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The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro (Creating the North American Landscape) [Hardcover]

by Zachary M. Schrag
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 8, 2006 080188246X 978-0801882463 1

Drivers in the nation's capital face a host of hazards: high-speed traffic circles, presidential motorcades, jaywalking tourists, and bewildering signs that send unsuspecting motorists from the Lincoln Memorial into suburban Virginia in less than two minutes. And parking? Don't bet on it unless you're in the fast lane of the Capital Beltway during rush hour.

Little wonder, then, that so many residents and visitors rely on the Washington Metro, the 106-mile rapid transit system that serves the District of Columbia and its inner suburbs. In the first comprehensive history of the Metro, Zachary M. Schrag tells the story of the Great Society Subway from its earliest rumblings to the present day, from Arlington to College Park, Eisenhower to Marion Barry.

Unlike the pre–World War II rail systems of New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, the Metro was built at a time when most American families already owned cars, and when most American cities had dedicated themselves to freeways, not subways. Why did the nation's capital take a different path? What were the consequences of that decision?

Using extensive archival research as well as oral history, Schrag argues that the Metro can be understood only in the political context from which it was born: the Great Society liberalism of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. The Metro emerged from a period when Americans believed in public investments suited to the grandeur and dignity of the world's richest nation. The Metro was built not merely to move commuters, but in the words of Lyndon Johnson, to create "a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community."

Schrag scrutinizes the project from its earliest days, including general planning, routes, station architecture, funding decisions, land-use impacts, and the behavior of Metro riders. The story of the Great Society Subway sheds light on the development of metropolitan Washington, postwar urban policy, and the promises and limits of rail transit in American cities.


Frequently Bought Together

The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro (Creating the North American Landscape) + Los Angeles and the Automobile: The Making of the Modern City + The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism (Studies in Environment and History)
Price for all three: $82.58

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Extensively researched, cleverly structured, and finely written, this book stands out for the way it provides an integral, comprehensive account of a key urban service.

(Georg Leidenberger American Historical Review)

In this superbly-written book, Zachary Schrag... explains how this achievement came about and what its impact is... A joy to read.

(Gregory L. Thompson Technology and Culture)

The author makes us privy to the thinking that went into the system's design.

(Dennis Drabelle Washington Post Book World)

Schrag does a thorough job with his subject.

(Rachel DiCarlo Washington Times)

A timely look at how the Metro got where it is today.

(Civil Engineering)

It's a fascinating look at a modern transit triumph.

(Trains)

A graceful, fact-packed history of the genesis, development, and current state of the Washington Metro system.

(H-DC)

The Great Society Subway is a great book for students of contemporary transit history.

(Alexander D. Mitchell Railfan and Railroad)

An excellent book... a welcome and readable addition to the literature of how we construct the societies we inhabit.

(Alex Marshall Regional Plan Association Spotlight)

An exhaustively researched, engagingly written study of the planning, designing, building, and operating of the Washington Metro.

(Sy Adler Journal of American History)

[Schrag] shows the interrelationship of citizens' hopes and fears, visionaries' ideas, politicians' need to succeed, engineers' practical requirements, and the ebb and flow of affecting events over time. It is a fascinating story well told... a love story by an historian for his city and its people.

(William W. Millar Journal of the American Planning Association)

A masterful new book... Schrag's The Great Society Subway gives an eloquent and hopeful explanation of how this marvelous system came to be, and backs it up with an enormous amount of evidence and keen historical perspective.

(Washington History)

A meticulously researched account.

(Phil Hervey Urban Land)

Schrag has written a valuable study of the role of infrastructure in shaping the modern, urban world, and he aptly shows both the possibiities and limitations of major public investments... insights especially illuminating.

(J. Lawrence Lee CRM: Journal of Heritage Stewardship)

A welcome and readable addition to the literature of how we construct the societies we inhabit.

(Alex Marshall Hartford Courant)

Without question high drama... I strongly recommend that you put down the latest Baldacci mystery and ready this very well written, comprehensive, and entertaining book... one terrific book that belongs on lots of shelves, from planners to historians to rail buffs to politicians.

