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On Roads: A Hidden History

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  115 ratings  ·  17 reviews
In this history of roads and what they have meant to the people who have driven them, one of Britain's favourite cultural historians reveals how a relatively simple road system turned into a maze-like pattern of roundabouts, flyovers, clover-leafs and spaghetti junctions.

Using a unique blend of travel writing, anthropology, history and social observation, he explores how B
Hardcover, 312 pages
Published 2009 by Profile Books Ltd
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Ade Bailey
Jan 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
It's proving to me a bit of a long journey. I have had recent unpleasant relationships with motorways and their peripheral appendices so suffer a mild form of traumatic unease that feels like a dull miasma whenever I open the book. This is very well researched book, well written (understated, with gleams and flashes of sharp wit along the ways) mainly about motorways in the UK, but structured to raise interesting cultural perspectives 'on roads'.
I have taken to skimming it, delighted to see it
Kevin de Ataíde
Jan 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
An entertaining and informative journey through the recent history of the British road system. I do recommend, especially to those who spend long hours on the motorways.
Aug 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Towards the end of this book, Joe Moran mentions the use of pulped paperbacks as a constituent of modern road layers, for their sound-deadening qualities (plenty of unsold Mills & Boon under the M6 Toll apparently), and expresses the ambivalent hope that his own work won't suffer this fate. In fact, I found my copy in a remaindered book chain, but it deserves better anyway. If you're looking for an exhaustive or chronological history of the British road network, it isn't here. Moran mainly stick ...more
Oct 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: five-stars
Moran is just a wonderful writer. He explores the topic of roads in Britain with his left-leaning French-influenced sociologist's insight, also taking in contemporary art, popular culture, political analysis and architectural and engineering history. Moran has an eye for exceptional characters and their life stories and weaves in a few of these unintrusively. He uses his clearly extensive research masterfully, crafting beautiful prose which I think should be mentioned in the same bracket as Sinc ...more
John Kaye
Jul 11, 2018 rated it liked it
I struggled with this book: again an academic author too prolix to maintain my interest. Odd, because apart from the occasional academic jargon word, like 'intertextual', he uses ordinary language. But it feels like half a dozen articles that have been significantly padded out to make an over-long book. I know it's my perennial compliant, but it does get in the way of reading for pleasure.
Terry Clague
Aug 27, 2009 rated it liked it
A very enjoyable book - worth reading this and watching the BBC's excellent three part documentary The Secret Life of the Motorway.: . Certainly this felt like a breath of fresh air among the chuffing greenwash guff that gets pumped out in large corporations these days in their attempts to make their wage slaves feel involved in something other than their senior bosses greedy strategic machinations.

"Many Northerners will identify with Jan Struther's Mrs Miniver, who always felt a 'stab of excite
David Hebblethwaite
Nov 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
I’ve long been interested in social and cultural history, and there will always be a place on my shelves for books that illuminate the more unusual corners of history. On Roads is just such a book.

The British road system in the post-war years may not sound a particularly interesting subject for a work of history, but this is part of Moran’s point – roads are so commonplace that we hardly ever stop to think about them. What Moran suggests, however, is that the road system was a far more pragmatic
Oct 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
Just as most of us look back at the past and remark curiously that keeping bearded ladies in cages, eating veal and watching the Black and White Minstrel Show were once deemed to be innocent activities, so it will hopefully be the case that we will one day regard driving in the same way: as we sit on the edge of our own private islands amidst the terror of global apocalypse brought on by climate change that is.

This marvellous book is a classic socio-cultural history of the British M roads, full
Dec 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
A very well researched account of the early history of the British motorways and social attitudes towards them - both love and loathing. There is a fantastic chapter on the rise and fall of motorway service stations and nadir they reached in the 1970s. There is also good stuff about the road numbering system. I particularly enjoyed the account of the history of anti-roads protests from the diversion of the M1 away from Charnwood Forest and the Oxford ringroad protests in the 1950s to the Chiswic ...more
Adam Higgitt
Sep 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Technically this was published in 2009, but I claim it by virtue of the paperback edition that came out this year. On Roads is that rare achievement of a poetic and fascinating study of that most mundane of things: the motorway system and major road network of postwar Britain.  Teasing out the hidden dimensions to the mundane is in fact Moran’s USP as a historian, and his study ranges across (along?) the road, both as cultural artefact and as spine of the everyday Britain he wants to get beneath ...more
Derek Bridge
Feb 07, 2015 rated it liked it
I like books like this one. I'm reminded of Tom Standage's history of the world through its drinking habits (A History of the World in Six Glasses). The scope of Moran's books is narrower: a history of roads in twentieth century Britain. But, with surprising lyricism, Moran uses his subject matter as a launching pad for meditations on aspects of our humanity and aspects of Britishness. Along the way, there is fun to be had, with interesting facts and figures. For example, I was surprised to read ...more
Steve Chilton
Dec 27, 2014 rated it liked it
Certainly a well researched book, and I use that as praise rather than a sort of put-down. It does mostly focus on the motorway system, tracking its roots, history, development and even trying to nail its possible future. It is also well written in a very readable style. I found it a good mix of cultural reference and love/hate affair with something we mostly take for take for granted as we go about our lives.
Nov 11, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A very well researched and written account of the peculiar British road network. Mainly focussing on the motorway system, it tracks its roots, history, troubled development and possible future. This is an unusual book and well worth reading for the insightful glimpse into our country's cultural association, affinity and distaste of the many miles of tarmac we take for granted each day.
Catherine  Mustread
Jun 29, 2009 marked it as to-read
Recommended to Catherine by: Traffic blog 062908
Shelves: non-fiction
from How We Drive, the Blog of Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt: "It’s expansive, unexpected cultural history and in some ways an ideal companion volume to Traffic" ...more
Oct 17, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
found a lot of my interests included all together on one lovely package. Well written collection of thoughts on roads, cars, there inventions and the cultural impact they have made on our lives. Recommended
Steve Gillway
Moran is expert in making the banal and mundane extremely interesting. Loads of asides, anecdotes, cultural references, biographical data as well as the history make it a great read.
Jul 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I did eventually finish this fascinating book. It's a dip in and out but a really interesting read if you like this sort of history
Cathy Jacob
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“Every year, more than 120,000 new books are published in Britain, creating millions of volumes that will never be opened, let alone read. Many of these unread books are shredded into tiny fibre pellets called bitumen modifier, which can beused to make roads, holding the blacktop in place and doubling up as a sound absorber. A mile of motorway consumes about 50,000 books. The M6 Toll Road used up two-and-a-half million old Mills and Boon novels, romantic dreams crushed daily by juggernauts...Having your unread books vanish into the authorless anonymity of a road feels pleasingly melancholic, like having your ashes scattered in a vast ocean.” 1 likes
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