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‘The Race Underground’ wins 2015 Massachusetts Book Award

Posted by on 2:58 pm in Uncategorized | 0 comments

This is exciting stuff. The Massachusetts Book Awards have been announced and ‘The Race Underground’ was named one of the five must-reads of 2015. It’s a terrific list to be a part of and news like this never gets old — even 18 months after the hardcover came out, and 4 months after the paperback!

Michael Blanding, The Map Thief (Gotham Books)
Michael M. Greenburg, The Court-Martial of Paul Revere (ForeEdge)
Fred Kaplan, John Quincy Adams (Harper)
Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction (Henry Holt)
Doug Most, The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry that Built America’s First Subway (St Martin’s)
Jennifer Taub, Other People’s Houses (Yale UP)

6th mapthief revere

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Gotham Center for New York City History to host talk on ‘The Race Underground’ and America’s subway history

Posted by on 8:44 pm in Uncategorized | 0 comments

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I have an event coming April 29 I am especially excited about.

In writing “The Race Underground” I built up my own mini-library at home, with approximately 50 to 60 books. Some I only cracked once or twice, others I opened a dozen times, and then there were those that were kept open constantly on my desk. By the time I was done writing, so many pages had been dog-eared, and the cover so tattered, it looked like the book had been through the washing machine.
That was my experience with “Gotham“, the Pulitzer Prize-winning tome by Mike Wallace and Edwin Burrows. It’s an amazing account of the city’s history up to the year 1898, so rich in detail and narrative storytelling it’s easy to forget just how long it is (oh, about 1,500 pages!). 51A0v0-vafL 2

On April 29, from 6:30-8 p.m., I’ll be speaking and signing copies of ‘The Race Underground’ at the Gotham Center for New York City History, which was founded by Wallace back in 2000. From their website, here are the details:

The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry That Built America’s First Subway
Wednesday, April 29, 6:30-8 PM
Skylight Room

In the 19th century, cities like Boston and New York grew congested with plodding, horse-drawn carts. When the great blizzard of 1888 crippled the entire northeast, a solution had to be found. Two brothers from one of the nation’s great families—Henry Melville Whitney of Boston and William Collins Whitney of New York—pursued the dream of digging America’s first subway, and the race was on. Doug Most chronicles the story, as exciting as any ripped from the pages of history. The Race Underground is a great American saga of two rival American cities, their rich, powerful, and sometimes corrupt interests, and an invention that changed the lives of millions.

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Can You Pass Thomas Edison’s Intelligence Test? Um, No.

Posted by on 3:59 pm in Uncategorized | 0 comments

spragueresignsYou think your boss is tough. Thomas Edison must have been brutal.

Edison plays an important role in “The Race Underground.” He’s a brief mentor to a key character, Frank Julian Sprague, a brilliant engineer from Connecticut who spends one frustrating year working for Edison in Menlo Park, New Jersey, before leaving and going on to invent the electric motor that would be used on street trolleys around the country. One of my favorite moments researching my book was holding the very short resignation letter that Sprague wrote to Edison, which is on hand at the New York Public Library (and pictured here).

Edison had a 146-question quiz (yes, 146!) for anyone who came to work for him, mostly trivia questions completely unrelated to the work that went on in his shop and surely designed to humble anyone who thought they might overshadow or outsmart the Wizard of Menlo Park. The quiz questions leaked out in the New York Times in 1921. Were they hard? Um, Albert Einstein reportedly failed the quiz when he couldn’t recall the speed of sound. Duh! (761 miles per hour, give or take, FYI)

Instead of watching the next “House of Cards” episode on Netflix, spend an hour taking this quiz. Go ahead, use Google all you want. Or just cheat all the way and scroll to the bottom. The New York Times was kind enough to answer all the questions.

