As a 20-year demolition consultant and historian who was approached by Mr. Byles in 2002 to supply facts for this book, I had high expectations that it would provide an entertaining - and accurate - look at the history of the demolition industry. So it is with disappointment that I write today about the scores of issues that render this book virtually useless to the casual reader and offensive to the serious demolitionist. Its inaccuracies are many and substantial, and in the age of James Frye/Oprah Winfrey, where repeatedly sacrificing truthfulness for entertainment value is exposed as intentionally deceptive, this effort is about as irresponsible as it gets.
Mr. Byles writes that his idea for this book was formed while watching the twin towers fall on 9/11 and the resulting demolition activities at Ground Zero. However, instead of performing research by visiting jobsites and speaking with experienced demolitionists, the author openly elected to solicit kooky, over-the-top hyperbolic sound bites ("I have set off more big bangs than anybody on earth in peacetime") from three or four self-serving contractors who were willing to pontificate quasi-poignant phrases on demand ("We are seizers, we seize... the building is fighting me, but I've got to bring her to her knees... [via a] symphony of failure") in return for gushing favorable mention (Just one of Mr. Byles' selected demo buddies is hailed as, "the philosopher king of destruction... part matador, part sage, part connoisseur of collapse... a convinced neurobiologist... the dentist of urban decay... the Mozart of dynamite... the Guru of gravity...", and many more). Perhaps this would be warranted and even entertaining, if any of it were true.
To make things worse, Mr. Byles then dovetailed those sound bites with references to dozens of previously published articles - many of which themselves are well known to be inaccurate - and un-researched personal prose to paint a grand, sweeping verbal extrapolation on the demolition industry.
The lack of fact checking for this book is astonishing: Not counting the first two chapters that cover the well worn but interesting ground of how demolition was used to control fires in the 1600s, Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot and various other developments transpiring up to the 1940s, an astounding 74 of the remaining 231 pages read as an endless run of long-disproven misrepresentations, attacks on industry trade publications and mocking ridicule of virtually all responsible demolitionists worldwide (thousands of contractors outside of Byles' small cabal of sound bite buddies are dismissed as "glum rivals" and "detractors", "skulking around" while engaged in "industry bickering"). So many quotes and statements in the book are just plain untrue or appear wildly out of context, this space doesn't allow listing them all.
But above all, the most inexcusable aspect of this book is its hypocrisy. At its lowest point, the book takes several demo contractors to task for two tragic fatalities that resulted from building implosions in Glasgow and Canberra, then piles on additional derision via unflattering quotes and personal commentary. Is this warranted? Perhaps. However further on, when describing one of several fatalities suffered by some of his favored sound-biters, Mr. Byles sees fit to hold them completely unaccountable, writing, "In a freak explosion that remains unexplained to this day, the dynamite detonated [and killed the bystander]."
Come again with that? Mr. Byles, the first rule of blasting is that a detonation is never, ever unexplained. OSHA sure found a way to explain it while serving up a record fine for willful safety violations in connection with the event. Similar biased and hypocritical statements are made in other parts of the book, and Mr. Byles never explains why he avoids mentioning the disproportionate long-term OSHA/safety problems associated with his favored spokespeople.
It serves no purpose to mention names of the author's buddies, because that's not the point. It could be anyone. In the end the only name is Jeff Byles, who has gambled his reputation that he could trust his sources as truthful, and has lost his shirt. By constantly striving for the catchiest or kitschiest phrase, bypassing verbal interaction with more than a handful of demolitionists, and playing favorites, Mr. Byles not only misses the mark on accuracy but misses the essence of what it's like to deconstruct structures every day for a living. Which as I recall was the point. Thus it is difficult to imagine how a reader will come away from their experience with a better understanding of this diverse profession.