This is the second official episode, breaking down the 1974 Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Power Broker by our hero Robert Caro.
New York Times political columnist Jamelle Bouie is our book club guest.
On today?s show, Elliott Kalan and Roman Mars will cover Part 3 of the book (Chapters 6 through the end of Chapter 10), discussing the major story beats and themes, with occasional asides from Jamelle Bouie guiding us through the politics of the era.
White Castle has its own take on fast food hamburgers. For starters, the patties are square, with five holes in each patty. And they?re small, too ?- two-and-a-half inch sliders. Just big enough to fit into the palm of your hand. And since they?re steamed on a bed of onions, everything is infused with this very specific onion-esque flavor.
Today, White Castles can be hard to find, depending on where you live. But KCUR's Mackenzie Martin, a producer at A People's History of Kansas City, says that it?s time to stop thinking of White Castle as a semi-obscure cultural punchline, because over a century ago, White Castle invented something that became so important and all-encompassing that, today, it touches pretty much every person in America. Sometimes several times a day. Something that, in other countries, has almost come to define American culture: it has a strong claim to being the first fast-food restaurant.
Seen from above, Sofia, Bulgaria, looks less like a city and more like a forest. Large "interblock park" green spaces between big apartment structures are a defining characteristic of the city. They're not so much "parks" in the formal sense, with fences and gates, just open green areas growing up in interstitial spaces left behind.
But as green as it still looks today, Sofia used to be even greener. Since the fall of Bulgarian communism in the late 1980s, Sofia has lost more than half of its green space. To understand why, one has to look back to how the city evolved and grew in the Soviet era.
When a highway gets made, there?s a clear and consistent process for doing so. Not so, public memorials. From the Vietnam Wall to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, it?s always different. Sometimes a handful of concerned citizens get together and make it happen. Sometimes a nonprofit pushes for it, or a foundation. There?s usually a lot of activism, and a lot of fraught conversations ? about design, location, the story it should tell about what happened, and who it affected.
And how does one memorialize such a vast and distributed tragedy like COVID-19, which was devastating physically but also divisive politically?
A few years ago, at the very start of the pandemic, Roman Mars wrote an episode of 99pi in which he simply talked about design details in his house -- realizing that he, like the audience, didn't have many other places to go. (You should check it out. It's called "Roman Mars Describes Things As They Are"-- it?s a real time capsule and a fan favorite.) Since then, he's been thinking about and wanting to record a companion episode out in the world.
Over the next couple months, he's going to three cities that shaped who Roman is and how he thinks about design. We'll start in Chicago.
Chicago is a design lover's paradise, from its carefully thought-out original grid to its exceptionally stellar flag design. The city is home to some of the most influential architecture in the US as well.
Note: This series is made possible by the new 2024 Lexus GX and SiriusXM.
Watch a skate video today, and you'll notice how similarly shaped the boards are. It?s called the ?popsicle? design, because the deck is narrow in the middle and rounded off at both ends, like a popsicle stick. This may seem stupid simple, but that basic, clean popsicle shape is actually the product of a lot of experimentation and iteration. In 1989, one particular board would cement skateboard design as we know it. But to understand it, we have to go back over a decade to the mid-70s, as more and more money poured into the growing sport.
Welcome to our first official episode, breaking down the 1974 Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Power Broker by our hero Robert Caro. Robert Caro happens to be our special guest for this episode and you do not get more special than that.
On today?s show, Elliott Kalan and Roman Mars will cover the Introduction, Part 1, and Part 2 of the book (the intro through the end of Chapter 5), discussing the major story beats and themes, and then we will bring the great Robert Caro to the stage.
Fake cities. Imitation nations. People role-playing as civilians, spies, or enemies, complete with costumes and props. It's all part of an effort coordinated and constructed by the U.S. military to prepare soldiers for war. Fake villages designed for training purposes dot the entire United States, not to mention other countries. Researchers have identified over 400 of them around the world.
