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The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design

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10 hrs 53 mins A beautifully designed guidebook to the unnoticed yet essential elements of our cities, from the creators of the wildly popular 99% Invisible podcast  Have you ever wondered what those bright, squiggly graffiti marks on the sidewalk mean? Or stopped to consider why you don't see metal fire escapes on new buildings? Or pondered the story behind those dancing in 10 hrs 53 mins A beautifully designed guidebook to the unnoticed yet essential elements of our cities, from the creators of the wildly popular 99% Invisible podcast  Have you ever wondered what those bright, squiggly graffiti marks on the sidewalk mean? Or stopped to consider why you don't see metal fire escapes on new buildings? Or pondered the story behind those dancing inflatable figures in car dealerships? 99% Invisible is a big-ideas podcast about small-seeming things, revealing stories baked into the buildings we inhabit, the streets we drive, and the sidewalks we traverse. The show celebrates design and architecture in all of its functional glory and accidental absurdity, with intriguing tales of both designers and the people impacted by their designs. Now, in The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to Hidden World of Everyday Design, host Roman Mars and coauthor Kurt Kohlstedt zoom in on the various elements that make our cities work, exploring the origins and other fascinating stories behind everything from power grids and fire escapes to drinking fountains and street signs. With deeply researched entries and beautiful line drawings throughout, The 99% Invisible City will captivate devoted fans of the show and anyone curious about design, urban environments, and the unsung marvels of the world around them.  


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10 hrs 53 mins A beautifully designed guidebook to the unnoticed yet essential elements of our cities, from the creators of the wildly popular 99% Invisible podcast  Have you ever wondered what those bright, squiggly graffiti marks on the sidewalk mean? Or stopped to consider why you don't see metal fire escapes on new buildings? Or pondered the story behind those dancing in 10 hrs 53 mins A beautifully designed guidebook to the unnoticed yet essential elements of our cities, from the creators of the wildly popular 99% Invisible podcast  Have you ever wondered what those bright, squiggly graffiti marks on the sidewalk mean? Or stopped to consider why you don't see metal fire escapes on new buildings? Or pondered the story behind those dancing inflatable figures in car dealerships? 99% Invisible is a big-ideas podcast about small-seeming things, revealing stories baked into the buildings we inhabit, the streets we drive, and the sidewalks we traverse. The show celebrates design and architecture in all of its functional glory and accidental absurdity, with intriguing tales of both designers and the people impacted by their designs. Now, in The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to Hidden World of Everyday Design, host Roman Mars and coauthor Kurt Kohlstedt zoom in on the various elements that make our cities work, exploring the origins and other fascinating stories behind everything from power grids and fire escapes to drinking fountains and street signs. With deeply researched entries and beautiful line drawings throughout, The 99% Invisible City will captivate devoted fans of the show and anyone curious about design, urban environments, and the unsung marvels of the world around them.  

30 review for The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design

  1. 5 out of 5

    Pop Bop

    Fascinating Text; Frustrating Lack of Illustrations This book is loaded with odds and ends that run the gamut from well organized long form essays to factoids and bits of trivia. The structure is a touch idiosyncratic but makes reasonable sense overall. I guess that figures for a book drawn primarily from a popular podcast. Here's the thing, though. No photos, no color, no detailed illustrations. Here and there is a bit of graphic doodling, or a little pen and ink sketch, or some clip art, and tha Fascinating Text; Frustrating Lack of Illustrations This book is loaded with odds and ends that run the gamut from well organized long form essays to factoids and bits of trivia. The structure is a touch idiosyncratic but makes reasonable sense overall. I guess that figures for a book drawn primarily from a popular podcast. Here's the thing, though. No photos, no color, no detailed illustrations. Here and there is a bit of graphic doodling, or a little pen and ink sketch, or some clip art, and that's it. Consider this - an entire article about the distinctive colors and graphics used to identify emergency vehicles, illustrated with a black and white checkerboard stripe. An article about what the colored paint marks on sidewalks mean, with a single black and white diagram. A chapter about cityscape graphics, adverts, neon signs, and old time hand painted signage, without a single photo. This book refers often to matters of color, graphic design, visibility, and invisibility, yet offers no examples or images to illustrate a point, or to excite the reader's further interest or curiosity. That said, there is in any event a lot here to like and enjoy. Especially when we get into discussions of infrastructure, power grids, traffic engineering, roadway design, elevators, and the like, a text based presentation serves perfectly well. So, the content is fine and interesting, and the style of presentation is congenial and engaging. But the book could have been much more rewarding, entertaining, and informative. In that regard at least it felt like a lost opportunity to do something really exciting. (Please note that I received a free advance will-self-destruct-in-x-days Adobe Digital copy of this book without a review requirement, or any influence regarding review content should I choose to post a review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Randal White

