Earl Swift’s BIG ROADS — a good read for lovers of the American road

Big Roads, by Earl Swift, is a fine history of the US highway system as it evolved from mud trails to interstates.   Along the way, the system changed from privately developed named highways like The National Old Trails Road and the Lincoln Highway to the federal/state U.S. Highway system (the Route 66 era) before it became today’s interstate system.  The book describes how the hard work of dedicated engineers and community leaders – sometimes in conflict with each other – resulted in both a fine highway network AND a growing realization of the human and ecological cost of highways.

Although George R. Stewart wrote several of the first American Highway books, including U.S. 40, he isn’t mentioned in Swift’s book.  But his ideas — that highways should travel through rather than over the land, and that travelers benefit by visiting  the communities along the old highways, a mile or two from the offramp (an idea taken up beautifully by William Least Heat Moon in Blue Highways and embellished, with the help of Frank Brusca in Roads to Quoz) — are similar to the ideas Swift lays down in his  last chapter.

a good read, and highly recommended for anyone interested in the history of the American roads, or any traveler driving those roads.

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