cover image Building Big

Building Big

David Macaulay. Walter Lorraine Books, $30 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-395-96331-9

If ever a book were destined to inspire a future generation of engineers and designers, it would be this volume, a companion to the PBS series of the same name. From Istanbul to New York City, San Francisco to the Firth of Forth, Macaulay circles the globe and spans the centuries to provide a fascinating peek at the inner workings of bridges, tunnels, skyscrapers, domes and dams, each arranged by section with a brief overview. As he delves into the history as well as the mechanics of each projectDan all-star lineup of engineering icons that includes the Pantheon, Hoover Dam, the Channel Tunnel and the Chrysler Building Macaulay is in his element, nimbly deploying his gift for making the arcane accessible. For instance, he describes Brunel's shield, a tedious but successful tunnel-boring aid used under the Thames in the early 19th century, as ""a bit like a platoon of creaking Star Wars robots leaning against each other for support as they inch their way nervously through the muck."" Macaulay constructs the volume as thoughtfully as an engineer, explaining in his opening note on bridges, ""They are in a sense three-dimensional diagrams of the work they do, and this makes them ideal subjects with which to begin."" Each section connects to the next with intelligence and humor (e.g., his opening to the tunnels section: ""While bridges, skyscrapers, domes and even a few dams enjoy varying amounts of popularity, I think it's fairly safe to say that only an engineer could love a tunnel""). His trademark cutaway views and diagrams also illuminate and instruct as they illustrate. Readers will not only enjoy an intimate look at specific structures, but ultimately come away with a broad overview of how modern engineering evolved. Macaulay fosters in readers a keen appreciation for the role of logic, imagination and perseverance in vaulting over impediments and bringing a project to completion. All ages. (Oct.)