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The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry That Built America’s First Subway

3.58  ·  Rating Details ·  865 Ratings  ·  176 Reviews
In the late nineteenth century, as cities like Boston and New York grew more congested, the streets became clogged with plodding, horse-drawn carts. When the great blizzard of 1888 crippled the entire northeast, a solution had to be found. Two brothers from one of the nation's great families-Henry Melville Whitney of Boston and William Collins Whitney of New York-pursued t ...more
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published February 4th 2014 by St. Martin's Press
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I won this book as a Goodreads "first reads" giveaway and was excited to get into this one as I thought it would be to my likings; an interesting subject, a competitive backstory with political innuendo, a host of turn of the century power broker types all with an angle to work. Unfortunately for me, the book just never hit on all cylinders. There were places I found interesting tidbits but as a whole I wasn't captivated to the level of enthusiasm I had for the Eric Larson books that the marketi ...more
I won this book in exchange for an honest review.

I unfortunately could not bring myself to finish this book.

I found several challenges with this book. Of what I have read, I have found this book to be fraught with convoluted chapters, a multitude of secondary characters who appear for no more than one chapter and absolutely no flow. The author will begin a chapter and I would find myself saying, what does this have to do with anything? In a way I can applaud Mr. Most's use of detailed historica
Rachel Jackson
Feb 14, 2014 Rachel Jackson rated it did not like it
The marketing blurb for The Race Underground, a book I won in a Goodreads advanced reading giveaway, sets up a historical thriller nonfiction novel, almost, on par with Erik Larson and his reporting and narration of important historical events with a flair for creating interesting characters. Well, I hated what little of Erik Larson I have read, and I was disappointed by Doug Most's book in the exact same way. Like Larson, Most's book has a general disconnect of events, shoddy writing and poor p ...more
Jul 29, 2014 Rick rated it it was ok
Doug Most tried to tell what could have been an epic story but turns it into a muddled story which focuses more on the politics of building the first subway then on the great engineering story which it was. He says in one sentence what he misses when he says how the great failure of the London subway was that it was not copied for 30 years. This makes for a weak story from could have been epic. It does make some great points along the way which raised my hope, for example when he talks about the ...more
Aug 03, 2014 Sam rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Doug Most's history is solidly founded, but The Race Underground is burdened by unnecessary pretensions to tension and superfluous human-interest flourishes that seek to emotionalize a titanic tale of infrastructure but just get in the way.

Firstly, the incredible rivalry advertised in the subtitle doesn't stand up over the book's 416 pages. New York City and Boston both sought solutions to overcrowded, polluted streets. In the same roughly 60-year span they made halting progress towards the day
Feb 02, 2015 Viridian5 rated it it was ok
The book was an interesting read but I felt that its title really misrepresented its contents. A race? It took decades for each city to get its subway from its first public statement to its first shovel in the ground, and each city, especially New York, tried several other options before they basically reached a point where an electric subway was the only option to fix their traffic and population growth problems. Various obstacles mostly came about through someone or group's greed, self-interes ...more
Mar 22, 2014 Andrea rated it it was amazing
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 wo ...more
Feb 20, 2014 Howard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Growing up in Boston, I spent the better part of my youth riding the "T" - starting in the early 50's right until I graduated college in the mid-60's. I loved the subways and found the maze of underground, elevated and surface lines a fascinating way to get around and see different parts of the city. For a pittance (a dime I think) I could ride around all day and go from bus to elevated to subway to trolly and back again. Wow. A lot of fun for a 10 year old exploring on his own (if only my paren ...more
I was pretty disappointed with this book. I find the subject matter very interesting (the development of the subway systems in Boston and, especially, New York) and really wish this had been a better book. The book includes excerpts from reviews (as many books do) and one reviewer from The New York Times compared it to David McCullough's The Great Bridge and Erik Larson's Devil in the White City. Unfortunately, it's more Larson than McCullough.