QUESTIONS

1. What countries bound France?

2. What city and country produce the finest china?

3. Where is the River Volga?

4. What is the finest cotton grown?

5. What country consumed the most tea before the war?

6. What city in the United States leads in making laundry machines?

7. What city is the fur centre of the United States?

8. What country is the greatest textile producer?

9. Is Australia greater than Greenland in area?

10. Where is Copenhagen?

11. Where is Spitzbergen?

12. In what country other than Australia are kangaroos found?

13. What telescope is the largest in the world?

14. Who was Bessemer and what did he do?

15. How many states in the Union?

16. Where do we get prunes from?

17. Who was Paul Revere?

18. Who was John Hancock?

19. Who was Plutarch?

20. Who was Hannibal?

21. Who was Danton?

22. Who was Solon?

23. Who was Francis Marion?

24. Who was Leonidas?

25. Where did we get Louisiana from?

26. Who was Pizarro?

27. Who was Bolivar?

28. What war material did Chile export to the Allies during the war?

29. Where does most of the coffee come from?

30. Where is Korea?

31. Where is Manchuria?

32. Where was Napoleon born?

33. What is the highest rise of tide on the North American Coast?

34. Who invented logarithms?

35. Who was the Emperor of Mexico when Cortez landed?

36. Where is the Imperial Valley and what is it noted for?

37. What and where is the Sargasso Sea?

38. What is the greatest known depth of the ocean?

39. What is the name of a large inland body of water that has no outlet?

40. What is the capital of Pennsylvania?

41. What state is the largest? Next?

42. Rhode Island is the smallest state. What is the next and the next?

43. How far is it from New York to Buffalo?

44. How far is it from New York to San Francisco?

45. How far is it from New York to Liverpool?

46. Of what state is Helena the capital?

47. Of what state is Tallahassee the capital?

48. What state has the largest copper mines?

49. What state has the largest amethyst mines?

50. What is the name of a famous violin maker?

51. Who invented the modern paper-making machine?

52. Who invented the typesetting machine?

53. Who invented printing?

54. How is leather tanned?

55. What is artificial silk made from?

56. What is a caisson?

57. What is shellac?

58. What is celluloid made from?

59. What causes the tides?

60. To what is the change of the seasons due?

61. What is coke?

62. From what part of the North Atlantic do we get codfish?

63. Who reached the South Pole?

64. What is a monsoon?

65. Where is the Magdalena Bay?

66. From where do we import figs?

67. From where do we get dates?

68. Where do we get our domestic sardines?

69. What is the longest railroad in the world?

The Trans-Siberian.

70. Where is Kenosha?

71. What is the speed of sound?

72. What is the speed of light?

73. Who was Cleopatra and how did she die?

74. Where are condors found?

75, Who discovered the law of gravitation?

76. What is the distance between the earth and sun?

77. Who invented photography?

78. What country produces the most wool?

79. What is felt?

80. What cereal is used in all parts of the world?

81. What states produce phosphates?

82. Why is cast iron called pig iron?

83. Name three principal acids?

84. Name three powerful poisons.

85. Who discovered radium?

86. Who discovered the X-ray?

87. Name three principal alkalis.

88. What part of Germany do toys come from?

89. What States bound West Virginia?

90. Where do we get peanuts from?

91. What is the capital of Alabama?

92. Who composed “Il Trovatore”?

93. What is the weight of air in a room 20 by 30 by 10?

94. Where is platinum found?

95. With what metal is platinum associated when found?

96. How is sulphuric acid made?

97. Where do we get sulphur from?

98. Who discovered how to vulcanize rubber?

99. Where do we import rubber from?

100. What is vulcanite and how is it made?

101. Who invented the cotton gin?

102. What is the price of 12 grains of gold?

103. What is the difference between anthracite and bituminous coal?

104. Where do we get benzol from?

105. Of what is glass made?

106. How is window glass made?

107. What is porcelain?

108. What country makes the best optical lenses and what city?

109. What kind of a machine is used to cut the facets of diamonds?

110. What is a foot pound?

111. Where do we get borax from?

112. Where is the Assuan Dam?

113. What star is it that has been recently measured and found to be of enormous size?

114. What large river in the United States flows from south to north?

115. What are the Straits of Messina?

116. What is the highest mountain in the world?

117. Where do we import cork from?

118. Where is the St. Gothard tunnel?

119. What is the Taj Mahal?

120. Where is Labrador?

121. Who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner”?

122. Who wrote “Home, Sweet Home”?

123. Who was Martin Luther?

124. What is the chief acid in vinegar?

125. Who wrote “Don Quixote”?

126. Who wrote “Les Miserables”?

127. What place is the greatest distance below sea level?

128. What are axe handles made of?

129. Who made “The Thinker”?

130. Why is a Fahrenheit thermometer called Fahrenheit?

131. Who owned and ran the New York Herald for a long time?

132. What is copra?

133. What insect carries malaria?

134. Who discovered the Pacific Ocean?

135. What country has the largest output of nickel in the world?

136. What ingredients are in the best white paint?

137. What is glucose and how made?

138. In what part of the world does it never rain?

139. What was the approximate population of England, France, Germany and Russia before the war?

140. Where is the city of Mecca?

141. Where do we get quicksilver from?

142. Of what are violin strings made?

143. What city on the Atlantic seaboard is the greatest pottery centre?

144. Who is called the “father of railroads” in the United States?

145. What is the heaviest kind of wood?

146. What is the lightest wood?

 

ANSWERS

1. What countries bound France?

Spain, the tiny independent state of Andorra in the Pyrenees, Monaco, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Luxemburg and Belgium.