Our second and final set of mini-stories for the season: We'll be covering upside-down construction, the linguistics of filler and a fire that has been burning for decades.
We're revisiting this Christmas classic from 2021. Happy Holidays!
Slovenia is a small country in Central Europe nestled between Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary. It's a land of snowy white peaks, green valleys, and turquoise rivers. The country is beautiful in all seasons, but it is perhaps at its most magical around Christmastime. This nation of just over 2 million people is visited by, not one, not two, but three different "santas" every festive season. But it hasn't always been this way. Each Santa has had his moment in the spotlight?each in a different period of Slovenia?s complicated history. And in order to have a Christmas season that reflects that history and speaks to all Slovenians, you need three magical men.
It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's mini-stories season! Gather the kids around the fire because We have a year-end mix of short stories about a rogue architect, spooky kitchens, a hundred year old music streaming service, and the crazy way the French tried to make telling time less crazy.
Today's episode featured a story from Sound Detectives. Listen to Sound Detectives on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts, and go to sounddetectivespodcast.com to find coloring pages, sound terms, and more.
Keeping track of numbers has always been part of what makes us human. So at some point along the way, we created a tool to help us keep count, and then we gave that tool a name. We called it: a calculator. But depending on what era you were born in, and maybe even what country, what constituted a 'calculator' varied widely.
Keith Houston wrote about the evolution of the calculator in his latest book, Empire of the Sum The Rise and Reign of the Pocket Calculator. It is exactly the kind of nerdery we like to get up to here at 99% Invisible -- history explained through the lens of an everyday designed object.
Today's episode features #1 Robert Caro superfan, Conan O'Brien.
The Power Broker by Robert Caro is a biography of Robert Moses, who is said to have built more structures and moved more earth than anyone in human history. And he did it without ever holding elected office. Outside of New York City, Robert Moses wasn't exceptionally well known. Inside of New York, he was mostly accepted by the media as simply the man who built all those nice parks. But The Power Broker, which is subtitled Robert Moses and The Fall of New York, changed all that. It is a tour de force of journalism, history, and biography. Roman also argues it's really fun to read and is strongly in contention for the best book ever written.
But there is something of a catch, which can hang readers up: the book is a daunting 1200 pages long. As influential and amazing as this bestseller is, many people own an unopened copy gathering dust on their bookshelf. But that is a crime because this book needs to be read or at least discussed at length on a podcast.
Roman Mars and Elliott Kalan (Flop House, Daily Show) are starting The Power Broker book club that will run through all of 2024 as bonus episodes and in this introductory episode, Conan O'Brien joins us to talk all things Robert Caro.
Roman note: This is one of my favorite episodes of all time. Should be a movie. Enjoy!
The tradition of the Tomb of the Unknowns goes back only about a century, but it has become one of the most solemn and reverential monuments. When President Reagan added the remains of an unknown serviceman who died in combat in Vietnam to the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery in 1984, it was the only set of remains that couldn?t be identified from the war. Now, thankfully, there will never likely be a soldier who dies in battle whose body can?t be identified. And as a result of DNA technology, even the unknowns currently interred in the tomb can be positively identified.
The Cassette tape was great in so many ways, but let?s be honest, they never really sounded great. But because the cassette was so much cheaper and easier to use and portable, a lot of people didn't care so much about the audio quality. They just wanted to be able to use something that they could carry around with them. The cassette?s other big advantage: it was easy to record on.
We talked to Marc Masters about his new book High Bias, about the history of the cassette. One chapter about concert bootleggers covers perhaps the greatest success story of the cassette: Grateful Dead live tapes.
Plus we're featuring a bonus story that we produced in 2016 in collaboration with Benjamen Walker's Theory of Everything about a place where cassettes were of vital importance.
