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A Scientist in the City


In his previous books, A Scientist At  The Seashore and Meditations At  Sunset, James Trefil used commonplace  settings in the natural world as a point of departure  for probing the mysteries of nature. In A  Scientist In The City, Trefil takes the  opposite tack, looking at the quintessential  man-made environment of the city as a way of examining  the forces that define our world. What does the  heating system of a ...
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In his previous books, A Scientist At  The Seashore and Meditations At  Sunset, James Trefil used commonplace  settings in the natural world as a point of departure  for probing the mysteries of nature. In A  Scientist In The City, Trefil takes the  opposite tack, looking at the quintessential  man-made environment of the city as a way of examining  the forces that define our world. What does the  heating system of a building or the construction of  a bridge tell us about the development of a city?  What does the amplified environmental stress of  city life on plants and animals suggest about the  wild? How have scientific advances in building  materials and an understanding of the structure of the  atom helped to shape the cities of today? From an  explanation of the evolution and influence of  plate glass to reinforced steel to an analysis of the  future of the skyscraper, A Scientist In  The City offers a fascinating study of  the promise and the consequences of technology in  our everyday urban lives. In addition, Trefil goes  on to explore how the new technologies being  developed today will help to determine the changing  forms that cities will take in the future. A  Scientist In The City is the kind of  book that will open our eyes to the man-made world  around us, and show us some of the scientific  reasons for why we live the way we do.

The bestselling author of The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy and 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Science explores the science and technology behind the cities of today, offering a "things-to-come" look at the cities of tomorrow.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Clear and  coherent...refreshingly clear-eyed and  unsentimental."-- Washington Post.

"A highly readable look at cities that casually  ranges from mudhuts to glass-and-steel skyscrapers,  from the atomic structure of iron to the top of the  Sears Tower in Chicago." -- San  Francisco Chronicle.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
After last year's brave foray into the biology of the abortion controversy in The Facts of Life (written with Harold Morowitz), Trefil returns to the general science territory he staked out in A Scientist at the Seashore. This city-mouse version of that title is an equally felicitous adventure for the science lover isolated from nature's countryside lab. The physical sciences predominate here as Trefil offers deft analogies to explain invisible forces like gravity in building architecture, e.g., comparing masonry structures and skyscrapers to crustaceans (with exoskeletons) and humans, whose weight-bearing skeleton is internal. He explains the atomic structure of materials that underlie every corner of a city block and includes other systems like power grids on the tour. The addition of a futurist urban vision adds little to the text but does not mitigate Trefil's particular talent for lively explanation. Illustrated. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Trefil, author of the useful 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Science ( LJ 12/91) and coauthor of Science Matters ( LJ 1/91), takes the reader on a metaphorical stroll through the modern city. With chapters on window glass, urban sprawl, transportation, infrastructure, and the like, the first half of the book is interesting, illuminating, and gently written. The second half, in which Trefil imagines the city, suburb, and space colony of the future, is for the most part refreshingly down to earth, dabbling only modestly in science fiction. This book will be useful for those whose time and energy is spent in the city but who lack an engineering background. An excellent addition to general collections, especially at the secondary level.-- Mark L. Shelton, Athens, Ohio
School Library Journal
YA-Trefil states that a city is an environment built by one of nature's creatures, man. Therefore, it is a ``natural system, and we can study it the same way we study other natural systems.'' Whether or not readers accept this premise, the resultant study is fascinating. Trefil leads readers through the history of cities as a result of the development of various technologies and humanity's needs. Each chapter is filled with scientific facts. On virtually every page, however, is a little nugget of information that adds spice to the mixture of physical laws or engineering truths. For example, insects fly higher in urban areas as a result of the higher levels of the hotter air. The opening chapters describe the development of various technologies such as steel, glass-making, structural engineering, or subways and the resulting changes in cities because of them, while the last sections describe future possibilities. The book can be read, and very enjoyably too, straight through. It can, as well, be used for research papers. It contains wonderful descriptions of scientific processes. The author stresses the need for understanding the laws of nature as technologies develop, as opposed to the use of ``clever techniques,'' and he makes the learning of many of these laws almost painless.-Susan H. Woodcock, King's Park Library, Burke, VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385261098
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/1/1994
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Table of Contents

Pt. 1 The City of Today
1 The Birth of Cities 3
2 You Can't Throw Anything Away: Limits on the Urban Ecosystem 15
3 The Fabric of Cities 29
4 Letting the Light In 43
5 What Goes Up Must Come Down-Eventually: How a Building Works 57
6 Of Snails and Subways: The Urban Infrastructure 75
7 Moving Energy: Getting Things Done 93
8 Transportation: How Energy Shapes a City 111
9 Moving Information: Bits and Pixels 125
Pt. 2 The City of the Future
10 Predicting the Future 147
11 The High-Rise Future 155
12 The Edge City Future 171
13 The New Suburban Future 187
14 The Virtual Future 203
15 The Future in Space 221
16 The Death of Cities 235
Afterword: The City in 2050 251
Index 257
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