2. What city and country produce the finest china?

Some say Limoges, France; some say Severes, France; some say Dresden, Germany; some say Copenhagen, Denmark.

3. Where is the River Volga?

In Russia.

4. What is the finest cotton grown?

Sea Island cotton or Egyptian cotton, according to different experts.

5. What country consumed the most tea before the war?

Russia.

6. What city in the United States leads in making laundry machines?

Chicago.

7. What city is the fur centre of the United States?

St. Louis has been the raw fur centre until the month of April of the present year, when New York apparently eclipsed it. It is nip and tuck between the two cities, with New York leading. New York is incontestably the centre of fur manufacturing and retail selling.

8. What country is the greatest textile producer?

Great Britain is so considered, but the United States is a close competitor in volume, and may even be slightly in the lead at present day.

9. Is Australia greater than Greenland in area?

This is a catch question. Greenland looks far bigger on the square, flat maps on Mercator’s projection, which represents the world as a cylinder, exaggerating the size of areas as they approach the poles. Australia is in reality more than three times as large as Greenland.

10. Where is Copenhagen?

In Denmark.

11. Where is Spitzbergen?

In the Arctic, north of Norway.

12. In what country other than Australia are kangaroos found?

In New Guinea.

13. What telescope is the largest in the world?

That at the Mount Wilson Observatory in California.

14. Who was Bessemer and what did he do?

An English engineer. He invented a process for making steel by taking carbon out of molten iron by the air blast.

15. How many states in the Union?

Forty-eight.

16. Where do we get prunes from?

Prunes are grown in the Santa Clara Valley and elsewhere.19

17. Who was Paul Revere?

The Minute Man who spread the alarm of the British march on Lexington.

18. Who was John Hancock?

The first signer of the Declaration of Independence.

19. Who was Plutarch?

A Greek of the first and second centuries A.D., who wrote the Lives” and miscellaneous works.

20. Who was Hannibal?

The Carthaginian General who conquered most of Italy in the third century B.C.

21. Who was Danton?

A French Revolutionary orator, who was sent to the guillotine by the Committee of Terror.

22. Who was Solon?

An Athenian lawgiver, famous for twenty-three centuries for the remark to Croesus (which modern historians say he did not make) to “Count no man happy until he is dead.”

23. Who was Francis Marion?

General Marion was a principal leader of the Revolutionary forces in the Southern States.

24. Who was Leonidas?

The Spartan General who led the heroic defense of Thermopylae.

25. Where did we get Louisiana from?

By purchase from France.

26. Who was Pizarro?

The Spanish conqueror of Peru.

27. Who was Bolivar?

The hero of the South American wars of liberation from Spain.

28. What war material did Chile export to the Allies during the war?

Nitrates.

29. Where does most of the coffee come from?

From Brazil.

30. Where is Korea?

A peninsula on the northeast coast of Asia.

31. Where is Manchuria?

A northeastern province of China touching Korea.

32. Where was Napoleon born?

Ajaccio, Corsica.

33. What is the highest rise of tide on the North American Coast?

Seventy feet in the Bay of Fundy, between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

34. Who invented logarithms?

John Napier.

35. Who was the Emperor of Mexico when Cortez landed?

Montezuma.

36. Where is the Imperial Valley and what is it noted for?

In Southern California on the Mexican border, and noted for melons.

37. What and where is the Sargasso Sea?

A vast tract of seaweed floating in the North Atlantic Ocean.

38. What is the greatest known depth of the ocean?

Thirty-one thousand six hundred feet at Nero Deep, near Guam.

39. What is the name of a large inland body of water that has no outlet?

The Great Salt Lake.

40. What is the capital of Pennsylvania?

Harrisburg.

41. What state is the largest? Next?

Texas. California.

42. Rhode Island is the smallest state. What is the next and the next?

Delaware. Connecticut.

43. How far is it from New York to Buffalo?

Three hundred and ninety-six miles by the shortest route.

44. How far is it from New York to San Francisco?

Three thousand three hundred miles.

45. How far is it from New York to Liverpool?

Three thousand one hundred and sixty-seven and one-half nautical miles.

46. Of what state is Helena the capital?

Montana.

47. Of what state is Tallahassee the capital?

Florida.

48. What state has the largest copper mines?

Montana has the largest single mine in the Anaconda. The mines of Arizona have the greatest combined output.

49. What state has the largest amethyst mines?

Virginia

50. What is the name of a famous violin maker?

Stradivarius

51. Who invented the modern paper-making machine?

The major discovery was made by Robert, a Frenchman, though it is often attributed erroneously to Fourdrinier, who introduced it into England.

