In the late nineteenth century, as cities like Boston and New York grew larger, the streets became increasingly clogged with horse-drawn carts. When the great blizzard of 1888 brought New York City to a halt, a solution had to be found. Two brothers - Henry Melville Whitney of Boston and William Collins Whitney of New York City - pursued the dream of his city being the first American metropolis to have a subway and the great race was on. The competition between Boston and New York was played out in an era not unlike our own, one of economic upheaval, job losses, bitter political tensions, and the question of America's place in the world.
The Race Underground is peopled with the famous, like Boss Tweed, and Thomas Edison, and the not-so-famous, like the countless "sandhogs" who dug and blasted into the earth's crust, sometimes losing their lives in the process of building the subway's tunnels. Doug Most chronicles the science of the subway, looks at fears people had about travelling underground and tells a story as exciting as any ever ripped from the pages of U.S. history. The Race Underground is a great American saga of two rival American cities, the powerful interests within, and an invention that changed the lives of millions.
©2014 Doug Most (P)2014 Random House Audio
This is a wonderful telling of the building of America's first subway. Much history and historical context is provided. The general reader will find much here to admire and enjoy. Chronologically, Doug Most links a number of disparate characters, technological developments, and anecdotes to flesh out his reporting of this technological innovation.
I was a little disappointed that there was so little written about "how" the actual subway was excavated and installed. That is a minor flaw, however, because most was accomplished by hand and animal muscle power. I would have enjoyed knowing more about the experiences of those doing the real labor; and the day-to-day working conditions. There is probably no record available. This minor disappointment is no reason to avoid this book.
Terrific story about how the dots got connected that led to modern subway systems. Full of colorful personalities and technological developments that paved the way to replace the horse (and tons of daily horse poop) that it took to move people about the city.
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I don’t quite see how this was a RACE as the title states. It just seemed like a telling of the developments in each city – I never got the feeling that one was trying to outdo the other, or beat them to the finish line.
The abridged version would have been better for me, and I should have known after reading (and giving up on) “The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge” by David McCullough.
The same issues bothered me in both books: too many dry facts! I am interested in the subject in general, but not at this level of detail. The book cast such a wide net over the surrounding particulars that on many occasions I felt it was off topic. Some snippets were interesting, but most just went “in one ear and out the other”.
Also, I am not that interested the biography of every single person involved in the process, and there were some people who played such a small role in the whole progression that they could have been left out all together.
I hope I learned my lesson for the next time I pick up a book in this genre: to pause before buying to ask myself: “how much do I REALLY want to know about this topic?”
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