    I found this book to be fascinating! So many little tidbits to be discovered. From subjects as different as the meanings of those little colored paint markings you find on your road, to big things like decisions in historic preservation. It just amazed me as to how my eyes have been opened to so many things in the city that I never knew, or even thought about. And it's the type of book that you can read a page or two at your leisure, set the book down, and come back a week later and read a coupl I found this book to be fascinating! So many little tidbits to be discovered. From subjects as different as the meanings of those little colored paint markings you find on your road, to big things like decisions in historic preservation. It just amazed me as to how my eyes have been opened to so many things in the city that I never knew, or even thought about. And it's the type of book that you can read a page or two at your leisure, set the book down, and come back a week later and read a couple more pages. Told in easy to understand language, laced with cute line drawings, and highly educational. A great book to increase all of our situational awareness of our surroundings.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn Townsend

    I am already a plaque reader, but this book opened my eyes to the unseen wonders of the city.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Simms

    As a longtime listener to (who is still not yet caught up with) the podcast 99% Invisible I was excited for this book, perhaps because I didn't realize how much of it was just ... the podcast. I've listened to maybe half of the episodes, and every few pages I encountered some story that I'd already heard. The things that were new to me, I'm not sure if they're also episodes that I just haven't listened to yet. So that was a letdown. The other big disappointment was that they didn't take advantag As a longtime listener to (who is still not yet caught up with) the podcast 99% Invisible I was excited for this book, perhaps because I didn't realize how much of it was just ... the podcast. I've listened to maybe half of the episodes, and every few pages I encountered some story that I'd already heard. The things that were new to me, I'm not sure if they're also episodes that I just haven't listened to yet. So that was a letdown. The other big disappointment was that they didn't take advantage of the visual medium in a way I would have liked. They were clearly very proud of the aesthetic they'd created with the line-drawn illustrations, but too often I would read a section and wish that they'd put in a photograph of whatever was being discussed. The illustrations are nice but they're often too stylized and rough to portray the subject in enough detail, or entirely absent when a visual would have been useful. Seems a missed opportunity. It's all still 99% Invisible, so it's interesting and informative, but I can't but think it will leave readers in a trap -- anyone who's familiar enough with the podcast to want to read the book is likely to have heard enough of the podcast that the book is a repetition of what they've already heard.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Alicia Bayer

    This is an interesting book about city design that is mostly unknown, but the lack of photos is really frustrating. There are graphic illustrations at times, but as another reviewer mentioned, you really want to see pictures of the elements that are described. Also, I thought it would be more about secret elements of every city but many of them are specific to certain cities or to large urban areas in general (I live in a town of 800). It's still a fascinating read, especially for urban dwellers This is an interesting book about city design that is mostly unknown, but the lack of photos is really frustrating. There are graphic illustrations at times, but as another reviewer mentioned, you really want to see pictures of the elements that are described. Also, I thought it would be more about secret elements of every city but many of them are specific to certain cities or to large urban areas in general (I live in a town of 800). It's still a fascinating read, especially for urban dwellers and travelers. I read a digital ARC of this book for review.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Mckay

    DNF. 2 pages isn't enough space to get into these topics with enough depth to find much beyond what could be surmised by looking at these objects in the wild. Essentially a book full of anecdotes, another example of the podcast -> book conversion that didn't effectively make the jump. DNF. 2 pages isn't enough space to get into these topics with enough depth to find much beyond what could be surmised by looking at these objects in the wild. Essentially a book full of anecdotes, another example of the podcast -> book conversion that didn't effectively make the jump.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lily

