The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry That Built America's First Subway
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The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry That Built America's First Subway

3.9 11
by Doug Most
     
 

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In the late nineteenth century, as cities like Boston and New York grew more congested, the streets became clogged with plodding, horse-drawn carts. When the great blizzard of 1888 crippled the entire northeast, a solution had to be found. Two brothers from one of the nation's great families-Henry Melville Whitney of Boston and William Collins Whitney of New

Overview

In the late nineteenth century, as cities like Boston and New York grew more congested, the streets became clogged with plodding, horse-drawn carts. When the great blizzard of 1888 crippled the entire northeast, a solution had to be found. Two brothers from one of the nation's great families-Henry Melville Whitney of Boston and William Collins Whitney of New York-pursued the dream of his city digging America's first subway, and the great race was on. The competition between Boston and New York played out in an era not unlike our own, one of economic upheaval, life-changing innovations, class warfare, bitter political tensions, and the question of America's place in the world.
The Race Underground is peopled with the famous, like Boss Tweed, Grover Cleveland and Thomas Edison, and the not-so-famous, from brilliant engineers to the countless "sandhogs" who shoveled, hoisted and blasted their way into the earth's crust, sometimes losing their lives in the construction of the tunnels. Doug Most chronicles the science of the subway, looks at the centuries of fears people overcame about traveling 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, their rich, powerful and sometimes corrupt interests, and an invention that changed the lives of millions.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-01-04
A deputy editor at the Boston Globe recalls the visionaries, moneymen, engineering wizards, and the economic and political struggles behind the creation of the subway in America. In 1888, horses operated 90 percent of the 6,000 miles of America's street railway, with all but a fraction of the rest run by cable-pulled streetcars or small steam locomotives. The urban transportation system—filthy, slow, dangerous and unreliable, straining at the explosion of immigrant populations, at the mercy of snow and ice—needed rethinking. As far back as 1849—34 years before the Brooklyn Bridge opened—Alfred Beach, publisher of Scientific American, had proposed the idea of a "railway underneath" New York. However, the psychological barriers to subway travel ("like living in a tomb," critics said) and the formidable engineering challenges would take decades to overcome. By the time Boston and New York opened their subways—in 1897 and 1904, respectively—a remarkable story had unfolded, one Most (Always in Our Hearts: The Story of Amy Grossberg, Brian Peterson, the Pregnancy They Hid, and the Baby They Killed, 2005) chronicles with grand style and enthusiasm. Famous names flit in and out of his narrative—Boss Tweed, Thomas Edison, Edwin Arlington Robinson, piano manufacturer William Steinway and Andrew Carnegie—but he focuses on two lesser-knowns, brothers, both transportation magnates: Boston's Henry Whitney and New York's William Whitney, who tie together this subterranean transportation tale of two cities. It's a story of blizzards and fires, accidental gas explosions and dynamite blasts, of trenches tortuously dug, of sewer and water pipes rerouted and cemeteries excavated, of political infighting, of turnstiles and ticket-taking, of ingenious solutions to staggering problems. Inventor Frank Sprague, who perfected the electric motor, financier August Belmont, crusading New York Mayor Abram Hewitt and engineer William Barclay Parsons also play prominent roles in this colorful Gilded Age saga. An almost flawlessly conducted tour back to a time when major American cities dreamed big.
Publishers Weekly
11/25/2013
“Constructing the tunnel will be simple, just like cellar digging,” said the original contractor for the New York City subway. Then again, if Most, an editor at the Boston Globe, teaches us anything in this extensive history of the origins of the American subway, it’s that such optimism is woefully misguided. In fact, construction is almost an afterthought given the back-and-forth political maneuvering that occurred before the subway could even pass muster. It’s surprising that the generation of innovators active in the mid-19th-century, who were famed for their industrial expertise and entrepreneurship, were slow to the races in building an underground rail system. When Alfred Beach, groundbreaking editor of Scientific American, first proposed the idea in 1849, he was nearly laughed out of his New York office; 14 years later, London opened its Underground. When Thomas Edison was approached by Frank Sprague, a promising young engineer convinced that an electric motor could spark a revolution in transportation, Edison showed little interest in the idea (though that didn’t stop him from taking credit when Sprague’s engine powered New York’s first subway in 1904). Most’s account too often zigzags, like the dealings he chronicles, and the New York/Boston rivalry doesn’t clearly emerge, but otherwise he delivers a fun and enjoyable read about a vital, transformative period. (Feb.)
From the Publisher

