The King's Best Highway: The Lost History of the Boston Post Road, the Route That Made America [NOOK Book]

Overview

A VIVID AND FASCINATING LOOK AT AMERICAN HISTORY THROUGH THE PRISM OF THE COUNTRY’S MOST STORIED HIGHWAY, THE BOSTON POST ROAD

 

During its evolution from Indian trails to modern interstates, the Boston Post Road, a system of ...
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The King's Best Highway: The Lost History of the Boston Post Road, the Route That Made America

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Overview

A VIVID AND FASCINATING LOOK AT AMERICAN HISTORY THROUGH THE PRISM OF THE COUNTRY’S MOST STORIED HIGHWAY, THE BOSTON POST ROAD

 

During its evolution from Indian trails to modern interstates, the Boston Post Road, a system of over-land routes between New York City and Boston, has carried not just travelers and mail but the march of American history itself. Eric Jaffe captures the progress of people and culture along the road through four centuries, from its earliest days as the king of England’s “best highway” to the current era.

 

Centuries before the telephone, radio, or Internet, the Boston Post Road was the primary conduit of America’s prosperity and growth. News, rumor, political intrigue, financial transactions, and personal missives traveled with increasing rapidity, as did people from every walk of life.

From post riders bearing the alarms of revolution, to coaches carrying George Washington on his first presidential tour, to railroads transporting soldiers to the Civil War, the Boston Post Road has been essential to the political, economic, and social development of the United States.

 

Continuously raised, improved, rerouted, and widened for faster and heavier traffic, the road played a key role in the advent of newspapers, stagecoach travel, textiles, mass-produced bicycles and guns,  commuter railroads, automobiles—even Manhattan’s modern grid. Many famous Americans traveled the highway, and it drew the keen attention of such diverse personages as Benjamin Franklin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, P. T. Barnum, J. P. Morgan, and Robert Moses.

 

Eric Jaffe weaves this entertaining narrative with a historian’s eye for detail and a journalist’s flair for storytelling. A cast of historical figures, celebrated and unknown alike, tells the lost tale of this road.
Revolutionary printer William Goddard created a postal network that united the colonies against the throne. General Washington struggled to hold the highway during the battle for Manhattan. Levi Pease convinced Americans to travel by stagecoach until, half a century later, Nathan Hale convinced them to go by train. Abe Lincoln, still a dark-horse candidate in early 1860, embarked on a railroad speaking tour along the route that clinched the presidency. Bomb builder Lester Barlow, inspired by the Post Road’s notorious traffic, nearly sold Congress on a national system of expressways twenty-five years before the Interstate Highway Act of 1956.

 

Based on extensive travels of the highway, interviews with people living up and down the road, and primary sources unearthed from the great libraries between New York City and Boston—including letters, maps, contemporaneous newspapers, and long-forgotten government documents—The King’s Best Highway is a delightful read for American history buffs and lovers of narrative everywhere.

 
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Editorial Reviews

Joseph Berger
…in his valuable if uneven history, The King's Best Highway, Jaffe burrows under the asphalt to reveal a thoroughfare of deeper distinction…when Jaffe hits his stride, the result can be illuminating and entertaining.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
From a track in the wilderness to today's paved, commerce-filled road, U.S. Route 1, first known as the King's Highway, is unsurpassed for historic significance among American highways. Jaffe's lively, informal if undisciplined survey of its history, from Indian paths united by 17th-century settlers into one main path to the 21st-century road it has become, takes us not only down the East Coast's original main route between Boston and New York but up its original course from New Haven to Hartford, Conn. Some will read of the road's development as a history of the decline and degradation of nature, others of necessary developments as the world changed. Green is correct that the old King's Highway is a metaphor of the nation's history over almost five centuries, but side trips to canals and railroads, the newspapers that developed and were distributed along the post road, and everyone's hated I-95, aren't central to the story. Yet Jaffe's concluding personal journey along the historic way lends color to his light work of popular history. Maps. (June)
From the Publisher
“Early in the writing of The King’s Best Highway, Eric Jaffe tells us, an advisor warned him not to make a book about a road “boring as hell.” Never has advice been more scrupulously followed: there is not a boring word in the book, which from beginning to end is consistently surprising, entertaining, and amusing. The author deftly leads us along the road from New York to Boston, taking us past the infant stagecoach lines, the first fires of Revolution, Abraham Lincoln figuring out his Presidential campaign and the armies that followed once he'd won it, the brief hegemony and slow withering of the railroad, the decidedly mixed blessing of the interstate. On the way we encounter such diverse figures as P.T. Barnum and J.P. Morgan, Robert Moses and Franklin Roosevelt and Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. It makes for a most enjoyable party. A valuable one, too, because Jaffe sets forth a persuasive case that the old Post Road runs through us all, and his scores of lively set-pieces coalesce into the tremendous story, told at once intimately and spaciously, of the rise of American civilization.”

