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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
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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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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

By Joshua Kim on 05-06-12

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.

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5 of 5 people found this review helpful


By Kelley on 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.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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