In a lot of ways, Lincoln Heights, Ohio, sounds just like any other suburb. If you walk around town, you?ll hear kids playing outside the local elementary school. You?ll hear the highway that takes commuters down to Cincinnati. At the woods on the edge of town, the birdsong is delightful. The town feels calm and peaceful - at least, until the gunfire starts. Most weekdays, it begins in the morning, and lasts through the afternoon. Sometimes it goes past sundown, and occasionally into the weekends. Once the shooting begins, it comes in rapid-fire waves throughout the day. People say it makes it hard to focus or relax, and those who work the night shift say they can?t sleep.
The noise of gunfire isn?t from street violence. It all comes from an open-air gun range that?s owned by the Cincinnati Police Department.
In the mid-1900s, people flocked to Reno, Nevada -- not for frontier gold or loose slots, but to get out of bad marriages. The city became known as the "Divorce Capital of the World." For much of modern history, it has been relatively easy to get married, and extremely difficult to get divorced -- and for a time, this was true in the New World as well. But Reno provided the cure: The Six-Week Cure.
Most heists target gold, jewels or cash. This one targeted illegal seeds. As the British established their sprawling empire across the subcontinent and beyond, they encountered a formidable adversary ? malaria. There was a cure ? the bark of the Andean cinchona tree. The only problem? The Dutch and the French were also looking to corner the market in cinchona. And the trees themselves were under threat.
This week on 99pi, we feature a story from Stuff the British Stole, a co-production of ABC Australia and CBC Podcasts. So "grab a gin and tonic and come with us to hear how a botanical empire took off ? and gave birth to a quintessential cocktail."
For decades, society has dealt with people with dementia and other forms of cognitive decline by storing them away in unstimulating, medicalized environments. But around the world, a new architectural movement is starting to challenge that old paradigm. Designing environments where people with dementia can live as normally as possible, until the very end.
It?s hard to overstate just how important record album art was to music in the days before people downloaded everything. Visuals were a key part of one's experience with a record or tape or CD. The design of the album cover created a first impression of what was to come. Album art was certainly important to reporter Sean Cole, one particular album by one particular band: Devo. This is the story of Devo?s first record and the fight over the arresting image of a flashy, handsome golf legend on the cover.
Plus, former 99pi EP Katie Mingle gets the backstory of the Langley Schools Music Project LP, a haunting and uplifting outsider artist masterpiece.
This episode was originally broadcast in 2018
Over a decade after Elvis Presley?s death, the king of rock & roll took over headlines once again as Americans weighed in on which portrait of Elvis would be forever immortalized on a 29 cent US postage stamp. It was put to a popular vote: should the stamp feature an image of young Elvis at the start of his rise, or an older Elvis in his iconic white jumpsuit.
The resulting Elvis stamp eventually outsold every single commemorative stamp before and since.
Over its more than 40 year journey from conception to completion, Boston?s Big Dig massive infrastructure project, which rerouted the central highway in the heart of the city, encountered every hurdle imaginable: ruthless politics, engineering challenges, secretive contractors, outright fraud and even the death of one motorist. It became a kind of poster child for big government ?boondoggles.? But the full story is of course much more complicated ? and really represents a turning point in how America builds infrastructure.
Subscribe and Listen to the full series of The Big Dig.
The Sydney Opera House is one of the most iconic and distinctive buildings in the world. It took a relative newcomer and architectural outsider to dream it up, but the saga of making this world heritage landmark a reality is a tale for the ages: a cautionary tale. And for Cautionary Tales, I turn to the brilliant Tim Harford. I?ve been dying to hear the story of the Sydney Opera House told in this way, and Tim and his team just nailed it, and I know you are going to love it as much as I do. Enjoy.
Brian Merchant is a tech reporter, and he'd been covering the industry for years when he started to notice a term that kept coming up. When he wrote a story that was critical of tech, he'd be accused of being a "Luddite."
Like most people, Brian knew at least vaguely what the term "Luddite" meant. But as time went on, and as Brian watched tech grow into the disruptive behemoth it is today, he started to get more curious about the actual Luddites. Who were they? And what did they really believe?
