“The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro” at MLK Library 8/26

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From DCPL:

“The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro”

Tuesday, August 26, at 7 p.m. in the Great Hall. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library

his talk should be fascinating to anyone interested in Metro, or in the city itself, or more broadly, in how public transit decisions are made. Besides all that, I’m expecting it to be very entertaining, because the book certainly is.

My first thought on looking into Professor Schwag’s book was that it was very densely packed with information (which it is) and might not be a fun read–but it is also that! I’ve found so many wonderful stories in it, that I think it’s safe to say that you will learn a lot, and also are likely to find something that will surprise you, or make you laugh out loud, no matter where you open the book.

An example is this comparison on page 142 of building Metro to the building of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, through permafrost, mountains, and tundra:

“Metro’s builders faced a challenge equal and opposite to that of their pipeline counterparts….As workers in Alaska built 800 miles of pipeline through wilderness all but uninhabited by humans, workers in Washington took up the challenge of pushing 100 miles of rapid transit through a long-settled region densely populated by lawyers.”

Actually, though I’m still chuckling over that line, other parts of The Great Society Subway have already made me realize we all owe a great debt to those lawyers and other activists, for helping us get Metro instead of a spaghetti bowl of highways in DC, and for pushing needed improvements to Metro, like elevators to serve people with mobility problems. (One Metro official seriously proposed training wheelchair riders to use the escalators, balancing on two wheels!)

The more I read, the more I came to realize that no one who wanted to truly understand Washington DC as it is today could do so without reading this book.

The author, Zachary M. Schrag, has a gift for imparting knowledge packaged in details that make the story come alive; I’m looking forward to his talk!”

4 Comment

  • Ah this looks interesting i want to go!

  • Thanks for posting! I’ll probably go to this!

  • Thanks for posting! I may share this with my book club. I’m glad you included an excerpt so we weren’t scared away by something too didactic

  • I read this a few years ago. It is an excellent read. I can’t make it because of work, sadly. But, anyone who is interested in how the Metro came to be should read this book (and meet the author)!

    The author should write a supplement explaining the long(er) term effects of original planning decisions and incorporate an explanation of the Silver Line development.

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