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On the Grid: A Plot of Land, an Average Neighborhood, and the Systems That Make Our World Work
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On the Grid: A Plot of Land, an Average Neighborhood, and the Systems That Make Our World Work

3.65  ·  Rating Details  ·  231 Ratings  ·  62 Reviews
A lively, captivating investigation into the infrastructure that makes society possible

In our daily lives, we're surrounded by wires, pipes, utility poles, cell phone towers, and a myriad of other infrastructure that facilitate almost everything we do. Even though these systems are essential, when was the last time you gave them much thought? Not only is infrastructure shr
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published May 11th 2010 by Rodale Books
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Jan 09, 2011 Donna rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Infrastructure is interesting, but what really caught my eye about On the Grid was its focus on Raleigh, the city where I live.

The book is organized in chapters about subjects like water, sewage, power, trash collection, road construction, and telecommunications. There's some general facts about each topic, tidbits of its history, and specific examples of how these things work here in Raleigh. The author interviewed and observed numerous local workers, and he presented a good range of informatio
Feb 14, 2011 Brian rated it liked it
Liking it so far, but god. Where is the copy editor? A 'civic' engineer? Surely you mean civil engineer. The prologue and the first chapter are pretty bad, the others seem better -- scrutinized.

Read past the first two chapters. The proof-reading and the copy-editing does get better, although there are still eye-rolling moments. And the bit about nuclear power obviously wasn't read by anyone with a high-school physics class under their belt, since the alpha particles "go faster than the speed of
Ben Vogel
Aug 07, 2015 Ben Vogel rated it it was amazing
This starts with lengthy chapters on water and sewage. Please don't let that put you off. Stick with it. Those chapters are worth it and the book gets better and better. Totally fascinating. On The Grid lives up to its promise of educating you on how the infrastructure of your home, neighborhood, and city all meshes together into the most valuable miracle of our modern world.

Highly recommended. The Audible narration by Bronson Pinchot knocked it out of the park again.
Apr 26, 2010 Sharon rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I received this book for free as a GoodReads First Read. I found the topic to be interesting overall, but the book itself was a little heavy on measurements, statistics, and numbers that did not have as much context as I needed for them to have much meaning to me. Considering that this book was written for the 'average person,' it was a little more technical and therefore drier than I would have expected. I did enjoy learning more about the infrastructure that surrounds me. The author seemed to ...more
Oct 25, 2014 Terry rated it really liked it
This book is in the vein of many recent non-fiction books on infrastructure. The author gets curious about something, and then writes about what he or she finds. I enjoy this as a genre as the author tends to ask the same n00b questions I would but has saved me the leg work of discovering the answers.

Here, the author walks the reader through how power, water, sewage, roads, and internet access work in an area near Raleigh. Of these, road and sewage were my favorites. The author repeatedly points
May 29, 2014 Ron rated it really liked it
A solid, thoughtful consideration of the various components of the infrastructure of the modern world, all the stuff we take for granted, and don't want to pay a lot more to build and keep up, but get us totally bent out of shape when anything fails or breaks down from sheer age and use. He uses his home town of Raleigh, N.C. has the paradigm, investigating that city's water works, storm drains, sanitary sewage system, electric grid, communications networks and transportation systems--roads and ...more
W. Brad "Zorknot" Robinson
Oct 20, 2015 W. Brad "Zorknot" Robinson rated it really liked it
In the best parts reading this book gave me a zen-like experience. I enjoyed learning more about how the utilities that keep my household connected to the rest of the world operate and how they are maintained. Huler approaches each system from a personal point of view, which allows what might be a dry subject in other books to become a humorous and surprising, as well as an enlightening read.

There were some editing errors and typos in the introduction and in one or two other areas, but these wer
Jul 30, 2010 Dorrit rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, kindle
On the Grid should be required reading for everyone who lives "on the grid" (i.e. all of us) and especially for those who want to minimize or abolish taxes. Do you know what happens to your sewage, or how your drinking water gets to you? Neither did I. This engaging, readable book is chock-full of fascinating information about all the infrastructure we take for granted. Did it ever occur to you that where water is a scarce resource, disposable diapers might actually be a more environmentally-con ...more
Benjamin Thomas
Aug 26, 2010 Benjamin Thomas rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This morning I woke up early to get some quality time on the internet only to find out it wasn't working. That seems to be happening more and more to us in our household, requiring us to re-boot our LAN/router doo-hickey and hope it starts working again. But while I waited, I went ahead and finished up the reading of Scott Huler's "On the Grid."