52. Who invented the typesetting machine?

Mergenthaler was the first to perfect a highly practical one.

53. Who invented printing?

Nobody knows. Somebody in China, Japan, or Korea. Probably first invented in Europe by Lourens Janzoon Coster of Haarlem.23

54. How is leather tanned?

By immersion in an infusion of oak or hemlock bark or other material strong in tannic acid.

55. What is artificial silk made from?

From cotton or wood pulp treated with acids and drawn into threads.

56. What is a caisson?24

An enclosure to keep water from seeping or flowing into a space where engineering operations are taking place.

57. What is shellac?25

A base for varnish made from lac, which is resinous incrustation formed on certain trees in the East Indies by an insect resembling the cochineal.

58. What is celluloid made from?

Wood pulp primarily.

59. What causes the tides?

The gravitational pull of the moon exerted powerfully on the ocean because of its fluidity, and weakly on the earth because of its comparative rigidity.

60. To what is the change of the seasons due?

To the inclination of the earth to the plane of the ecliptic. In the earth’s revolution around the sun, this causes the sun’s rays to be received at varying inclinations, with consequent variations of temperature.

61. What is coke?

Coal after the more volatile components have been driven from it by heat.

62. From what part of the North Atlantic do we get codfish?

Off the Newfoundland Banks.

63. Who reached the South Pole?

Amundsen, and then Scott.

64. What is a monsoon?

A periodic alternating wind in the Indian Ocean.

65. Where is the Magdalena Bay?

There is a Magdalena Bay in Lower California, one in Spitzbergen and one in Colombia.

66. From where do we import figs?

Mainly from the Smyrna region in Asia Minor, which was formerly Turkish but which since the war has become part of Greece.

67. From where do we get dates?

Arabia, India, North Africa, California, Arizona and elsewhere.

68. Where do we get our domestic sardines?

From Maine and California.

69. What is the longest railroad in the world?

The Trans-Siberian.26

70. Where is Kenosha?

In Wisconsin.

71. What is the speed of sound?

In dry air at freezing it travels about 1,091 feet a second. In water its speed is about 4,680 feet per second. It traveled at 11,463 feet four inches a second through an iron bar 3,000 feet long. Sound moves at a constantly diminishing rate of speed.

72. What is the speed of light?

Approximately 186,700 miles a second in a vacuum and slightly less through atmosphere.

73. Who was Cleopatra and how did she die?

She was a Queen of Egypt, a contemporary of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony and committed suicide by causing an asp to bite her.27

74. Where are condors found?

In the Andes.

75, Who discovered the law of gravitation?

Sir Isaac Newton.

76. What is the distance between the earth and sun?

93,100,000 miles.

77. Who invented photography?

Scheele, a Swede, discovered the principles about 1780 and Wedgwood, English, first applied them in June, 1802. Daguerre and Neipce, in France, produced the daguerretype, but Dr. John William Draper of New York University, in 1840, first improved it so as to make it practicable for taking the pictures of human beings.

78. What country produces the most wool?

Australia.

79. What is felt?

A clothe made from matted wool, fur or hair, by pressure, as opposed to weaving.

80. What cereal is used in all parts of the world?

No cereal is used in all parts of the world. Wheat is used most extensively, with rice and corn next.

81. What states produce phosphates?

Arkansas, Tennessee and other Southern States.

82. Why is cast iron called pig iron?

Because of a fancied resemblance of the row of channels into which the molten flows to a litter of pigs.

83. Name three principal acids?

Hydrochloric, sulphuric and nitric.

84. Name three powerful poisons.

Cyanide of potassium, strychnine and arsenic.

85. Who discovered radium?

Mme Curie in Paris in 1902.

86. Who discovered the X-ray?

Roentgen, a German, in 1895.

87. Name three principal alkalis.

Soda, potash and ammonia.

88. What part of Germany do toys come from?

Nuremburg and the Nuremburg region.

89. What States bound West Virginia?

Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.

90. Where do we get peanuts from?

California, Georgia, Virginia and other Southern States and Southern Pennsylvania.

91. What is the capital of Alabama?

Montgomery.

92. Who composed “Il Trovatore”?

Verdi.

93. What is the weight of air in a room 20 by 30 by 10?

484 86-1,000 pounds.

94. Where is platinum found?

Ural Mountains region separating Europe from Asia.

95. With what metal is platinum associated when found?

Native platinum is found alloyed with copper, iron, gold, iridium and osmium.