    As a Beautiful Nerd, I'm beyond excited to hold this wonderful book in my hands. 99 Percent Invisible is a treasure trove of design-based trivia, of which is both eye opening and endlessly amusing. As a Beautiful Nerd, I'm beyond excited to hold this wonderful book in my hands. 99 Percent Invisible is a treasure trove of design-based trivia, of which is both eye opening and endlessly amusing.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Claire N

    I absolutely loved everything about this book - the illustrations, the subject, the style. It was so clearly written, yet well researched. My favorite chapter was the one on the raccoons and ths squirrels!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nox Voortella

    Great read about (mostly) unknown city design. The graphic illustrations are an interesting design choice, too!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

    I feel like this book was intended as just a signal, “I’m so cool I own this book” and not actually to be read. The sections are so short as to barely convey any interesting information (the opposite of why the podcast is so good), and in dozens of places a picture or image of the thing they’re talking about would be enormously helpful but none are included (the art is fine but is rarely useful). Was really disappointed by this.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    I really enjoyed this book. If you are inquisitive and like wandering around cities, noticing little details that seem to pop out at you-- sometimes strange or puzzling-- this book may take some of the mystery out of the equation. Other readers will find themselves searching for cryptic signs and details they'd never noticed before. I would have appreciated more visual documentation to go along with the narrative but overall I found this book fascinating. I received a copy from the publisher thro I really enjoyed this book. If you are inquisitive and like wandering around cities, noticing little details that seem to pop out at you-- sometimes strange or puzzling-- this book may take some of the mystery out of the equation. Other readers will find themselves searching for cryptic signs and details they'd never noticed before. I would have appreciated more visual documentation to go along with the narrative but overall I found this book fascinating. I received a copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Derek