Brian has a new book out about the Luddites called Blood in the Machine. And it explores how English textile workers in the 19th century rose up against the growing trend of automation and the machines that were threatening their livelihoods.
All kinds of songs get stuck in your head. Famous pop tunes from when you were a kid, album cuts you've listened to over and over again. And then there's a category of memorable songs?the ones that we all just kind of know. Songs that somehow, without anyone?s permission, sneak their way into the collective unconscious and are now just lingering there for eternity. There?s one song that best exemplifies this phenomenon? "Who Let The Dogs Out" by the Baha Men.
The story of how that song ended up stuck in all of our brains goes back decades and spans continents. It tells us something about inspiration, and how creativity spreads, and about whether an idea can ever really belong to just one person.
In most big cities, there?s a housing crisis. And empty office buildings are creating a different crisis known to urbanists as a ?doom loop.? Converting an office into housing can solve both of these crises at once, using one piece of property. This solution just seems so obvious and elegant. But for all the hype around this idea, there are surprisingly few adaptive reuse projects actually underway.
The story of a voice training VHS tape that helped trans women at a time when other resources were hard to access.
The way a person's voice changes over time feels like a simple, and overlooked act of magic. Whether intentionally or subconsciously, our voices are products of our environments as much as they are part of us. Today we?re featuring an episode about voices from a series called Sounds Gay, a brilliant show about queer culture, community and music.
Plus, guest host Swan Real discusses the universality of voice training with 99pi regular host Roman Mars.
Welcome to our second episode of short stories all about what may be the original designed object: the trail. If you haven?t heard the first episode yet you should totally go back and listen. It?s a lot of fun.
Take this episode with you on your next hike!
Back in January, Bloomberg News published a story quoting an obscure government official named Richard Trumka Jr. He works with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates stuff like furniture and electronics and household appliances. Basically, the agency is supposed to make sure that the stuff we buy is safe, and won't kill us or make us sick. The Bloomberg story talked about how a growing body of research shows that gas stoves are really bad for indoor air quality. They let off pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide, and they've been linked to heart problems, cancer, and asthma. And in this story, Trumka said the government would look into it, and maybe recommend some regulations on the appliance.
Within days, the US went batshit crazy and gas stoves were all over the news. They had become the subject of the latest skirmish in our seemingly never-ending culture war.
Andrew Leland grew up with full vision, but starting in his teenage years, his sight began to degrade from the outside in, such that he now sees the world as if through a narrow tube. Soon?but without knowing exactly when?he will likely have no vision left. In this episode, Andrew takes us through the fascinating history of alternative reading technologies designed for blind people and discusses his fantastic new book The Country of the Blind, which is out today!
This past May, the city of Los Angeles rolled out a brand new, state-of-the art feature for bus shelters. It?s called La Sombrita. La Sombrita is a metal screen that?s intended to provide shade for the thousands of people who ride the bus every day. The shade screen is about two feet wide, ten feet tall, and it kinda looks like a curved teal metal surfboard filled with tiny holes. Right away, Angelinos were not happy. This heated conversation got us thinking about our interview with Sam Bloch about inequality and shade and we asked Sam back to get thoughts about La Sombrita, and whether the controversial shade sail could actually be a good thing for shade-starved Angelinos.
In the 1980s, the little Christian comic books known as Chick Tracts were EVERYWHERE. You?d find them in movie theaters and bus station bathrooms, on subways, and all over shopping malls. People would slip them inside VHS rentals or library books.
Many Chick Tracts are black and white Christian horror stories that pull from a huge cast of characters: witches, bikers, Hindus, rock and rollers, Catholics, queer people, truckers, Masons and trick-or-treaters. And at some point in the tract, the protagonist often has to make a choice: either accept Jesus as their savior, or get tossed like cordwood into a Lake Of Fire.
