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Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway Hardcover – August 24, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The genesis and subsequent history of the controversial I-69 highway, still underway after 20 years and still being debated, makes for colorful, quirky reading. Already running through Michigan and parts of Indiana, I-69 may continue on through Indianapolis, Memphis, Shreveport, and a few Texas bergs. If completed, it will stretch from Canada to Mexico. Detractors of the undertaking, projected to cost over $30 billion, describe it as a "NAFTA highway," an attempt to diminish U.S. economic primacy in favor of overall North American commerce. "Promoters speak as if their highway would be the mythical rainbow. Spanning the countryside, it would spin off glittering paths to fill pots of gold in every town and hamlet." Dellinger examines the many non-governmental options currently on the table, some involving the controversial practice of allowing foreign companies to lease roads long-term and charge escalating tolls. On the other side of the blacktop, anarchists have riled older, more conservative opponents of the interstate with disruptive and damaging acts. This well-researched book brings an engaging group of idealists, politicians, and observers to the middle of one of America's most famous stretches of road.
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“From the first page Matt Dellinger draws a compellingly written narrative that is not only hard to put down but is sweeping in its context. America's history, and its future, breathes in these pages.”

—Ken Auletta, author Googled: The End of the World as We Know It

Interstate 69 is not just about highways. It's about Americans deciding on their future. The politics and arguments about this one proposed highway may or may not lead us somewhere—but like any great journey, it's the trip that's the thing.”

—Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

“Whether I-69 is ever built or not, it has provided Matt Dellinger a good route into the middle of our country, a fascinating and often-neglected place. His story of an imagined road, its boosters and its discontents speaks eloquently of the deep changes shaking up America today. This is an affectionate, hard-won, and skillfully-made book, filled with the pleasures of original discovery.”

—Ian Frazier, author of Great Plains and The Rez

“A rollicking dispatch from the heartland as great plans are laid for a mega-highway just at the moment when America runs out of gas. Matt Dellinger is a first-rate reporter and an agile portraitist who gives us a rare look at the loony shenanigans that shape our landscape and our society.”

—James Howard Kunstler, author of The Geography of Nowhere and The Long Emergency

“A great journey, with sharp reporting and fine writing and a genuine feel for an America we don't often notice. With Dellinger at the wheel, the saga of the unfinished interstate becomes a wonderful tale.”

Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief

Interstate 69 is about a road that doesn't exist, and probably never will, and we learn anew about small town America whose fortunes ebbed and flowed with the advent of the superhighway. Dellinger has given us a new way to understand—and enjoy—our history.”

 —Seymour Hersh, author of Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1st edition (August 24, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416542493
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416542490
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,236,037 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Matt Dellinger has written for The New Yorker, the Atlantic, the Oxford American, Smithsonian, The Wall Street Journal magazine, and The New York Times, and has reported on transportation and planning for the public radio program The Takeaway. He worked for ten years on staff at The New Yorker as an illustrations editor, the magazine's first-ever multimedia editor, and the producer and host of The New Yorker Out Loud, the magazine's first weekly podcast. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By lostintranslation on August 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Interstate 69 is one of the finest works of historical non-fiction that I have read in many years. Not only does Dellinger offer an accurate and unbiased account of the history of I-69, he also skillfully paints a larger picture of American politics, geography, & anthropology. Dellinger captivates with his succinct, narrative style. I highly recommend this book as it is as educational as it is entertaining.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By J. Dellinger on September 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover
"Where we're going, we don't need roads." - Doctor Emmett Brown

Having spent nearly a decade living in Bloomington I was already well-versed in the Hoosier portion of the Interstate 69 story...or so I thought. It turns out I didn't know the half of it (quite literally).

"Interstate 69" is a compelling, highly informative tour of the (proposed) route for the so-called NAFTA highway. It works as both history and cultural anthropology, and prompts a lot of smart questions about the direction of our transportation systems and federal/state funding priorities.

If that sounds like a dry, policy-heavy tome, it shouldn't. The author uses the small, human stories of the individuals and (often floundering) communities along the route to paint the larger picture. It's highly engaging reading that fans of relevant, well-crafted non-fiction are sure to appreciate.

(Full disclosure: Yes, I am related to the author. No, I would not change a word if this review were that not the case.)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By James Denny on January 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Will Interstate 69 be built? Can Federal funding be found to make this "last" freeway of the Eisenhower Era? That is the question!

Matt Dellinger explores in depth the subject of American transportation. His central focus is whether I-69 will be built. The proposed route: from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, passing through the states of Texas, Louisana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan. The segment from Indianapolis to Port Huron, Michigan is the only part of I-69 that has actually been built.

Not one of these states is willing or prepared to pay for its section of this proposed highway whose overall cost is now estimated at a minimum of 30 billion dollars. Aging transportation planners in these states fondly remember the Age of Eisenhower when the Federal Government picked up a staggering 90 percent of freeway construction costs.

The 21st century is a different era. Obvious to most, but not to hard-core highway-booster types who hunger to feed at the Federal Government trough, the highway construction manna of the 50's, 60's and 70's is long gone.

A second and more fundamental question is should I-69 be built at all, irrespective of who is willing pay for it?

Author Matt Dellinger does a great job of exposing how blatant political decisions in the past have funded highways, railroads, canals and other transportation projects throughout American history. The fact that some towns and cities get "blessed" with a new transportation link can be seen as more about influence peddling than as wise and balanced transportation decisions.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By B. A. Bovenzi on August 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I stumbled upon this book by accident, and it seemed interesting enough to give it a try. I'm glad I did. This is an extremely well-written account of government in action (or inaction, as the case may be). Mr. Dellinger does an excellent job recounting the struggles with this issue on all sides--those who want I-69 and those who want I-69 to go away. This is a project that affects real people, both in good and in not-so-good ways. Portraying that is a tricky balance, and Mr. Dellinger does this most adeptly. Considering Texas governor Rick Perry's pending presidential campaign, the sections of this book pertaining to Texas are especially worthwhile reading. Is I-69 a good idea? This book does not provide easy answers; there aren't any.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Texky on August 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The book does a fantastic job of capturing the flavor, personalities, and aspirations of the groups and communities that have been part of the Interstate 69 saga.
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Format: Hardcover
There seems to be two competing visions of the future of America. The first version pretty much promulgates the status quo with the construction of more highways and the relentless urban sprawl that will almost certainly follow. But there is a competing vision that has captured the imagination of a wide cross-section of Americans. According to a website devoted to the topic "New Urbanism promotes the creation and restoration of diverse, walkable, compact, vibrant, mixed-use communities composed of the same components as conventional development, but assembled in a more integrated fashion, in the form of complete communities. These contain housing, work places, shops, entertainment, schools, parks, and civic facilities essential to the daily lives of the residents, all within easy walking distance of each other. New Urbanism promotes the increased use of trains and light rail, instead of more highways and roads. Urban living is rapidly becoming the new hip and modern way to live for people of all ages. Currently, there are over 4,000 New Urbanist projects planned or under construction in the United States alone, half of which are in historic urban centers." It is this clash of philosophies that attracted me to author Matt Dellinger's splendid 2010 book "Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway". In this engaging and exceptionally well-researched book you will discover that there are compelling arguments on both sides of this issue and that reasonable people can come to completely different conclusions. The battle over Interstate 69 proves to be a fascinating case study.

The genesis of the idea for Interstate 69 (also known as the NAFTA Highway) took place over breakfast at a kitchen table in Southwest Indiana back in 1990.
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