—Richard Snow, author of A Measureless Peril

"The name of it may be the Boston Post Road but in Eric Jaffe’s hands it becomes more like the Rosetta Stone-a way of decoding American history from British colony to 21st century polyglot. “The King’s Best Highway” is a journey through the centuries as well as the miles, traveling from John Winthrop to Robert Moses. Any reader interested in history will be delighted to join Eric Jaffe on the ride." —Samuel Freedman, The Inheritance

Kirkus Reviews
Journalist and first-time author Jaffe travels the fabled stretch of road connecting New York and Boston. The Boston Post Road, writes the author, is best envisioned as "a lasso tossed from Manhattan toward the Bay, its knot landing at New Haven, wrangling southern New England." With a purpose larger than pinpointing a particular path, he tells a three-pronged tale about transportation, commerce and communication that stretches over four centuries. Jaffe examines the ancient Indian footpaths followed by colonial messengers who wore a trail through the wilderness sufficiently established to support regular mail service by 1673. The muddy, rutted paths had by 1789 become a "loosely pebbled splendor" later trumped by turnpikes and expressways. The "King's best highway," once the conduit for quill-penned letters and newspapers that galvanized the American Revolution, by the 1990s featured cell-phone towers above and fiber optic wires beneath. Famous names-Winthrop, Franklin, Adams, Washington, Revere, Lincoln, FDR, P.T. Barnum-figure prominently here, but most interesting are the sketches of lesser-known characters who contributed to the highway's legend. These include Levi Pease, the stagecoach entrepreneur and "Father of the New England Roads"; Samuel Slater and Francis Lowell, whose carding machines and power looms fueled the Northeastern industrial explosion; Albert Pope, bicycle manufacturer and agitator for better roads and highway reform; Hiram Maxim, who engineered Pope's bicycles into horseless carriages that briefly turned the area into the world's automotive center; and Lester Barlow, whose revolutionary idea for expressways transformed the corridor forever. Jaffe provides revealing anecdotes about the postal service's emergence, the vogue for turnpikes, the region's short-lived canal fever, the Boston-New York rivalry, the underrated importance of the bicycle craze, the railroad empire's rise and fall and the political battles pitting people against highways. An unusual, often delightful piece of cultural history. Agent: Jim Hornfischer/Hornfischer Literary Management
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439176108
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 6/22/2010
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 416,349
  • File size: 5 MB

Meet the Author

Eric Jaffe is the author of The King’s Best Highway: The Lost History of the Boston Post Road, the Route That Made America, which won the U.S. Postal Service’s 2012 Moroney Award for Scholarship in Postal History. He’s a former web editor of Smithsonian magazine and now writes for The Atlantic Cities, a site devoted to urban life run by The Atlantic magazine.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 2, 2012

    Fun Historical read for anyone interested in US history & New England

    Happened upon this book for a paper on interstate highways. This book was so interesting and fun especially since I'm from New England and grew up with the Boston Post Road and never understood why the name! Now I know. Lots of great information and just fun to read. Thanks Eric Jaffe!!! Originally bought it as a nook book they bought three more copies to give away.

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    Posted January 15, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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