96. How is sulphuric acid made?

There are three commercial processes. (a) Chamber process: iron pyrites of sulphur roasted in special furnaces yield sulphur dioxide, which is collected in a lead chamber in the presence of water, oxygen or air and nitrous anhydride. (b) Catalytic or contact process: The raw materials, sulphur dioxide from burning sulphur or roasted iron pyrites and oxygen from the air, produce sulphur trioxide, which, when absorbed by water, gives sulphuric acid. Combination of sulphur dioxide and oxygen is carried on in the presence of a catlyzer, usually spongy platinum or iron oxide from pyrite burners. (c) Much sulphuric acid is made from waste gases of copper and zinc furnaces from ores rich in sulphur by the chamber process.

97. Where do we get sulphur from?

Louisiana and Texas.

98. Who discovered how to vulcanize rubber?

Charles Goodyear.

99. Where do we import rubber from?

South and Central America, Malay Peninsula, Ceylon, Borneo, Java and equatorial Africa.

100. What is vulcanite and how is it made?

A black variety of hard rubber capable of being cut and polished, made from the cheaper grades of rubber from Borneo and Java vulcanized with much sulphur.

101. Who invented the cotton gin?

Eli Whitney.

102. What is the price of 12 grains of gold?

United States Assay Office price, May 12, 1921, was 56.693 cents.

103. What is the difference between anthracite and bituminous coal?

Hard coal is anthracite; soft coal is bituminous.

104. Where do we get benzol from?

The fractional distillation of coal tar.

105. Of what is glass made?

A fusion of silica, usually in the form of natural and, with two or more alkaline bases, such as soda, lime or potash.33

106. How is window glass made?

By immersing a blowpipe in molten glass, introducing compressed air and gradually withdrawing the blowpipe from the molten glass. This produces a large cylinder which is cut open and heated in a flattening oven until flat and then transferred to an annealing oven and gradually withdrawn from the heat.

107. What is porcelain?

A fine earthenware differing from china in being harder, whiter, harder to fuse and more translucent than ordinary pottery. (a) Natural porcelain: A mixture of kaolin and feldspar. (b) Artificial porcelain: Gypsum and bone ash replace the silicious materials.

108. What country makes the best optical lenses and what city?

“A catch question. The city of Jena in Germany, formerly produced the best lenses, but recently the Bureau of Standards in Washington has turned out lenses excelled by none.” — Dr. George F. Kunz of Tiffany & Co.

109. What kind of a machine is used to cut the facets of diamonds?

A diamond lathe where “diamond cuts diamond.”

110. What is a foot pound?

A unit of energy equal to the work done in raising one pound of avoirdupois against the force of gravity the height of one foot.

111. Where do we get borax from?

California, Nevada, Texas and Oregon.

112. Where is the Assuan Dam?

Across the Nile in Upper Egypt.

113. What star is it that has been recently measured and found to be of enormous size?

Betelgeuse.

114. What large river in the United States flows from south to north?

The San Joaquin River in California. The Red River of the North.

115. What are the Straits of Messina?

They separate Sicily from Italy.

116. What is the highest mountain in the world?

Mount Everest in the Himalayas.

117. Where do we import cork from?

Southern Europe and Northern Africa.

118. Where is the St. Gothard tunnel?

Under the Alps.

119. What is the Taj Mahal?

A magnificent mausoleum built at Agra, India, by the Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife.

120. Where is Labrador?

A peninsula on the east coast of North America, running from St. Lawrence River to Hudson’s Bay.

121. Who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner”?

John Spofford Smith wrote the music for a drinking song for the Anacreonic Club in London about 1780. Francis Scott Key wrote the words.

122. Who wrote “Home, Sweet Home”?

John Howard Payne, an American, wrote the words. Sir Henry Bishop, an Englishman, wrote the music.

123. Who was Martin Luther?

The principal leader of the Reformation.

124. What is the chief acid in vinegar?

Acetic.

125. Who wrote “Don Quixote”?

Cervantes.

126. Who wrote “Les Miserables”?

Victor Hugo.

127. What place is the greatest distance below sea level?

The Dead Sea. It is 1,300 feet below sea level and is the most depressed accessible part of the earth’s surface.

128. What are axe handles made of?

Ash is generally used in the East and hickory in the West.

129. Who made “The Thinker”?

Auguste Rodin.

130. Why is a Fahrenheit thermometer called Fahrenheit?

It is named after Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit, the German physicist, who invented it.

131. Who owned and ran the New York Herald for a long time?

James Gordon Bennett.

132. What is copra?

The dried kernel of the cocoanut.

133. What insect carries malaria?

The mosquito of the genus Anopheles.

134. Who discovered the Pacific Ocean?

Balboa.

135. What country has the largest output of nickel in the world?

Canada.40

136. What ingredients are in the best white paint?

Linseed oil, with a small percentage of turpentine and liquid dryer, together with a mixture of white lead and zinc oxide.

