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Works [Hardcover]

Kate Ascher


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Book Description

Nov. 8 2005
How much do you really know about the systems that keep a city alive? The Works: Anatomy of a City contains everything you ever wanted to know about what makes New York City run. When you flick on your light switch the light goes on--how? When you put out your garbage, where does it go? When you flush your toilet, what happens to the waste? How does water get from a reservoir in the mountains to your city faucet? How do flowers get to your corner store from Holland, or bananas get there from Ecuador? Who is operating the traffic lights all over the city? And what in the world is that steam coming out from underneath the potholes on the street? Across the city lies a series of extraordinarily complex and interconnected systems. Often invisible, and wholly taken for granted, these are the systems that make urban life possible.

The Works: Anatomy of a City offers a cross section of this hidden infrastructure, using beautiful, innovative graphic images combined with short, clear text explanations to answer all the questions about the way things work in a modern city. It describes the technologies that keep the city functioning, as well as the people who support them-the pilots that bring the ships in over the Narrows sandbar, the sandhogs who are currently digging the third water tunnel under Manhattan, the television engineer who scales the Empire State Building's antenna for routine maintenance, the electrical wizards who maintain the century-old system that delivers power to subways.

Did you know that the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is so long, and its towers are so high, that the builders had to take the curvature of the earth's surface into account when designing it? Did you know that the George Washington Bridge takes in approximately $1 million per day in tolls? Did you know that retired subway cars travel by barge to the mid-Atlantic, where they are dumped overboard to form natural reefs for fish? Or that if the telecom cables under New York were strung end to end, they would reach from the earth to the sun? While the book uses New York as its example, it has relevance well beyond that city's boundaries as the systems that make New York a functioning metropolis are similar to those that keep the bright lights burning in big cities everywhere.

The Works is for anyone who has ever stopped midcrosswalk, looked at the rapidly moving metropolis around them, and wondered, how does this all work?

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press (HC); 1 edition (Nov. 8 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594200718
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594200717
  • Product Dimensions: 28.6 x 22.6 x 2.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 Kg
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,135,665 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

Kate Ascher could not have chosen a much drier topic for a book than water mains, parking meters, railroad classification yards, and the other doodads of city infrastructure. But in Ascher's captivating book, The Works, the innards of New York City come alive. Wonderfully illustrated, the book combines text, maps, and other graphics to tell the story of the systems that keep America's greatest city running smoothly. How are traffic lights coordinated? How do potholes form and which areas have streets with the best "smoothness score"? How is mail processed? What happens when you flush the toilet? Ascher, who has a PhD in government from the London School of Economics and is now executive vice president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, dissects the colorful workings of all these systems and much more.

The Works contains a section on pretty much every aspect of the Big Apple's infrastructure. You'll learn the mystery of the shiny silver tanks that have become a familiar sight on New York streets. (They prevent moisture from damaging underground phone lines.) Ascher explains how the city's 23 million daily pieces of mail are processed. We also learn about the 27-mile underground pneumatic mail tube that used to carry canisters with 500 letters up to 30 miles per hour around Manhattan. Also interesting: the story of the nine-foot-long, 800-pound robot submarine that city engineers send to probe leaks in the Delaware Aqueduct--which, it might interest you to know, is the world's longest continuous underground tunnel. And you'll find out all about Colonel Waring and his "White Wings." A great coffee table book for New York lovers or anyone with a curiosity bone. --Alex Roslin

Review

"The Works is both a reference guide and a geeky pleasure."
-Time Out New York

"It's a rare person who won't find something of interest in The Works, whether it's an explanation of how a street-sweeper works or the view of what's down a manhole."
-New York Post

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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New York city is a city of streets. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  47 reviews
53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic work Jan. 11 2006
By I should be at the gym - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Imagine:

*an illustration of the special machinery used just to clean the ceiling of the Holland Tunnel.

*a sidebar on the "Poo-Poo Choo-Choo" that for years transported waste 2,000 miles (!) from NYC to a dump in Texas.

*a graphic showing payphone distribution density in all 5 boroughs.

*a drawing of the simple but effective interlocking bolts and cross-tie latching that keep the corrugated metal containers on barges connected to each other so upper containers don't slide off lower ones and fall into the water.

*a key to reading construction markings that crews spray paint on the streets.

Such drawings, historical tidbits, and facts are more abundant in this book than leaves in Central Park.

