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The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry That Built America's First Subway Hardcover – February 4, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (February 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312591322
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312591328
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (112 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #73,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, February 2014: While reading Doug Most’s The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry That Built America's First Subway, it quickly becomes apparent that the 19th-century world was a dirty, slow-moving place. Not only were the modern cities of the world filled with horses, they were filled with their excrement, along with all the billowing smoke and caked dirt that modern industry of the time could produce. The Race Underground offers a colorful and informative description of that bygone era. Famous names surface throughout the book--men like Andrew Carnegie, Boss Tweed, and Thomas Edison. But Most ties the story together through two less famous, more essential brothers: Henry Whitney of Boston and William Whitney of New York. When the city of London built the first subway, it might have seemed only a matter of time before one was constructed in a major U.S. city. The truth is much more complicated and fascinating than that. Most shows how getting through government intransigence and payola was as daunting as getting a hole carved through the earth. It was a time when great minds turned themselves toward bettering the world they lived in, but in some ways the past seems all too familiar. --Chris Schluep

Review

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

"Two brothers. Two cities. Two subway systems. The Race Underground by Doug Most is 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 - author of Evel: The High Flying Life of Evel Knievel

Library Journal, 11/15/2013 A remarkably well-told story filled with villains, heroes, and events of the Gilded Age. Many books have been written about New York's subway. Few have documented Boston's herculean accomplishment in beating New York. This felicitous tale of American ingenuity and perseverance serves as a useful reminder of our past commitment to improving our infrastructures. Recommended for readers in American urban history and specialists in urban transportation.--Richard Drezen, Jersey City

"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, New York Times best-selling author of Feeding the Monster and The Panic Virus

"The Race Underground gives us an exciting first-hand view of this transformative time in the history of two great (and rivaling) American cities."
Joe McKendry, author of "Beneath the Streets of Boston: Building America's First Subway


"Mr. Most weaves together the egos, political hurdles and other daunting challenges…in a sweeping narrative of late-19th-century intrigue." –The New York Times

"Doug Most’s meticulously researched history reveals that getting the subways built was more a collaborative than a competitive effort...Who then won the race? That would be giving away the climax of an exciting book." –The Economist

"Before last week’s back-to-back snowstorms, there was the great blizzard of 1888. With New York City at a halt, explains journalist Most, the influential Whitney brothers of NYC and Boston dreamed of a city subway system to beat bad weather. But each brother wanted his own city to be the first to finish its subway: And so the great Boston-New York subway race was on. Makes today’s Yankees-Red Sox rivalry seem tame by comparison." –The New York Post

"At first glance, a history of American public transit might sound like something you'd be forced to read in an engineering class. But the Boston Globe's Doug Most has come at the potentially dry subject from a unique and engaging angle: The story of two brothers — one in New York City and one in Boston — who each dreamed of creating America's first subway system in their respective cities. Most's narrative chronicles tackles the enormous undertaking at every level, from the high-powered political figures at the top to the "sandhogs" who created the tunnels, offering an intriguing top-down look at American transit."The Week, "18 Books to Read in 2014"

"It is a story of rapscallions and risk takers, engineers and entrepreneurs, dreamers, darers, and doers — and it is thoroughly researched and splendidly narrated by Doug Most." –Boston Globe

"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

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

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

"The Race Underground tells the story of how we got there, and it's an enlightening—and surprisingly exciting--ride." –Shelf Awareness (starred review)

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Customer Reviews

Never thought I'd even like this kind of book!
PLZ
This is a really good read, chronicling the "race" to build the country's first subway, between the cities of Boston and New York City.
Joel Holtz
I couldn`t put it down, very interesting topic very well written.
Tom

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Alan L. Chase VINE VOICE on December 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have always been fascinated with subway systems - their operation, their construction and their evolution. I have ridden and explored the subway systems in cities as diverse as London, Paris, Moscow, Montreal, Seoul, Singapore, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, D.C., NYC and Boston. From my first experiences as a kid riding the El from Everett to Boston Garden to see the circus right up to today for my daily commute on the Red Line, the MBTA has been a part of my life. I have known from reading the signs at Park Street that the MBTA Green Line was the first subway line in America. I had no idea how closely tied together were the stories of the construction of the NYC subways and the Boston subways. This fascinating new book tells those parallel stories in a way that brings the history to light and to life.

