The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways

Earl Swift. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27 (384p) ISBN 978-0-618-81241-7
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)
Reviewed on: 03/21/2011
Release date: 06/01/2011
Genre: Nonfiction
MP3 CD - 978-1-4526-5535-2
Open Ebook - 384 pages - 978-0-547-54913-2
Compact Disc - 978-1-4526-3535-4
Compact Disc - 978-1-4526-0535-7
Paperback - 375 pages - 978-0-547-90724-6
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