You wouldn’t think it possible to write a coffee table book dealing with traffic flow, waste management and postal codes. But The Works: Anatomy of a City by Kate Ascher discusses these topics and remains a fun informative book. Ascher, vice president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, details all of the inner workings of this beautiful, embattled city, from subways to stoplights to sewage.
The text is punctuated by cute maps and infographics, such as one showing all the different kinds of street trees in New York. There are no lush photos of the sort that normally categorize coffee table books, but there are a lot of interesting facts.
For instance, did you know that only a quarter of those buttons near traffic lights – which supposedly allow pedestrians to manipulate the signal – actually work anymore? Or that the city offers a “Citizen Pruner” class for residents that teaches them about the city’s trees? Or that 44 buildings in Manhattan have their own zip codes?
Sure, some sections are less interesting than others (I, for one, wasn’t really aching to learn how the city disposes of its waste, although I know it’s important). Also, the book’s detailed descriptions of the city and how it runs likely won’t interest anyone who doesn’t already love New York.
But for those who live in the city – or just love it to pieces -- the book is bursting with facts like that, which make it entertaining and educational. It’s that rare coffee table book you can read and
actually learn something.