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by Les Standiford
Dutiful story of a man who, not having finished high school, let alone set foot in an engineering class, designed a metropolitan water system that is still in use today.
Irish immigrant William Mulholland’s construction of a water grid centered on the Los Angeles River … in 1877, inarguably made the LA of today possible, for better or worse; more than 10 million citizens depend on it to some degree or another. Yet Mulholland was nearly condemned to oblivion after a dam collapsed in 1928 in the mountains above the city, an event considered by some to be the worst engineering failure in American history … The added value of Standiford’s book largely comes in its closing pages, in which he examines the now-canonical script for Chinatown and separates history from fiction.
Generally sympathetic to its subject and well-written but to be consulted only after William Kahrl’s Water and Power (1982) and Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert (1986).
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