    Potato-chip morsels of education and entertainment, and for some reason I kept hearing it in my head in Roman Mars's voice. But it never quite satisfies. It doesn't have the depth of discovery from the podcast. These are articles with scope instead of sprawling interviews that occasionally surprised the journalists themselves in the midst of their topic. Potato-chip morsels of education and entertainment, and for some reason I kept hearing it in my head in Roman Mars's voice. But it never quite satisfies. It doesn't have the depth of discovery from the podcast. These are articles with scope instead of sprawling interviews that occasionally surprised the journalists themselves in the midst of their topic.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    I have only listened to one episode of 99% Invisible (I very seldom listen to podcasts), but I came away impressed with the project. In general, I am in favor of any intellectual endeavor that attempts to find interest and wonder in the everyday; and that is what the podcast is ostensibly about: uncovering the stories behind designed objects all around us, from tables to stop signs. This is why I bought the book (well, the audiobook), hoping to discover the cotidian marvels of urban life. But the I have only listened to one episode of 99% Invisible (I very seldom listen to podcasts), but I came away impressed with the project. In general, I am in favor of any intellectual endeavor that attempts to find interest and wonder in the everyday; and that is what the podcast is ostensibly about: uncovering the stories behind designed objects all around us, from tables to stop signs. This is why I bought the book (well, the audiobook), hoping to discover the cotidian marvels of urban life. But the book did not live up to my expectations. For one, while it is marketed as a “field guide,” the book could not realistically be used in such a way—exploring a city and turning to a relevant entry whenever something caught your eye. It is not so much a guide as a collection of fun facts (most of them about specific places and not cities in general), roughly organized by theme, and broken down into innumerable short chapters that are designed to be read in a few minutes. It is, thus, far more a toilet book—or, if you prefer, a bedside book—than any sort of guide: something to be read at odd moments for light diversion. There is nothing wrong with such a book, of course; but it translated quite badly to the audiobook format, wherein one is forced to listen to it straight through. (Also, curiously, though Roman Mars has a great voice for radio, his narration did not work very well for the longer format.) I do not want to be too harsh on this book since, taken individually, all of the little chapters are quite well done. There is an awful lot of tantalizing little tidbits, and the authors’ love of urban design is infectious. The main problem was, ironically, the design of the book: if it had been truer to the field guide idea, or if it had instead woven these stories into a more comprehensive view of how cities work and grow, then I think it would have been vastly improved. However, if your bathroom—sorry, I mean bedside—is currently in need of a book, then I can heartily recommend this one.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    Design is one of those things that one struggles to define, even though its one of the most prominent things around us. I did an internship at a design museum a few years ago, and while I have a better grip on it than I did before, I came out of it still hardly knowing how to describe it to others. Everyday design is fascinating to me. Designs are good when you don't even recognise they are there, when they are doing the job they are meant to do without drawing any attention. One of the first th Design is one of those things that one struggles to define, even though its one of the most prominent things around us. I did an internship at a design museum a few years ago, and while I have a better grip on it than I did before, I came out of it still hardly knowing how to describe it to others. Everyday design is fascinating to me. Designs are good when you don't even recognise they are there, when they are doing the job they are meant to do without drawing any attention. One of the first things this book talks about are streetlights, and how they have a specially designed base to minimize damage on both ends should a car accidentally drive into it. Something we all see everyday, something we can all recognise, and probably at one point thought to ourselves "huh, I wonder why it looks like that," but not thinking any more of it. That's design for you. While I do find nearly all aspects of design fascinating, even I found a lot of this book to be quite dense. I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone who didn't consider at least some of it dry and/or boring. There is evidently so much research (as per the author's note at the end, over ten years' worth) put into the book that it almost feels like the authors are shoving in as much as possible. The bibliography at the end is insane and very impressive. I liked the way the book was split into sections and how they seamlessly led from one topic to the next. One thing I wish the book did however was be a bit more specific in its headings. I found that instead of simply stating the object/system, it would be listed under the problem that the design needed to solve - which is fine in theory, but because of the aforementioned density and technical speak, it sometimes took a few paragraphs to understand what I was even reading about (however, when they mentioned raccoon-proof garbage cans and instead named the section "Trash Pandas', I had a giggle). As always with non-fiction books, always, always include more pictures. I get it. There's a certain aesthetic to having an artist artfully render sketches in a designed fashion to match the content of the book, but I just want to know what the thing looks like in real life, not an artist's version of it. Overall though, I found this book fascinating. Design is so, so cool, and largely goes unnoticed by the general population. In Japan they often put blue lighting in some public restrooms so that intravenous drug users would have a harder time finding their veins. There is an excellent chapter on hostile design too, which is fascinating and probably my favourite part of the book. I'll admit right now that I haven't listened to the podcast this book is associated with, but I'll definitely be checking it out. If there is even half the amount of effort put into it than this book has, it's gotta be pretty good. I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    Reading about architecture can be fun, as well as learning about style elements, landscaping, even the urban animal populations and their effect on urban life.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This was a really fun book that apparently is a spin-off from the Podcast of the same name. I now have something else to binge listen to, woot! I don't really know how much of what is discussed in the book is really "invisible", other than the back-story behind many of the items discussed. For example, there is a Buddha that is in an otherwise vacant lot in California that was put there by the neighbor, because the vacant lot was being used as an unofficial dump and he was tired of it. He figure This was a really fun book that apparently is a spin-off from the Podcast of the same name. I now have something else to binge listen to, woot! I don't really know how much of what is discussed in the book is really "invisible", other than the back-story behind many of the items discussed. For example, there is a Buddha that is in an otherwise vacant lot in California that was put there by the neighbor, because the vacant lot was being used as an unofficial dump and he was tired of it. He figured Buddha was neutral and might engender some respect to not dump garbage there. Not only was he right, but others started to perform upkeep and added to it, making it an unofficial shrine and tourist attraction! There were also pretty cool facts, like how Japan breaks down their buildings floor by floor, from the top down or bottom up, re-using as much of the building materials as they can, to reduce waste and pollution. It takes more time than just knocking it down, but I would argue that it is safer and less wasteful than in other locations. I think that is the way demolitions should go, unless the building in question is a hazard and needs to come down quickly. In which case, why wasn't it taken down before it got to that point? Also something that I didn't realize was that squirrels had to be re-introduced to cities in the parks. Once humans got their hands on the land and turned them into urban areas, some animals had to be re-introduced. Squirrels, pigeons, etc that we take for granted were not always present. There was quite a bit in the book about how humans have done things that are less than savory re: destroying nature, so if you are sensitive to that, it will upset you in a few places, but it's kind of hard to have a non-fiction book about cities that doesn't discuss human stupidity. Also some cool stuff, but not all is positive. Like roundabouts. The book touts them as great, I personally HATE them. They make a sort of sense, but most people driving in one have NO clue what they are doing and I always feel like I am taking my life in my hands when I drive in one. This book is informative in a fun way and has short segments, so it can be picked up and put down as needed. Reading time comes in bits here and there for me, so that was a positive for me. I would recommend if you enjoy the Podcast, like to read about what humanity can do when they put their mind to it and like to learn in shorter snippets, kind of like form a bathroom reader, but more structured. 4, this would make a good holiday gift, stars. My thanks to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for an eARC copy of this book to read and review.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    yikes, what a disappointment this was, especially as a longtime fan of the show Save yourself the money (or effort to get from a library) and stick to the podcast and more importantly to the excellent website content. This book contains little of the narrative charm of the podcast, or the helpful visuals of the website. Instead the writing is pretty lifeless and sometimes uses architectural and design jargon with no explanation. The illustrations that accompany each mini-essay are sparse, but wor yikes, what a disappointment this was, especially as a longtime fan of the show Save yourself the money (or effort to get from a library) and stick to the podcast and more importantly to the excellent website content. This book contains little of the narrative charm of the podcast, or the helpful visuals of the website. Instead the writing is pretty lifeless and sometimes uses architectural and design jargon with no explanation. The illustrations that accompany each mini-essay are sparse, but worse are scratchy messes that are hard to actually see or interpret. I thought that the organization of concepts/topics was very good, but otherwise this was an ironically poorly designed book about design!! In terms of the content, the forward says that it's not just a regurgitation of the content from the podcast/website and it's true that there are many thoughtful and timely updates, but overall most of the stories were familiar to me from 99pi. That would have been fine if this visual medium had fulfilled its promise with better illustrative elements.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    I received a free digital copy of this book via NetGalley for an honest review. 99% Invisible is consistently one of my favorite podcasts. Even when episodes are focused on topics that I know something about, I always learn something new--and more frequently, the episodes highlight things I've never considered in any depth or even never noticed at all. The 99% Invisible City is partially a book version of the podcast--that is not to say that the book can be read in lieu of listening to the podcas I received a free digital copy of this book via NetGalley for an honest review. 99% Invisible is consistently one of my favorite podcasts. Even when episodes are focused on topics that I know something about, I always learn something new--and more frequently, the episodes highlight things I've never considered in any depth or even never noticed at all. The 99% Invisible City is partially a book version of the podcast--that is not to say that the book can be read in lieu of listening to the podcast, because it's far more an accompaniment than a replacement. It's a collection of short histories and stories about various aspects of the built environment (and more), and it's a lot of fun. It lacks something of the charm of the podcast, I think partly because the brevity of the histories (no more than a page or two for most) don't seem to have the depth of the stories usually covered on the podcast. But it's still very enjoyable, and it's a great format for reading bits of here-and-there even if you are not inclined to sit down and read it cover-to-cover. The stories are arranged thematically, and are short and very readable. There's a lot of geographic breadth, too--and it's easy to learn something new even about your own (metaphorical) back yard. For example, even though I grew up fairly near Edward N. Hines Drive and Hines Park and was familiar with the name, it was not until reading this book that I learned that Edward N. Hines, as a member of the Wayne County Roads Commission, originated the now pretty much universal practice of painting lane markings on roads! The book is intended to be read both by fans of the podcast and people who have never listened to it, though there are enough nods to the podcast that it may be marginally better to have listened to at least one episode. Still, it should be interesting and entertaining even to people who are not familiar with the podcast--and I suspect that many non-listeners who pick up the book may be inclined to give the show a listen, too.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Squirrel

