Looking for inspiring stories about interchangeable cogs
August 9, 2018 12:52 PM   Subscribe

The Eiffel Tower wouldn't exist without Gustave Eiffel, but it also wouldn't exist without the hundreds of people who build the thing. I want to read inspirational stories about those types of people, the people who maybe weren't so important on their own but were part of building something great or renowned.

I've lately found myself doing small important things, as opposed than dreaming big and laying plans for others. I'd like to hear more about people who were in similar situations.

Doesn't have to be construction or architecture. I'm imagining things like people marching for social change, or soldiers who were effectively canon fodder but were a part of overwhelming numbers.

Or maybe people who were playing the long game, and contributed to something so large that they never saw the end results. Anonymous cathedral construction workers? I don't know, I'm not looking to limit examples here, I just keep coming back to construction for some reason!

I'm open to long-form articles, novels, blog posts, newspapers, whatever.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
"Or maybe people who were playing the long game, and contributed to something so large that they never saw the end results."

Have you heard/read about the Long Now foundation? Especially the 10,000 year clock

Some of this is fictionalized in Neal Stephenson's Anathem (which is long, and about a lot of things, but in part this)
posted by Gorgik at 12:59 PM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Tower of Babylon by Ted Chiang
posted by caek at 1:00 PM on August 9, 2018

Cement (1925) is a novel about people returning a cement processing facility to working order in the early years of the Soviet Union after the Russian revolutions and Civil War. The ISBN from that article, 0804461783, appears to correspond to an English translation.

I think I read that translation while in school. I can't say that I found it captivating (though I'm realizing now that I probably mistook the date of the translation's publication, 1960, for the date of the original, and hence was confused by some of the details and context) but the categories the Wikipedia article is marked with may lead you to other literature of the same sort.
posted by XMLicious at 1:53 PM on August 9, 2018

Pillars of the earth, a novel about building a cathedral
posted by tilde at 3:19 PM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I got some of this sense from the History on Fire podcast episodes on the war for the Black Hills. Part of it focused heavily on Custer, but overall, I had a strong sense of the many people involved. There are three episodes. The first one is here.
posted by FencingGal at 3:32 PM on August 9, 2018

I really liked The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by David McCullough and Nelson Runger. Great long story about a great long project.
posted by BillMcMurdo at 3:49 PM on August 9, 2018

In 2000, I saw a fantastic documentary on PBS about the building of the Hoover Dam. I am sure it is out there somewhere. It did a great job focusing on the workers who built it.
posted by 4ster at 3:56 PM on August 9, 2018

Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh
posted by Rob Rockets at 4:13 PM on August 9, 2018

The '70's series Connections by James Burke is fantastic at exploring how interconnected everything is. I think all episodes are available on Youtube.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 4:31 PM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Working by Studs Terkel.
posted by Weftage at 6:30 AM on August 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

Working by Studs Terkel. (Saw weftage's comment, posting anyways for emphasis.)
posted by yeahlikethat at 8:51 AM on August 10, 2018

I liked The Girls of Atomic City because it chronicles everyone who worked on the atomic bomb/ uranium refining project, from theoretical physicists to common workers and cleaners.
posted by sukeban at 9:23 AM on August 10, 2018

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