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REFRAMING AMERICA'S INFRASTRUCTURE

A RUINS TO RENAISSANCE PLAYBOOK

A thoroughly researched, if sometimes-daunting, technical survey.

A lawyer’s case for the centrality of infrastructure to the future of the United States.

As an attorney who specializes in construction defects and litigation against contractors and designers, Gravely is intimately familiar with the poor state of American infrastructure, which includes roads, buildings, electrical grids, sewage systems, and much more. In this, his debut book, he describes in painstaking detail how “our most essential resources have reached the end of their operable life” and are “failing without warning” at an increasingly alarming rate. Moreover, much of our infrastructure, built during the post–World War II economic boom, has failed to keep up with technological innovations, threatening the nation’s economy and security. The book’s first section provides a historical overview of the centrality of infrastructure to the health of civilizations. Investment in infrastructure is the common thread that connects ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia to 20th-century Western superpowers, the author notes. Beyond meeting the pragmatic needs of governments and their citizens, infrastructure inspires and even “defines us,” Gravely asserts, as projects such as the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Empire State Building, and the Erie Canal have become part of the nation’s identity. However, as the book’s second section details—with an unnerving number of specific examples—the country’s “cheap” and “fast” approach to infrastructure has led to “busted & rusted” bridges, overloaded and eroded dams and waterway locks, unhealthy drinking water, and shoddily constructed, uninspiring public schools and other buildings. After highlighting this near-dystopian state of affairs, the book’s final section looks at potential solutions.

Eschewing a partisan approach to infrastructure, the book blames both Republicans and Democrats at various points for failures to address problems head-on. The author dismisses China’s authoritarian approach to infrastructure projects—such as forcing people off of their land—but does discuss “what we can learn” from the country’s massive investments, which have created architectural wonders. The book is careful to emphasize that natural resources are also part of infrastructure and thus should be protected from unscrupulous development and extraction. The private sector, including Elon Musk’s vision of Starbase, Texas, is heralded as a viable path to innovative development that could bypass congressional stalemates in Washington. Overall, the book is written in the approachable, savvy language of a seasoned lawyer, expertly balancing readability with technical discussions of building and construction codes. With more than 1,000 footnotes, this well-researched book effectively makes its case by inundating readers with numerous examples of old, decrepit, or cheaply built infrastructure networks. It’s an engaging read, to be sure. However, it attempts to do more than a single book comfortably can, as it attempts not only to document America’s failed infrastructure, but also to provide readers with a narrative of infrastructure development throughout history as well as policy ideas for the future. Although each part stands well on its own, the three sections combined may overwhelm readers. Still, the book more than succeeds in making its argument that “the future of America depends on the decisions we make today.”

A thoroughly researched, if sometimes-daunting, technical survey.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Sutton Hart Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2022

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THE BACKYARD BIRD CHRONICLES

An ebullient nature lover’s paean to birds.

A charming bird journey with the bestselling author.

In his introduction to Tan’s “nature journal,” David Allen Sibley, the acclaimed ornithologist, nails the spirit of this book: a “collection of delightfully quirky, thoughtful, and personal observations of birds in sketches and words.” For years, Tan has looked out on her California backyard “paradise”—oaks, periwinkle vines, birch, Japanese maple, fuchsia shrubs—observing more than 60 species of birds, and she fashions her findings into delightful and approachable journal excerpts, accompanied by her gorgeous color sketches. As the entries—“a record of my life”—move along, the author becomes more adept at identifying and capturing them with words and pencils. Her first entry is September 16, 2017: Shortly after putting up hummingbird feeders, one of the tiny, delicate creatures landed on her hand and fed. “We have a relationship,” she writes. “I am in love.” By August 2018, her backyard “has become a menagerie of fledglings…all learning to fly.” Day by day, she has continued to learn more about the birds, their activities, and how she should relate to them; she also admits mistakes when they occur. In December 2018, she was excited to observe a Townsend’s Warbler—“Omigod! It’s looking at me. Displeased expression.” Battling pesky squirrels, Tan deployed Hot Pepper Suet to keep them away, and she deterred crows by hanging a fake one upside down. The author also declared war on outdoor cats when she learned they kill more than 1 billion birds per year. In May 2019, she notes that she spends $250 per month on beetle larvae. In June 2019, she confesses “spending more hours a day staring at birds than writing. How can I not?” Her last entry, on December 15, 2022, celebrates when an eating bird pauses, “looks and acknowledges I am there.”

An ebullient nature lover’s paean to birds.

Pub Date: April 23, 2024

ISBN: 9780593536131

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2024

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

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The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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