Chick Tracts have left a really complicated legacy. Collectors are mesmerized by their edginess and kitsch. The Smithsonian regards Chick Tracts as American religious artifacts, and keeps a bunch of them in its vaults. At the same time, many of these comics are filled with some ugly and dangerous messages, including homophobia and Islamophobia. So the same tracts that have been hoarded and preserved have ALSO been boycotted and banned, and condemned as hate speech.
In Proximity is a podcast from Proximity Media about craft, career, and creativity.
Proximity founder Ryan Coogler talks all about podcasts with Roman Mars, host and creator of 99% Invisible, a sound-rich narrative podcast about architecture and design. They discuss holding pandemic meetings about the business of podcasting, Roman?s journey from science to public radio to 99% Invisible, finding the balance between being an artist and business owner plus why Roman believes a producer is the highest form of worker, collaborating on the Judas and the Black Messiah Podcast, the read-to-tape system, and Prox Recs that include a good coffee table book that will impress your friends and how to make great radio.
This week we're featuring an episode of The Last Archive
The Last Archive is a history show. Our evidence is the evidence of history, the evidence of archives. Manuscripts, photographs, letters and diaries, government documents. Facebook posts, Youtube videos, DVDs. Oral histories. This stuff is known as the ?historical record,? but of course it?s not a record, in the sense of an audio recording: It?s everything.
On this episode of The Last Archive, the story of the composer Raymond Scott?s lifelong quest to build an automatic songwriting machine, and what it means for our own AI-addled, ChatGPT world.
After World War I, in Frankfurt, Germany, the city government was taking on a big project. A lot of residents were in dire straits, and in the second half of the 1920s, the city built over 10,000 public housing units. It was some of the earliest modern architecture ? simple, clean, and uniform. The massive housing effort was, in many ways, eye-poppingly impressive, with all new construction and sleek, cutting edge architecture. But one room in these new housing units was far and away the most lauded and influential: and that was the kitchen.
Many consider the Frankfurt Kitchen to be nothing less than the first modern kitchen. A few of these kitchens still exist, some in museums. And it's strange to see one there, because to modern eyes, it doesn?t appear to be high art. It just looks like a kitchen.
The Frankfurt Kitchen
Amid the noisy bustle of Mexico City, there is a particularly iconic sound echoing on repeat in the background. This recording blares from trucks that cruise the streets all across this massive city. The crews inside are looking to buy old household items and appliances to fix and resell or to just sell for scrap. Basically, they?re scrap metal haulers, and the recording is their pitch to prospective sellers. Their pitch culminates in "o algo de fierro viejo que vendan," which basically means ?or any old metal thing you?re selling.? This last bit has become the recording?s namesake: fierro viejo, literally ?old iron.?
How this recording (and its subsequent remixes for live performances and otherwise) managed to achieve icon status in Mexico is a story of an unlikely alchemy: a family that, through grit, talent and a bit of luck, transmuted scrap metal into poetry, music, and joy.
As electronic news gathering was gaining prominence in the early 20th century, the American Bar Association began to fear its effect on court trials and adopted something called Canon 35. This condemned the use of photography, motion picture, and radio recording within the confines of the courtroom. It wasn't a law, per se, but a code of ethics that cautioned against recording technology in the trial process. Many state and federal courts followed suit...making way for illustrators. Cameras began to creep their way back into courtrooms over the decades, but courtroom artists are still constantly used in high profile cases.
Happy National Train Day, everyone ? for those of you who missed it: that was May 13th this year. A year ago, we started down this path with Train Set: Track One, which gave way to Track Two ?and now, here we are for the final part of our train-fecta.
Slip coaches, the worlds shortest trains, private cars, torpedoes, and of course, Thomas.
LA might be the most extreme parking city on the planet. Parking regulations have made it nearly impossible to build new affordable housing, or to renovate old buildings. And parking has a massive impact on how the city looks. LA is chock full of commercial strip malls, where buildings sit alone and isolated in a sea of asphalt. And all of this is the result of one policy decision that has reshaped American cities for the last eighty years.
