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Publisher's Summary

From author Earl Swift comes the surprising history of the U.S. interstate system, a fascinating route through the dreams, discoveries, and protests that shaped these mighty roads.

©2011 Earl Swift (P)2011 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"[Swift's] writing is easygoing, and [listeners] interested in urban planning as well as engineering will find a well-told story about a defining American feature." ( Publishers Weekly)

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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Lessons from The Big Roads

The Big Roads is a great companion book to Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway by Matt Dellinger.

Swift's tale of the Interstate Highway system is really two stories.

The first is an origins story. We think we know this story, about how President Eisenhower came back from the War and decreed that America would have a modern highway system capable of moving troops, populations (and nuclear missiles), as a key part of our Cold War arsenal. Turns out, the highway system has many progenitors, and has roots going back much further than the 1950s. The 47,000 or so miles of Interstate that we associate with the 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act were the fulfillment of decades of work by highway enthusiasts, bureaucrats, and visionaries. The history of the National Highway System, the largest single infrastructure project ever conceived and built, follows closely the larger 20th century U.S. economic and social stories of migration, population and industrial growth, urbanization and eventual suburbanization.

The second story is one of resistance. Swift tells the story of the "freeway revolts" that occurred in the 1960's in urban areas as diverse as Baltimore, Atlanta, and San Francisco. The great tragedy of our Interstate project was the Robert Moses inspired efforts to "save" our aging industrial cities by building highways through them. This obsession with efficient transportation created the deep wounds imposed on urban landscapes in the form of gigantic (often elevated) highways running through city centers. These highways served to destroy neighborhoods (usually poor and African American), divide cities, and cut-off urban life from natural features such as waterfronts. Only now are some of these monstrosities starting to come down, with the best example being San Francisco tearing up its Embarcadero Freeway (following the the 1989 earthquake).

Many people resisted the encroachment of highways into their urban neighborhoods. Some citizens, such as those in Baltimore, were able to delay or significantly change the routes of proposed urban highways.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Fantastic history of the road most travelled

Have you listened to any of Rob Shapiro’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I have not but I thought he did an outstanding job. His pacing and inflection was very good, and I found the tamber of his voice incredibly pleasant and engaging.

Any additional comments?

A wonderful book, adroitly navigating the history of our major highway system - a system most of us take for granted. The aptly-named Swift guides the reader through the earliest calls for better roads, introducing us to invidivuals who saw the roads as places for bicycles well before horseless carriages became all the rage. He continues by introducing the prime movers who gave eventual birth (after a decades long gestation) to the interstate and all its loops, whirls, spurs, and bypasses. These are mostly not names you know, and he manages to juxtapose the human scale and importance of the endeavor (both from the points of view of the highway men, public servants, and engineers who conceived of the project to the citizens either clamoring for or being displaced by the promised roads) with the sheer vastness of project in miles, materials, and dollars. As a result, the reader is constantly amazed anew at each new detail, each problem surmounted, each nuance that had to be maneuvered, all the more so since we drive but rarely really look at our interstate system. And while Swift obviously admires the scope of these men's ambition and their technical capability, he also gives voice to communities torn asunder by new lanes of traffic, how the rise of the automobile irrevocably changed American life (and not always for the better), and the current state of disrepair that much of American road infrastructure is steadily decaying into. All in all, a great book and one that puts the road most travelled into the well-deserved spotlight.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Kelley
  • Tucson, Arizona
  • 08-07-12

If you want the details....here you go.

If you could sum up The Big Roads in three words, what would they be?

Eye-opening, surprising, and interesting account of our nation's history, seen through the eyes of motorists.

What did you like best about this story?

It gave me a new appreciation for the wonderful road system that we enjoy today.

What about Rob Shapiro’s performance did you like?

Excellent narration. Smooth, well-paced, and clear. His emphasis was placed appropriately.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, it was too long for that, but it kept my interest until the very end and I enjoyed the experience.

Any additional comments?

This is the type of book I love to listen to - historical, fun, interesting, true, and well-read!! Thanks for an awesome product.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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A little dry but very informative.

The reader is lively and keeps a very text book like text from being too dry. The topic is well researched and the author's asides make the book.

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Historical

This was a wonderful backstory of how the interstates were made possible. I wish, however, that more of a narrative had been included on the actual construction of the interstate highways themselves rather than just abstract narrative.

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Good read on the history of cross country highways

I had expected more on the engineering aspects of how the roads were built. this book goes way back into the history about the pioneers of thought and process for building a national highway system.

The author expresses the downside of the urban expressways and the devistation some caused to the inter-cities. on the other hand it celebrates the triumph of the interstate highway system that is the backbone of the national transportation system and the positive effect on commerce. it concludes with the projected costs of maintaining such a system which is financially staggering!

The reader had one of the best voices for reading and expression I have ever heard, all without being overly dramatic in anyway.

if you were ever curious about the interstate system and the visionaries behind it. this book is for you.

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Great read/listen

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

An excellent history of important infrastructure and how our roads came to be the best in the world.