THE HEIGHTS by Kate Ascher

Last year, I read a book called The Works: Anatomy Of A City by Kate Ascher (reviewed here), which is an exploration of the systems and infrastructure that keep New York City going. I have always been fascinated by how cities work, and Ascher, a professor of urban development at Columbia, takes complicated things like traffic control and the electrical grid and makes them accessible to regular readers. I thoroughly enjoyed The Works, so when I learned that Ascher had written a second book called The Heights: Anatomy Of A Skyscraper, I knew I wanted to read that one too.

Why I picked it up: Skyscrapers are fascinating! This was a no-brainer.

In The Heights, Ascher breaks down the many components of skyscrapers – design, construction, electricity, water, safety, elevators and much more – and explains how they work and how they have evolved over time in the world’s tall buildings. Ascher conveys her subject matter through a combination of infographics, drawings and text, which makes complicated content digestible. She also explains how innovation has made buildings more efficient, safer and greener over time. If you’ve ever looked at a tall building and wondered how clean water gets to the top floors (and dirty water gets out!), or thought about how elevators know which floors to stop on, or how all those windows get cleaned, then this is the book for you.

I think I liked The Works a little better because it covered wider ground than The Heights, literally and figuratively, but The Heights is still really interesting. It came out 10 years ago and is already a bit outdated, given the pace of change in the world, but I still learned quite a bit. The Heights was my most recent blow dry book, which means I read only a few pages a day. This was a good pace for an informative, non-fiction, illustration-rich book like The Heights.

The Heights was the 30th book of 2021.