The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

Book Reviews

Books New to the Shelves of the CLUI Library

Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, by Andrew Blum, Houghton Mifflin, 2012
In 1996, science fiction author Neal Stephenson published Mother Earth Mother Board, a revolutionary nonfiction piece in Wired magazine, where he followed the installation of a new fiber optic cable across the globe. Finally, we thought, Wired magazine becomes true to its name, and talks about wires, and maybe now there would be an open dialog about the global geography of communications infrastructure and connectivity. For the most part, though, this was not to be. Only in the past couple of years has the physical form of the internet begun to be discussed again in popular media, such as the recent coverage of Google’s “outing” of its datacenters. Andrew Blum’s new book is an excellent and encouraging foray into the subject, and we hope there is more to follow.

Petrochemical America, by Richard Misrach and Kate Orff, Aperture, 2012
Photographer Richard Misrach’s Cancer Alley photo works from 1998, depicting the communities, industries, and landscape of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, join a new set of his photos from trips in 2010, creating an epic of foggy and crisp images of things like fences with danger signs running through swamps, and trailer homes and graveyards with refineries behind them. The second part of the book, which takes up exactly half, is titled An Ecological Atlas, and is by Columbia University professor Kate Orff and her team. It is an architectural studio project that focused on the region, generating graphics and maps that depict the relationship between petrochemical products, humans, contaminants, and landscape, locally, and in general. The two-part book is reminiscent of Misrach’s Bravo 20, about a bombing range in Nevada that he wanted to convert into a park.

How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey Across America, by Jon Wiener, University of California Press, 2012
A book (which includes some images from the CLUI archive) of entertaining musings and accounts of visits to Cold War museums and memorials, such as the NSA Museum, Greenbrier Bunker, bus tours of the Hanford Reservation and the Nevada Test Site, as well as relevant presidential libraries, and media exhibits, like the Newseum. Wiener argues that there is a dearth of Cold War memorialization in the country. That may be, though in a way the entirety of the contemporary landscape of the USA is a memorial to the Cold War.

Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City, by Greg Grandin, Metropolitan Books, 2010
Henry Ford’s concept of vertical integration sometimes went all the way to the source of the raw materials needed to produce the parts for his cars, as well as into the lives and communities of the people who worked for him. This is the story about his attempt to control the production of rubber, and inflict his ideas about how people should, or could, live in an industrial/agrarian rubber plantation outpost in the Amazon jungle. The small, remote city he built there, which he never even visited, failed in both regards, and is now mostly an overgrown ruin.

Sealab: America’s Forgotten Quest to Live and Work on the Ocean Floor, by Ben Hellwarth, Simon & Schuster, 2012
To say this book is the missing link would be both true, and a bad pun, since its largely the story about Edwin Link’s remarkable and independent pioneering into the world of the deep. Link (famous for the Link Trainers that were used to train pilots in WWII) spent most of his post-war energy and resources in developing ways for people to live and work at tremendous depths, and on the ocean floor. It's also the story of another adventurous innovator, Commander George Bond, of the U.S. Navy, who spearheaded the government's various Sealab experiments, and who was not afraid to leap out of submarines at depths of 300 feet, wearing just shorts, a mask, and a lifejacket. It really is like a “Right Stuff” story, but in reverse: where the astronauts are aquanauts, where up is down, and pressures quickly increase, instead of decrease, and dramatically so.

The Half-Life of History, by Mark Klett and William L. Fox, Radius Books, 2011
A large-format photo book mostly about Wendover (where the CLUI operates a residence program) and the town’s Enola Gay Hangar, where that famous plane was before it went to Tinian, then to Hiroshima to drop the Bomb. Fox (the writer) and Klett (the photographer) have worked together before, on Klett’s Third View rephotography projects, for example. They were in residence at CLUI in 2001 and 2006 to work on this book. They have produced a vivid portrait of the structures, surfaces and debris associated with this period, and the evocative corrosions that time and the elements have applied.

Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974, by Philipp Kaiser and Miwon Kwon, Prestel, 2012
The big book of the big show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, in Los Angeles, curated by Philipp Kaiser and Miwon Kwon. Adds many new works and texts to the legacy of land art. And makes it official, that whatever it was, it is no more. Land art was a historic moment of emergence. Early land artists discovering the world beyond the gallery were like astronauts going to the moon. Land was encountered formally, as a new substance. It was poked, prodded, dug, displaced, replaced, and specimens were taken back to the lab/studio/gallery/New York. It's hard to imagine a day when just thinking about art existing in places beyond a gallery was novel. But it had to start sometime. Once this realization was made, the world opened up, and art was free to roam anywhere.

Making the Geologic Now: Responses to Material Conditions of Contemporary Life, edited by Elizabeth Ellsworth and Jamie Kruse, Punctum Books, 2012
A book edited by the team known as Smudge, who collected and solicited work from dozens of interesting people who most likely at least share the thought that the use of the new “geologic” term anthropocene makes sense. Hard copies are available from the publisher, and the book can be viewed at