Book Review: 722 Miles by Clifton Hood

Author: Clifton Hood
Title: 722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster (1993)
ISBN: 067167756X


772 Miles is a thorough overview of New York City’s subway system from the opening of the Interborough Rapid Transit system in 1904, the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation in 1923, the city-operated Independent Subway System in 1932.  According to Hood there was only a decade or so of financial success for the privately owned subway companies, largely built on real estate speculation in areas of the city opened up by the subway lines.  Then began a long decline in which corporate fiscal interests tangled with public interests and the subway began to lose out to the automobile in expanding the city. Hood likes to point out that in art representing the subway in the 30’s and 40’s that people are often sleeping.  Fear of crime was not a concern in this age when subway safety was concerned more with the trains themselves going off the rails. Even the consolidation of the subways under municipal control in 1940 was a failure in Hood’s view.  This book was published in 1993 before the subways were revitalized and repopularized, so it makes me wonder that if there’s ever been a Golden Age for the New York City subway that we’re living in it right now.

This book is a bit dry and kind of business-focused as opposed to the social and cultural history of the subway, but it’s not bad for a short history.

Recommended books: Subway Style by The New York Transit Museum, Transit Maps of the World by Mark Ovenden, and Change at Park Street Under; the story of Boston’s subways by Brian J. Cudahy.
Rating: ***

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