The Road Taken

The Road Taken: The History and Future of America’s Infrastructure
336 pages
© 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.

Fighting Traffic, Peter Norton;  Divided Highways, Tom Lewis

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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16 Responses to The Road Taken

  1. Mudpuddle says:

    i read several Petroski's when he first started writing: about pencils, bridges and something else i forgot… he's a Chicago engineer who likes to talk… and write… it's enjoyable and boring simultaneously…oh; the history of books, i think…

  2. Stephen says:

    I saw on amazon that he has a small library of other books, most of which look interesting. One of them is “To Engineer is Human”.

  3. CyberKitten says:

    You really have a 'thing' for Infrastructure don't you… [grin]

  4. Stephen says:

    I'd blame it on SimCity, but when I was six I was thrilled to learn the pipe under our driveway was called a 'culvert'. :-p

  5. CyberKitten says:

    LOL – I had a SimCity addiction too…. I was most impressed when a Nuclear power station had a meltdown and crashed my PC! Now *that's* realism….!!

  6. Stephen says:

    Was that SimCity 2000? One trick I like using in SimCity 3000 is to put plants in the extreme corner of the map, so if they explode, 3/4s of the radiation goes offscreen. Works for pollution from coal/oil/gas as well.

  7. Mudpuddle says:

    what in the world are you all going on about? on second thought, better not answer that; us oldsters like to stay ignorant about modern stuff…

  8. CyberKitten says:

    Gaming… [grin] and I'm 56 so not exactly young!

  9. Mudpuddle says:

    young at heart, though, i'll bet… tx for the explanation…

  10. Stephen says:

    Simcity is a computer game that allows players to build infrastructure (roads, water pipes, power lines, etc) and create 'zones' that residences, businesses, and industries will grow in. As the city develops, more services (police, education, trains trains trains) can be added. Very educational, depending on the game — SimCity 3000 had lots of briefings for players to mull through — although the series threw out realism after SimCity 4. That was the last one to be remotely good.

  11. Mudpuddle says:

    i had no idea… that there were educational tools (i guess it is) like that… thank you for letting me know…

  12. CyberKitten says:

    Less of an educational tool, not quite a 'game' as such more of a game-like simulation…. and all rather addictive as you try to build a city from scratch without it being abandoned because you never really sorted out the bus service….!

  13. Stephen says:

    The fun part is utterly ruining a city with natural disasters, then trying to put the pieces back together. I did that more than a few times. (Did you ever play SimCity 4? I liked the detail, but not the 'regions'…none of the maps were large enough and I didn't like having to switch back and forth between cities.)

  14. CyberKitten says:

    I never really liked the disasters thing – too chaotic and messed up my intricate planning! Not sure what version I played. First games where in the late 80's (I remember having entire cities on the floppy disk which I found a bit mind blowing) and later played SimCity2000. I never played the online only version. A few of my friends did and I wasn't exactly inspired by their comments!

  15. Stephen says:

    My SimCity 2K cities could fit on a floppy disk — I actually still have a floppy disk labeled “SimCity cities”!

    The online version is the badly named “SimCity”. The only attractive thing I've heard about is that it adds sewage as a system you have to monitor, though it's connected to your water pipes so it's not that complicated.

    There's another cities — “Cities Skylines” and “Cities in Motion” which are similar. I'm trying to learn Cities in Motion but haven't got a lot of time to sink into it yet. CiM lets players design transit systems — bus companies, trolleys, train, that sort of thing. Basically an update of Transport Tycoon/Locomotion (by the same production team as Rollercoaster Tycoon) but with prettier graphics.

    I have Locomotion, but the graphics and controls are weird.

  16. Pingback: The City: the Index | Reading Freely

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