New Honors for “A City Is Not a Computer” and Places Books

Cover of Shannon Mattern's book; a wall covered in circuit boards.
On the right: A wall in Bairro Alto, Lisbon, covered with circuit boards painted white. [Daniel Gonçalves]

We’re pleased to share that readers of the technology website The Verge have voted Shannon Mattern’s A City Is Not a Computer one of the “best tech books of all time.” The Verge recently released a list of readers’ all-time favorites, and Mattern’s book sits among an array of inventive and incisive work.

Published in 2021, A City Is Not a Computer is the second volume of Places Books, our ongoing collaboration with Princeton University Press. In accord with the series concept — to expand selected Places essays into short books — this latest builds upon several essays in which Mattern explores the rise of “urban intelligences.”

“It was such an exciting challenge and opportunity to start with articles written about timely subjects, which took advantage of the immediacy of the digital medium, and transform them into the more concrete, slower-paced medium of the book,” Mattern told us. “This also allowed me to draw out latent connections between various subjects I’d explored over the course of a decade.”

In her eponymous article in Places, Mattern recognizes that the paradigms of “city as machine” and “city as organism” have, in the 21st century, mutated into “city as computer,” as people increasingly believe the messiness of the world can be tamed by algorithms. “We should reject data-driven models that delegate critical, often ethical decisions to the machine,” she writes.

A City is Not a Computer is part reckoning, part rumination on the digital future of our cities. You can purchase a copy of one of the best tech books of all time here.