This book is exceptional. As the former Vice-chair of Manhattan Community Board 5 (greater midtown Manhattan), chair of its parks committee, and member of its land use and zoning committee, I can attest to the great value of Kate Ascher's remarkable accomplishment, "The Works." New York City's infrastructure--from garbage collection to traffic control; subway signaling to cable TV distribution among franchise-controlled territories--is one of the world's most multifaceted, and at times a curious mix of the high-tech and the antiquated.

Reviews suggesting that the text is for teenagers may be accidentally misleading. "The Works" by no means is for teenagers either *primarily* or *at the exclusion of* adults. Yes, the book--especially its more heavily-illustrated sections--will no doubt fire the imagination of many teens who have engineering, design, line drawing, architectural, historical analysis, or problem-solving aptitudes. (Have a teenager who loved Legos as a kid but has outgrown them? This book will probably make a good gift.) Just because the book is broad in scope and doesn't examine each urban work it covers with the detail of a textbook for electrical engineering students at M.I.T. doesn't make it merely for adolescents.

If you enjoy TV shows on The Science Channel or Discovery, shows like "Building the Ultimate," if you are a history trivia buff, if you just like looking at diagrams or line drawings of machinery and equipment, of you're fascinated by cities, or if it is simply the cast that you love New York City, this is a great book, and I highly recommend it.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars learn how it all works--with diagrams! Jan. 10 2006
By R. Larsen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book has not left the coffee table. Everyone who has come over picks it up and inevitably remarks, "Oh, so that's how it works! I always wondered how they timed the traffic lights" or some such comment. This is a book you can return to again and again--one day it's telecommunications, the next, sewage. It contains so many answers to questions you never knew you had.

After reading "The Works," I now walk around New York with a completely different awareness of the incredible infrastructure that quietly undergirds the city: I constantly notice the design of fire hydrants, street signs, and man holes; I know what a "sidewalk neckdown" is; I understand how my water gets to me from the Ashokan Reservoir in the Catskills through those crazy aqueducts (and they ARE crazy! they have a submersible submarine that perouses that thing for leaks!).

This book is a perfect gift for any man/boy/girl/hippo who likes to know how things work and likes to see them diagrammed in beautiful, scrumptious illustrations. I am one of these people.

But perhaps most importantly, this book made me forgive those terrible yellow trash trains that pull into subway stations late at night and immediately mean you will be waiting twenty more minutes for your train. I used to fear them. Now I know what they do. I forgive you, yellow trash trains.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Reference - Incredible Graphics Jan. 11 2006
By Louis A. Rodriguez - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I am a licensed professional civil engineer that worked for the Philadelphia Water Department for 10 years and I found this book to be an excellent piece of work. This book would be a great reference for anyone ranging from a high school student to an engineer/architech/planner. The book focuses on New York City so people from the northeast USA may find some of the topics hit close to home. However, the principles and diagrams in the book apply to most cities. One of the best book I've bought in a while!
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Like a pop-up book for grownups Dec 20 2005
By Dennis Mitton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I worked in commercial power for several years and until I read this book I still didn't know how electricity got from the power plant to the outlet in my shop to power my drill. Or why water actually comes out of the tap when I turn on the sink faucet. It's these myriads of questions that we take for granted that this book answers. Imagine these questions in reference to a city - New York City - and you've got a fascinating book..

The book covers every phase of public works including transit, power, communications, and clean-up. While the focus is on massive public works it's not just a book about technology but it personalizes the people who do all these jobs such as the engineers who climb the antennas on the Empire State Building for maintenance. The graphics are excellent and are a real aid in understanding how the systems work. The writing is clear and concise and very readable. After reading the book I have a new respect for the people who keep this largely invisible infrastructure running. Good reading.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spectacular! June 8 2006
By Peter V. Wall - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As a designer in the New York metropolitan area, I thoroughly appreciate the effort that must have gone into making this book, and in particular its illustrations. They are detailed, accurate (as far as I can tell), and above all informative in a way that infrastructure diagrams from other books are not. It is noted that TW:AOAC's lead designer found inspiration in a chance encounter with famed statistician/graphic artist Edward Tufte - a credible claim, if this book is any indicator. Conveying so much about the city yet basking in white space, these spreads are consistently excellent. Ascher's writing, too, is impeccable, and while a free-market standpoint is appropriately engaged in her commentary, the invaluabity of New York's public bureaus is not given short shrift. Indeed, where politics have clouded issues of development for the city, Ms. Ascher has deftly surmised the issue and given it full and fair treatment. As a major in economics and a professional graphic designer, I am happily forced to recommend this book.
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