The Race Underground



TO READ IN 2014!”

Sam Roberts in The New York Times said, “Mr. Most weaves together the egos, political hurdles and other daunting challenges in a sweeping narrative of late-19th-century intrigue.” The Economist raved, “Doug Most’s meticulously researched history reveals that getting the subways built was more a collaborative than a competitive effort.” Kirkus Reviews said, “It’s a story of blizzards and fires, gas explosions and dynamite blasts, of trenches tortuously dug, of sewer and water pipes rerouted and cemeteries excavated, of political infighting, of turnstiles and ticket-taking, of ingenious solutions to staggering problems.”

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Meet the filmmaker making the documentary about America’s first subways, featuring ‘The Race Underground’

Posted on 09/23/15

When you’ve spent 18 months traveling from libraries to book stores to senior centers to colleges, high schools and conventions talking about one thing – in my case, subways – it can, believe it or not, start to get old. That’s not to say I don’t get a kick out of talking about “The Race Underground” anymore, because I do, and the best part is always the give-and-take with the people who came out to hear me. Still, I’m only human.

But I recently had the experience of sitting down and talking about subways for six straight hours, in a creaky old wooden chair, to a single person, in a building that dates back to the Civil War. And I didn’t mind it one bit. In fact it was sort of awesome. That’s because I was sitting in the Commander’s Mansion in Watertown, across from Michael Rossi. Michael is an acclaimed documentary filmmaker who was commissioned by “American Experience” to make a film about the first subways in this country for PBS. That documentary will feature my research for “The Race Underground” and include, hopefully, a few minutes from those 6 hours of Michael interviewing me.

Just to be clear, his film is not a documentary version of my book. Rather it’s a book about subways and their history in America. My book will be a featured part of the film. And judging by the pages and pages of research that Michael and the coordinating producer on the film, Melissa Pollard, brought to our interview, they know as much about this subject as I do. You would think after 18 months of questions from readers, I would have heard just about every question imaginable. But as Michael and I sat and talked, he asked some questions that really forced me to think about subways and their importance to urban life in ways I hadn’t previously considered. It was the most fun a guy could have talking about 19th century urban renewal!

I wanted to take a moment to share some background on Michael. We’ve had a chance to talk a few times now and it’s a huge thrill to know that he was chosen to make this film. I’ve spent some time watching clips of his various works, and I watched the entirety of “The Rise and Fall of Penn Station” a documentary about the construction of Pennsylvania Station and the various tunnels in New York. It is, in a word, awesome. So here is some background on Michael:

MICHAEL ROSSI is an independent producer of documentary film and non-fiction television who has spent the last fifteen years producing, directing, shooting, and editing on a variety of programs for public television. In 2012, Rossi received an Emmy Award in the category Best New Approaches for a Children’s Series for his work as Coordinating Producer of the engineering series DESIGN SQUAD. His production credits for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE include: Building the Alaska Highway, The Gold Rush (winner of the 2007 Erik Barnouw Award), We Shall Remain, a five-part television series and multimedia project on Native American history, The Rise and Fall of Penn Station, and The Bombing of Wall Street, which premieres soon on PBS. He also served as embedded filmmaker for the 2011 Student Freedom Ride, and in 2014, produced three films for Freedom Summer @ 50, featuring individuals who participated in the events of 1964′s Freedom Summer. Rossi’s credits for FRONTLINE include The Silence, a thirty-minute documentary, which traces the healing between the small, Yup’ik village of St. Michael, Alaska and the Catholic Church in the devastating aftermath of sexual abuse perpetrated by priests in the 1960s and 1970s.

A graduate of the B.A./M.A. program in U.S. History at Boston College, Rossi’s career at PBS began in the Educational Programming department at WGBH. In addition to public television, he has done a variety of production work on feature films, television shows, music videos, and commercials. His work as a cinematographer is exhibited in the documentary films Before You Know Itand The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano. His first independent feature-length documentary is also in production. The Master Palindromist follows Barry Duncan, a self-proclaimed master of reversibility, who is honing his skills in an effort to reassess his life, and possibly change the world.

