seeking books or articles on corruption in large building projects, ancient to modern
September 23, 2009 6:36 AM   Subscribe

Seeking books or articles on corruption in large building projects, ancient to modern.

Any large construction project is going to have shavers, chiselers, sharpies, crooks, incompetants, opportunists. You expect it. I'm looking for anything describing these shenanigans, from overpriced and shoddy material, to deliberate slowdowns, work that had to be redone, hard bargaining to extortion, and of course, pure theft. Even murder, why not? Time and place are no bar, everything is welcome, desirable even, from pyramids to Freedom Tower. I want to know about the architects, contractors, financiers, government officials and parasites, the men whose low character makes the price of magnificence what it is in an imperfect world. (The heroes in the face of crap are also welcome, but I want exposé more than hagiography, and buildings more than, say, railroads. That said, I trust your judgement.)

Closest I can come up with are things like Caro on Robert Moses, McCullough on Brooklyn Bridge and train tracks. Fictionwise, Pillars of the Earth and Atlas Shrugged are noted. But I'm hoping you can do better. Anything you can think of - books, articles, documentaries - is welcome. Extra points for older.

(On afterthought - forseeable natural problems also welcome (libraries build without calculating weight of books, shifting foundations, etc) But mostly human moral failure.)
posted by IndigoJones to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Recent news from the UK may be relevant.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 7:27 AM on September 23, 2009

Try googling "Boston big dig corruption"
posted by MasonDixon at 7:31 AM on September 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Not ancient, but Boss Tweed and the Tweed Courthouse in New York City, is a great example of all of the things you're looking for.
posted by hobgadling at 7:37 AM on September 23, 2009

Try Fire in the Grove, about the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire. It may not be quite the scale you're looking for, but it's full of corruption at every level, and may point you to people who worked on larger-scale projects.
posted by epj at 8:45 AM on September 23, 2009

Anythin related to Sir John A. Macdonald and the Pacific scandal. Hugh Allan, one of the railway financiers, made political donations to John A. Macdonald's political campaign. I do not have a specific book to suggest, but here is the google book page.
posted by philfromhavelock at 9:42 AM on September 23, 2009

There were accusations of corruption with the construction for the Montreal Olympics. There was a provincial inquiry led by Albert Malouf and a this google book has a few references including to Nick Auf der Mer's "The billion dollar game" and Brian McKenna/Susan Purcell's book on the Montreal mayor "Drapeau".
posted by philfromhavelock at 10:12 AM on September 23, 2009

Claudius's wife Agrippa - Nero's mom - accuses Narcissus of corruption after the draining of the Fucine Lake fails spectacularly. I just happened to hear about it on History of Rome podcast after reading your question.
posted by mearls at 3:34 PM on September 23, 2009

Response by poster: All these things I've never even heard of! Excellent, many thanks to all who have answered and all those who just haven't gotten around to it yet. I have some reading to do.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:28 PM on September 23, 2009

Why Buildings Fall Down: How Structures Fail by Dr Mario Salvadori presents a number of case studies of building and structural failure. Some of the failures are caused by bad luck or ignorance. Some failures are caused or exacerbated by corruption or shoddy workmanship. In one incident, a small kitchen gas explosion peeled the exterior wall off several stories of a (badly-constructed) UK highrise. In another incident, unlicenced plumbers installed water heaters without pressure relief valves in the basement of a US apartment building. The water heaters burst, severing a gas line, that filled the basement with natural gas, which detonated.

Dr Salvadori has written several books on structures, engineering, and architecture. They are all great reading.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:35 PM on September 24, 2009

Owners of concrete firm plead not guilty to fraud, theft charges:

"In a costly and potentially dangerous case of alleged fraud, a San Francisco cement company passed off inferior concrete as stronger, more durable material, and it was used in critical structures in the Bay Area -- including retrofit work on the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge ..."

And here's something similar in Massachusetts I found while looking for the San Francisco case.
posted by kristi at 12:55 PM on September 25, 2009

China, past and present. Ranging from the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, and all of Mao's hare-brained grand building projects, to the schools that collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake (the majority of them attended by children from poor families - laborers, migrant workers, etc. In contrast, wealthier schools just a few blocks away would remain standing. Rather than attempt reform and investigate what led to the poor construction of so many schools, local officials have tried to bribe or bully parents into silence.)

A recent New Yorker article about one of China's few publications that dares examine government corruption includes this great vignette about one of the few times this magazine overstepped its boundaries with an expose on a real estate development project involving the children of several high-level Party officials.

There's a lot more....
posted by amillionbillion at 11:53 PM on September 25, 2009

Response by poster: Better and better! (Or worse and worse - you know what I mean.)
posted by IndigoJones at 7:28 AM on September 26, 2009

« Older Ack! My do-it-myself bidet is not a feature...   |   EBD wha? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.