Monday, September 8, 2014

The Race Underground by Doug Most

By Daena
Reviewed for Minding Spot

In the late nineteenth century, as cities like Boston and New York grew larger, the streets became increasingly clogged with horse-drawn carts. When the great blizzard of 1888 brought New York to a halt, a solution had to be found.  Two brothers - Henry Melville Whitney of Boston and William Collins Whitney of New York - pursued the dream of his city being the first American metropolis to have a subway and the great race was on.  The competition between Boston and New York was played out in an era not unlike our own, one of economic upheaval, job losses, bitter political tensions, and the questions of America's place in the world.

The Race Underground is peopled with the famous, like Boss Tweed, and Tomas Edison, and the not-so-famous, like the countless 'sandhogs' who dug and blasted into the earth's crust, sometimes losing their lives in the process of building the subway's tunnels.  Doug Most chronicles the science of the subway, looks at fears people had about traveling underground and tells a story as exciting as any ever ripped from the pages of U.S.  History.  The Race Underground is a great American saga of two rival American cities, the powerful interests within, and an invention that changed the lives of millions.  (taken from the front of the book)

It was a time of change and innovation for the United States.  Many inventors were rushing to have their creations patented and entrepreneurship seemed to be the trend of the times.  With so much happening and exciting times ahead, the United States was growing at a magnificent rate.  Two major cities felt the weight of this growth the most.  These were the cities of Boston and New York.  The streets were riddled with people and horse-drawn carriages and were nearly bursting at the seams.  Traveling the streets was treacherous, often with the choice of standing or running for your life.  Two brothers, one in Boston and one in New York, recognized that the growth of their city would not soon end and set out to relieve the crowded streets.

In this novel, Doug Most takes the reader on an adventure filled with frustrations, heartbreak, devastation, political wars, defeats and championship.  If Mr. Most had been my instructor during my school years, perhaps history would have appealed to me.  The author brings history to life with insights in to the feelings of the men who were filled with passion and urgency to bring a subway to their towns.  He give life to all of the characters, from the workers who spent many tedious hours chipping away at the underground tunnels to the corporate giants who provided funding.

I found this book surprisingly fascinating.  Doug Most displays an excellent writing style which made the book nearly seamless as it changed to different years and characters.  The book has, obviously, been thoroughly researched, which paves a way for the reader to feel as though they have been plopped right  down in the middle of the late 1800s to early 1900s.  I not only enjoyed the story, I learned quite a bit about the history of the United States from a unique standpoint.  This was a story of hard times, of frustrations and crushing disappointments.  It was a victory and a tragedy rolled into one.  Mostly, it was a fantastic tale of perseverance and believing in our dreams.  I would recommend this book to anyone with even a slight interest in the building of capital America and the sheer genius of the human mind.

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