    This book is not for people who have regularly followed the podcast and/or have gone back and listened to all the episodes they've missed. I think that there were only maybe a half dozen articles in this book that are not from past episodes or articles. I know not everyone is into/able to listen to podcasts. Thus having a written version of the show is important. The issue? The articles posted to 99percentinvisible.org for the podcast episodes are longer than the articles in this book with better This book is not for people who have regularly followed the podcast and/or have gone back and listened to all the episodes they've missed. I think that there were only maybe a half dozen articles in this book that are not from past episodes or articles. I know not everyone is into/able to listen to podcasts. Thus having a written version of the show is important. The issue? The articles posted to 99percentinvisible.org for the podcast episodes are longer than the articles in this book with better illustrations. Most of the value added to this book is in the arrangement of content into themes. Which is not worth the cost of a hardcover book to me. Is it worth it to give this book to someone who is nerdy about urban design but not into podcasts? Maybe. I found the articles to be both truncated and also fluffed up. Filler that can be easily ignored in a podcast suddenly takes up half an article. The downside of this approach is that nothing gets covered well. Despite being mentioned in two different articles, we never find out *how* a tuned mass damper works in high rise buildings. While we get a line drawing of Taipei 101 from a distance, we don't get a picture of their damper either, despite the article being specifically about that damper. The entire book uses line drawings instead of photographs or other illustrations, all done by the same artist. While it definitely evokes a certain mood, it fails to be as functional as the authors intended it to be. In a book about design, such lack of functionality is difficult to overlook. Content-wise I also can't ignore the way in which the book very lightly hints at bigger issues having to do with cities such as homelessness, gentrification, and racism, without engaging with them in any sort of meaningful way. The book is clearly laid out, the language is accessible, and there is both an extensive bibliography and an index. I think that I would be less critical of this book if I didn't have extensive experience with the podcast.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kristine

