On the Grid: A Plot of Land, an Average Neighborhood,
and the Systems That Make Our World Work
I stepped out of my house once in Nashville and saw a guy in a bucket truck doing something to the overhead wires. Well, what are you doing? "Nothing big," he said. "Just tying another circuit into the grid." I went a little crazy. The grid! We think of it as this concept, and yet there it is, hanging above our heads: it occupies space! It has weight! The grid actually exists, and my house hung right there at the end of one of its branches. I got to thinking of all the various grids—power, water, wastewater, gas, roads, cable, radio waves—that constantly serve us and thought that would make a great series for the public radio station I worked at then. Well, the best laid plans, right? But ten years, two moves, two kids, and two books later, I guess I was still thinking about it, because here came this book.
I had a great time discussing this book with the folks at WUNC radio. Take a listen!
“In an authorial voice that can best be described as ‘suburban dad,’ Huler pesters and annoys water engineers, road crews, electricians, plumbers, and garbage men with endless questions. ... Huler’s narratives are made deeper and rounder by a review of early human civilizations and their comparable infrastructure technologies. ... While Huler’s stated goal with this text is to teach ordinary people to appreciate the complexity of The Grid (the network of technologies and components that make city life possible), the book’s real accomplishment is to humanize it. Huler is careful to consider how advances in city technology have evolved in response to human need, and how ethics and culture shape receptions to these technologies, driving them forward or relegating them to abandonment..”
“Part trivia almanac and part detailed history, On the Grid explores the workings of the infrastructural systems around us as well as any book on the subject I've read, making the hidden material foundations of our society visible and immediate. … For anyone interested in infrastructure issues, On the Grid is an instant classic, already indispensible.”
-- Independent Weekly
“Inquisitive everyman Huler takes an obsessively detailed behind the scenes look at wires, water pipes, and other typically ignored but terribly important pathways that lie beneath our feet. …. Investigations unfold via a pleasant, relatable approach based on the everyday experiences Huler and his family have had … there's enough well-reported, thoughtfully observed analysis to satisfy inquisitive minds.”
-- Publishers Weekly
Rodale Press, 2010; paperback, Rodale Press 2011.
Click on the book to buy it at Amazon. Though it's worth noting I try to buy books at my local independent bookseller or used bookstore.
This is an important book, one that I would recommend very broadly. ... It gives a sense of what engineers really do and the interconnectedness of that work.
“Huler sets out to better understand the infrastructures that bring power, water, telecommunications, transportation, sewage treatment and other amenities … Huler explains the genesis and evolution of the electrical grid and writes a bit on hopes for the new Smart Grid…. Huler reminds his readers that the grid is nothing more than an extension of our own greed (‘our infrastructure, ourselves’).”
— Los Angeles Times
“The ever-curious Scott Huler aims to educate us about infrastructure. … A smoothly written account of his infrastructure adventures, including an important conclusion he reaches along the way.”
-- Raleigh News & Observer
“Terrific … fascinating.”
-- “Here and Now,” National Public Radio