137. What is glucose and how made?

“It is remarkable how few of the apparently well-informed know what ‘commercial glucose’ really is. This is due to the confusion of terms which associate this misnamed starch product with grape sugar and dextrose. It is quite true that dextrose (glucose) is an ingredient of commercial glucose, but the dextrose in the commercial glucose of today is the least important ingredient.” — Rogers’s Manual of Industrial Chemistry. Commercial glucose is made from crude corn starch liquor that is first converted into a liquid by being hydrolized by an acid, then neutralized by a solution of sodium carbonate, and finally filtered and evaporated in vacuum pans.

138. In what part of the world does it never rain?

“People have not been in one place long enough to know for a certainty where it never rains. Some natives of the Sahara Desert, however, have expressed amazement when they heard that water came from the skies. Rain has been reported in regions close to the poles, but neither of the discoverers of the North and South Poles was there any length of time.” — U.S. Weather Bureau.41

139. What was the approximate population of England, France, Germany and Russia before the war?

England, 34,000,000 (United Kingdom, 45,000,000); France, 40,000,000; Germany, 65,000,000; Russia, 180,000,000.

140. Where is the city of Mecca?

In the Kingdom of Hedjaz, 65 miles east of the port of Jedda on the Red Sea.

141. Where do we get quicksilver from?

From cinnabar, the red sulphite of mercury, mined chiefly in California, Texas and Spain.42

142. Of what are violin strings made?

From “catgut,” now usually made from the intestines of sheep.

143. What city on the Atlantic seaboard is the greatest pottery centre?

Trenton, N.J.

144. Who is called the “father of railroads” in the United States?

John Stevens, 1749-1838, of Hoboken, N.J.

145. What is the heaviest kind of wood?

Lignum vitae.

146. What is the lightest wood?

Basswood, at thirty pounds a cubic foot, has been called the lightest, but it has been asserted recently that balsa, or corkwood, found in South America, is the lightest.

 

Paperback edition of ‘The Race Underground’ is released

Posted by on 2:10 am in Uncategorized | 0 comments

photoIt seems appropriate that on Monday evening, February 9, 2015, a certain box arrived at our house. On a day when an epic amount of snow is piled high outside, and on a day when our governor has announced all trains and subways and buses will be shut down tomorrow because of our blizzard, this box had particular significance to me. It’s exactly one year since “The Race Underground” came out, and today the paperback version is released (yes, if you still don’t have the hardcover, the paperback is cheaper and it looks great, complete with a New York Times quote on the cover!). Chapter 5 is titled “The Blizzard That Changed Everything,” and it tells the story of a boy named Sam Strong, who nearly died trying to run a simple errand for his aunt in the Blizzard of 1888. That storm was pivotal in how it forced city officials from New York to Boston to take a long hard look at their transit systems and decide they’d be better off running underground than above. Subways in America were born. One can only hope that the Blizzard of 2015 forces today’s officials to take an equally long hard look at their transit system and make some changes that are equally momentous. On that note, if you need a great read this winter, “The Race Underground” paperback is here! Thanks all.
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Brooklyn_blizzard_1888

‘American Experience’ to make a documentary about ‘The Race Underground’

Posted by on 5:25 pm in Uncategorized | 1 comment

amexIf you think about the best history stories you’ve seen told on television over the years (“The Rise and Fall of Penn Station,” “Surviving the Dust Bowl,” “Seabiscuit”, “Grand Central”) chances are you saw them on “American Experience.”

It’s the longest running, most-watched, and most decorated history series on TV for good reason, which is why it’s such a huge thrill to share the news that “American Experience” will be making a documentary program out of “The Race Underground.” It’s such a perfect match for audiences who love a rich, narrative tale about our country’s history.

I could write a nice summary of all the praise “American Experience” has received, but why bother when they do it so nicely on their site: 

Television’s most-watched history series, American Experience has been hailed as “peerless” (Wall Street Journal), “the most consistently enriching program on television” (Chicago Tribune), and “a beacon of intelligence and purpose” (Houston Chronicle). On air and online, the series brings to life the incredible characters and epic stories that have shaped America’s past and present. Acclaimed by viewers and critics alike, American Experience documentaries have been honored with every major broadcast award, including 14 George Foster Peabody Awards, four duPont-Columbia Awards, and 30 Emmy Awards, including, most recently, Exceptional Merit in Nonfiction Filmmaking for Freedom Riders.

