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The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighwaysby Earl Swift
Synopses & Reviews
A man-made wonder, a connective network, an economic force, a bringer of blight and sprawl and the possibility of escape—the U.S. interstate system transformed America. The Big Roads presents the surprising history of how we got from dirt tracks to expressways in the space of a single lifetime.
Earl Swift brings to light the visionaries who created these essential highways as well as the critics and citizens who questioned their headlong expansion throughout the country, including:
• Carl Fisher, the irrepressible car-racing entrepreneur who spurred the push for good roads in the early years of the automobile, built the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and made a fortune creating Miami Beach, only to lose it all
• Thomas MacDonald, chief among a handful of driven engineers who conceived of the interstates and how they would work, years before President Eisenhower knew the plans existed
• Lewis Mumford, the critic whose crusade against Americas budding love affair with the automobile—and the ever-bigger roads it required—now seems prescient
• Joe Wiles, an African-American family man turned activist, one of thousands of ordinary citizens in dozens of cities who found their homes and communities targeted by the concrete juggernaut—and were unwilling to be uprooted in the name of progress
In mapping a fascinating route through the dreams, discoveries, and protest that shaped these mighty roads, Swift shows that the interstates embody the wanderlust, grand scale, and conflicting notions of citizenship that define America.
"Swift (Where They Lay) begins his account of the building of America's 'triumph of engineering' in the early 20th century, long before Eisenhower authorized the interstate highway system, and ends with a discussion of the future of today's aging, gas-hungry system. To form a coherent picture of the 47,000-mile undertaking, Swift weaves together the engineering feats, the routing and naming debates, the politics of funding, and the social costs of relocating citizens in the proposed freeway paths. A strong narrative follows the careers of the men who pioneered the system, primary among them Thomas Harris McDonald, who headed the Federal Bureau of Public Roads for 34 years, starting in 1919. While Swift admires the builders' accomplishments, he gives voice to highway critics, including social commentator Lewis Mumford. Swift's eye for anecdotes, some absurd in retrospect (for example the suggestion to blast through California's mountains with nuclear bombs), humanizes the enterprise. His writing is easygoing, and readers interested in urban planning as well as engineering will find a well-told story about a defining American feature. 8 pages of b&w photos. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A history of the planning, construction, and impact of the U.S. interstate highway system.
“Travelers hitting the highways this summer might better appreciate the asphalt beneath their tires thanks to this engrossing history of the creation of the U.S. interstate system.”—Los Angeles Times
Perhaps nothing changed the face of America more than the creation of the interstate system. At once man-made wonders, economic pipelines, agents of sprawl, and uniquely American sirens of escape, the interstates snake into every aspect of modern life. The Big Roads documents their historic creation and the many people they’ve affected, from the speed demon who inspired a primitive web of dirt auto trails, to the cadre of largely forgotten technocrats who planned the system years before Ike reached the White House, to the thousands of city dwellers who resisted the concrete juggernaut when it bore down on their neighborhoods.
The Big Roads tells the story of this essential feature of the landscape we have come to take for granted. With a view toward players both great and small, Swift gives readers the full story of one of America’s greatest engineering achievements.
“Engaging, informative . . . The first thorough history of the expressway system.”—Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
“The book is a road geek’s treasure—and everyone who travels the highways ought to know these stories.”—Kirkus Reviews
Perhaps nothing changed the face of America more than the creation of the interstate system. At once a connective network, economic force, man-made wonder, and bringer of sprawl and blight, the interstate system turned haphazard dirt tracks into an organized framework of paved highways. The Big Roads documents this historic feat, from its inception at the turn of the century to its completion during Eisenhowers presidency. But once those plans began to be put into place, it turned out that not everyone was on board. As the highways approached urban centers, residents protested both the impact upon Main Streets and the environment, concerns that are just as relevant today. With a view toward players both great and small, Swift gives readers the full story of one of Americas greatest engineering achievements.
About the Author
Earl Swift joined his first recovery mission in Southeast Asia, as a staff writer for the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, in July 2000. He was taken by chopper to a dig site in Vietnams Quang Nam Province, along the border with Laos, to join a team searching for a Green Beret sergeant lost in a freak air accident in 1966. He returned to Southeast Asia twice in 2001, once on assignment for Parade and once to camp in the jungle of southeastern Laos. The only journalist ever to accompany a search expedition from start to finish, Swift has also flown two missions in Papua New Guinea to visit recovery teams in search of missing World War II air crews.
He is currently a staff writer for the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, and his work has also appeared in Parade and The Best Newspaper Writing 2000. His book Where They Lay was a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction.
Table of Contents
Contents I. In the Land of the Lost 1 II. The Missing 63 III. Bone Work 155 IV. Pieces of the Past 193 V. Answers 235 VI. Perseverance 269 Notes 287 Acknowledgments 305
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