Henry Grabar's Paved Paradise: How Parking Explains the World, tells a mesmerizing story about the strange and wonderful super-organism that is the modern American city. In a beguiling and often absurdly hilarious mix of history, politics, and reportage, Grabar brilliantly surveys the pain points of the nation?s parking crisis, from Los Angeles to Disney World to New York, stopping at every major American city in between.
In her new book Nuts and Bolts: Seven Small Inventions That Changed the World (in a Big Way), structural engineer Roma Agrawal identifies and examines the seven of most basic building blocks of engineering that have shaped the modern world: the nail, the wheel, the spring, the lens, the magnet, the string, and the pump.
Bad closed captions can be entertaining, but they can be serious, too, because captions are a critical tool for lots of lots of people. There are the people learning a new language and of course captions are essential for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. In the US, that?s about 15% of the adult population.
There's a new movie out called Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game. It?s a fun and extremely meta biopic telling the story of Roger Sharpe, who, with one perfect shot, helped legalize pinball in New York. That?s right ? pinball was banned in many states up until the 1970s. We told that story and interviewed the REAL Roger about, oh, 400 episodes or so ago. So if you haven?t gone that far back in the catalog, we wanted to give you a free replay. After that, we?ve got a new segment with Keith Elwin, a tournament champion who made the move into designing pinball machines.
Last year, Roman Mars teamed up with Hank Green to guest host Dear Hank & John -- this year he's back on the Greens' show once again, but this time with Hank's brother John Green (Turtles All the Way Down, The Fault in Our Stars, The Anthropocene Reviewed).
In their podcast Dear Hank & John, "hosts John and Hank Green (who are also best-selling authors and pioneering YouTubers) offer both humorous and heartfelt advice about life?s big and small questions. They bring their personal passions to each episode by sharing the week?s news from Mars (the planet) and AFC Wimbledon (the third-tier English football club)."
This week, guest host Roman Mars joins the show to discuss things like: Are roaches a moral failing? How do they do surgery on a fish? Why do only old people like stinky cheese?
From scratchers to the Powerball, the lottery is the most popular form of gambling in the United States, even though the odds of winning a big jackpot is infinitesimally small. Jonathan D. Cohen is a historian and the author of the book For a Dollar and a Dream; State Lotteries in Modern America and he says it isn?t just the people playing the lottery who irrationally think the game will solve their financial woes, the states running the lotteries suffer from the same delusion.
Today the Netherlands has a reputation as a kind of bicycling paradise. Dutch people own more bicycles per capita than any other place in the world. The country has more than 20,000 miles of dedicated cycling paths. International policymakers make pilgrimages to the Netherlands to learn how to create good bike infrastructure.
But none of that was inevitable. It wasn't something that magically emerged from Dutch culture.
In fact, in the 1960s and 70s, it looked like the Netherlands would follow the same path as the United States. The Dutch had fallen in love with cars and they were rebuilding their cities to make room for them. It was only because of a multi-decade pro-cycling movement that cars didn't take over the country entirely.
The ?panopticon? might be the best known prison concept in the world. In the original design, all the cells are built around a central guard tower, designed to maintain order just by making prisoners believe that they are constantly being watched. Over time, the panopticon has turned into something way bigger than just a blueprint for penitentiaries. It?s become the metaphor for the surveillance state. Philosopher Michel Foucault had probably the most popular take on the panopticon concept. He used it to warn society that what actually keeps all of us in check isn?t necessarily that someone is watching you. It?s just the feeling that someone might be watching you. But very few actual prisons were built around this idea. Breda Dome is one of them.
Vintage crosscuts that were made between 1880 and 1930 are often the tool of choice for trail workers who maintain the country?s roughly 112 million acres of protected land. That?s ahead of chain saws and newly made crosscuts. And the reason this old tool has stuck around so long -- even in an age when there?s a newer, better gadget coming out every year -- it goes way beyond the physical saw itself. The rise, fall, and unexpected second life of the crosscut saw is also the story of how America created the very concept of wilderness.