Author Doug Most seems too interested in letting us
Gary Van Cott
Mar 05, 2015 Gary Van Cott rated it liked it
This book was mentioned in an Alumni magazine I get. I was surprised to find that our library system had several copies. It is the first non-fiction book I have read in ages (I usually read mysteries set outside the US). This book is ok, but has several deficiencies. The principal one is the lack of any maps or graphics. How you can exclude them from a book which includes street railways, elevated trains and finally the subways is a real mystery. They are easy to produce these days. I also found ...more
Jan 06, 2014 Brian rated it really liked it
The race underground covers the history of the first subways in America which centers around Boston and New York. A rivalry of two brothers growing up at the height of the gilded age would bring for the luminaries in public policy, urban revitalization and science to develop an electric based mass transit system to improve life in both cities. From the crowded world of horse drawn streetcars, elevated rail lines and carriages came the vision for a public funded (but privately administered) subwa ...more
Jon Frum
Jan 20, 2015 Jon Frum rated it it was ok
As a fan of Boston history, I looked to this book for its Boston-centric content, and as such, I may be different than the average reader. I have to agree with the negative reviewers here, in that the book is a jumble of stories, not all particularly well told. I did learn something about the building of Boston's subway, but I was left with the feeling that I had missed much of the story. For instance, a map of the downtown Boston horsecar system would have been nice, at a minimum. Little was sa ...more
Dec 30, 2014 Brandi rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Doug Most's "The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry That Built America's First Subway" covers an interesting period in history, when major cities were looking to find other modes of transportation to serve their citizens due to congestion and limited places to leave carts. The two Whitney brothers decided to look underground for a solution, and the subway was born.
The book almost felt disconnected at times. It could have flowed better, as it was choppy and hard to
Robert Melnyk
Mar 19, 2014 Robert Melnyk rated it really liked it
Fascinating story about the building of the Boston and New York City subways. The book deals with the history leading up to the construction of the subways, including all the technical/scientific battles waged as to what was a better way to go, subway, vs. elevated trains, vs. cable cars, etc. It also details all the political infighting that goes on with these types of decisions, and describes all the various people involved in making such a massive undertaking a reality. Very interesting book, ...more
Feb 22, 2014 Shawn rated it liked it
Full disclosure: I received a free ARC of the book from the publisher.

It's a competent book, but not necessarily an engrossing one. I never really got any sense of sustained dramatic tension. This is partly a result of the structure, which is somewhat jumbled. But more than that, it just isn't a fundamentally dramatic story. There weren't apparently insurmountable engineering problems in either city, and in no sense did they "race" each other to finish a subway first. (In fact, the process in bo
Mar 24, 2015 Michael rated it liked it
Ever read a good book that just seem to be all over the place.
If not and you wold like to then this is the book for you.
I did enjoy the story but it felt like it was not focused, as if threw everything and everyone that was a thing at the time in to the story. I felt like I was in mid 1800's late 1800's and the 1902 from sentence to sentence.
I enjoyed the pace and the story but really felt like it could have been better at focusing on the main story.
Jennifer Marie
Mar 07, 2015 Jennifer Marie rated it it was amazing
I found this book totally fascinating and very interesting. I rarely read nonfiction, but when I do it tends to be this type a historical book. This was even more fascinating for me because I live in Boston. Worth reading if you like history!
Jul 13, 2016 Amanda marked it as didn-t-finish
Interesting material, but too dry. Even by my standards.
Ian Figurski
Nov 30, 2015 Ian Figurski rated it really liked it
In the biographical novel, The Race Underground, by Doug Most, Mr. Most explains and interprets the daily life during the early 1900s and during the making of the first subways this country has known since. His main purpose for writing this book was to show the readers how much effort and time these people took to make these new ways of transportation that we still use today. He said in an interview, that within a twelve month period the inventions of the train, plane, and the automobile came t ...more
Ashley Mckechan
The book I chose was The Race Underground by Doug Most. The story follows the rivalry between Boston and New York and their push to have the best transportation. The events of this led to America’s first subway.
The author purpose for the story was to educate audiences with different stories that led to the creation of the subway. Most starts his story from the first idea of the subway to the completion of the first one. The story is told three parts that starts from 1867 to 2012. Most uses thir
3.5 - Incredibly detailed history of how it took over 30 years for the subways in Boston and New York to be built and all the different characters who played a part in making it happen. For anyone who has been in a city where public transportation has taken YEARS to get through a decision, they will appreciate how it is never the technology that is the's politics, public will and some magic about the right people at the right time!
Jul 19, 2014 Kathleen rated it really liked it
I picked up this book because I have lived in Boston and now live across the Hudson River from NYC. My first experience with subways was the London Underground when I was in Britain during my junior year abroad. Amazing system. And, the escalators that go down, down, down to the trains. Then, back to the USA and school in Boston. What, there are only two cars - the GREEN LINE. The RED LINE has many cars! Very simple system. I do remember riding the Green Line E train to Harvard Medical School - ...more
Gary Braham
Jan 29, 2014 Gary Braham rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I won a advanced copy of the book through the Good Reads First Reads program. It contained some minor typo's, that I imagine will be fixed when the book officially debuts.

