Education: Attended University of California, Berkeley; University of Alaska, Anchorage, M.F.A.
Rubble: Unearthing the History of Demolition (nonfiction), Harmony Books (New York, NY) 2005.
Contributor to newspapers, magazines, and online journals, including New York Times, Village Voice, Metropolis, Cabinet, Believer, and Lost.
In Rubble: Unearthing the History of Demolition, Jeff Byles, a specialist in urban studies, explores how demolition of buildings developed as a business and affected the urban landscape. The practice of tearing down structures in a controlled fashion was once used primarily to stop fires, as Byles demonstrates in his discussion of the Great London Fire of 1666. Eventually architects and property developers decided to destroy buildings simply to change the look of cities, as with Baron Georges- Eugene Haussman's remaking of Paris in the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, as city populations grew and skyscrapers proliferated, removing the old to make room for the new became an industry. Byles chronicles how demolition technology advanced, from hand tools to wrecking balls to explosives; profiles leading personalities in the business; and examines the demolition of such major structures as public housing projects, Las Vegas casinos, and New York City's old Pennsylvania Station. He also takes a look at an unwanted demolition, the fall of the World Trade Center towers in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Some critics praised the level of detail in Byles's book and observed that he made demolition seem fascinating. He provides "no-holds-barred details befitting a celebrity biography," remarked Julie Sinclair Eakin in Architecture. A Publishers Weekly contributor related that Byles told his story "ably and pungently." Gilbert Cruz, writing in Entertainment Weekly, commented that the topic of demolition may seem boring, but Byles has written about it in a "wonderfully illuminating" manner. A Kirkus Reviews critic found Rubble lacking in examination of "the social and historical costs" of changes wrought by demolition and rebuilding, but nonetheless deemed it "a colorful take on this strangely upbeat blue-collar milieu." Barbara Bamberger Scott, reviewing for Bookreporter.com, thought it "sad, sad, sad" that buildings are no longer considered permanent, but added that Byles's account of the demolition industry is "a charming and exceedingly thorough researching of the subject" and "archly amusing."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Architecture, February, 2006, Julie Sinclair Eakin, review of Rubble: Unearthing the History of Demolition, p. 65.
Entertainment Weekly, December 2, 2005, Gilbert Cruz, review of Rubble.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2005, review of Rubble, p. 1120.
Library Journal, November 1, 2005, Kristin Whitehair, review of Rubble, p. 96.
Publishers Weekly, October 17, 2005, review of Rubble, p. 54; November 21, 2005, Martin Schneider, "A Time to Break Down: PW Talks with Jeff Byles," p. 35.
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (April 19, 2006), Barbara Bamberger Scott, review of Rubble.
Jeff Byles Home Page,http://www.jeffbyles.com (April 19, 2006).
Powells.com,http://www.powells.com/ (April 19, 2005), interview with Jeff Byles.