The Road Taken: The History and Future of America’s Infrastructure
© 2016 Henry Petroski
What, exactly, is The Road Taken? Its title declares it a history, which is mostly true. It does have a bounty of historic sketches on the creation of paved roads and interstates in the United States, along with material on the evolution of traffic lights, curbs, and sidewalks. But there are loving tributes to bridges in New York and San Francisco here, with much chatter about cantilever versus suspension. There’s even a chapter or two with a focus on finance, which is quite brave indeed — there’s a reason Jim Kunstler titled his own chapter on property taxes in Home from Nowhere, “A Mercifully Brief Chapter On A Frightening, Tedious, But Important Subject”. The ending chapter looks to the future of infrastructure, but with the exception of cement mixtures that heal themselves (cracks open and expose bacteria to water, bacteria produce limestone), that’s really more about the future of cars than roads. It’s all interesting, but the further along the reader gets the more miscellaneous it all seems. The author obviously believes that interstates and bridges are a good thing and produce jobs, but the book itself isn’t an argument. He doesn’t try to make any connections between infrastructure and economic growth; the jobs mentioned are always in building interstates.
I’d say this is for people who want to read a chapter about the history of interstates instead of a whole book. It’s right between the chapter on asphalt and the chapter on stop signs.