(Konrad J. Perlman Journal of Planning Literature)

A remarkable book. It has drama, it has pathos, it has passion, it has literary grace.

(Bob Post Journal of Transport History)

In clear and engaging prose, Schrag interweaves facts with a wide range of pragmatic, political, and aesthetic matters with discussions of those who posed and resolved the issues.

(Pamela Scott Journal of Social History)

In clear and engaging prose, Schrag interweaves facts with a wide range of pragmatic, political, and aesthetic matters with discussions of those who posed and resolved the issues.

(Pamela Scott Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians)

A masterful work of urban policy history, The Great Society Subway tells the inside story, from idea to reality, of the development of the Washington Metro from the perspectives of all the key players. There's nothing like it available.

(Carl Abbott, Portland State University)

From the Back Cover

Many residents and visitors rely on the Washington Metro, the rapid transit system that serves the District of Columbia and its suburbs. In the first comprehensive history of the Metro, Zachary M. Schrag tells the story of the Great Society Subway from its earliest rumblings to its emergence as the nation’s second busiest rapid transit system.

Using extensive archival research as well as oral history, Schrag argues that the Metro can be understood only in the political context from which it was born: the Great Society liberalism of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. He scrutinizes the project from its earliest days, including general planning, routes, station architecture, funding decisions, land-use impacts, and the behavior of subway riders. The story of the Metro sheds light on the development of metropolitan Washington, postwar urban policy, and the promises and limits of rail transit in American cities.

"A fascinating look at a modern transit triumph."— Trains

"The author makes us privy to the thinking that went into the system's design."— Washington Post Book World

"Extensively researched, cleverly structured, and finely written, this book stands out for the way it provides an integral, comprehensive account of a key urban service."— American Historical Review

"[Schrag] shows the interrelationship of citizens' hopes and fears, visionaries' ideas, politicians' need to succeed, engineers' practical requirements, and the ebb and flow of affecting events over time. It is a fascinating story well told... a love story by an historian for his city and its people."— Journal of the American Planning Association

"This is a remarkable book. It has drama, it has pathos, it has passion, it has literary grace."— Journal of Transport History


Product Details

  • Series: Creating the North American Landscape
  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; 1 edition (February 8, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080188246X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801882463
  • Product Dimensions: 10.1 x 7.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #286,794 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Story on So Many Levels November 11, 2010
By llei
Format:Hardcover
This book was recently loaned to me by a retired urban planner who has lived in DC through his whole career. As a regional urban planner, transportation planner, and history buff, I thought this book was an extremely informative and well-written story of:

- the planning and construction of one of the most significant public works projects in American history;
- the social, political, and economic history of Post-WWII DC metro area;
- the interface between urban land use and transportation planning, and one of the major success stories of public transit in the modern era;
- the battle between Congress and the community over self-government in post WWII DC;
- the challenges of funding and operating public transit, even when the construction of the project is heavily subsidized by the federal government.

This book should be required reading for any graduate student in urban planning or transportation planning, and is a great read for anyone who is interested in the modern history of our nation's capital.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Toughtful History March 20, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The author obviously spent a great deal of time doing research in preparation for writing this volume. It not only covers the history of the capitol's subway system, but the social and economic factors leading up to its construction. A very throught provoking history of a unique transportation system.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars must-read for urban planners March 30, 2012
Format:Hardcover
This is not an easy read by any means. It is a slog but not so much because it's not interesting but more because the author goes into great detail to tell the complete story as to how one of the best commuter rail systems in the world (yes, not just the US) came about. What is even more amazing is how this got done decades ago in a time when public transit really was not on the agenda of most cities let alone a modern subway system.

It's worth your time just give yourself a lot of it to weave your way through. Anyone who is fascinated by city planning and the push-me/pull-me of special interest groups, government red tape, business interests and the visionaries who pull it all together, well, your jaw will drop at how things eventually get done.

