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Rubble: Unearthing the History of Demolition Paperback – November 28, 2006

3.2 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The controlled reduction of buildings to rubble is "the black art of our time," writes Byles. In this colorful thematic history of the demolition trade (a subject he was pursuing, it should be said, before the destruction of the Twin Towers), he rightfully calls Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, "the patron saint of creative destruction." Only in the 1910s did the simple need to topple skyscrapers emerge as a fact of urban renewal. Before 1900, demolition was only sporadically used to prevent the spread of fire, and was largely an inefficient matter of pulling buildings down, not exploding or imploding them. Over time, the dangers of wrecking balls led to an increased emphasis on hydraulics and contained explosives. Today, the ostentatious annihilation of gargantuan stadia and casinos draws awestruck throngs. Byles examines this history, looking at the "clear-cutting of entire neighborhoods" in Paris by Baron Haussmann ("who called himself 'artist-demolitionist' "), the "sorry end" of New York's original, monumental Pennsylvania Station (and its impact on the urban preservation movement) and the destruction of the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas. With brio, Byles ably and pungently excavates the shadowy crannies of this underappreciated art, summarized by one practitioner as "a little dynamite, judiciously placed." 25 b&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Wonderfully illuminating . . . Byles has built a fabulous work from centuries of tearing down.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Engaging.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“A live-wire, multilevel study . . . the demolition of buildings inspires complex emotions—shock, horror, even awe—and those responses are well worth thinking about.” —Time Out New York

“Urban design, it turns out, is as much about subtraction as addition. With matchless wit, Jeff Byles explores the American obsession with demolishing our architectural past. He’s the poet laureate of those unsung heroes: the ‘unbuilders.’” —Mike Davis, author of Dead Cities

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (November 28, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307345289
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307345288
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,074,422 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jeff Byles is the author of Rubble: Unearthing the History of Demolition (Harmony Books, 2005). He has written about architecture, urbanism, and culture for The New York Times, The Village Voice, Metropolis, Modern Painters, Cabinet, The Believer, and other publications. Among recent projects, he has co-edited The New York 2030 Notebook (Institute for Urban Design, 2008) and is co-author of A History of Design from the Victorian Era to the Present (Norton, 2011).

Jeff studied English literature at the University of California, Berkeley. He holds a MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. He got his start in journalism at The Anchorage Press, a weekly paper where for several years he wrote a column about beer. Jeff served for two years as managing editor at The Architect's Newspaper, and most recently has directed research at Van Alen Institute.

A native of Portland, Oregon, he lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As a 20-year demolition consultant and historian who was approached by Mr. Byles in 2002 to supply facts for this book, I had high expectations that it would provide an entertaining - and accurate - look at the history of the demolition industry. So it is with disappointment that I write today about the scores of issues that render this book virtually useless to the casual reader and offensive to the serious demolitionist. Its inaccuracies are many and substantial, and in the age of James Frye/Oprah Winfrey, where repeatedly sacrificing truthfulness for entertainment value is exposed as intentionally deceptive, this effort is about as irresponsible as it gets.

Mr. Byles writes that his idea for this book was formed while watching the twin towers fall on 9/11 and the resulting demolition activities at Ground Zero. However, instead of performing research by visiting jobsites and speaking with experienced demolitionists, the author openly elected to solicit kooky, over-the-top hyperbolic sound bites ("I have set off more big bangs than anybody on earth in peacetime") from three or four self-serving contractors who were willing to pontificate quasi-poignant phrases on demand ("We are seizers, we seize... the building is fighting me, but I've got to bring her to her knees... [via a] symphony of failure") in return for gushing favorable mention (Just one of Mr. Byles' selected demo buddies is hailed as, "the philosopher king of destruction... part matador, part sage, part connoisseur of collapse... a convinced neurobiologist... the dentist of urban decay... the Mozart of dynamite... the Guru of gravity...", and many more). Perhaps this would be warranted and even entertaining, if any of it were true.

To make things worse, Mr.
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Format: Hardcover
According to author/journalist Jeff Byles, we can trace the modern history of building demolition to the Great Fire of London in 1666. With remarkable foresight, diarist Samuel Pepys declared that "unless his Majesty did command houses to be pulled down, nothing could stop the fire." Pepys then "hustled home and buried his wine and Parmesan cheese in the garden." When the Lord Mayor ignored the pleas of Pepys and others, citizen activists took matters into their own hands and with "axes, crowbars, ropes and chains" they chopped firebreaks throughout the city.

Of such fascinating bits is RUBBLE composed, a charming and exceedingly thorough researching of the subject of purposeful architectural destruction. In the last century, rubbling gained a macabrely festive reputation when entrepreneurs in Las Vegas realized that people would pay to see buildings fall. In a non-city that continually recreates itself, "old" hotels and casinos (30 years is antiquated by Vegas standards) can attract a bigger crowd for their collapse than they did for their opening night. The Vegas "rubble-rousers," as Byles cleverly calls them, have brought razing to a high art, with pyrotechnic displays and lavish pre-show advertising.

It's impossible to talk about how a building collapses (it's referred to as "implosion," even though that is, technically speaking, a misnomer) without remembering the World Trade Center's twin towers, the Titanic of the late twentieth century. The towers were skyscrapers whose demise was a sucker punch at the very notion of progress, financial hocus-pocus and technological mega-complexity.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is not about the technical aspects of demolition or the politics between the players of the industry. It is masterfully researched and documented by 41 pages of reference notes. It is written with matchless wit combined with seriousness and compassion. It touches on all aspects of "unbuilding" which has existed for many centuries. It goes through the early use of pick axe, the wrecking ball, ever-present dynamite to recent "deconstructing" by hand to recycle for future use every possible piece of lumber, brick and fixture. More important, it explains all the reasons why demolition does and has occurred. Some seem valid and others are simply sad. In many ways we cannot blame the demolitionists as they are often reacting to obsolescence created by government, greed by land barons, buildings that were built with a particular life span, or the new fields of play for the demolitionists such as nuclear plant obsolescence and urban asphalt removed to make way for urban living. In short, "it goes to the heart of the scientific, social, economic, and personal meaning of how (and why) we unbuild our world."
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Being a construction and demolition professional I purchased this book with great expectation and was very disappointed with this terribly written and often over-the-top specious nonsense. The classification of the barbaric destruction of the World Trade Towers as "demolition" is beyond contempt and should, on the face of it, be reason enough to avoid purchasing this book so as not to support such a poorly thought-out and immature response to a wanton act of war. If the destruction of the WTC is demolition, then so was Pearl Harbor, the bombing of Dresden, and the entire Vietnam War. Shameless. Stay clear of this book.
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