    The 99% Invisible City by Roman Mars is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early October. Chapters on city planning, utilities, signage, and public works & safety - there's a mix of graphics in the sense that there ink drawings and photo-realistic illustrations. The scope of the narration is vast and blissfully fluent, but takes the long scenic path to an otherwise basic phrase. The 99% Invisible City by Roman Mars is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early October. Chapters on city planning, utilities, signage, and public works & safety - there's a mix of graphics in the sense that there ink drawings and photo-realistic illustrations. The scope of the narration is vast and blissfully fluent, but takes the long scenic path to an otherwise basic phrase.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Paige Nicole

    4.5 stars rounded down. So I love fun facts. It’s one of my defining characteristics. My love of fun facts was mentioned like three times during my wedding ceremony. I seek them out. I share them compulsively. That’s who I am. This book is made for me — just chock full of fun facts. I’ve loved the 99pi podcast for years, and drop those fun facts into conversation far too often (ask me about LA highway signs, I dare you). This book captures everything that is great about the podcast. It is person 4.5 stars rounded down. So I love fun facts. It’s one of my defining characteristics. My love of fun facts was mentioned like three times during my wedding ceremony. I seek them out. I share them compulsively. That’s who I am. This book is made for me — just chock full of fun facts. I’ve loved the 99pi podcast for years, and drop those fun facts into conversation far too often (ask me about LA highway signs, I dare you). This book captures everything that is great about the podcast. It is personal and engaging and funny and informative. Two small-ish complaints: I often found myself wishing the sections were longer, and that we got more information about each topic. I understand the space constraints though; if I was the editor this would be 600 pages not 350. I also wish it had actual pictures instead of semi-abstracted illustrations. The main limitation of 99pi as a podcast is that it’s a purely audio medium. It leaves me needing to Google what all these things look like. Here is a book, with the capacity for images and pictures. And they didn’t take advantage of that. In conclusion, if you love fun facts, read this book. And listen to this podcast. And beg Roman Mars and crew to write more books and make more podcasts.

