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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.
A history of the planning, construction, and impact of the U.S. interstate highway system.
Where They Lay melds an account of an elite military team's high-tech, high-risk search for a Vietnam War pilot's remains with a remarkably immediate and poignant retelling of his final intense hours.
In far-flung rain forests and its futuristic lab near Pearl Harbor, the Central Identification Laboratory (CILHI) strives to recover and identify the bodies of fighting men who never came home from Americaand#8217;s wars. Its mission combines old-fashioned bushwhacking and detective work with the latest in forensic technology.
Earl Swift accompanies a CILHI team into the Laotian jungle on a search for the remains of Major Jack Barker and his three-man crew, whose chopper went down in a fireball more than thirty years ago. He interweaves the story of the recovery team's work with a tense account of Barker's fatal attempt to rescue trapped soldiers during the largest helicopter assault in history. Swift is the first reporter ever allowed to follow a recovery mission, as these unique archaeological digs are called, in its entirety, and he got his hands dirty, combing the jungle floor for clues amid vipers, monsoons, and unexploded bombs.
Where They Lay resounds with admiration for those who fell and those who seek them. But Swift also raises hard questions about these recovery missions. Is it worth $100 million a year to try to bring home the lost from old wars? Is it worth the lives of today's soldiers? (Seven Americans died in the line of duty just months before Swift went in country.) And is the effort compromised by the corruption among native officials overseeing missions in their countries?
As new conflicts draw our attention, Where They Lay throws brilliant light on war's cost to soldiers and to those they leave at home.
“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
About the Author
EARL SWIFT is the author of three previous books, including Where They Lay, a 2003 PEN finalist. He lives in Virginia with his daughter Saylor.
Table of Contents
Out of the Mud 9
Connecting the Dots 63
The Crooked Straight, the Rough Places Plain 155
The Human Obstacle 225
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Engineering » Civil Engineering » Highway and Traffic