The Big Roads by Earl Swift
The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways

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“Travelers hitting the highways this summer might better appreciate the asphalt beneath their tires thanks to this engrossing history of the creation of the U.S. interstate system.”—Los Angeles Times

Perhaps nothing changed the face of America more than the creation of the interstate system. At once man-made wonders, economic pipelines, agents of sprawl, and uniquely American sirens of escape, the interstates snake into every aspect of modern life. The Big Roads documents their historic creation and the many people they’ve affected, from the speed demon who inspired a primitive web of dirt auto trails, to the cadre of largely forgotten technocrats who planned the system years before Ike reached the White House, to the thousands of city dwellers who resisted the concrete juggernaut when it bore down on their neighborhoods.

The Big Roads tells the story of this essential feature of the landscape we have come to take for granted. With a view toward players both great and small, Swift gives readers the full story of one of America’s greatest engineering achievements.

“Engaging, informative . . . The first thorough history of the expressway system.”—Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post

“The book is a road geek’s treasure—and everyone who travels the highways ought to know these stories.”—Kirkus Reviews

About Earl Swift

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Earl Swift joined his first recovery mission in Southeast Asia, as a staff writer for the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, in July 2000. He was taken by chopper to a dig site in Vietnam’s Quang Nam Province, along the border with Laos, to join a team searching for a Green Beret sergeant lost in a freak air accident in 1966. He returned to Southeast Asia twice in 2001, once on assignment for Parade and once to camp in the jungle of southeastern Laos. The only journalist ever to accompany a search expedition from start to finish, Swift has also flown two missions in Papua New Guinea to visit recovery teams in search of missing World War II air crews. He is currently a staff writer for the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, and his work has also appeared in Parade and The Best Newspaper Writing 2000. Where They Lay was a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction.
Published June 9, 2011 by Mariner Books. 401 pages
Genres: History, Professional & Technical, Computers & Technology, Science & Math, Education & Reference. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Big Roads

Kirkus Reviews

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The best parts of the book come when Swift injects Blue Highways notes into the enterprise and prefers the personal to the textbook-ready, as when he relates a cross-country trip with a preteen daughter and her friend that went better when they left the tranquil back roads and joined the flow: “O...

Jun 09 2011 | Read Full Review of The Big Roads: The Untold Sto...

The New York Times

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The 1921 Federal Highway Act, Swift writes, “remains the single most important piece of legislation in the creation of a national network — far more so than the later Inter­state highway bill.” The highway future was sold in spectacles like Norman Bel Geddes’s Futurama exhibit at the 1939 World’s...

Jul 15 2011 | Read Full Review of The Big Roads: The Untold Sto...

The Wall Street Journal

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As the Lincoln developed, so too did other regions of the country begin building their own versions, like the Jefferson Davis Highway (intended to reach from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco by way of New Orleans but never completed), the Lakes to Gulf Highway (Duluth, Minn., to Galveston, Texa...

Jun 04 2011 | Read Full Review of The Big Roads: The Untold Sto...

Huffington Post

In August I posted an essay on Huffington Post asking the question why, as opposed to how, America destroyed its great cities in the second half of the 20th century.

Sep 28 2011 | Read Full Review of The Big Roads: The Untold Sto...

Washington Independent Review of Books

Swift quotes John Steinbeck’s famous observation in his own 1962 road trip book, Travels with Charley: In Search of America: “When we get these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing.” Yes, the...

Jul 05 2011 | Read Full Review of The Big Roads: The Untold Sto...

Dallas News

The history of the American interstate system isn’t the kind of yarn that storytellers live to spin.

Jun 17 2011 | Read Full Review of The Big Roads: The Untold Sto...

Huntington News

Thomas MacDonald, Frank Turner and Herbert Fairbank and their cadre of dedicated technocrats turned the nation's maze of highways -- mostly named like the Lincoln Highway, the Dixie Highway and the Midland Trail -- into the numbered highway system that inspired the numbering of the Interstates.

Oct 21 2011 | Read Full Review of The Big Roads: The Untold Sto...

David G. Schwartz

Even if you don’t use it every day, the interstate highway system affects your life every day.

Jun 17 2011 | Read Full Review of The Big Roads: The Untold Sto...

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