BookBrowse Reviews The Race Underground by Doug Most

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The Race Underground

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

by Doug Most

The Race Underground by Doug Most X
The Race Underground by Doug Most
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2014, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2015, 432 pages

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Doug Most's chronicle of how the subways got their start in two of the most dynamic metropolises in the United States makes for riveting reading.

Giving The Race Underground an average rating of 4.4, BookBrowse readers agree that the history of the subway in Boston and New York makes for complete transport.

Chugs along better than fiction?
I have ridden subways to work for many years, but never before I read The Race Underground by Doug Most, did it occur to me to wonder how it came about. This wonderful book explains the history of mass transit, from the beginning of an idea by futuristic thinker Alfred Beach in Scientific American to the reality of the subways in Boston and New York around the turn of the nineteenth century. This exciting book conveys a constant sense of motion, a dizzying energy going forward, the growth of new science and technology at a faster pace into the future. I loved the vivid descriptions of the city streets in the horse and carriage days, and can only imagine the joy when finally the cleaner, faster way of moving people was finally in place. This book is so rich and full of history and was much more satisfying than a novel (Lora O).

Full speed ahead
Despite being non-fiction, its light, engrossing narrative provided many elements of a good novel: heroes, villains, tragedy, to name a few. I enjoyed the alternating Boston-New York chapters. It allowed the narrative to flow and provided the feeling of a true race (Christopher R). 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 (Andrea S).

Digs deep: research and facts
It was fascinating to learn the thought processes behind the best ways to build a subway. I also found it interesting that both Boston and New York did not want to privatize their mass transit systems (Diane P). It is part history, part biography and part travel book. Two brothers, plus a cast of famous and not-so-famous fill up the pages. It is interesting history about a mode of transportation that I have never thought that much about (Mary AB).

Who would love the ride
For those interested in social history, this book covers all the bases, from new technologies to popular journalism (William Y). It's also easy enough to understand that it should be accessible to high school students, people who may be interested in the topic but are not really history buffs, and people who have an interest in urban history (Nancy O). I believe this could lead to rich discussion in a book club. There are so many fascinating facets to the story - about growth, government's duty to the citizens and the future of mass transit versus the automobile (Lora O).

This review was originally published in February 2014, and has been updated for the February 2015 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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