I think of myself as a pretty average suburban home owner who takes the city's infrastructure for granted. I assume that when I turn on the water faucet
Jul 12, 2010 Converse rated it liked it
Shelves: technology

The author describes water, sewer, electrical, natural gas, communications and transportation technology as found around Raleigh, North Carolina.

Huler, after an introduction describing the great Garbarge Disposal that occurred in Raleigh in 2008, begins with dividing up the ground controversy itself via surveying. To my surprise, somewhat traditional survey methods are still in use, in part for legal reasons. He then moves on to the use of the Global Positioning System (GPS), the collection o

Diane Kistner
Oct 28, 2012 Diane Kistner rated it really liked it
I used to spend a lot of time as a child lying on the ground, hands behind my head, watching the clouds and wondering what lay beneath the grass, deep down in the earth. Well, "On the Grid" would have given me many answers. What I like most about this book is that it makes you think about so many things we take for granted and assume will always be there for us. Most of us know how discombobulating it is when the lights go out, or a pipe bursts, or the trash isn't picked up on time. But we also ...more
Aug 28, 2011 Angie rated it really liked it
By pure coincidence I started this book just before Hurricane Irene descended on the East Coast and reminded me personally how much we depend on our infrastructure, as I lost power, including internet, for almost 24 hours, lost my landline phone service for many hours, and talked to friends who also lost access to their water.
I readOn the Grid because I had discovered the author serendipitously at the Virginia book Festival several years ago, when he was on a panel with another author I WANTED t
An exploration and celebration of the water, sewage, electricity, gas, internet, phone, train, road, airport, and trash systems; in other words, a look at the infrastructure that most people both largely ignore and completely depend on.

The author focuses on his hometown of Raleigh, so those sections will be most interesting to those familiar with the area, but he also offers a great deal of generalized information. I like having a better understanding of the infrastructure around me and how to
Apr 03, 2011 Ann rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I liked this book because I have, well, an odd fascination with plumbing, electricity, and how things work. Also, the book is about the infrastructure of Raleigh, North Carolina, my hometown. That's why it gets three stars instead of two. Despite my interest in the subject matter, I almost put it down because the editing of the first few chapters is ATROCIOUS, and bad editing makes me insane. Someone definitely was in a hurry to get this to press. The chapters about water and sewer are the best ...more
Scott Freeman
May 05, 2010 Scott Freeman rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010-books
This review is from an advanced copy.

In 2003 I was living in Michigan when the power went out at my office. Little did I know at that time that a large swath of the northeast region had lost their power as well. That was my first personal experience with a mass blackout that was not weather related.
Since that time I have often thought about the infrastructure that makes our world work. Scott Huler has written a book that answers many of those questions. On the Grid is a telling look at those sys
Sep 27, 2010 Laura rated it really liked it
This was really interesting. Huler takes a look at our infrastructure, which most of us tend to ignore, and tells us how it works, why it is the way it is, and why we should care about it. The book is a love song to engineers, who quietly make sure we have clean water, electricity, television, and good roads. Huler lives in Raleigh, NC and uses his hometown as an example. Those who run Raleigh's public works seemed more than happy to talk to him and he shows them a lot of love and respect in ret ...more
David R.
Jun 27, 2014 David R. rated it it was amazing
A surprisingly fun investigation of the infrastructure affecting a Raleigh writer. Huler gets down and dirty, even spelunking in culverts, in an effort to understand power grid, roads, telecommunications and more. He gets a little caught up in the "infrastructure is crumbling" hysteria even when he provides plenty of evidence to the contrary, but overall it's a delightful and accessible book.
Mar 02, 2011 Carol rated it really liked it
Have you always wondered where the stuff you flush down your toilet goes? Well, you should -- it's pretty fascinating. Do you know who is in charge of your nuclear plant? Or why your backyard floods? Scott Huler asks these questions about his own neighborhood in Raleigh, NC, and gets a lot of great answers from the engineers and other heroes who run the city. This book should be required reading for anyone before they purchase a house. The best aspect of Huler's book is how he lets the men and w ...more
Aug 24, 2015 Betsy rated it really liked it
This was a very interesting book about a little-thought about topic. It makes me appreciate solid infrastructure and the work that goes into planning and maintaining it. That's the reason we don't have to think about it. I think America's infrastructure (despite issues with roads, bridges, etc) is part of what makes it appealing to many others who want to live here. Having traveled to several developing countries, I am especially thankful for the sewage and sewage systems in the U.S!
Jul 09, 2013 Dave rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this brief sketch of the infrastructure that supports the city of Raleigh, North Carolina (not far from where I live). I think provincialism may account for some percentage of my affection for this book, but not a huge percentage.