  22. 5 out of 5

    William

    (audiobook) This is one of my favorite podcasts, and the book is like a whole bunch of podcast episodes. What's not to like? Lowering one star for the audiobook version because the print version has pictures that you don't get to see through your ears. But you can still tell what they're talking about, just it would be nicer with pictures. (audiobook) This is one of my favorite podcasts, and the book is like a whole bunch of podcast episodes. What's not to like? Lowering one star for the audiobook version because the print version has pictures that you don't get to see through your ears. But you can still tell what they're talking about, just it would be nicer with pictures.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jaye Viner

    This book is amazing and everyone with any hint of curiosity about the way cities work (or don't work) should read it! This book is amazing and everyone with any hint of curiosity about the way cities work (or don't work) should read it!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Theediscerning

    Don't confuse this book with Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities – they're really quite different things. This bumper pack of social history, engineering history and so on asks us to take a closer look at what makes a city, that we don't normally consider. Road layouts, and what gets put in the gap left behind once a railway line (or Berlin Wall) has been dug up, are here, as are so many amenities and parts of the infrastructure. That infrastructure has only grown and grown, from a gutter for the w Don't confuse this book with Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities – they're really quite different things. This bumper pack of social history, engineering history and so on asks us to take a closer look at what makes a city, that we don't normally consider. Road layouts, and what gets put in the gap left behind once a railway line (or Berlin Wall) has been dug up, are here, as are so many amenities and parts of the infrastructure. That infrastructure has only grown and grown, from a gutter for the waste to proper sewers, pipes for this, that and the other – and will only expand. Here in the UK we've not quite got the continental heat that means Poland and other countries offer watering stations that hose you down with a very fine, cooling mist of water, but that's not far off coming with global warming. At least we don't have full hydrants to force open and waste all the water that way. The book's very well presented, and definitely readable. I will say that some of the essays (such as the problems inherent in offering a universal, one-cost-for-all postal service) could be longer, while some are much less effective. One talking about the old-fashioned hand-written sign just says they had died off but are coming back and doesn't really do more with that than a bland introduction. But throughout the book you get an indication of how important these things are – things we thought trivial, if we thought of them at all. Perhaps the most surprising thing in these pages is not that the revolving door dates from the 1800s, but that the motion of those rubberised, bendy blokes outside car showrooms with fans beneath them blowing air through to keep them permanently active, is actually supposed to represent a real dance, from Trinidad and Tobago. How that's not more common knowledge I'll never know – after all, #blackjivesmatter. A strong four stars for this informative bundle of things you'd never have thought to find yourself reading about.

  25. 4 out of 5

    David

    The Long-Suffering Wife gave me this as a mid-pandemic Christmas gift. I recommend this as a good gift book, pandemic or not -- it’s full of odd information about how our everyday environment got the way it is. It’s fun and interesting. It’s handsomely designed, including an informative paper half-cover which, when removed, explains the cover illustration. The essays in this book are grouped by general topic but are not really related directly to each other, so can be read in odd minutes when not The Long-Suffering Wife gave me this as a mid-pandemic Christmas gift. I recommend this as a good gift book, pandemic or not -- it’s full of odd information about how our everyday environment got the way it is. It’s fun and interesting. It’s handsomely designed, including an informative paper half-cover which, when removed, explains the cover illustration. The essays in this book are grouped by general topic but are not really related directly to each other, so can be read in odd minutes when not otherwise occupied. Or, to steal a characterization from another review here on Goodreads: this book is excellent toilet bowl reading for the over-educated. In case it seems like I am being snide or condescending, I want to make clear: “excellent toilet bowl reading” is a heartfelt and enthusiastic recommendation I’m going to gripe a little, however. I think the decision to exclude photographs completely in favor of black-and-white drawings was a mistake. The book talks about many specific places, especially in cities, and in many cases I think a drawing of the place does not present the topic with the same clarity as a photograph might. However, I understand that getting photo permissions can be a costly and complex process -- dealing with a single illustrator is undoubtedly much much less administration. I guess many people know already that this book grew out of the popular podcast “99% Invisible”, but I was so out of it that I had never heard of it before. (I mean, who can keep track of all the podcasts nowadays, am I right?) Now I listen to it with great pleasure when the opportunity presents itself. Even if you don’t read this book, cruise on over to the website 99pi.org and check it out.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Milinda Yount