To be honest, if you find some chapters not up your alley you can skip to ones that are. Personally, I was more into learning about the actual stations and the riders more than anything. I did find the chapter on the plans (which started in 1955!) very enlightening especially when you see the failures of other major U.S. cities to come to grips with transit and opt for freeways. It's ultimately a hopeful book because if D.C. can do it, certainly other cities can. A must-read really for all urban planners...and politicians as well.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid read November 28, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As a DC Metro resident, I enjoyed reading how the Metro became what it is today. Interesting to see how the city developed around the different stations.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "What kind of city do you want?" November 25, 2011
Format:Hardcover
That question, posed in slightly different form by Mid-City activists in Washington, DC during the construction of the Metro, is posed near the end of this fine history of "America's Subway." Jonathan Schrag spends the 376 pages preceding it demonstrating that urban transportation is about more than moving people from point A to point B by chronicling the people and passions that shaped the most successful of the Second Subway Era systems. As the book's title suggests, the Washington Metro is also the product of a singular era in American politics, when the liberal idea that government could be a force for building a better society reached its zenith, but it is also the product of a worldview that reinforces the importance of the dense city as a desirable human habitat. Urban freeway building undermined that worldview, and Washington was almost unique in reasserting it in the face of powerful forces arrayed against it, including members of Congress in whose hands the fate of the national capital as a city rested. Even though the moment for grand projects like the Washington Metro has long since passed, lovers of cities can take as much inspiration from this well-written story as lovers of trains can, for it shows what is possible when the planets align just right.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Transport Worth Understanding November 22, 2011
Format:Hardcover
This is very good book about an important piece of infrastructure in the Washington, DC area. The work covers every aspect of every neighborhood and also the politics behind the metro better than anything currently available. I wish there were books about other transport systems worthy of this one.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars dc metro September 16, 2007
Format:Hardcover
...if you are a dc metro foamer...or just interested...this is the book for you. Meaty with information on planning and execution...nicely, but not lavishly illustrated, you'll have to get your photo jolly's from another source. Great book, though!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
I first read this history of the Washington Metro for a class in my transportation policy masters program. But this is far more than a textbook for urban planners or transportation policy wonks. This is a well-written, entertaining book about one of the most visible and important projects of the latter-half of the 20th Century. The Metro is more than simply a subway for the nation's capital. It represents all of the challenges, successes, problems, and benefits of major transportation networks. The construction of the system demonstrated all of the political, social, and economic debates inherent with publicly-funded projects. Schrag captures it all and writes in a manner interesting to even the most casual of readers.

The Metro fascinates people. Its growth and influence defines many communities in and around DC. Schrag brings to light so much of the history of the planning, political battles, and construction of the system. For those interested in anecdotes and urban legends this book will help answer many of those perpetual questions such as why there is no station in Georgetown or why the escalators are so long on the Red Line.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very readable.
This is a college professor's history of the construction of the DC Metro system, so it might have been stuffy. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Kim Toufectis
5.0 out of 5 stars This was indeed a educational engineering book to see how the projects...
This book should be mandatory reading for all the engineering studies. The detail of the politics, the players and the schedule to implement a mega project.
Published 12 months ago by Bernard W. Martin
4.0 out of 5 stars Blow by Blow of the Washington DC subway building
During the earliest stages of building this line, I actually lived in the Suburban Virginia area, and while very interested in the construction, I saw very little, except test... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Neil Wildeboor
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Delivery, quick and well packaged.
This was a present for my dad. It doesn't have a lot of pictures, but I think it will be a wonderful book. Very informative.
Published on October 17, 2010 by bunny
3.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting But Laborious Read
As evidenced by the numerous references, the author has been quite thorough in his research. However, the amount of detail bogs down the story, and it is quite easy to lose the... Read more
Published on February 6, 2008 by Chuck Edwards
3.0 out of 5 stars A readable, yet involved, study
I moved to DC in 1981 and watched the colorful branches progress from hash marks to solids. There are quirks in the system; this book answered many of my questions. Read more
Published on November 4, 2006 by Robert C. Scott
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