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Infrastructure: The Book of Everything for the Industrial Landscape Paperback – September 17, 2006


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We are surrounded by the hardware of the modern world, but how much of it do we even notice, much less understand? This unique and fascinating book covers the parts of the landscape that are often overlooked despite their ubiquity--objects such as utility poles, power lines, cell phone towers, highway overpasses, railroad tracks, factories, and other man-made mechanical marvels. And they are not just in urban areas, but include out of the way "ecosystems" such as mines, dams, wind farms, power plants, grain operators, steel mills, and oil refineries. In Infrastructure, Brian Hayes offers clear explanations of the systems that keep the modern world running, including agriculture, energy supplies, shipping, air transportation, and the various ingenious methods of recycling and managing the waste we generate.

Subtitled "A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape," the book is laid out like a nature guide, with comprehensive details and photographs on every page. "There can be just as much of interest happening on a factory rooftop as there is in the forest canopy, just as much to marvel at in the operation of a strip-mining dragline as in the geological carving of a river canyon," writes Hayes. A mine may not be as scenic as a mountain peak, but he argues it can hold as much fascination. His "chief aim is simply to describe and explain the technological fabric of society, not to judge whether it is good or bad, beautiful or ugly." In this he does an impressive job. He tells us how things work and why they are located where they are, and answers dozens of practical questions in the process. He also walks us through how raw materials such as coal, timber, petroleum, and water are converted and transported for use in our homes and businesses. Readers won't view the industrial landscape that same way after poring over this remarkable book. --Shawn Carkonen --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Scientific American

Field guides to nature abound, and they are invaluable for pinning down the name of a songbird or hawk that flashes by. Now a veteran science writer has crisscrossed the U.S. photographing and writing a different sort of vade mecum, one to the built environment--the electric-power substations and cargo cranes, cell phone towers, tank farms and derricks that show themselves on highways and country roads, unsung structures as much in need of identification and explanation as any bird. In the original, highly readable Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape, Brian Hayes adapts the form of the field guide to "everything that isn't nature," as he writes. "There can be just as much of interest happening on a factory rooftop as there is in the forest canopy." The book seeks not just to identify common sights of the technological landscape but to explain how these sights fit together, starting with raw materials like coal, water and food, moving through interconnecting networks like roadways and the electric-power grid, and ending with what he calls the nether end of the industrial economy, waste disposal. "You might as well get to know what it's called and what it does," he writes of this landscape. "It's all around you.... If you would pull off the highway to admire a mountain vista ... you might also consider pausing for a mine or a power plant." Camera in hand, Hayes spent 1992 to 2004 compiling much of the material for the book, supported in part by the Sloan Foundation's program on public understanding of technology. A technophile, he hopes to change some common attitudes toward the industrial landscape--"In the presence of nature we hold our breath ... in the presence of industry we hold our nose," he writes. He undertakes this task partly through hundreds of photographs taken from airplanes, cars, and the public side of many a chain-link fence, partly through the direct, accessible prose of a man who appreciates the history, engineering, and aesthetics of such wonders as barn hay hoods, grain elevators, oil pipelines, and the ventilation towers of the Holland Tunnel. Should we never get to some of these sights ourselves--and tours are harder to find since September 11, because authorities have discontinued public access to dams, reservoirs and other installations--Hayes brings us along for a closer look at many of them. Down sewer manholes: "Sounds were deadened. The fragrance was strong but not overpowering." And into the generator gallery of a hydroelectric plant: "The noises are all low notes--hums, buzzes, groanings, rhythmic vibrations that you feel rather than hear." Inside a concrete dam, he describes "a network of galleries and shafts rather like the secret passageways of an Egyptian pyramid." Along country roads, Hayes explores all the technological sights, from tractors and combines to the history and design of the once dominant technology for enclosing animals, barbed wire: "As light as air. Stronger than whisky. Cheaper than dust," as one of its early proponents described it. The wire was typically stapled to wood posts, but Hayes found a spot in Kansas where wood was in such short supply that posts were carved of limestone, a sight he immediately photographed, of course. The book is studded with explanations of common but uncelebrated objects--those dumbbells that hang from the undersides of power conductors (to absorb wind-induced vibration); the odd holes in barns (for owls invited in to eat the mice); and the colorful globes on power transmission lines that cross rivers (to alert pilots of tall-masted boats and low-flying aircraft). He explains why the concrete-making truck you are following is turning clockwise briskly (to mix the concrete) or slowly (to keep the aggregate from settling out) and why the plume erupting from the smokestack at the sugar mill isn't menacing (it's water vapor). Hayes takes on the inevitable thicket of specialized terminology gracefully, adding comparisons to make new terms and processes understandable. A style of floodgates works "like a rolltop desk"; bricks are "sliced from an extruded ribbon of clay by a fine wire, like a cheese cutter." He helps readers appreciate the scale of objects in photographs--for example, the vast machinery of strip mining--by including a nearby object such as a school bus, a car or a Porta Potti. The book ends with an extensive list for further reading, flagged with the word KIDS for younger readers and GEEKS for material more suitable for enthusiasts. Today, he points out in an afterword, the industrial landscape has become a lonely place, with one crane operator replacing gangs of longshoremen; one gargantuan strip-mining machine, a team of miners. This increasingly automated world is gradually becoming invisible to most of us. "Your home is probably connected to an electric-power substation, a telephone switching office, a water filtration plant," Hayes writes. "Do you know where they are ... or what they look like?" Perhaps after reading this extraordinary book, more people will be inspired to find out.