Huler crawls into stormwater drainpipes and follows garbage trucks and gets tours of landfills. He did a ton of research for this book, and it shows. It could have used a stronger hand at copy-editing, but that's a minor detail.

I came away with a be
Joshua Baker
May 27, 2015 Joshua Baker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, audiobook
Gets very repetitive toward the end, but the content of the book was fascinating: What is all this "infrastructure" people talk about, and how does it work? More importantly, where does our infrastructure sit in the history of such things, and what is it doing in the future?
Sep 22, 2010 Ross rated it liked it
Shelves: sustainability
Insightful exploration into the history and function of municipal infrastructure. You know, roads, electricity/natural gas/telephone/cable/internet grids, drinking water, sewage, stormwater, solid waste, and public transportation (busses, passenger rail, airports). The author argues that most people are ignorant of the how and why of these systems (until there is a snafu), which fuels blind calls for lower property, etc. taxes.

Lots of interesting historical side-notes. Who knew that Washington,
Feb 23, 2010 Erin rated it really liked it
As an early adult I was fascinated with the Sim City game, creating cities over and over from the ground up, tearing thing down, re-doing the electrical lines and water....I became obsessed with finding the best way to hook my city up with all the utilities and roads. Scott Huler went a thousand time further to investigate these real life things and how they operate. The result is a jackpot of information about the things the majority of us take for granted. It's light enough, informative enough ...more
Sep 13, 2011 Tom rated it really liked it
Huler really breaks down the basics of infrastructure for the beginner, and does a good job of covering both the range of utilities and public transit. Some of his descriptions and asides are quirky and humorous, though he uses the em dash just a little too much. At first, I was skeptical of his using Raleigh as a microcosm for the infrastructure of a typical city, but he uses it well to give a frame around the many different aspects of infrastructure that we are likely to encounter in a typical ...more
Feb 17, 2016 Delta rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
A fascinating read for anyone that has ever wondered about what makes urban life livable. I'm not civil engineer, but I've always been fascinated by the power lines around my house. Plus, this is basically the real-life version of Sims City. Bonus!
Mar 27, 2015 Kathleen rated it it was amazing
loved it. re the infrastructure: " I feel like a late-empire Roman, just hoping things hold out long enough for my kids to stay relatively safe. I'm left with their melancholy belief that we're going to stasnd around bickering while the pipes clog and the wires fall and the roads crumble." p226.
Aug 07, 2010 Abigail rated it liked it
A lot of this information was fascinating to me -- the sort of stuff that you wonder from time to time, but never bother to find out. (Ex: What exactly do all those letters and numbers on the airport runways mean? Why are those guys spray-painting my road with white symbols here and orange symbols there?)

I didn't enjoy some of the writing as much. I felt like, in order to avoid coming across as a know-it-all, the author sometimes played a little *too* dumb. To me, that's nearly as patronizing. D
Oct 22, 2014 Dominique rated it really liked it
The book provides a high level overviews of key city infrastructure. It's very readable, and gets a bonus star for being heavily Raleigh-centric in its coverage.
Jan 29, 2015 Kathy rated it really liked it
Very informative and understandable discussion of the functions and intricacies of our infrastructure.
Jun 09, 2010 Jaylia3 rated it really liked it
This book is fascinating, and my daughter agrees because she keeps borrowing it from me and citing interesting facts about our infrastructure. My favorite part is the chapter about communication--telegraphs, radio, TV, the internet, etc though the section where he was hiking around inside huge underground water pipes, looking up at cars through the manholes was exciting too. Anyone living in Raleigh should really love this book--he generalizes the information and history, but his explorations ar ...more
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Scott Huler was born in 1959 in Cleveland and raised in that city's eastern suburbs. He graduated from Washington University in 1981; he was made a member of Phi Beta Kappa because of the breadth of his studies, and that breadth has been a signature of his writing work. He has written on everything from the death penalty to bikini waxing, from NASCAR racing to the stealth bomber, for such newspape ...more
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