When Mark Samels, the executive producer of “American Experience,” told me a few months ago they wanted to make my book into a documentary, I had to stop and think about it, for a solid, oh, 15 seconds. Then all it took was finalizing the contract, which is now done, thanks to my agent Lane Zachary

There are so many angles to the story that are both visually arresting and dramatic in nature, from Alfred Beach’s secret subway to the story of the Whitney brothers to the Blizzard of 1888 to a critical experiment in Richmond, Virginia, to the inaugural ride on America’s first subway under the streets of Boston on September 1, 1897, to New York’s subway debut seven years later, in 1904. I have no idea how this project will unfold on screen yet, but I do know it will be an adventure for me, too. 

Way back when we were finalizing the cover of the book, I was fortunate enough to get a copy to the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, who has enjoyed a long relationship with WGBH. He “blurbed” my book with some powerful words: Our subways are the vital lifelines of our greatest cities. They are also symbols of our indebtedness to earlier generations who through innovation and perseverance took us from horse-powered transportation to subterranean rail. Doug Most’s The Race Underground is a fascinating account of how New York and Boston tunneled their way into the future. This book proves again that American history is a treasure trove of great stories, this one filled with drama, sacrifice, loss and unimaginable success. 

I’m thrilled that at least some of the story will now be told in a different format, on screen, and I’ll share more details as I learn them. As always, thanks for everyone’s support through this! It’s made it all the more worthwhile.

Here is the official press release that went out:

American Experience Options Documentary Rights to Acclaimed Non-Fiction Book

The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry That Built America’s First Subway

(BOSTON, MA) JANUARY 30, 2015 — American Experience announced today that it has optioned the documentary rights to Doug Most’s acclaimed non-fiction book The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry that Built America’s First Subway. Published by St. Martin’s Press in February 2014, The Race Underground was called “a sweeping narrative of late 19th-century intrigue,” by Sam Roberts in The New York Times, and “a story of blizzards and fires, gas explosions and dynamite blasts, of trenches torturously dug, of sewer and water pipes rerouted and cemeteries excavated, of political infighting, of turnstiles and ticket-taking, of ingenious solutions to staggering problems” byKirkus Reviews, which also selected it as a Best Non-Fiction Book of 2014. Available in trade paperback edition in February 2015, The Race Underground features some of the most famous men of the age, including William Steinway, Boss Tweed, and Thomas Edison, and tells the story of how two great rival cities—spurred on by two rival brothers—battled through dirty politics, solved engineering challenges, and ultimately built America’s first two subways, epic projects completed just a few years apart.

“Doug has done an incredible job of telling the story of a dynamic and transformative moment in American history through the lens of two competing brothers and cities,” saysAmerican Experience Executive Producer Mark Samels. “That intimate approach to illustrating the events of our past is right in line with the storytelling that viewers have come to expect from American Experience.”

Doug Most is the deputy managing editor for special sections at The Boston Globe. Prior to his current position, he was the Globe’s features editor and Sunday magazine editor, and before that, a senior editor at Boston magazine. He started his career as a reporter for theRock Hill, SC Herald, and later worked for the Daily Record in Morristown, NJ, and The Record in Hackensack, NJ. While working at The Record, he covered a crime case involving two suburban teenagers which ultimately became his first book: Always in Our Hearts: The Story of Amy Grossberg, Brian Peterson, the Pregnancy They Hid, and the Baby They Killed. Most, who has written for a number of national magazines, had two features chosen for Best American Crime Writing, and a feature he wrote for Sports Illustrated appeared inThe Best American Sports Writing anthology.

About American Experience

Television’s most-watched history series, American Experience celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2013. The series has been hailed as “peerless” (The Wall Street Journal), “the most consistently enriching program on television” (Chicago Tribune), and “a beacon of intelligence and purpose” (Houston Chronicle). On air and online, the series brings to life the incredible characters and epic stories that have shaped America’s past and present. Acclaimed by viewers and critics alike, American Experience documentaries have been honored with every major broadcast award, including thirty Emmy Awards, four duPont-Columbia Awards, and sixteen George Foster Peabody Awards, one most recently for the series represented by Freedom Riders, Triangle Fire, and Stonewall Uprising.

Exclusive corporate funding for American Experience is provided by Liberty Mutual Insurance. Major funding provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Public Television Viewers. American Experience is produced for PBS by WGBH Boston.

About ST. MARTIN’S PRESS

St. Martin’s Press is a part of Macmillan Publishers, a global trade book publishing company with prominent imprints around the world. Macmillan publishes a broad range of award-winning books for children and adults in all categories and formats.

U.S. publishers include Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Flatiron Books, Henry Holt & Company, Macmillan Audio, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, Picador, St. Martin’s Press, and Tor Books. In the U.K.,Australia, India, and South Africa, Macmillan publishes under the Pan Macmillan name. The German company, Holtzbrinck Deutsche Buchverlage, includes among its imprints, S. Fischer, Kiepenheuer and Witsch, Rowohlt, and Droemer Knaur.

