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The Works: Anatomy of a City

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  1,314 ratings  ·  138 reviews
How much do you really know about the systems that keep a city alive? The Works: Anatomy of a City contains everything you ever wanted to know about what makes New York City run. When you flick on your light switch the light goes on--how? When you put out your garbage, where does it go? When you flush your toilet, what happens to the waste? How does water get from a ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published November 3rd 2005 by Penguin Press HC, The
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 ·  1,314 ratings  ·  138 reviews

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Riku Sayuj
Jan 14, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: r-r-rs

Although this is a very New York specific book, in most of the chapters I could imagine parallels with cities I have lived in by stretching my imagination to traverse them as the book trolled the depths of New York.

The last chapter titled “The Future” was the most eagerly anticipated. But it turned out to be a complete let down - being the most New York specific of all and almost exclusively focused on future plans (mostly construction/dev plans) scheduled in the city for the near future. While
Jul 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is brain candy for nerds who love to see how things work, and the best book of its sort that I can think of since David Macauley's book.

Am only halfway through this but love love love this. Exactly the sort of thing the young geek I was would pore over for days and weeks. Great details and illustrations of subway systems, water mains, parking meters, and more--all the crap that we use everyday without remarking it. And full of such groovy little bits of information! (The different
Cities are, for my money, mankind's most astonishing invention. Their complexity is stupefying -- system within system, handling tons of material at any given time, whether the subject is cars across a bridge or the contents of a thousand home's flushing toilets. And the stakes are always high, with the health and happiness of millions on the line -- or at least, thousands. The Works is a dream of a book, a visual-rich guide to the many systems that keep cities thriving. Author Kate Ascher ...more
Justin Cole
Jan 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Amazing read. With as many pictures as words, this book provides an incredibly detailed look into the systems of the city that go unnoticed. Ever wonder what those big steel canisters are on NYC sidewalks? Or how about why your radiator is "knocking"? This book has all that and much much more.
I really enjoyed this account of how New York - as a representative of an around-the-clock highly coordinated metropolis - works. It wasn't by any means a stale read, it was accessible, amply and aptly illustrated, thoroughly fascinating. In places, it was even almost too accessible and superficial (but to be fair, you could have a book for every of the chapters of the book) and read like a 7th grade geography textbook. However, I will definitely be going over some pages again to solidify some ...more
Sep 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017, pdf
I really wanted to love Kate Ascher’s “The Works: Anatomy of a City.” I was looking forward to turning the pages with fascinated glee like I did as a kid with the anatomy and physiology textbooks and their transparent overlays of all the body’s systems. I had also hoped it would be something of a companion piece to Alan Weisman’s excellent “The World Without Us” — the former illustrating how we keep a city alive, the latter examining what happens when we’re not around to do so.

Conor Ahern
Feb 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
I absolutely loved this book, but that's not to say I'd recommend it to anyone. But for a certain type of dilettantish urban studies enthusiast (which I very much consider myself to be), this is an excellent and very entertaining read. Supremely digestible, pithy and loaded with helpful diagrams and winsome illustrations, Ascher walks us through every little idiosyncrasy, creative solution, and cludgey-workaround-made-custom to show us how New York City ticks. If you're someone who wonders how ...more
Apr 30, 2014 rated it liked it
A broad overview of urban infrastructure that suffers from a lack of detail, e.g. a description of various bridge types does not explain reasons for using one type over another. While New Yorks serves as a good archetype of the modern city, some general exposition in the book, such as discussion of radio wavelengths and power voltage seems too generalized and unconvincing. Suited for a high school age audience, I found myself wanting more detail. You will find yourself more closely examining ...more
Jake Rong
Sep 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
I found "The Works" to be an enjoyable read. It lives up to its title. Imagine an "Encyclopedia of the human body" with many cut-aways showing all of the internal organs using spectacular, 3D CGI diagrams and illustrations in full color. This book features plenty of those, and is indeed an unabridged "anatomy of a city". Author K. Ascher more than excels in demonstrating her intimate knowledge of how cities operate on a daily basis, using New York as its base.
Matthew Laing
Nov 17, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: engineering
No quite as amazing as I thought it would be since it does fudge a bit on technical information.
Jan 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Mind-blowing trivia. I would, however, retitle it "The Works: Anatomy of New York City."
Aug 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I found this an amazing book if you love discovering how things work, esp in a city like NYC. Strange to say, but it was a real page turner for me.
Dec 03, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is great, it provides visuals and I like how it shows the composition of a city to the finest detail. It covers many aspects of a city.
Sep 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
First of all, very misleading name: I thought I was going to learn how to run a city, instead I learned that Maiden Lane was named so because maidens back in the old days drew water from wells along a stream that ran across the present street or something like that, though I do admit that learning this was quite pleasant.

There were some interesting moments and information spread out through the pages, like Colonel George Waring (hats off to that guy) and the 1968 sanitation worker strikes (which
Oct 02, 2019 rated it liked it
This book is filled with information and insight into how New York City worked 15 years ago. Its breathtaking just to contemplate the vast scale of the many services and resources that go into supporting a modern city.

