Advance reader reviews of The Race Underground by Doug Most.

The Race Underground

Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry That Built America's First Subway

By Doug Most

The Race Underground
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  • Published in USA  Feb 2014,
    352 pages.

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There are currently 25 member reviews
for The Race Underground
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  • Andrea S. (Lafayette, IN)


    Fascinating Look Back
    I really enjoyed this well researched and well written look at the development of the subway as the primary means of transportation in the late 19th century. Most has done a great job of portraying the problems, the solutions, and all the people and politics involved. The book was well written and flowed well. I often dislike nonfiction because it tries to follow too many threads unsuccessfully, but not so here. I read an advance readers copy-i hope the final edition has maps and photos! That would make the book really great!
  • Christopher R. (Brooklyn, NY)


    A smooth ride
    I was fortunate to receive A RACE UNDERGROUND by Doug Most as part of the First Impressions program. I enjoyed this book as a vivid depiction of the journey that brought the US its first two subway systems in Boston and New York. Despite being non-fiction, its light, engrossing narrative provided many elements of a good fictional novel: heroes, villains, tragedy, to name a few. The earlier parts of the book serve to present the players involved in building the first US subways. It was fun to learn about some of the "heroes," like William Barclay Parsons and the Whitney brothers as well as "villains" like William Tweed. I enjoyed the alternating Boston-New York chapters. It allowed the narrative to flow and provided the feeling of a true race. The book covers subway travel from its very beginnings in London to today. There is a lot of wonderful detail about the modifications that had to be made in order to make subway travel a viable option. The author includes a mention of Hurricane Sandy and how it crippled the NYC subway system as well as a brief note of current innovations in locomotive technology. As mentioned in the acknowledgement section, the book gives more coverage to Boston's first subway as there has been much more written about New York's. In the end, THE RACE UNDERGROUND is a riveting story of sacrifice and ingenuity. I truly gained an appreciation for what it takes to change history.
  • Marie A. (Warner, NH)


    The Race Underground
    An interesting account of what was involved in determining the best means of implementing an effective rapid transit system and its locomotion in two late Nineteenth Century major East Coast cities.

    Most does a commendable job in outlining the individual differences between the Whitney brothers, their approaches in building a subway system in Boston and New York, and the trials and tribulations each faced in achieving his respective goals. It was truly a rivalry and a race to be first.

    Overall, a good look into the creativity, ingenuity, and perseverance of the American imagination and spirit.

    This book is one for the history buffs.
  • William Y. (Lynchburg, VA)


    Review: The Race Underground
    As is the case with virtually all modern urban areas, their downtowns choke on traffic as cars, buses, trucks, and an array of other vehicles fight the gridlock that expanding populations of both people and their conveyances have created on city streets. The problem is hardly a new one and was in many ways worse before the advent of motorized traffic. By the second half of the 19th century, countless horses, mules, and donkeys pulled carriages, wagons, buggies, and coaches. With few regulations in force, they had long since begun to crowd unwary pedestrians and hinder the smooth flow of business; in addition, the omnipresent animals created unhealthy hygienic problems everywhere.

    City governments recognized that something had to be done to alleviate the situation, but politics, tradition, and strained budgets blocked most proposals. In England, London unveiled the first subway in 1863, and despite many engineering problems, it would prove successful and lead other metropolises to think seriously about taking traffic off their jammed streets, but the changes came slowly.

    Doug Most's fascinating The Race Underground chronicles how two American cities, Boston and New York, led the way in tackling the challenge of creating subways of their own. Decades after the debut of London's system, Boston in 1897 opened the first limited sections of its own metropolitan subway, and New York followed in 1904.

    For those interested in social history, this book covers all the bases, from new technologies to popular journalism. Most provides numerous asides about the personalities involved in these massive undertakings and the myriad difficulties they faced, as well as detailing the inconveniences suffered by Bostonians and New Yorkers as their downtowns were first torn up and then ultimately improved with this new form of mass transportation. Writing in an appealing style that does not burden the reader with needless technical detail but entertains with vignettes of everyday urban life, The Race Underground quickly becomes a non-fiction page-turner of the best kind.
  • Mary Ann B. (Louisville, KY)


    The Race to be the best
    The Race to the Underground is about more than becoming the first U.S. city to create a subway system. It is part history, part biography and part travel book. 2 brothers, plus a cast load of famous and not so famous fill up the pages in this book about New York and Boston. It was interesting history about a mode of transportation that I have never thought that much about. I don't live in a city with a subway, so the next time I actually ride in one, I will be thinking about how much work and thought goes into something people take for granted. I think if you like some history with travel writing, you will enjoy this book.
  • Annette S. (Duluth, GA)


    The Race Underground
    In the late 19th century the urban areas of the United States saw rapid population growth. Immigrants and people from rural areas moved to cities like Boston and New York. With this population surge came problems of streets congested with horse-drawn carts and at times traffic was brought to a standstill. Also, in the winter of 1888 a great blizzard crippled the Eastern seaboard and forced cities to find a solution to their transportation problems.
    The Whitney brothers - one from New York and the other from Boston believed the problem would be solved by a subway system They each pursued their dream of his city being the first U.S. city to have a subway and the underground race began. When it was completed it changed the lives of millions.
    If you enjoy reading Erik Larson and/or David McCullough you will enjoy this book by Doug Most.
  • Diane P. (Deer Park, WA)


    Never really thought about subways...
    I never really thought about why or how mass transit came into being. It is hard to believe that cities were that congested in the late nineteenth century. Little did I know, the Race Underground awakened a rich part of both Boston and New York's history that lead to the building of the underground subways. It was fascinating to learn about the thought process of how they determined what would be the best way to build the subway. I also found it interesting that both Boston and New York did not want to privatize their mass transit systems.
    It is hard to believe that tunnels built over a hundred years ago still function today. It is a testament to the workmanship that I don't believe we see any more.
    Doug Most did an extraordinary job of researching and detailing out in a thoroughly readable book.
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