Like I said, his track record speaks for itself. What made our day in Watertown so much fun was that it never felt like an interview or work, but more like a conversation. A chat between two guys fascinated by history, and our subways, and their impact on society, both then and to this day. We talked about Henry and William Whitney and William Barclay Parsons and Frank Julian Sprague and former New York Mayor Abram Hewitt and mankind’s fear of the underground and the methods by which tunnels were constructed and so much more, all subjects I wrote about. Did I mention we talked for six hours?

Somewhere in there we had a nice lunch outside on a patio at the mansion, with the film crew, before going back inside to continue the chat on camera. (A side note: I wrestled painfully before the interview with my attire. Black suit or gray? Blue shirt or light purple? Solid or stripes? Tie or no tie? These are important decisions, people!)

The making of this documentary, just like the making of my book, won’t happen overnight. Or in a month. Or two. It will take time to produce it, to edit it, to polish it, and I have no idea when it will eventually appear on PBS. It won’t be next week. So for now, I will just continue to post updates as I learn them. And enjoy the ride.

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Tale of Two Book Covers: Race Underground vs. Devil in The White City

Posted on 08/11/15

Short post. I read today that Leonardo DiCaprio was cast in the lead role for the Martin Scorsese-directed “The Devil in the White City,” the movie being made off of Erik Larson’s tremendous tale of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

When I wrote “The Race Underground,” Larson’s book was one that I re-read, because I enjoyed his structure so much, alternating chapters between two characters. My book unfolded in a similar, but not identical manner, with alternating sections between Boston and New York.

But the other similarity, as many readers have since pointed out to me, was the cover. When I first saw the design of my cover, I immediately pulled out a copy of Devil, a cover that I loved. Even if my book didn’t achieve a fraction of the success that Larson’s did, at least I can pretend it had some comparable qualities. Right? And hey, in case Leonardo is listening . . .


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My other book . . . And lessons learned

Posted on 08/10/15

heartsI recently received a check in the mail (a very small check, it should be noted), followed by a note on Twitter that have stirred me to post something about an earlier chapter in my life.

Fifteen years before I wrote about trains and subways and tunnels and Boston and New York in The Race Underground, I wrote another book about a very different subject, but one that is still sadly just as relevant today as it was back in 2000. That book was called “Always In Our Hearts.” And it was a horrifically sad story about two teenagers from comfortable surroundings in Northern New Jersey, who came from good homes, and who did an incredibly stupid and criminal thing because they didn’t think they could talk to their parents about their problem. Then I saw this story in today’s Globe, about adolescents today having low self-esteem and how parents should handle it, and the story really came flooding back to me.

Amazingly, as I just learned, that book still sells a few copies, which explains the royalty check I got from St. Martin’s Press, enough for me to take Mimi out for dinner and perhaps one glass of wine! And then a day later, I had this conversation on Twitter:

@GlobeDougMost I just read your book, “Always in Our Hearts.”I remembered when it happened in NJ. I could not put it down. Tears in my eyes. @ClaudiaDeHaan1

@ClaudiaDeHaan1 Thanks Claudia, I still love hearing from readers on that story all these years later, an important subject.

“Always In Our Hearts” was the story of Amy Grossberg and Brian Peterson, a couple of teenagers who dated in high school like we all did. Then they went off to separate colleges, like we all did. But they had a secret. Amy was pregnant. And she was terrified about how her parents would react, because in her mind, as I wrote and reported, her parents saw her as the perfect child who could do no wrong, and who certainly was not having sex. The details are not important now, but what happened next is: Amy and Brian kept their secret, from friends, from family, from everyone, and the ending was tragic.

A baby’s life lost. Two bright kids arrested and charged with premeditated murder. And two families devastated.

This was a time before I was married, before I had kids. But there were a lot of lessons I learned in writing that book that remain strong with me today, now that I have two kids, and as I read that Globe article today.

The most important one was this: Make sure that your kids know it’s OK to fail. They are going to fail. They are going to screw up. We did. They will. But the most important thing for them to know is that when they do screw up, they have to tell you. Because you won’t push them away. You’ll embrace them even stronger. Amy Grossberg’s first reaction was to not tell her parents. And she has to live with that decision for the rest of her life.




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