University.

As a journalist, Kunstler continues to write for The Atlantic Monthly, Slate.com, RollingStone, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, and its op-ed page where he often covers environmental and economic issues. Kunstler is also a leading supporter of the movement known as "New Urbanism."


Kunstler was born in New York City to Jewish parents,[1] who divorced when he was eight.[2] His family then moved to the suburbs on Long Island. His biological father was a middleman in the diamond trade.[1] Kunstler spent most of his childhood with his mother and stepfather, a publicist for Broadway shows.[1] While spending summers at a boys' camp in New Hampshire, he became acquainted with a small town ethos that would later permeate many of his works.

In 1966, he graduated from New York City's High School of Music & Art, and attended the State University of New York at Brockport, where he majored in theater. After college, Kunstler worked as a reporter and feature writer for a number of newspapers, and finally as a staff writer for Rolling Stone. In 1975, he began writing books and lecturing full-time.

He has lectured at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, MIT, RPI, the University of Virginia, and many other colleges, and he has appeared before many professional organizations such as the AIA, the APA, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

He lives in Washington County, New York, and formerly was married to the children's author Jennifer Armstrong.


Over the course of the first 14 years of his writing career (1979–1993), Kunstler wrote seven novels.

Since the mid-1990s, he has written four non-fiction books about suburban development and diminishing global oil supplies. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, his first work on the subject, The Geography of Nowhere, discussed the effects of "cartoon architecture, junked cities, and a ravaged countryside".[3] The book was described as a jeremiad by The Washington Post. Kunstler is critical of suburbia and urban development trends throughout the United States, and is a proponent of the New Urbanism movement. According to Scott Carlson, reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Kunstler's books on the subject have become "standard reading in architecture and urban planning courses".[4]

He describes America as a poorly planned and "tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work."[5] In a 2001 op-ed for Planetizen, he wrote that in the wake of 9/11 the "age of skyscrapers is at an end", that no new megatowers would be built, and that existing tall buildings are destined to be dismantled.[6]

In his books that followed, such as Home From Nowhere, The City in Mind, and The Long Emergency (2005), he discussed topics in the context of a coming post-oil America. Kunstler says he wrote The Geography of Nowhere, "Because I believe a lot of people share my feelings about the tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work".[7]

In his science fiction novel World Made by Hand (2008), he describes a future dependent on localized production and agriculture, with little reliance on imports. Three "World Made by Hand" sequels have followed: The Witch of Hebron (2010), A History of the Future (2015), and The Harrows of Spring (2016).[8]

In his writings and lectures, he contends that there is no other alternative energy source on the horizon that can replace relatively cheap oil. He therefore envisions a "low energy" world that will be radically different from today's. This has contributed to his becoming an outspoken advocate for one of his solutions, a more energy-efficient rail system, and writes "we have to get cracking on the revival of the railroad system if we expect to remain a united country."[5][9]


Bill Kauffman has called Kunstler the "scourge of suburbia," and a "slashingly witty Jeremiah."[10] In a review of Kunstler's weekly audio podcast, the Columbia Journalism Review described the KunstlerCast as "a weekly podcast that offers some of the smartest, most honest urban commentary around—online or off."[3] The Albany, New York, Times Union reviewed Kunstler's book World Made by Hand, writing that, "James Howard Kunstler is fiddling his way to the apocalypse, one jig at a time." The paper described the book's scenario as "grim", with "an upside or two."[11]

Kunstler has been called "provocative and entertaining" by The New York Times, while The Christian Science Monitor noted that "disturbing others’ sense of normality is something Kunstler does well... everyone who knows his work acknowledges his power to wake up a crowd." In critiquing The Long Emergency, journalist Chris Hayes claims that while Kunstler makes valid points about the consequences of peak oil, he undermines his credibility with rhetoric and perceived misanthropy.[12] Joseph Romm, a climate change expert and Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, has stated his belief that accelerating shifts toward renewable energy will maintain suburban lifestyles and that, contrary to Kunstler's arguments, "suburbia won’t be destroyed by peak oil."[13]

Charles Bensinger, co-founder of Renewable Energy Partners of New Mexico, describes Kunstler's views as "fashionably fear-mongering" and uninformed regarding the potential of renewable energy resources to eliminate the need for fossil fuels.[14] Conversely, Paul Salopek of the Chicago Tribune finds that, "Kunstler has plotted energy starvation to its logical extremes" and points to the US Department of Energy Hirsch report as drawing similar conclusions.[15] David Ehrenfeld, writing for American Scientist, sees Kunstler delivering a "powerful integration of science, technology, economics, finance, international politics and social change" with a "lengthy discussion of the alternatives to cheap oil."[16]




  • The Wampanaki Tales (1979)
  • A Clown in the Moonlight (1981)
  • The Life of Byron Jaynes (1983)[19]
  • An Embarrassment of Riches (1985)
  • Blood Solstice (1986)
  • The Halloween Ball (1987)
  • Bagging Bigfoot/The Hunt (1988)
  • Thunder Island (1989)
  • Maggie Darling: A Modern Romance (2003)
  • World Made by Hand (2008)
  • The Witch of Hebron (2010)
  • Manhattan Gothic (2012)
  • A History of the Future (2014)
  • The Harrows of Spring (2016)


See also


  1. ^ a b c J Kunstler. "Kunstler Memoirs: Off to College 1966". J Kunstler. Archived from the original on April 18, 2008. Retrieved March 28, 2008.
  2. ^ J Kunstler. "Kunstler Memoirs: The Station 1957–63". J Kunstler. Archived from the original on April 18, 2008. Retrieved March 28, 2008.
  3. ^ a b Michele Wilson (October 16, 2008). "The American Nightmare". The Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved October 16, 2008.
  4. ^ Scott Carlson (October 20, 2006). "A Social Critic Warns of Upheavals to Come". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved December 27, 2007.
  5. ^ a b James Howard Kunstler's web site
  6. ^ "Kunstler Predicts The End of Tall Buildings". [Planetizen]. Retrieved December 15, 2008.
  7. ^ "About". KUNSTLER. October 2, 1999. Retrieved February 26, 2015.
  8. ^ "James Howard Kunstler: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle". Amazon.com. Retrieved April 19, 2016.
  9. ^ Salam, Reihan. "Heralding The End Times". The New York Sun. Retrieved April 30, 2012.
  10. ^ Kauffman, Bill (December 19, 2005) Free Vermont, The American Conservative
  11. ^ Grondahl, Paul, "No oil? Cities in ruins? Welcome to Kunstler's 'World'", Albany Times Union March 16, 2008, page J1 to J2.
  12. ^ Wise Fool, ChrisHayes.com, Retrieved June 22, 2011
  13. ^ Why I don’t agree with James Kunstler about peak oil and the "end of suburbia", ThinkProgress, October 28, 2007
  14. ^ Charles Bensinger (2005). "Short Solutions to the Long Emergency". The Green Institute. Retrieved August 18, 2007.
  15. ^ Paul Salopek. "Nigerian Oil Flows into Suburban America", The Chicago Tribune, July 26, 2006.
  16. ^ David Ehrenfeld (2005). "The End is Nigh". American Scientist Online. Retrieved December 27, 2007.
  17. ^ "Review of Too Much Magic by James Howard Kunstlser". Kirkus Reviews. July 3, 2012.
  18. ^ Goodell, Jeff (July 12, 2012). "James Howard Kunstler on Why Technology Won't Save Us". Rolling Stone.
  19. ^ "Review of The Life of Byron Jaynes by James Howard Kunstler". Kirkus Reviews. May 23, 1983.

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