Book Reviews:   09/30/2009
Chicago: A View From the Top Chicago: A View From the Top

By Ken Derry
112 pages; $29.95

Working a tower crane on the Trump tower in Chicago was an operating engineer’s dream. Ken Derry shares his unique and spectacular vantage point in a coffee-table book filled with 101 of the more than 700 “aerial” photographs he took during the three-year project.
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Derry’s book is a must-have for any enthusiast of architecture, construction and engineering. A 30-year crane veteran and shutterbug, Derry, 53, artfully illustrates the fear, guts, skill and pride it takes to build tall buildings.

Seeing workers knock sheets of ice off a crane standing hundreds of feet in the air on a cold Chicago day gives the reader a serious case of the shivers. Viewing the morning sunrises in the 1,300-ft-high cab of the city’s tallest tower crane to date (remember, Sears Tower used derricks) is a reminder that each day brings new blessings and surprises. And that life goes on.

“Being up here so many feet above the city makes a person think about big topics, like life, God and country,” the author writes. In these photos, the reader takes a magic-carpet ride across the Windy City with Derry safely at the controls.

Remarkably, Derry captured all these images with an inexpensive Kodak camera (5 megapixels), a reminder that the best lens in the world is no good without eye, view, will and patience. That Derry was able to shoot the skyline while on the job is a testament to his many talents. On sale at

For Big Change, Start Out Small Nanomaterials, Nanotechnologies and Design

By Michael F. Ashby, et al. Elsevier;
$69.95; 540 pages

In 1959, scientist Richard Feynman gave a talk called “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” which formed the basis of today’s growing nanotechnology field. In it, he described a supertiny, mechanical surgeon that the patient would swallow. “It goes into the heart and ‘looks’ around,” he said. “It finds out which valve is the faulty one and takes a little knife and slices it out.”

The nanotech field is a vast and unfamiliar place, filled with wonders and dangers that are not yet fully understood. But the benefits of exploring it are allowing designers to use materials and structures that perform in incredible and beautiful ways. This new book offers tools to help architects and engineers navigate the world of the super-small.

It also does a comprehensive job of clearing up misconceptions about nanotechnology, which occurs at one-billionth of a meter (1-100 nm), just one step above the atomic level. Nanotechnology is not all about carbon tubes and microscopic gears, as some would have us believe. Such mundane construction innovations as self-cleaning glass films fall under the same category, too.

The science does not have to involve new materials, either. Photosynthesis, for example, occurs at the nanoscale level. Who knew that all the plants in the world produce about 300 billion tons of sugar per year with 95% efficiency? Amazing.

Anyone interested in the nanoworld will find a treasure trove of resources in this book, including a concise history of the development of all types of useful building materials. If you want to make big changes, sometimes you have to think small.

“Terry the Tractor” Terry the Tractor Series

Mike Rucker; $4.95 each

Children’s book author Mike Rucker spent years at Caterpillar Inc. teaching clients how to use—and not abuse—their machinery. It was during this time when the now-retired service rep learned that the same lessons apply to everyday life.

“The first book is about machine maintenance, but it’s also about kid maintenance,” says Rucker, 69, who lives in Peoria, Ill. In 1993, he started his “Terry the Tractor” series, writing a book a year since. This summer, he released the 17th installment, “Terry and the Dinosaurs.”

His lead character, Terry, is a cute, yellow Cat tractor with human emotions. Terry’s adventures might happen on a real-life playground: A bulldozing bully pushes Terry around. A teenage thug tempts him with “super-powerful” fuel. Terry grows frustrated when his dozer friends aren’t pulling their own weight.

In the latest adventure, co-authored with Rucker’s nine-year-old granddaughter, Sabrina, Terry visits a natural-history museum, where a scientist invents a time machine that drops him on the stomping grounds of an angry tyrannosaurus. Terry helps a prehistoric friend out of a tar pit before escaping the jaws of the T-Rex.

Rucker’s style is refreshing because he confronts issues that we all encounter, and he isn’t afraid to challenge kids. “We don’t try to mollycoddle things,” he says. “I don’t think there are any topics too deep for kids’ books.” On sale at www.Terry