Book Reviews
Books New to the Shelves of the CLUI Library
Stealth: The Secret Contest to Invent Invisible Aircraft, by Peter Westwick, 2020
Westwick, the editor of the seminal Blue Sky Metropolis: The Aerospace Century in Southern California, turns to the story of stealth in his latest book. He focuses, as one must, on the development of Lockheed’s F-117 and Northrop’s B-2, with their Have Blue and Tacit Blue precursors, and secret radar test ranges around the Southwest, where designs were tested. Stealth was a paradoxical assertion of dominance: the less visible these vicious bat-like planes were, the scarier they looked. 
 
Upgrade Available, by Julia Christensen, 2020
Christensen, an artist, educator, and LACMA Art + Technology Lab Fellow, swims in a sea of hardware and software obsolescence and makes a series of dives into fundamental matters of matter, time, and space, sharing conversations she had with the likes of archivist Rick Prelinger, Media Archeology Lab director Lori Emerson, and Laura Welcher of the Long Now Foundation. She finally heads into space, with teams from JPL, designing a CubeSat that communicates with trees back on earth. All hail art and science!
 
Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America, by Christopher Leonard, 2019
Though lots has been said about the notorious Koch Brothers and their political opinions and influence, this 700-page book tells the story of their industrial empire in a big way, too. Based in Wichita, Kansas, Koch Industries is now the largest privately held corporation in the country. It has more than $110 billion in annual revenue, 130,000 employees, and operations around the world. (Its only equal in the private company arena is Cargill, which has more employees, but less revenue, sometimes). Koch Industries started as an oil and gas production and refining company in the 1960s, and grew into an industrial conglomerate through acquisitions. The company, and its subsidiaries, refine oil and gas, and make fertilizer, glass, plastics, fibers, beef, paper, electronic components, and operate 4,000 miles of gas and other product pipelines, in the USA. 
 
Holding Back the River: The Struggle Against Nature on America’s Waterways, by Tyler J. Kelley, 2021
In this nicely place-based book, the Brooklynite author travels the land and meets with locals and experts to illuminate large systematic issues within the Mississippi River watershed, producing a contemporary overview of the state of the engineering along the nation’s major waterways, and the floods that they both prevent, and precipitate. 
 
The Not-Quite States of America, by Doug Mack, 2017
The affable and curious author provides an accessible firsthand account of his travels to ground truth the five officially occupied territories of the USA (Guam, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands). This is a vivid and topical accounting of the current conditions and recent histories of these usually overlooked parts of the USA.
 
Dingbat 2.0: The Iconic Los Angeles Apartment as Projection of a Metropolis, edited by Thurman Grant and Joshua G. Stein, 2016
Published with the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design, this book covers the evolution, habitat, and form of the dingbat—the floating stucco apartment buildings found, especially, around Los Angeles, notable mostly for their simple, functional, rectilinear form, with slight, but not insignificant, graphic design embellishments like exotic names in tiki fonts and retro-spacey sunburst medallions. This book gets as deep and wide into dingbats as any ever has, or is likely to, even defining variants like the Drivebat, Halfbat, Hunchbat, Dumbbat, Sidebat, Cheesebat, Hillbat, Twinbat, and Double-ding, and makes dingbats seem like the smartest box on the block. 
 
Sun Seekers: The Cure of California, Lyra Kilston, 2019
Kilston makes a lucid link from the mountain health resorts of Europe, through the curative cabins of the Adirondacks, to the proliferation of Southern California sanatoriums, connecting the emergence of an “indigenous” modernism (a la Schindler and Neutra) to German nature-seeking proto-hippies in the desert, and the Beach Boys. Why not? It’s Southern California, where the possibilities for improvement are endless.
 
Bunker: Building for the End Times, by Bradley Garrett, 2020
The author, a well-known urban explorer (especially of the UK), and certified cultural geographer (PhD), takes on the global prepper and bunker-sphere, with some notable stops in the USA. He gets to know the founder of Vivos (Robert Vicino), and spends a few nights in one of the 575 munition igloos at the former Black Hills Ordnance Depot, which Vivos is turning into a prepper community, and gets drunk on IPAs with the caretaker inside Vivos’ only “real” bunker in the US, in—or, I should say under—East Shelburn, Indiana. He also tours the Survival Condo complex, in a former Atlas F missile silo north of Salina, Kansas, likely the most sophisticated private underground community bunker site in the country, with several residence levels built inside the 180-foot-tall “earthscraper.” While many of the bunkered prepper community schemes fall apart long before they are realized, this dystopia seems real, in very profound ways.
 
How to Hide an Empire, by Daniel Immerwahr, 2019
This look at the USA’s historical terrain beyond the logo map of the lower 48 is all over the place, and reflects on the nation by examining examples of its extremities. The book includes places where the US has had a presence, even if just as a tenant, like Thule, Greenland; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and Okinawa, Japan, as well as former colonial holdings, like the Philippines, and the many Pacific Islands obtained during World War II, most of which have since returned to self-rule. 
 
The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design, by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt, 2020 
This book is from the popular podcast 99% Invisible, which covers “Architecture, Infrastructure, Cities, Objects, Sounds, Visuals, Technology, and History,” in well-researched and professionally produced episodes. Its founder, Roman Mars, is now the Ira Glass-like host of an audio show made by a staff of researchers, writers, and producers. The publication—a “podbook”?— is divided into six chapters, each with subcategories composed of a few brief tales of objects and phenomenology around the built landscape that have been discussed on the show, covering things like those dots on highways, movie production signs, revolving doors, boundary stones, skateblockers, and much, much more. Illustrated with drawings. If the podcast is like an ephemeral feast for the ears, the podbook is like a smorgasbord of tasty cocktail party appetizers. (Though it would be nice if all these purported “field guides” being published of late were actually field guides.)  
 
In Land: Writings Around Land Art and its Legacies, by Ben Tufnell, 2019
A collection of some of curator Ben Tufnell’s writing over the last 20 years, on artists he has worked with and considered, who deal with issues of land and landscape, including Thomas Joshua Cooper, Hamish Fulton, Cai Guo-Qiang, and Katie Paterson. Tufnell’s writing is modest and incisive, and elucidates surprising connective tendrils that, once expressed, seem obvious in hindsight, due to their soundness.
 
Third Coast Atlas: Prelude to a Plan, edited by Daniel Ibañez, Clare Lyster, Charles Waldheim, and Mason White, 2017 
This 7.5-pound book covers a massive subject: the entirety of the Great Lakes waterfront region, both in the US and Canada. This megaregion, with 10,000 miles of coastline, is home to 35 million people, yet is integrated geographically by being a single drainage basin. The Atlas is very much a collective effort, originating as a series of graduate courses and research projects at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the University of Toronto, with publication support from Chicago’s Graham Foundation and the great architecture and landscape publisher Actar. Yes, there are lots of elaborate graphics, as one might expect, but they are generally more map-y than graphic-y, and thus more lucid and legible to us mortals than much of what flows out of academic design think tanks. There are also big photos, including some by Torontonian Ed Burtynsky and Cambridge aerialist Alex MacLean. Despite numerous essays on subjects such as industry, transportation, waste, the border, water quality, and the cities of the region, its aim is to be descriptive, not prescriptive, a prelude to a plan, as the title says, while we await the fugue.