Skip to Main Content

Listen To An Excerpt

0:00 /

About The Book

A true story of innovation that “reads like a movie” (Seth Godin), centered on a scrappy team of engineers—far from the Silicon Valley limelight—and their quest to revolutionize the traditional trade of masonry by building a robot that can lay bricks.

Humans have landed men on the moon, programmed cars to drive themselves, and put the knowledge of our entire civilization in your back pocket. But no one—from MIT nerds to Army Corps engineers—has ever built a robot that can lay bricks as well as a mason. Unlike the controlled conditions of a factory line, where robots are now ubiquitous, no two construction sites are alike, and a day’s work involves countless variables—bricks that range in size and quality, temperamental mortar mixes, uneven terrain, fickle weather, and moody foremen.

Twenty-five years ago, on a challenging construction job in Syracuse, architect Nate Podkaminer had a vision of a future full of efficient, automated machines that freed bricklayers from the repetitive, toilsome burden of lifting, in bricks, the equivalent of a Ford truck every few days. Offhandedly, he mentioned the idea to his daughter’s boyfriend, and after some inspired scheming, the architect and engineer—soon to be in-laws—cofounded a humble start-up called Construction Robotics. Working out of a small trailer, they recruited a boldly unconventional team of engineers to build the Semi-Automated Mason: SAM. In classic American tradition, a small, unlikely, and eccentric family-run start-up sought to reimagine the behemoth $1 trillion construction industry—the second biggest industry in America—in bootstrap fashion.

In the tradition of Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine, SAM unfolds as an engineering drama, full of trials and setbacks, heated showdowns between meticulous scientists and brash bricklayers (and their even more opinionated union), and hard-earned milestone achievements. Jonathan Waldman, acclaimed author of Rust, masterfully “reveals a world that surrounds us but mostly eludes our notice” (The Boston Globe).

About The Author

Elizabeth Riley

Jonathan Waldman studied writing at Dartmouth and Boston University’s Knight Center for Science Journalism, and worked in print, radio, and TV before landing in books. His first book, Rust: The Longest War, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and winner of the Colorado Book Award. His writing has otherwise appeared in The New York Times and McSweeney’s. Visit him at or email him at

About The Reader

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (January 7, 2020)
  • Runtime: 9 hours and 10 minutes
  • ISBN13: 9781797102160

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

"This is a fascinating listen about an engineer, a robot, and hope to change the world. Corey Brill narrates this story of the quest to build a bricklaying machine with just the right amount of enthusiasm, wonder, and appreciation. One might think the story of disrupting how bricks are put in place would make for dry listening. But Brill delivers the account at a good pace. The listener can't help but root for the success of the team of engineers behind the robot designed to automate bricklaying, a.k.a. SAM, for Semi-Automated Mason. Those who are interested in stories of dreams, struggle, and tenacity will likely enjoy this audiobook."

– AudioFile Magazine

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

More books from this author: Jonathan Waldman

More books from this reader: Corey Brill

You may also like: Business Staff Picks