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722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York Paperback – September 1, 1995

4.2 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"A clear, perceptive and carefully researched study of this engineering feat and the ways in which the subway led to an expansion of the metropolitan area." -- Publishers Weekly

"One of the best urban-transportation histories to come down the tracks in a long time... In this age, when privatization is widely hailed as a cure for all that ails public life, Hood's book provides some useful perspective." -- The Sciences

"A fascinating story... Hood's extensively researched and highly readable book... conveys the enormity of the project in terms of size, technical challenges faced, and personal tragedies incurred... A fine urban transportation history." -- Lexington Quarterly

""An eminently readable book... Describes how the subway attempted to meet the enormous need to move urban residents far faster than any existing form of mass transit (primarily the elevated railway and the streetcar) and disperse the growing population into unsettled areas at the fringe of the city." -- Railroad History

"An interesting read, describing how the subway helped shape New York City." -- Trains


"Clifton Hood's 722 Miles is the fullest and most authoritative account of the building and impact of the New York City subways, the most extensive system of urban transportation in the United States and perhaps the world." -- Nathan Glazer, Harvard University


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press; Reprint edition (September 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801852447
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801852442
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,858,155 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
In you are looking for a tour guide of New York's vast subway system, or a concise timeline of its construction and equipment, look elsewhere.

What Clifton Hood has produced is a political history of the subway which should be read by every student of New York history and every person who wants to understand better the workings of New York City politics today.

The reader will find such familiar personages as Boss Tweed and Fiorello LaGuardia, but will also read about John F. Hylan, mayor from 1918-1925.

Hylan's is hardly a household name in popular New York history--he is known instead to the relative handful of people who delve into the recesses of Big Apple politics of the early 20th century.

In 722 Miles, Hood places Hylan in his proper place as the man who politicized the NYC transit system and, in so doing, set the stage for the long deterioration of the system which is only now being reversed.

I could quibble with various aspects of Hood's book--perhaps he focuses too much attention on one or another story relatively peripheral to the system's development while treating too lightly other threads. For example, he doesn't visit the influence of the BRT (later BMT) system until it became involved in the subway building contracts of 1913.

Additionally, to address the concerns of an earlier reviewer, there are lapses in editing which are odd in so heavily researched and footnoted a work. For example, at one point (using my hardbound copy as reference), Hood described a laborer's pay on the first subway as being $2.00 or $2.25 PER HOUR, a princely sun at the time, when he clearly meant PER DAY.
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Format: Paperback
As another reviewer mentioned, this isn't a tourist guide. There aren't that many maps, and the ones present do not show stops. Aside from the creation of new suburbs such as Jackson Heights, there isn't a whole lot of discussion of how the subways affected neighborhoods after they were built, especially after cars began to take over.
The main point this book makes is how the combination of enforced low fares and the perception of rapid transit as a business rather than a public service caused the subways' decline. The beginning of the book describes some of the engineering problems involved in building subways in New York. I would have liked to have seen more of that, especially for later, non-IRT subways; diagrams of the terrain in question would have been interesting.
Anyway, the book has to stop somewhere. For all that's left out, the discussion of people and politics, and of how things could have turned out differently, is fascinating.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having lived in NYC most of my life, I wanted to find a book which provided a comprehensive overview of the development of our public transit network, from the omnibus of the Civil War era to the present period. This book does it, and without running to encyclopedic length (its about 260 pages, not counting about 50 pages of supportive notes/footnotes).

A good deal of attention is given to the political machinations which were of such importance in building our current complex route system, including unfortunate gaffs, payoffs and a frequent lack of vision. (Editorial note: What we have is wonderful; what we might have had would be a marvel (like the rest of America, NYC has a history of periodic distain for public transit infrastructure development, preferring instead to nurture a love affair with the automobile - think Robert Moses).

The book also emphasizes the impact of subway extensions from lower Manhattan into the upper reaches of the borough (Washington Heights, Inwood etc), as well as Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. At least for a NYer, this is fascinating stuff, and the author uses examples, such as Jackson Heights in Queens, to illustrate the "before and after" impact of bringing multiple lines into what were farmlands and open fields just 100 years ago. The author provides lots of interesting and supportive statistics. There is also an excellent index along with over 50 pages of source footnotes.

The only real failing of the book is a lack of decent maps and a curious avoidance of using current line designations (ie, E train, #7 line etc) to quickly identify line routes as they were built in spurts starting in about 1900), preferring instead to use the old general designations (like IRT, BMT, IND), which no one under 60 remembers.
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Format: Paperback
I worked for the New York City transit system (then known as the New York City Transit Authority) from 1982 to 1987, so I had an "up close and personal" look at what it takes to operate the largest rapid transit railroad in the Western Hemisphere on a daily basis. This book is not the one to read, though, if you're fascinated with the details of daily operations. Try Jim Dwyer's book "Subway Lives" for that.

But if you want a close and expert look at the public policy decisions that drove where and when subway lines were constructed, this is your book. The story of the "dual contracts" is well told. This may be the first example in the United States of a "public-private partnership", as they're now called, with the city building the fixed plant and then contracting with private operators to provide service.

There is also the sad story of "Red Mike" Hylan (his nickname was not due to his hair color), who set out to build a city-owned and city-operated subway with the express aim of bankrupting the two private operators. He got his wish. However, his legacy is the "Independent City-Owned Subway", some of the most magnificent, fast, and high-capacity subway lines ever constructed anywhere. The city could not do without them today.

The last chapters, which cover the city takeover of the two private operators in 1948, are not as comprehensive and well-done as the earlier sections of the book, but this is a minor quibble. Many books and articles cover the history of the New York City Transit Authority, created in 1953 to run the subways, later expanded to run most city buses, and finally folded into the New York MTA in 1967.

All told, an excellent read for any student of public policy and transportation.
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