Kili's Reviews > The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways

The Big Roads by Earl Swift
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Nov 04, 11

Read from October 13 to November 02, 2011

I love it when a book opens my eyes....

When I was in high school, computers (what we now call "mainframes") were well on their way of transforming how business and science was done (government took some time). I got interested in computers, and my professional life has been tied to the growth and impact of this technology.

When my dad was in high school, aviation and automobiles were well on their way of transforming peoples lives and the world we lived in. He got interested in aviation, and his profession life was tied to the growth and impact of this technology.

I never put these two facts together until I read this book.

Further, I grew up in a time when downtowns have always been dying or being revived by superhuman efforts, where commuting and traffic jams have always been problems to be addressed, and where physical activity has always been declining. I had no idea how much of this is due to the interstate highway system.

The book is eye-opening on so many levels. It gives a clear story of the cultural horizon of automobiles - certainly as large if not larger than computation - and how it impact government policy (often running behind trying to catch up with public desires and partnerships). It shows what happens when engineers - and I'm an engineer - get to define public policy. I had no idea how some values I hold (environmentalism, slow food movement, reaction against widespread franchising) is beholden to the interstate highway system. I remember, just barely, the opening of the interstate between my parents' house and my aunt's house in San Diego, and remember when I-5 opened between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and didn't appreciate what this meant, in the larger picture.

And, I learned why the FHWA lab I visited a few months ago is called the Turner-Fairbank lab, and why the exhibit you first see is about how to build highway bridges more cheaply.

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