Anne Eisenberg is a science writer, most recently of the "What's Next" feature for the New York Times, which appeared from 2000 to 2005. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (September 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393329593
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393329599
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 0.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #488,163 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Great book but the paperback edition is unwieldy.
Amazon Customer
If all was right in the world, "Infrastructure" would be the text for a course in every high school in America.
Stephen Gross
Considering the subject matter, a very easy, informative and entertaining read.
K. Workman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 5, 2007
Great book but the paperback edition is unwieldy. The book is very wide and printed on high quality, glossy paper which is very heavy. It's almost impossible to read the paperback edition when holding it in your hands because it won't lie flat.

I'm returning it and ordering the hard cover edition.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Nipsey Russell on August 6, 2012
There are enough positive reviews here i probably dont need to expand on how great this is and how many topics this covers. I have 2 caveats that almost dropped my review to 4 stars, so this is really a 4.5 star review. First, the paperback book can barely structurally support the weight of the paper within it - many times the book has slipped and i feared that the whole thing would rip apart, but so far no disaster. Secondly, this book would MAJORLY benefit from diagrams. All illustrations are photos, which are great for identification, but we are talking complicated mechanisms here and just about every sections could use a diagram to help understand how these things work. In any event a great book to pick up every once in a while and lose yourself in a new topic.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Nathaniel Singer on July 8, 2007
Verified Purchase
Going into this book, I would have never expected that it would become one of my five or so favorite books of all time. Taking what could be the most mundane, everyday objects and sites and providing an incredibly rich explanation of their purpose, their reason for being, sounds like an incredibly difficult task. Making it interesting enough to actually turn into a page-turner sounds impossible.

It is clear that the author has poured his heart into this book, and one emerges post-reading it as excited and almost as passionate as the author himself. The prose is remarkably well written, chapters commencing of the form "The social life of dairy cows is endlessly fascinating.." -- and it remarkably is, as he goes on to explain!

There are very few books that are such a labor of love. If I were trying to get a child interested in the world around them, I would buy this book for them immediately. It provides the richness to really begin to appreciate the world in its full complexity, with a framework that really makes a lot of sense. As an investor & member of the business community, I instead respect this book based on the fascinating topological overview that the book gives of the lesser-seen aspects of the industrial economy and its key value chains.

Fascinating. Fantastic. One of my favorites ever - a surely unrecognized marvel of a book. I wish the author well.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Michael A. Duvernois on November 19, 2007
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A proviso that must be made is that this is a very-USA-centric book. No disrespect intended as it is a beautifully photographed and relatively detailed (plus references for a lot more information) tome. Just something to keep in mind as the world is not (yet?) flat in infrastructure.

I like to think of myself as pretty knowledgeable, but I learned quite a bit in each chapter. I can imagine a similar book for Infrastructure 1925 (or so). Would be fun to see what has been lost (trains/streetcars/twice-daily-mail delivery) and gained (more obvious).
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jason Makansi on October 29, 2007
As a career electricity infrastructure professional, I was surprised and delighted when a friend brought the hard-bound edition of "Infrastructure: A Field Guide to Industrial Landscape" over to my house, surprised because this book had escaped my radar, delighted because this is a difficult subject to treat well. Hoyes not only brings considerable gravity and accuracy to the subject, but the photography forces even the disinterested observer to be captivated by roads, bridges, transmission lines, pipelines, airports, and all the other "stuff" that makes modern life what it is. Then my wife bought the paper-bound edition as a gift. Why? Because she's heard me say forever that infrastructure should be part of our national conversation and thought we could do our part by having this on our "coffee table," where it now sits. What this books does with seeming ease and grace: It takes the "smokestack" out of industry and makes infrastructure suitable for your living room. Yet Hoyes doesn't shirk from discussing the controversial aspects of our need for all the things infrastructure brings to us.

Read it, skim it, reference it, or just look at the pictures. Whatever level you enjoy this book on, it will make you pay attention to what hums in the background to move life forward or backward, depending on your point of view.
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Brian Hayes has produced a superb 'photo journal' to the devices that shape our modern industrial landscape. These devices are necessary components for the conveniences that we take for granted - electricity and hot water on demand, cell phones, efficient transportation, to name a few. He has described the industrial landscape without losing general readers by introducing math, charts, & technical jargon.
'Infrastructure: a field guide' may require a second reading of parts outside one's technical field but it is understandable and helpful to any tech enthusiast who will make an effort to decipher the industrial landscape. It is particularly valuable to students and professionals in planning, architecture, & landscape architecture.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By K. Workman on November 11, 2007
I've been looking for a book like this for quite a while. I've always been interested about how technology is part of the infrastructure of our everyday lives. Particularly as it relates to electricity and telecommunications. While all of the novels and technical books I read eventually make their way to either my bookshelves or a box, I can easily see this book as something that will permanently become part of my coffee table. I look forward to reading (and re-reading) the various sections. I've found the book to be sufficiently technical, yet simultaneously casual in tone. Considering the subject matter, a very easy, informative and entertaining read. Highly recommended.
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