Yet two stars come off my review because #1. Its old enough now I suspect a lot of the information is no longer accurate.
#2. Sometimes the captions and explanations are confusing to read. Partly just the difficulty of translating technical ideas into short statements to coincide
So so much of getting a city to run, a huge city that is, rotates about mud n' water with sticks holding it all up, and some sparks and fans for good measure.

Published basically in the Stone Age, 2005, would be interesting to see what of the text's tail end projects have come to fruition and which have been provided a silent death by NIMBYs holding the head underneath the surface of water.

Illustrations, charts, snippets, and insets galore. Wise decision to go heavy on the drawings, and leave
Ryan Fohl
Dec 02, 2018 rated it liked it
This reads like a text book (and by the time I read it, a little out of date.) Do not be fooled; this is a book about New York City only. Would have been nice to have a page about New York City geography since it will be constantly referenced. But the writing is constantly assuming the reader know some things and the. Insulting you intelligence with other topics. Like yes I know how a phone works but how the hell is steam used as air conditioning. Everyone will learn something if they crack this ...more
Sep 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fun and broad look into various infrastructural systems of NYC, with beautiful illustrations. Pretty inspirational in terms of "wow, there's a lot of cool, complex, and meaningful systems I could be working on!" Sometimes the explanations get a little muddled or the numbers don't quite make sense but I'm willing to overlook that as the broad strokes seem fine. It does feel slightly outdated - left me wondering what the current state of all these systems is.

Overall definitely worth the time -
Dec 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
A very interesting look at how city infrastructure works, and as a recent-ish transplant to the area, I'm glad that nyc was the example city. It's a good overview of a lot of different systems, and the illustrations and infographics were well designed and integrated. It's from 2005, so some things have progressed since its publishing-- the second avenue subway is in the Future section at the end of the book, and as I write this, it's going to start running tomorrow.
Caleb Philbrick
Sep 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Awesome. All about NYC. Couldn't believe how they get their water, how the communications systems worked... I worked with someone a few years back who was considering investing a large amount of money in a piece of glass to run from NYC to Chicago. The whole way. It's amazing how much infrastructure we use everyday, often without realizing it, often taking it for granted. This book highlights all of these oversights in a very clear and interesting way.
Sep 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
If you’re interested in a surface level (or just below the asphalt) look at what all goes into a city, this is the book for you. There could have been more interesting facts and tidbits, and more detail or history in many parts, but that’s not what this book is. It would also be interesting to see an updated and revised edition, as a lot has changed between now and when it was written.
Jake Berlin
some of the info is outdated (although it's kind of amazing how much isn't), but this is a fascinating read regardless. the historical tidbits are interesting, and the diagrams really do help you understand how things work. if you live in new york city and are curious about how your world works, i'd recommend this book.
Sep 14, 2019 rated it liked it
A gentle introduction to the inner workings of cities, with beautiful and equally useful illustrations.

I like to believe that the way New York functions as a city has inspired other places around the world as well; but that's for me to find out next. So if the topic of "cities-as-a-live-organism" fascinate you - as they fascinate me, this book will definitely not quench your thirst; it will only make you want more.
Nov 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Best part of this book was the section on Garbage collection, sorting, recycling, and overall logistical planning on a daily basis to deal with the entire city of New York. Anybody would find this book useful and entertaining. Very good photos and graphics as well.
Dec 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
loads of really informative illustrations
Dani (Dani's Bookshelf)
Aug 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
In 2018, this book is a bit dated, but I still think it's a really interesting read! Ascher did a great job giving a comprehensive look at how cities work, and I thought the graphics were a great addition. I'll definitely be picking up her companion book about skyscrapers sometime soon!
Feb 22, 2015 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book, but not as much as I was expecting to. Though I knew going in that it was a book about New York City, I was hoping that I would get a better perspective on how cities "work" in general. The subtitle "Anatomy of a City" led me to believe that this would provide me with a cross-section of a sample city that could then be applied to other cities. However, because New York is so unique (and old) I feel like its infrastructure is probably not a reliable comparison to many other ...more
Feb 20, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: cities
This is a book to bring joy to the heart of an engineer. Divided in five major sections - moving people, moving freight, power, communications, and sanitation - the book examines the infrastructure that keeps New York operating. Information is presented in a really appealing mix of maps, charts, cut-away diagrams, and some text. A sixth chapter, the future, notes that while most of the city's infrastructure systems developed separately, in the future more and more of these systems will be ...more
Jul 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I picked up this book because I wanted to learn more about the subway in NYC. I'm not normally a big consumer of nonfiction, but this book was a ton of fun to read.

This is a large format book that would be at home on your coffee table or children's bookshelf. It's full of visuals, much like the beloved DK Eyewitness books. But make no mistake, this is aimed at an adult audience. It's packed with information about how things work in a city, from transportation (for people and freight), to power
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Kate Ascher is an author and was executive vice president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Her 2005 book, The Works: Anatomy of a City, a textual and graphic exploration of how the complicated and often overlapping infrastructure of a modern city works, garnered wide discussion and praise when it was published. She left the NYCEDC in 2007 for Vornado Realty Trust. She ...more