Lewis Mumford Biography


Lewis Charles Mumford was a product of the New York City system of education—and one of the most prominent critics of the New York City way of life. Mumford, the illegitimate son of a businessman, was reared by his mother. He graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1912, took five years of evening classes at City College, and then took graduate courses at Columbia University and the New School for Social Research. He never received a degree, but he became one of the country’s outstanding self-educated men.

Mumford trained himself in architecture by traveling through New York City and observing the condition of its old buildings and neighborhoods. He branched out into the study of literature, and then of culture in general. In 1922, he was one of the contributors to the famous symposium Civilization in the United States. Thereafter he wrote Sticks and Stones, a history of American architecture. In 1923, Mumford became a cofounder and charter member of the Regional Planning Association of America. In his capacity as planner and urban strategist he was involved in many studies of American cities. Just as notable was his editorial and scholarly work, done in connection with American Caravan, American Mercury, Harper’s, and other publications.

The first of his books that caused him to be called a major influence on U.S. culture was volume 1 of his four-part Renewal of Life, Technics and...

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Blake, Casey Nelson. Beloved Community: The Cultural Criticism of Randolph Bourne, Van Wyck Brooks, Waldo Frank, and Lewis Mumford. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990. An excellent discussion and overview of these four commentators on American culture and politics.

Holtz Kay, Jane. “Lewis Mumford at 100.” The Nation 261, no. 22 (December 25, 1995): 843-845. This retrospective on Lewis provides an overview of his impact on architecture and finds his theories to be as relevant as ever.

Hughes, Thomas Parke, and Agatha C. Hughes. Lewis Mumford: Public Intellectual. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. A good collection of essays that examine Mumford’s thoughts and theories on modern culture and technology.

Luccarelli, Mark. Lewis Mumford and the Ecological Region: The Politics of Planning. New York: Guilford Press, 1995. Luccarelli argues that Mumford did not break with tradition but defined a rich ecological history to American urban culture.

Miller, Donald L. Lewis Mumford: A Life. Reprint. New York: Grove/Atlantic, 2002. A thorough, revealing and penetrating biography. The author had access to Mumford’s original and private papers. This sympathetic biography is the result of ten years of dedicated research.

Newman, Elmer S. Lewis Mumford: A Bibliography, 1914-1970. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971. This is considered the standard biography. It includes an introduction by Mumford.

Wojtowicz, Robert. Lewis Mumford and American Modernism: Eutopian Theories for Architecture and Urban Planning. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Interprets Mumford’s cultural and urban criticism. Includes a fourteen-page bibliography and an index.