Two brothers from the powerful Whitney family each played a role in creating what have become Boston's Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority. These two brothers—Henry Melville Whitney of Boston and William Collins Whitney of New York City - were at the centers of the beehives of political intrigue, financial manipulations, real estate deals and engineering innovations in a desperate attempt to help their respective cities solve the problem of street traffic that threatened to strangle both metropolises.

This true story of rivalry and cooperation reads like a Gothic novel, and is peopled with familiar figures like Thomas Edison, Boss Tweed, Grover Cleveland and Frederick Law Olmstead. The author, Doug Most, digs deep into a large storehouse of primary documents to get to the real story and subplots of how both systems came to be built.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By The Ginger Man VINE VOICE on December 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In my twenties, I often rode the Boston subway from Arlington station to Park Street without having any idea that this short run was the first section of electric powered subway to be opened anywhere in the world. In The Race Underground, Doug Most tells this story as part of a compelling portrait of two great Gilded Age cities struggling to progress from a pre-industrial transportation system to a world powered by a newly harnessed source of energy.

New York and Boston experienced explosive growth in the 19th century. With the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, New York was transformed into a hub for American imports and exports. Population grew from a pre-Canal level of 170,000 to 1.2 million by 1880. New York and Boston were the first and fourth largest American cities at the time and each grew daily as immigrants flooded into their environs. Unfortunately, transportation infrastructure changed little as this growth occurred. Horse-pulled streetcars had served for 50 years but "slowly began to cripple two great American cities."

The New York Tribune argued that a traveler could journey halfway to Philadelphia in less time than he could traverse the length of Broadway. American Architect and Building News characterized Boston's sidewalks as "jammed to suffocation." In addition to the crowding was the stench from piles of manure which could include as much as 50 pounds a day for each of the thousands of horses in both cities. "Urban transport," argues Most,"had become the single biggest civic headache. Traffic was an outright obsession of newspapers and their readers." And the only direction to look to ease the congestion was Down.

The Race Underground focuses most fully on how each city developed the public will to confront this problem.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Robert C. Ross on January 22, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Mr. Most had a very interesting story to tell, and if you could plow through the structural problems, it gave great insights into some of the most interesting engineering battles and accomplishments of the mid to late 1900s.

But, his convoluted paragraphs made it very difficult to follow the story. He delights in setting up an event in the first sentence, moving 400 miles away to the middle of another event, coming back to the first and then instead of concluding, jumping to an event in the past or one still to come. Finally, he completes the first sentence, perhaps only then identifying the main actor.

I just couldn't keep jumping around, even though I spent over a month taking it in 15 minute increments. Finally, I gave up after three quarters of the book -- since I have written on both systems, I know for a fact that they were completed.

Had Mr. Most just alternated the stories of the two cities, chapter by chapter, the structure would have been much more understandable and would have done justice to a marvelous engineering achievement.

Robert C. Ross
February 2014
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Gypsi Phillips Bates VINE VOICE on January 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Mr. Most has written an apparently well researched study on an interesting topic, the building of the U.S.'s first subway. The Race Underground is subtitled "the incredible rivalry that built America's first subway", with the blurb stating "A Great American Saga--two rival cities, two brothers, both with plans to build a subway underground. Who will be first?" From these, the reader is naturally led to expect a tale of tension and excitement as the brothers race to build the very first American subway.

I must first confess that my preference* is for the newer trend of presenting scholarly works in a livelier, more pleasant to read, manner. (Eric Larson, Thomas Cahill and Debra Hamill, for example.) Based on the book information, I did expect The Race Underground to fall into this category and to be a captivating history of these brothers and their saga.

To my disappointment, Mr. Most presented his topic in a more conservative style, presenting facts without as much of a "story" as the blurb indicated, at time digressing unnecessarily, and in general not living up to the title of "race" or "incredible rivalry". Therefore, while I did find the subject itself interesting, I found the actual book to be a somewhat laborious read.

* To forestall any comments, I will note that this preference is that of personal taste and not due to lack of education or to an ignorance of historical subjects; I do hold a B.A. in history, though not in this particular time period.
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More About the Author

Doug Most is a veteran journalist and now a deputy managing editor at The Boston Globe. He's worked at papers in Washington, D.C., South Carolina, and New Jersey, and written for national magazines, including Sports Illustrated, Parents, and Runner's World. "The Race Underground" is the story of two great American cities struggling with dangerously overcrowded neighborhoods, and desperately searching for relief, and ultimately finding it through the painstaking construction of tunnels beneath their streets. Most's first book, "Always in our Hearts," was a true-crime story in New Jersey about two teenagers who concealed their pregnancy from their parents and killed their baby.
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