cover image How Infrastructure Works: Inside the Systems That Shape Our World

How Infrastructure Works: Inside the Systems That Shape Our World

Deb Chachra. Riverhead, $29 (320p) ISBN 978-0-593-08659-9

Materials scientist Chachra reminds readers of the ubiquity, endurance, and necessity of infrastructural networks while enthusiastically arguing for their public funding in her insightful debut. Weaving together travelogue, expert knowledge, and personal remembrances of her childhood in Canada and adulthood in various cities including Boston and London, Chachra describes the systems that provide people with water, electricity, natural gas, telecommunications, mobility, and sewage disposal. She explains that infrastructural networks not only “meet our basic biological needs,” but also “increase our abilities and agency through access to energy, and... allow us to develop and foster social relationships with each other through communication and mobility.” However, infrastructure can be used by the powerful to enhance their positions and exacerbate inequalities. Consequently, Chachra argues for infrastructure to be publicly and democratically controlled. She also emphasizes that new infrastructure must be designed with the adaptability and efficiency needed to withstand climate change. Examples of structures she admires include the Dinorwig Power Station in Wales, which draws power from an artificial waterfall during the day and at night utilizes unused energy to pump the water up again; and New York City’s network of upstate reservoirs and aqueducts, which, making use of the natural incline of the landscape, are 97% powered by gravity. Written in a distinctive style that is both conversational and erudite, this is an accessible and enjoyable account. Readers will be engrossed. (Oct.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misquoted the book.