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 changed the face of our country.
The Big Roads: The Untold Story Of the Engineers, Visionaries, And Trailblazers Who Created The American Superhighways charts the creation of these essential American highways.
From the turn-of-the-century car racing entrepreneur who spurred the citizen-led “Good Roads” movement, to the handful of driven engineers who conceived of the interstates and how they would work (years before President Eisenhower knew the plans existed), 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, author Earl Swift follows a winding, fascinating route through 20th century American life.
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.
Readers will enjoy learning about important, yet little known, pieces of American history.
For example, the Federal Highway Act of 1921, the foundation for modern highway building in the United States, was enacted just as Americans began embracing the automobile en masse.
The Washington Post review highlights the book’s account of Thomas Harris MacDonald, who served no less than seven different presidents as head of the federal Bureau of Public Roads from 1919 to 1953.
He was “the longest-serving head of any major government agency to that time, as trustee of more public spending than any federal official in peacetime history.”
The Los Angeles Times review notes that while this book gives ample coverage to interstate critics, it is not “an anti-highway screed.”
Amazon has an intriguing author interview while the NPR review contains a meaty excerpt that should entice readers to check out the entire work covering an aspect of our environment we engage with nearly every day, yet of whose history we know surprisingly little.
And if you’re hitting local highways this weekend and need something else to consider while sitting in traffic, check out the Los Angeles Times’ Carmageddon Reading List: 19 Books About The Joys And Terrors Of Transportation.