A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape

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This book adopts the form of a nature guide, but its subject matter is everything that isn’t nature. It is a guide to the common sights of the built environment—the power lines, water tanks, street lights, manholes, traffic signals, cellular-telephone towers—that we pass by every day and yet seldom really notice. In these pages I identify and classify some of the species that inhabit this familiar urban ecosystem. Farther afield, there are more exotic industrial habitats to explore: coal mines, oil refineries, railroad freight yards, power plants, garbage incinerators. These are places that most of us never see close up; many of us would go out of our way to avoid seeing them. But they are nonetheless a part of modern life—and worth a visit. 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.

—from the Preface

Infrastructure explores, describes, explains and critiques the world we have made for ourselves—the modern technological landscape that has transformed so much of the surface of the planet. The story begins with raw materials, with things that come out of the earth—coal, ores for making metals, oil and gas, as well as other inputs such as water. It covers all the networks that lace their way across the country: power lines, communications channels, roads, railroads, aviation and shipping. And it ends by closing the cycle, with the wastes that go back into the earth.

This is not a textbook or an engineering manual. It is written for people who might be curious about the manmade aspects of the landscape but who have no particular expertise in technology. It's a book for browsing and nibbling, a book for answering questions. Most of all it's a book that invites you to look at pictures and ask "What's that thing?" There are more than 700 photographs, almost all of them taken by the author and reproduced in full color.

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Where to buy it: Please ask for it at your local bookstore. Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape is also available from the usual online booksellers:
Update September 14, 2006: The paperback edition is now available. Except for the cover it's exactly the same book. The list price is $35, the ISBN is 0-393-32959-3. These links will take you directly to pages for the paperback edition: