Here, once again, is everything his fans have come to expect from Owen Hatherley: curiosity, precision, disputatious rigour, a contempt for received ideas tempered by agnostic humility, the keenest eye, an openness to the unexpected, a phenomenal amount of knowledge and an indifference to the paltry virtue of consistency.
And here, for the first time, is a new ingredient: a woman. In these tireless reports of wandering through the cities of what was once the (notably heterogeneous) Soviet bloc, this flâneur is accompanied by Agata Pyzik, whose own book Poor but Sexy: Culture Clashes in Europe East and West, composed in English, both puts monoglots to shame and prompts a reappraisal of what the populace of those cities expected after 1989. Certain of the itineraries are determined by her and, I suspect, followed by him with an initial reluctance. We are vouchsafed glimpses of their endlessly peripatetic life together and their diet of milk bar pirozhki and architectural taxonomy.
A more frivolous writer might have developed this into ‘It’s Grim up North Silesia’, but both Hatherley and Pyzik are pretty much strangers to any contemplative attitude other than that of high seriousness. As though to prove it, the only lost opportunity in a book that is dizzyingly comprehensive occurs