722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York
by Clifton Hood, Simon & Schuster, 335 pages
New York’s subway system has embodied the spirit of the city, for better and for worse, since its opening in 1903. The system was proposed in 1888 by Mayor Abram S. Hewitt, a fierce nativist who saw mass transit as the only way New York’s homegrown population could escape the encroachment of foreign hordes. He would have been shocked to see the polyglot town that resulted when subway lines allowed immigrants to establish new enclaves throughout the city.
There are many aspects to the story—engineering, social, economic—and Hood covers them all. He goes into particular depth on the political details, which at times can make a New York subway map look simple and which confirm a familiar maxim about public works: As hard as they are to design and build, keeping them going is often an even bigger challenge. Hood’s book will be instructive not only to New Yorkers and transit buffs but to anyone interested in our nation’s infrastructure.