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Book Scene: A delightful guide to the secret anatomy of cities

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Cities at first glance can be fun and interesting places in and of themselves, but what about the stories just under the surface? What about things that are essentially hidden but still remain an integral part of the functioning of a city?

Unearthing these unsung tales is what “The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design” aims to do. The authors, Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt, open the lid on numerous secrets and little-known, interesting facts about the design of the everyday world we inhabit.

Mars is the creator and host of the podcast “99% Invisible” that the book is based on. The popular podcast focuses on design and architecture and gives insight to unique stories behind the places and things we think we know. The book is different from the podcast in that it has drawings to help illustrate the things you see every day but might not fully understand.

As Mars explains: “So much of the conversation about design centers on beauty, but the more fascinating stories of the built world are about problem-solving, historical constraints, and human drama.”

The book is divided into broad chapters including Urbanism, Geography and Architecture, and each chapter has several subheadings such as Hostilities, Configurations and Heritage, respectively. These subheadings have several entries that vastly increase the range of topics the book covers. Each entry is just a page or two in length, which makes it an ideal book to be consumed in bite-size chunks. Topics range from anchor plates in aesthetically pleasing star shapes that help old brick buildings stay up, to the story behind the most interesting traffic light in Syracuse, N.Y. The book also talks about what the colorful graffiti on streets and sidewalks signifies and mentions the myriad of factors, from history to nature, that affect the growth pattern of the outward expansion of a city.

I loved this book so much! There simply isn’t room to adequately explain how many subjects this book covers or how many interesting things I learned reading it. I started the book for its chapters on architecture and geography but became more interested in how much nature was included and general human stories that are tied to the making of our cities.

I would recommend this book for anyone interested in design or who has a love of architecture. It’s perfect for someone wanting to know more about the intriguing stories that shape our cities and towns.

• “The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design” by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt was published by Houghton Mifflin in October. It retails for $30.

• Rachel Fowler works for Inklings Bookshop. She and other Inklings staffers review books in Thursday’s SCENE section every week.

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