    The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt is a fascinating collection of stories and descriptions that explain all sorts of things associated with city infrastructure. Many of these topics cover things that you’ve seen many times but may not have thought about or realized that there was an interesting backstory. The book is constructed in a way that you could read straight through in several sittings or you could pick up and rea The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt is a fascinating collection of stories and descriptions that explain all sorts of things associated with city infrastructure. Many of these topics cover things that you’ve seen many times but may not have thought about or realized that there was an interesting backstory. The book is constructed in a way that you could read straight through in several sittings or you could pick up and read one two-page spread at a time to learn something new. While I appreciated the line drawings in the book and know that will give the book its distinctive style, I was constantly wanting to see photos instead. So I found myself going to Google for images to see “what does a mansard roof look like?” or “photo of the Citicorp Center building” or “Austin moontower at night”. I will check this book out when it’s published in physical form. I voluntarily received and reviewed a complimentary electronic copy of this book on Net Galley, all opinions are my own.

  27. 5 out of 5

    batchout

    I discovered 99% Invisible's podcast in 2012 and they have been telling interesting design stories in new exciting ways. (I immediately digested their whole backcatalog) The 99% Invisible City is a wonderful revisiting and update of many topics, not a cut-and-paste of transcripts, and it shows. Handsomely crafted with distinctive illustrations and typography, it is meticulously organized into six distinct sections with a very in-depth Table of Contents and Index. There are many things that this I discovered 99% Invisible's podcast in 2012 and they have been telling interesting design stories in new exciting ways. (I immediately digested their whole backcatalog) The 99% Invisible City is a wonderful revisiting and update of many topics, not a cut-and-paste of transcripts, and it shows. Handsomely crafted with distinctive illustrations and typography, it is meticulously organized into six distinct sections with a very in-depth Table of Contents and Index. There are many things that this book will help you see clearly no matter which city you live in. A cornucopia for the curious! BUY THIS BOOK for your whole family and go exploring!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    This is a fascinating book. If you've every wondered about certain elements of urban design, this is the book for you. I'm always wondering why things are a certain way, so I loved The 99% Invisible City! Note: I started listening to the audiobook but as this is about *visual* design, switched over to the kindle format. This is one of those books where a picture really is worth a thousand words. This is a fascinating book. If you've every wondered about certain elements of urban design, this is the book for you. I'm always wondering why things are a certain way, so I loved The 99% Invisible City! Note: I started listening to the audiobook but as this is about *visual* design, switched over to the kindle format. This is one of those books where a picture really is worth a thousand words.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Andrei Barbu

    This is not a book, it's a long and tedious list of random stuff loosely organized into chapters. It's the most bored I've ever been reading something fascinating. This is not a book, it's a long and tedious list of random stuff loosely organized into chapters. It's the most bored I've ever been reading something fascinating.

  30. 5 out of 5

    J

    Pre-COVID days, I took public transport quite often. Unfortunately, I'm unable to read on the bus because I get travel sickness. I also can't do audiobooks for whatever reason. I'll sometimes listen to music, but… there's something about podcasts that make the bus ride so much more enjoyable. One of my favorite podcasts is 99% Invisible, which looks at the world through a different lens to focus on the little details that we, otherwise, don't think much of, or might not even know exists. They br Pre-COVID days, I took public transport quite often. Unfortunately, I'm unable to read on the bus because I get travel sickness. I also can't do audiobooks for whatever reason. I'll sometimes listen to music, but… there's something about podcasts that make the bus ride so much more enjoyable. One of my favorite podcasts is 99% Invisible, which looks at the world through a different lens to focus on the little details that we, otherwise, don't think much of, or might not even know exists. They bring newfound appreciation to details that changes the world in subtle ways. The 99% Invisible City is essentially the book form of the podcast, though a bit more condensed. It would make for a phenomenal coffee table book to occasionally peruse or, if you're like me and enjoy learning about weirdly specific things, a great nighttime read. I also appreciate the illustrations included that you otherwise would not get from the podcast. One "criticism" I have (more like a "damn, I really wish this was included" criticism) is the absence of all the interviews Roman Mars has that adds so much nuance and greater appreciation to these designs. Despite this, it still makes for a great flip-through. And who knows, perhaps it will make you pull up Wikipedia and borrow books for further exploration. Note: I received this book from NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for an honest review.

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