If Shanghai isn’t really China (as I was repeatedly told by Shanghainese), and the Expo isn’t really Shanghai (in but not of the metropolis, they also insisted), then I really have no clue where I spent 10 days last month. I ate Swiss fondue, bought a Kyrgyz felt hat, and had my passport stamped “Trinidad” by a young Chinese woman who never looked up from her text messaging. It was thrilling to visit North Korea and pretend the guard watching me was compiling a surveillance report on “the American with straw hat and a digital camera.” I think he really was. The replica of the Trojan Horse was undeniably creepy, hovering in the ominous blue light of a well-sacked mock-Troy. There was a parade every night and lines all day and the staff drilled and marched in military display. I was encouraged to consider the universality of 21st-century urban life… More…

What is it about autumn and the dedication of major engineering projects in the American Southwest? Seventy-five years ago, on September 30, 1935, Franklin Roosevelt traveled to the Colorado River just south of Las Vegas to dedicate the Boulder Dam, better known as the Hoover Dam. On October 16, 2010, dignitaries and public spectators will gather 1,500 feet downstream to dedicate the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, better known as the Hoover Dam Bypass.

Colossus: Hoover Dam and the Making of the American Century by Michael Hiltzik. 512 pages. Free Press. $30.

The Bypass dedication ceremony is going by the name Bridging America. Its website warns attendees to expect high temperatures, dry and windy weather, little shade, minimal refreshments, long waits, and “walking on dirt.” One hopes that with such adverse conditions, spectators don’t fail to note the irony of marking the 75th anniversary of an engineering… More…