I would compare this book very favorably to other's of this genre. I recently read "The Great Bridge" by David McCullough, a two time Pullitzer prize winner, and these books are very similar in skill and style. It spells a bright future for Most, who is publishing his first book in this genre.

The book spans some 50 years of hi
Mar 18, 2014 Karen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bookshelf
I finished this book several days ago and started another one immediately so I forgot to post my review. This is one of the most extensively researched books I have read that is not about a single person. The lives of those involved in the creation of the subway systems in Boston and New York are as fascinating as the actual technology to create and build the underground systems. Doug Most does a masterful job presenting the lives and passions and inventiveness of entrepreneurs, scientists, engi ...more
Dec 03, 2014 Kay rated it it was ok
After reading this book, I'm caught between two thoughts: First, that the need for an underground railway public transit system is so obvious that it's confusing why it took so long for America's cities to begin building them. Second, that the process of building such a system is so expensive, complicated, plagued by political corruption, tedious and time consuming that it's any wonder such systems were ever built at all.

Most addresses this in his epilogue, but a similar comparison could be mad
Mar 10, 2016 Bookworm rated it it was ok
This was really boring. As a many-time user of public transportation and being familiar with Boston, this sounded like an interesting read about the first subway in the US. New York vs. Boston (what's new, right?), is a rivalry we know in sports, but seeing it through the eyes of building the first subway sounded a lot more interesting to me.

Unfortunately, it wasn't. It really wasn't about the rivalry itself, but the people involved. Which is fine, but the front cover shouldn't have made it abou
May 06, 2014 Joseph rated it really liked it
Shelves: personal-copy
This is a fascinating history of the development of the Boston and New York subways, a long and tortured tale. This book will appeal to history buffs, urban planners, science and engineering geeks, and fans of Beantown and the Big Apple.

Who knew that one of the great challenges was convincing people to descend underground, a place they associated with the dead? Who knew that Boston construction actually met obstacles when crews encountered hundreds of bodies and tombs under the Common? Who knew
Aug 13, 2014 Eric rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry That Built America's First Subway is a sizable book that promises a lot of drama. The back cover tells you this is about a "Great American Saga" of "Two rival cities, two brothers, both with plans to build a subway underground. Who will be first?" Doug Most does a thorough job of explaining pre-subway New York and Boston and the many (and I mean many) false starts and di
Mark Schlatter
Dec 07, 2015 Mark Schlatter rated it really liked it
Shelves: shreve, new_book_area
It is hard for me to resist a good piece of nonfiction on building something big. Most does a good job of covering the construction of both the Boston and New York subway systems as well as the huge cast of characters involved.

A few things that I really liked:
1) Most puts as much emphasis on the politics of building a subway as the engineering --- if not more. In the late nineteenth century, most transit systems (omnibuses, streetcars, etc...) were privately owned. But Most clearly shows that no
Mar 06, 2014 Mythili rated it it was ok
When Alfred Beach described the idea of an underground urban train system in 1849 in Scientfic American, he was ridiculed. “It’s better to wait for the Devil than to make roads down into hell,” as one critic put it.

Nearly fifteen years later, when London’s Underground opened in 1863, Americans still weren’t entirely taking the idea seriously. An underground train system seemed like a useful—and lucrative—proposition, but no one had managed to muster the leadership or funding for an equivalent sy
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