The Road Taken: The History and Future of America's Infrastructure

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9781632863607: The Road Taken: The History and Future of America's Infrastructure

Renowned historian and engineer Henry Petroski explores the past, present, and future of America's crumbling infrastructure.

Physical infrastructure in the United States is crumbling. The American Society of Civil Engineers has, in its latest report, given American roads and bridges a grade of D and C+, respectively, and has described roughly sixty-five thousand bridges in the United States as "structurally deficient." This crisis--and one need look no further than the I-35W bridge collapse in Minnesota to see that it is indeed a crisis--shows little sign of abating short of a massive change in attitude amongst politicians and the American public.

In The Road Taken, acclaimed historian Henry Petroski explores our core infrastructure from historical and contemporary perspectives and explains how essential their maintenance is to America’s economic health. Recounting the long history behind America’s highway system, Petroski reveals the genesis of our interstate numbering system (even roads go east-west, odd go north-south), the inspiration behind the center line that has divided roads for decades, and the creation of such taken-for-granted objects as guardrails, stop signs, and traffic lights--all crucial parts of our national and local infrastructure. His history of the rebuilding of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge reveals the complex and challenging interplay between government and industry inherent in the conception, funding, design, and building of major infrastructure projects, while his forensic analysis of the street he lives on--its potholes, gutters, and curbs--will engage homeowners everywhere.

A compelling work of history, The Road Taken is also an urgent clarion call aimed at American citizens, politicians, and anyone with a vested interest in our economic well-being. The road we take in the next decade toward rebuilding our aging infrastructure will in large part determine our future national prosperity.

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About the Author:

Henry Petroski is the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University. He is the author of eighteen previous books, including The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance, To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design, Engineers of Dreams: Great Bridge Builders and the Spanning of America, and The Essential Engineer. He lives in North Carolina.

Review:

"Petroski provides valuable historical context to inform today’s policy debates." ―New York Times Book Review

"A thorough account of how our highway system got to be what it is." ―New York Review of Books

“A characteristically eye-opening look at America's infrastructure . . . Anyone with an interest in the way things work will want this book--and will doubtless emerge as a fan of the ever curious author.” ―starred review, Kirkus Reviews

"[Petroski] excels at revealing the origins of everyday, utilitarian things. His previous books include histories of the toothpick and the pencil, and his latest contribution bristles with fascinating details about the elements of road design we often overlook." ―Los Angeles Times

"Mr. Petroski . . . cherishes roads and bridges, and his book is a loving look at everything--materials, expertise, politics, money, culture--that goes into their creation and maintenance. It is also a passionate appeal to Americans to accept responsibility for keeping their infrastructure safe and viable. . . . A labor of love [by] a lucid writer." ―Wall Street Journal

"[Petroski] has a clear eye, a mellifluous prose style and a knack for spicing deep research with personal anecdotes." ―Washington Post

"This is vital reading." ―Booklist

"Public infrastructure is often deemed interesting only to policy wonks, but Petroski (The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance), a professor of history and civil engineering at Duke University, proves that he can make it accessible and fascinating for a wider readership. His goal is to create a more informed electorate that will weigh in with political leaders about long-standing safety issues posed by obsolete and decrepit infrastructure. But the book is more than a laundry list of trouble spots; Petroski offers historical context for today’s challenges . . . His book may well move readers to lobby their elected officials." ―Publishers Weekly

"Petroski’s goal is to ask how, given the importance of the car to the US economy and mobility, federal and state governments have allowed the country’s infrastructure to reach crisis point. But he goes beyond hand wringing. With an engineer’s technical knowledge and a historian’s eye, he offers a nuanced argument about the political, financial and engineering calculus that contributes to failures." ―Nature

"One of the clearest (and most entertaining) cases yet for why we must improve the network of roads, bridges, and highways we take for granted." ―Science

"A compelling work of history written by a guy with a feeling for the humanities and the grit of a practical engineer. (Where did people like him go?) . . . This book is your entry into revitalizing where you live by bringing politicians to task." ―The Buffalo News

"In The Road Taken: The History and Future of America’s Infrastructure, Henry Petroski, Duke professor of civil engineering and the reliably fascinating author of books about how stuff gets to be stuff, provides the backstory to the American system of roads, streets, interstates and highways. The book is never less than interesting and is often fascinating." ―Raleigh News & Observer

"Petroski brings welcome exposure to processes that, like infrastructure itself, too often hide in plain sight." ―New Yorker

"Timely and insightful . . . Petroski’s book offers a rare engineer’s perspective on a debate too often dominated by economists and politicians." - Foreign Affairs

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