“An almost flawlessly conducted tour back to a time when major American cities dreamed big.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“A remarkably well-told story filled with villains, heroes, and events of the Gilded Age...While many books have been written about New York City's subway, few have documented Boston's herculean accomplishment in beating New York. Most deserves credit for setting the historical record straight. This felicitous tale of American ingenuity and perseverance serves as a useful reminder today of our past commitment to improving our infrastructures as we now face the challenge of stopping their deterioration.” —Library Journal

“[Most] delivers a fun and enjoyable read about a vital, transformative period.” —Publishers Weekly

“Our subways are the vital lifelines of our greatest cities. They are also symbols of our indebtedness to earlier generations who through innovation and perseverance took us from horse-powered transportation to subterranean rail. Doug Most's The Race Underground is a fascinating account of how New York and Boston tunneled their way into the future. This book proves again that American history is a treasure trove of great stories, this one filled with drama, sacrifice, loss and unimaginable success.” —Ken Burns, filmmaker, creator of the PBS series The Civil War and many others

“A terrific book that makes us take a second look at our past and makes us wonder about possibilities for the future. This a love poem to the power of the human imagination.” —Leigh Montville, New York Times bestselling author of Ted Williams

“Combine the propulsive energy of Devil In the White City with the meticulous detail of The Great Bridge and you get The Race Underground. Most's addictive tour de force infuses a story that changed the course of American history with all the drama and excitement of a great thriller.” —Seth Mnookin, award-winning author of The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy and the bestseller Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts and Nerve Took a Team to the Top

“Imagine my disappointment when my college professor assigned Notes From the Underground and it turned out to be a mere existential novella. Finally, we get the book I wanted – The Race Underground--a history of Boston, New York and the building of America's First Subway. Give me Doug Most over Dostoyevsky anytime.” —Dan Shaughnessy, author of Francona, The Red Sox Years

The Race Underground is a great American tale, filled with moments of surprising drama and unforgettable characters fighting against impossible odds. Doug Most hasn't just written a book for history buffs and train lovers; he's written something wonderful for us all.” —Keith O'Brien, author of Outside Shot

Library Journal
11/15/2013
Most (deputy managing editor, features, Boston Globe) depicts the highly charged competition between Boston and New York in trying to construct the first underground "subway" railroad in late 19th-century America. It is a remarkably well-told story filled with villains, heroes, and events of the Gilded Age. Adding more heat to this intercity rivalry were brothers Henry Melville Whitney of Boston and William Collins Whitney of New York, who managed to push their own cities into successfully modernizing their transportation systems. Boston emerged the victor on September 1, 1897, with a system admittedly on a much smaller scale than initially envisioned. New York's planned subway was, of course, much larger, taking longer to build, while plagued with misfortune (54 workers and civilians died during its construction) before it finally opened on October 27, 1904. While many books have been written about New York City's subway, few have documented Boston's herculean accomplishment in beating New York. Most deserves credit for setting the historical record straight. VERDICT This felicitous tale of American ingenuity and perseverance serves as a useful reminder today of our past commitment to improving our infrastructures as we now face the challenge of stopping their deterioration. Recommended for readers in American urban history and specialists in urban transportation.—Richard Drezen, Jersey City

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312591328
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
02/04/2014
Pages:
416
Sales rank:
760,094
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)
Lexile:
1280L (what's this?)

Meet the Author

Doug Most is the deputy managing editor for features at The Boston Globe. He is the author of Always in Our Hearts: The Story of Amy Grossberg, Brian Peterson, the Pregnancy They Hid and the Child They Killed. He has written for Sports Illustrated, Runner's World and Parents and his stories have appeared in Best American Crime Writing and Best American Sports Writing. He lives in Needham, Massachusetts.

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The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry That Built America's First Subway 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
surfpro More than 1 year ago
This was a great book, with the comparison between Boston and New York, almost making it feel like a race. Very interesting with great facts
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book traces the development of the modern subway system not just in NYC and Boston but in London and other cities in Europe. The story centers around a few determined well connected and wealthy visionaries who saw that efficient inner city transportation was the key to prosperity and growth. The author blends in the human influence and the engineering which made subways possible.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He smirks and light a cigarette. He watches.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You are my new Master.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ariel just put it away.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
IDGAF YOU CANT IGNORE ALICE!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
May i be a bounty hunter?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She walked in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Seriosly though what the cr.ap..does anyone want to do anything while we wait