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Young Adult Nonfiction Sociology


The Towers in the World and the World in the Towers

by (author) Katerina Cizek

adapted by Kristy Woudstra

Firefly Books
Initial publish date
Sep 2019
Sociology, Architecture, General
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2019
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 13 to 17
  • Grade: 8 to 12


Adapted from the Emmy-winning, multimedia interactive documentary of the same name, Highrise is an in-depth exploration of the world's highrises and the people who live inside them.

From the multi-story dwellings of Ancient Rome to the soaring glass skyscrapers of today, humans have used highrises for thousands of years to house the poor, protect the rich and sometimes narrow the gap between the two. Highrise first examines the history of vertical living in a 20-page chapter on the origins, technological triumphs, social failures and future of the highrise. The book then invites young readers into homes around the world. Through the lens of the highrise, readers will learn about 10 cities and hear stories that capture what life is like in these diverse places.

The cities featured in Highrise:

  • Ramallah, West Bank
  • Mumbai, India
  • Guangzhou, China
  • Chicago, USA
  • Tainan, Taiwan
  • Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Toronto, Canada
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Sao Paulo, Brazil.

In addition to being windows on different cultures and experiences, the stories from these cities cover important and, at times, challenging issues that residents must face -- from a young mother in the West Bank who cannot visit her parents in Gaza, to an LGBTQ activist in China who must hide her sexual orientation from her family. Highrise is a bold and unique volume that illuminates life on our urban planet like never before.

National Film Board of Canada Collection In the tradition of the NFB's creative and innovative storytelling on film comes the National Film Board of Canada Collection: a series of celebrated animated films, documentary films and media projects adapted for the printed page.


About the authors

Contributor Notes

Katerina Cizek is the award-winning director of the multimedia documentary Highrise and a pioneer of digital documentaries. She teaches and presents around the world about her innovative approach to the documentary genre and is currently the Artistic Director of the Co-Creation Studio at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Open Documentary Lab.

Kristy Woudstra is an award-winning Toronto-based writer and editor. She has traveled the world to cover stories in countries like Niger, Uganda, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico, and her writing has appeared in many Canadian publications including The Walrus, Canadian Living, Broadview and This.


Editorial Reviews

A very fine introduction to the history of highrise living around the globe... Highrise is an outstanding example of a nonfiction work adapted from an innovative documentary films project. In an increasingly urban world, Highrise provides glimpses into social living conditions of residents of vertical housing complexes in diverse cities. The people profiled may be first generation immigrants or descended from families with long roots in the area. All share a desire for safe, affordable living that allows human dignity. Highly Recommended.

Canadian Review of Materials

The story of the Highrise... Is less about buildings and more about people who live in them. Seemingly ordinary buildings can reveal the values of the society that created them... These stories provide inspiration for positive change in dense communities. Photographs, facts, and vignettes of life inside highrise developments make this a great resource for middle and high school social studies and sustainability programs.

Green Teacher Magazine

This is a great read for people who love apartment high rises. It is truly a gem. And the photographs are breathtaking.

Irene Roth's Canadian Book Review Blog

HIGHRISE is an exceptional guided tour of sky reaching residential structures around the globe, adapted from the National Film Board of Canada's cutting-edge web documentary of the same name... The innovative interactive storytelling that distinguishes the online documentary translates well to print... The book's inviting, carefully constructed design opens the door to an in-depth study of urban geography.

Quill and Quire

(starred review) Adapted from the documentary of the same name, explore the world's highrises and the people who live inside them. From Roman 'insulae' to Singapore's Skyville, humanity has a long history of vertical living. Take a 10-stop tour of buildings around the world to discover the rich diversity of highrise dwellers from Toronto to Guangzhou, Chicago to Mumbai.

Canadian Children's Book Centre's Best Books for Kids and Teens 2020

With a plethora of additional facts, trivia, and stunning photographs, this is an excellent source for research projects concerning human population growth and architecture advancement for middle and high school students.

School Library Journal

Leading readers on a journey through 10 contemporary cities--Ramallah, Amsterdam, Toronto, Mumbai, Johannesburg, Tainan, Chicago, Prague, Guangzhou, and Sao Paulo--this book lays bare the rich, complex history behind the familiar fixture of urban and suburban high-rises... Color photographs enhance the narrative along with informative sidebars. Weaving together social and political history, information is framed in a lively manner that will help readers understand the social and environmental contexts of communities living in high-rises around the world. A fascinating introduction to the social world of vertical human settlements.


This book is tightly written, well illustrated, and packed with information. Text features to support the reader include fact boxes, charts, photographs, bold words, a glossary, and a timeline.

Canadian Teacher Magazine

Offers a fascinating glimpse into sky-high residential structures around the world, and the communities who live inside them... Senior elementary students will find an in-depth study of urban geography, as well as interviews with tenants that provide insight into community-based activism.

49th Shelf

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