The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design Hardcover – Illustrated, 6 October 2020
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"Here is a field guide, a boon, a bible, for the urban curious. Your city's secret anatomy laid bare--a hundred things you look at but don't see, see but don't know. Each entry is a compact, surprising story, a thought piece, an invitation to marvel. Together, they are almost transformative. To know why things are as they are adds a satisfying richness to daily existence. This book is terrific, just terrific."
--Mary Roach, New York Times bestselling author of Gulp, Stiff, and Grunt
--John Green, New York Times bestselling author of The Fault In Our Stars "We usually define cities in terms of their bigness, so it's easy to forget that our daily experience of any city is made up of countless tiny, intimate encounters. Just as Jane Jacobs did fifty years ago, Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt provide a new way of seeing urban life, finding secrets and surprises behind every sewer grate, storefront, and street sign."
--Michael Bierut, design critic and author of How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things, Explain Things, Make Things Look Better, Make People Laugh, Make People Cry, and (Every Once in a While) Change the World "[The 99% INVISIBLE CITY] celebrates the functional, serendipitous, and often beautiful ways that humans have shaped their surroundings."
-- Ari Shapiro, National Public Radio "The 99% Invisible City is not a book, but a pair of magic glasses that transform the mundane city around you into a vibrant museum of human ingenuity."
--Justin McElroy, podcaster and New York Times bestselling author "The ideal companion for city buffs, who'll come away seeing the streets in an entirely different light."
--Kirkus Reviews, starred review "Conversational, bite-size entries [and] beautiful tricolor illustrations . . . A field guide for anywhere."
About the Author
KURT KOHLSTEDT is the digital director and producer of 99% Invisible. Before joining the show, he founded a series of successful online magazines on cities and design, starting with WebUrbanist in 2007. He holds a graduate degree in architecture from the University of Washington's College of Built Environments.
Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt
When did you first decide to write The 99% Invisible City?
In 2014, the very first time Kurt and I met, we talked about working on a book involving design and cities. Publishers had asked me before about expanding 99% Invisible into printed media, but I was too busy with weekly episodes, and Kurt was occupied with writing daily articles. After Kurt joined the show in 2015, 99% Invisible continued to grow and we increasingly felt the need to distill the best of our combined years of research, knowledge and experience into a single book, sharing our passion for cities in a distinct standalone volume. In 2018, we began to outline the shape this would take.
Why did you decide to write a 99% Invisible book?
In some sense, the story of this book dates back to, or even beyond, the origin of 99% Invisible. This book brings together my years of design storytelling, including hundreds of interviews with urbanists and designers, and Kurt’s years of studying urban design and architecture, as well as his experiences as a designer and design writer. Together, we decided to create a volume that would accessible and universal—a guide that would engage more than just urbanists, architects, and 99PI fans.
The concept of a field guide seemed like a fun and effective way to organize our thoughts. With that driving idea in mind, we began to compile compelling narratives and intriguing characters. We singled out individual stories that would captivate an audience but that would also fit together and flow, forming a whole that was more than the sum of its parts. This book would encourage readers to look at all different aspects of cities—from individual objects, buildings, blocks to entire neighborhoods—in an entirely new light. Through many smaller narratives, the book tells a larger story of how to be more observant and thoughtful citizens.
What kind of research went into writing this book?
This book is the culmination of years of research, travel and storytelling. It grew out of interactions with many different urbanists and designers, from an interview with a US postal worker at the bottom of the Grand Canyon to a producer visit to the tuned mass damper at the top of Taipei’s tallest skyscraper. The book draws on local reporting from 99PI producers around the world as well as extensive research done specifically for this volume. Through all these interactions, we wove together the most interesting personalities encountered and tales uncovered into a dense but delightful volume.
What cities/regions are featured in The 99% Invisible City?
The book is not a guide to any one city, but to all cities; we wanted a subject of interest in one place to open up a door to understanding many others. Often, this meant taking the audience somewhere unexpected. Rather than visiting the site of the first US electric traffic signal in Cleveland, OH, for instance, readers are sent on a journey to Syracuse, NY, home to the country’s only upside-down signal (with a green light on top). From there, the story travels halfway around the world to Japan, where “grue” traffic lights illuminate the strange relationship between cities, design standards and the way different languages evolve to describe colors.
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
A number of the essays are based on 99% Invisible podcasts, but they have been shortened and many of the most interesting “bits” removed. Much of the new material is only a shadow of what it was or could be in the podcast format.
My major disappointment is that the book did not take advantage of the book-length format to propose or discuss urban design principles. I was hoping for a book where such principles could be discussed and illustrated with examples like those in the podcasts. Each little essay is of some interest, but the total is less than the parts.
The organization of the book is rather mystifying as well. As just one example, “Grassroots Gardening” is in the “Catalysts” section instead of where you might expect to find it in the “Landscapes” section. There are many other essays that seem to be placed haphazardly, a reflection of the lack of an underlying structure to the book.
The book has many illustrations which, I’m sorry to say, are also disappointing. I think photographs would have provided clearer examples of the features being discussed.
Why get it? (1) it's the perfect coffee table book. (2) I'll be ordering several for the holidays. It's the perfect present.