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P. D. SMITH is an independent researcher and writer. He is the author of a short biography of Einstein and an academic study of science in German literature. He has taught at University College London where he is an honorary research fellow in the Science and Technology Studies Department, writes a biweekly piece for the Guardian in the weekend book-review section and is a guest contributor to the influential website 3quarksdaily, as well as reviewing for other national publications such as The Times, Independent and Times Literary Supplement. He lives in Winchester.



P. D. Smith's website

Featured titles

A User's Guide to the Past, Present and Future of Urban Life

A richly packed, colourful and well-written primer on the role the city plays in our lives The sorcery of cities should not be lost; Smith's ebullient guidebook helps to remind us why – Jonathan Glancey, GUARDIAN


A new look at this great subject has for some time been needed, and CITY P. D. Smith provides it...  wholly accessible to the serious general reader –  Jonathan Yardley, WASHINGTON POST


It¹s a wonderful book: BldgBlog meets Italo Calvino. Gorgeous, smart, fun, and full of surprises, like wandering all the world¹s great cities at once Irresistible – David Dobbs, 


Handsome and well-written – TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT


Discursive, imaginative, and comprehensive, [Smith's] analysis of everything from the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to skateboarding and graffiti should be savored – PUBLISHERS WEEKLY


As exciting, sprawling and multifarious as a shining city on a hill – KIRKUS REVIEWS


Like any great city, this is a book to get lost in, to try out new areas, to sample to savor, to enjoy  Highly recommended for readers across many subject categories, including urban studies, cultural history, and travel – LIBRARY JOURNAL


Fifty per cent of the world’s population now lives in cities. By 2050 it will be seventy-five per cent. Eco-cities, next-generation hybrid cars that reduce emissions, superconducting electricity cables, even crops and livestock raised in ‘vertical farms’ – all these may well form part of our urban future, as predicted in a recent Science special issue on ‘Cities’ (8 February 2008).

As P. D. Smith argues in this original, ambitious and thought-provoking guidebook, cities are our greatest creation as a species. They embody our unique ability to imagine how the world might be, and to realize those dreams in brick, steel, concrete and glass. For our species has never been satisfied with what nature gave us. We are the ape that builds, that shapes our environment. We are the city builders – Homo urbanus.

Interweaving sources from mythology, archaeology, anthropology, philosophy, sociology, politics, architecture, psychology, science and technology, CITY tells the remarkable global story of our urban existence, from the first city builders seven thousand years ago to today’s sprawling megacities and beyond. As an all-in-one armchair guide to almost anywhere, the book reveals every possible aspect of city life, from a person’s first awed moments of arrival in the metropolis to their departure on board the trains of the London Necropolis Railway. It also tells a fascinating story about the creative cultures of the city: its literature, art, science, film and popular culture.

Modelled on a guide book, with five main parts (’Basics’, ‘Entertainment’, Eating & Drinking’, ‘Sightseeing’ and ‘Beyond the City’), CITY contains around seventy stand-alone essays on aspects of cities across the world and throughout history, and which can be read in any order – much as if one were taking a random walk through an actual city and discovering nuggets at every turn. At once scholarly and easy-going, serious and witty, stylish and polemical, and with his reporter’s nose for subject and information, P. D. Smith is in effect providing a biography of the city as a multifaceted, global phenomenon: a mirror of our manifold imperfections and a celebration of the ultimate human creation.

Publisher: Bloomsbury (UK/US)
Publication Date: 10 May 2012
Length: 400 pages

World rights: Bloomsbury


The Real Dr Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon

Smith’s dynamic, riveting narrative reveals details of people, places and events that are rarely covered in textbooks, bringing to life not just scientists like Robert Oppenheimer and Leo Szilard but the horrors of chemical and atomic warfare… Captivating and thoroughly referenced, this chronicle should interest a wide audience, from science and history buffs to armchair politicos – PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

Important – John Gribbin, LITERARY REVIEW

Readable and entertaining – Tibor Fischer, DAILY TELEGRAPH

This is the gripping, untold story of the doomsday bomb – the ultimate weapon of mass destruction.


In 1950, the Hungarian-born scientist Leo Szilard made a dramatic announcement on American radio: science was on the verge of creating a doomsday bomb. For the first time in history, mankind realized that he had within his grasp a truly God-like power, the ability to destroy life itself. The shockwave from this statement reverberated across the following decade and beyond.

If detonated, Szilard’s doomsday device – a huge cobalt-clad H-bomb – would pollute the atmosphere with radioactivity and end all life on earth. The scientific creators of such apocalyptic weapons had transformed the laws of nature into instruments of mass destruction and for many people in the Cold War there was little to distinguish real scientists from that ‘fictional master of megadeath’, Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove.

Indeed, as P. D. Smith’s chilling account shows, the dream of the superweapon begins in popular culture. This is a story that cannot be told without the iconic films and fictions that portray our deadly fascination with superweapons, from H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds to Nevil Shute’s On the Beach and Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Weaving together biography, science and art, DOOMSDAY MEN creates a compelling history of physics in the twentieth century, focusing on the long-lasting search for ever-more destructive weapons, from the development of chemical warfare in First World War Germany through the arms race of the Cold War. As it forcefully shows, the culture that grew up in the shadow of this frightening weapon has helped shape all our contemporary anxieties about science, technology and the future.

Publisher: Allen Lane (UK)/St Martin’s (US)
Pub Date: 31 May 2007 (UK)/10 December 2007 (US)
Length: 576 pages

All rights available excluding:
UK & Commonwealth, US, Brazil (Companhia das Letras)