Summary and book 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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  • First Published:
    Feb 2014, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2015, 432 pages

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Book Summary

The Race Underground is a great American saga of two rival American cities, their rich, powerful and sometimes corrupt interests, and an invention that changed the lives of millions.

A compelling work of narrative nonfiction, selected as a Discover Pick by Barnes and Noble, The Race Underground is a riveting true story of the dramatic and sometimes deadly competition between New York and Boston to build the first American subway. For readers who love Erik Larson and David McCullough, The Race Underground is peopled with the famous, like Boss Tweed, and Thomas Edison, a great American saga of two rival American cities, the powerful interests within, and an invention that changed the lives of millions.

Excerpt
The Race Underground

On November 3, 1849, Alfred Beach could see clear down to the Hudson River from his top-floor office in downtown New York. That morning, Scientific American had published an article he wrote suggesting just about the craziest idea that New Yorkers had ever heard. It would be laughed at, mocked, and, ultimately, ignored. Nobody took it seriously in the days and weeks after it appeared, except for the young man who wrote it.

Looking out from his window at the corner of Fulton and Nassau streets in one of the city's tallest buildings, Beach could look up and see the next tall building being built, or he could look out to the water and see the parade of boats floating past in the New York harbor. The waters used to be filled mostly with tugboats, fishing boats, sloops, and the occasional mammoth steamship pulling in from Europe after the long crossing. But more recently, Beach was seeing a new type of boat dominate the harbor: Ferry boats, operated ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Race Underground 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.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review Members Only (441 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

[Most] delivers a fun and enjoyable read about a vital, transformative period.

Library Journal

This felicitous tale of American ingenuity and perseverance serves as a useful reminder today of our past commitment to improving our infrastructures as we now face the challenge of stopping their deterioration

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. An almost flawlessly conducted tour back to a time when major American cities dreamed big.

Author Blurb Ken Burns, filmmaker, creator of the PBS series The Civil War and many others
"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.

Author Blurb Leigh Montville - author of Evel: The High Flying Life of Evel Knievel
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.

Author Blurb Joe McKendry, artist and author of the children's book, "Beneath the Streets of Boston: Building America's First Subway
Doug Most's meticulous research into the tools and techniques used in early subway construction will satisfy the curiosity of those fascinated by the way things were built before the advent of modern power equipment.

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

Reader Reviews

Lora O. (Antioch, CA)

Moving People Forward Into the Future
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 ...   Read More

Anita S. (Boynton Beach, FL)

American ingenuity
While riding the New York subway, I often wondered how it was built. Not only did this book answer, but also told a great story. It was a fascinating book that read like a novel. The subways were built with the help of many men who saw the need ...   Read More

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 ...   Read More

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-...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Mind the Gap: The Early Days of London's Pioneering Subway

While Boston and New York might have been competing stateside to launch the first subway, across the Atlantic, London was already way ahead in getting its underground tube rolling. In the mid-nineteenth century, congestion was getting to be an increasing problem in the city as the only way to travel around was by buses and cabs, not quite the mass transit system that was really needed.

An example of cut-and-cover construction The solution was a sub-surface system that would alleviate congestion by moving some of it below the ground. The initial method used to dig the tunnel was called "cut and cover;" in essence, a trench was dug and then covered over with materials that supported whatever passed over it. These "cut and cover" tunnels were only about 60 foot deep and ...

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