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 man-made wonder, a connective network, an economic force, a bringer of blight and sprawlthe U.S. Interstate System changed the face of our country.
Big Roads charts the creation of these essential American highways. Beginning with the turn-of-the-century "Good Roads" movement spawned by the invention of the automobile, Swift follows the conceptual and legislative battles that led to the state-federal highway partnership we have today. By midcentury, the grand vision of progressive engineers had given us the system of mile-a-minute roads we needed, as well as many of the problems we did not. Before long, grassroots activism turned urban planning and highway routing on its head when the Interstates finally reached major cities, and encountered resistance to the heedless pursuit of progress, speed, and Americas automotive love affair.
How did we get from dirt tracks to expressways, from main streets to off-ramps, from mud to concrete and steel in less than a century? Through decades of politics, activism, and marvels of engineering, we recognize in our highways the wanderlust, ambition, and conflicting notions of citizenship and progress that define America.
A man-made wonder, a connective network, an economic force, a bringer of blight and sprawl and the possibility of escapeand#8212;the U.S. interstate system changed the face of our country. The Big Roads
charts the creation of these essential American highways. From the turn-of-the-century car racing entrepreneur who spurred the citizen-led and#8220;Good Roadsand#8221; movement, to the handful of driven engineers who conceived of the interstates and how they would workand#8212;years before President Eisenhower knew the plans existedand#8212;to the protests that erupted across the nation when highways reached the cities and found people unwilling to be uprooted in the name of progress, Swift follows a winding, fascinating route through twentieth-century American life.and#160;
How did we get from dirt tracks to expressways, from main streets to off-ramps, from mud to concrete and steel, in less than a century? Through decades of politics, activism, and marvels of engineering, we recognize in our highways the wanderlust, grand scale, and conflicting notions of citizenship and progress 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.
In this gripping true-grit adventure story, award-winning journalist Earl Swift accompanies an elite scientific team on a search for a military pilot lost thirty years ago in Southeast Asia. The recovery mission is part of an effort by the military's Central Identification Laboratory--Hawaii (CILHI), the largest forensic lab in the world, whose methods combine the latest in forensic technology with old-fashioned bushwhacking, archaeology, and detective work. The quest to find Major Jack Barker and his three-man helicopter crew brings the team to deeply impoverished Laos, where they comb the jungle floor for clues to the decades-old crash amid vipers, monsoons, and unexploded bombs. Expertly recounted, Where They Lay is a suspenseful, often harrowing tale of mud, sweat and science.
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.
“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 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
Out of the Mud 9
Connecting the Dots 63
The Crooked Straight, the Rough Places Plain 155
The Human Obstacle 225