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The King's Best Highway: The Lost History of the Boston Post Road, the Route That Made America Hardcover – June 22, 2010

17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From 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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1 edition (June 22, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416586148
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416586142
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #915,061 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Eric Jaffe is a graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism. He is a former editor of Smithsonian magazine's. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Slate, Science News, and Boston magazine. The King's Best Highway is his first book.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By T. C. on November 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I believe this is my first book review on Amazon, and am writing it to disagree with the prior 2 reviews. The King's Highway is used as a tool to describe the change in America from Colonial times to the present. Yes, it is a history book, as the sub-title indicates. The history is told from an interesting perspective, often highlighting figures seldom, if ever, discussed today. And those who we may know, such as P.T. Barnum, are brought to life in a much different light than we would expect. If you already know all you want to know about the history of the Northeast from a text book point of view, but would like to know more about those who helped make our everyday lives better, from newspapers, to postal service, to mass transportation, this informative and very enjoyable book is recommended.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Cooper on February 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I just moved to Providence, RI so this was a perfect read for me. I know nothing about the area and this book basically described the development of the Northeastern coast and why cities sprang up where they did. History can be a bit dry, but learning the importance of communication in early America and the history behind it was extremely interesting and thought provoking. I have already had numerous conversations where I educated locals on the Post Road (I very heavily traveled road in Prov), whom previously had no idea the original purpose or its significance. I have already recommended this book to numerous people and if you are interested in early America, I suggest you read it too.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By MT57 on October 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The review that precedes mine is pretty accurate so I won't spend too much time on this one. The book began with a pretty detailed history of the origin of the Post Road, which occurred in the early 17th century. It was fine, maybe a little dull but not terribly so. It stays focused on the operation of the Post Road up to the Revolutionary era, then as cities along the way start to grow (especially New York City which is one terminus of the road), it seems to lose focus and becomes more of a recounting of events in American history that happened to occur at points on the road. Toward the end, as we reach the 20th century, there are some interesting brief snapshots of developments in postwar transportation policy and urban development.

Overall, I found myself thinking as I read along, this might have been a very good article to find in Smithsonian but I don't think it quite merited a full-length book.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Grey Wolffe VINE VOICE on October 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is not a history as much as it is a set of vignettes about New England and especially the area between Boston and New York. From the beginning of colonization, men looked for ways to go between cities without using the seas. To sail from Boston to New York would be the logical thing to do as long as you didn't have any reason to stop in between and didn't mind a voyage that could be lengthened fro three to nine days if the wind was contrary no to mention the difficulty of entering the East River by way of Hell's Gate.

If you were the adventurous type (in the 1600s) and didn't mind rogue Indians and outlaws, you could travel one of two ways, from Boston to New York. From Boston due west to Springfield, then south to Hartford and New Haven, the west again along Long Island Sound through the Bronx and over the Harlem River and down to the tip of Manhattan Island. Or, you could go south from Boston to Providence and then west through New Haven to New York. Either of these trips would probably take you two weeks or more, if you didn't get lost or lose your horse. Most towns along the way should have been a days walk between each other and the large cities would be a day apart by horse. Each town would have a Tavern or Inn where you could stay the night and have your horse taken care of or refitted with shoes by the local blacksmith.

As time went on this collection of roads became what would be the first 'highway' in America. The name 'Boston Post Road' referred to this path which was used by 'Post' riders who delivered the mail between Boston and New York and the major towns in between. It had 'mile markers' but never had 'posts' but have Post Offices.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jan Kent on January 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed this book, and agree with T.C.'s comments. I found there was much history in this book that I had not known. Maybe because I have lived in New England my whole life it was more interesting, I don't know. I found it facinating learning about how the postal system came to be, how people communicated and traveled, and the people responsible for getting America on the road. It kept me engaged like any good book. Sometimes the focus veered from the Post Road, but that was ok as it was related. Now, if you are not into history, you may not like the book as well as I.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Frederick S. Goethel VINE VOICE on March 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was interested in this book as I grew up near the Boston Post Road and never really learned anything about it. It was never covered in school history and it was just sort of there. I heard rumors about it, but was curious about the history of the road.

The first section of the book gives a nice overall history of the road from the time it was an Indian trail until it became the major north-south route between Boston and New York. It details the towns that sprang up, the different routes that it took (inland vs. coast), and why towns were bypassed. It also chronicled how news spread by the Post Road and how news made, in part, the Post Road that came to be. I could visualize the road as it had once been and understood how important to commerce the road was.

The second part of the book detailed the growth and control of the route next to the road by the New York, new Haven and Hartford Railroad Company. Although they followed the road up the coast, it wasn't part of the road. They were simply following the path that had been carved out by the road over the previous decades. Although interesting, it was hardly a history of the road at that point.

The final section dealt with the interstate highways and the parkways that sprung up starting in the 1920s and continue to exist to this day. Again, interesting, but not truly part of the Post Road history, unless you consider the effect of removing traffic from the old road onto the newer roads, which did affect the character of the old towns along the route.

The book was interesting and worth the read, but was more like three distinct essays or articles on different facets of the route the Old Post Road took through New England. I wouldn't say it was worth the money….I would have borrowed it from the library had I known.
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