Works Hardcover – Nov 8 2005
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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
"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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Top Customer Reviews
Younger kids will like the pictures, which are descriptive and explanatory enough that they won't have to read all the text to understand. Adults will like the descriptions in words, which cover all you could need from such a book. I like the two together! While this isn't the first of such a narrative book (and the subject of cities has been tackled in similar books in the best), this one puts it all together, well, just right! Other books I've seen are much heavier on the graphics and lighter on the text, which means some of the detail is lost. The graphics here are a support to the text, and there are quite a few, but I found myself wanting even more!
There's lots of basic information here, all fascinating, but it's the little nuggets of information about something associated with the city that makes this volume an interesting read. Whether you're settling in for an extended reading session, or just skimming a couple of pages to pass a wee bit of idle time, you'll learn something. And, after all, isn't both education and entertainment the reason we read?
The graphics are well done, which helps the narrative flow. By breaking things down, and looking at them individually, you can then appreciate the beauty or function of the larger picture, and Ascher dives into the nitty-gritty (sometimes literally) very well.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
*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.
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.
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.
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