Macmillan Publishers is a division of the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, a large family-owned media company headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. www.macmillan.com

How the Blizzard of 1888 gave birth to subways (and helped undernourished babies!)

Posted by on 3:12 pm in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Blizzard-of-1888-3-blizzard1888On the bottom of page 13 of The New York Times on Friday, March 9, 1888, there was a brief news item. The headline said: “A blizzard in Minnesota,” and it described a heavy storm moving east, crippling trains along the way. New Yorkers would have had no reason to be alarmed. It was the end of a mild winter, and there was no indication of trouble looming for them.

“The Blizzard That Changed Everything” is how I titled Chapter 5 in my book, “The Race Underground,” which tells you just how much trouble was about to unfold. The other reason I devote an entire chapter to the Blizzard of 1888 is that it was a pivotal moment in U.S. transit history. Before the blizzard, cities relied on horse-pulled carriages, cable cars and elevated tracks to move their residents. The Blizzard of 1888 forced city officials to acknowledge that they needed to embrace the idea of subways, once and for all, because subways would not be crippled by snow and ice. (The only subway in the world at that point was in London, which opened the Underground in 1863, but by the late 1890s subways would be operating in Boston, Paris, Budapest, Glasgow, Berlin, and a few years later New York.)

As the weekend of March 10, 1888, neared, a department store in New York City, E Ridley and Sons, made the curious decision to buy $1,200 worth of snow shovels, 3,000 of them, not for the current winter, but for the following winter. Stocking up, John Meisinger explained at the time, just planning ahead. A newspaper mocked him, calling him “Snow Shovel John.” Well, “Snow Shovel John” would have the last laugh.

Saturday March 10 was a beautiful spring day up and down the east coast. President Cleveland and his young wife left town for a vacation weekend. Rowers enjoyed the calm waters of the Connecticut River. Crocuses prematurely started to bud. And army sergeant Francis Long looked out his window from the New York City Weather Station and saw a parade of people celebrating the arrival of the Barnum and Bailey Circus on the streets below.

Then things turned.

A gentle soft rain late Saturday evolved into a whistling wind and sleet storm. The National Weather Service office closed Saturday night and would not reopen till Monday, a critical 17 hour period that would prove devastating. By Sunday morning the east coast was getting soaked, temperatures were dropping and even a local priest had a bad feeling. “It was as if the unholy one himself was riding in those clouds,” he told his New Jersey parishioners.

By late Sunday it was snowing and it wouldn’t stop for almost an entire week. Measuring how many feet fell was almost impossible. Estimates ranged from 4 feet to 20 feet. The same was true with the fatality total. Some estimated that 400 people died in the Blizzard of 1888, but it’s more likely the storm caused more than 1,000 deaths, because so many people became ill with pneumonia, frostbite and other ailments from the catastrophe and died weeks or months later. Their deaths may never have been blamed on the original cause.

My favorite anecdote from the chapter on the blizzard is this one:

At the New York Infant Asylum north of the city in Westchester County, four hundred children between teh ages of two weeks and six years old, along with 200 unwed pregnant women, normally went through about 800 cans of milk a day, supplied by a nearby dairy. With local roads closed, the blizzard cut them off from the dairy, and without their milk for a week or more, they could have been at risk. But a few days before the storm hit, instead of the typical order of 12 dozen cans of Borden’s canned condensed milk, the asylum was left with 12 gross, or 1728 cans! The cans were for older children usually, but now the infants had to drink them, too, and that concerned the physician in charge, Dr. Charles Gilmore Kerley. Cautiously, the staff diluted the condensed milk with barey water to see if the infants could tolerate it. Not only did they like it, but the babies who had been struggling to gain weight suddenly started to fill out. Because of a simple paperwork error, and one forced experiment, canned evaporated milk for infants, with Dr. Kerley’s urging for the next 50 years, went from being shunned to being embraced.

So not only did the Blizzard of 1888 pave the way for subways to become commonplace, but it benefited undernourished babies into the future, as well. Talk about a lasting impact. k2-_b805a5b5-0b91-43c1-b1a4-0750db168408.v1

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The history of elevators, as Boston prepares for its newest skyscraper

Posted by on 9:50 pm in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Elisha_OTIS_1853A little historical trivia for you: What do these structures have in common: The Eiffel Tower, the Kremlin, the Washington Monument, the Royal Palace in Madrid. (If you get this right, call Alex Trebek immediately!)

The answer is they all have Otis elevators installed, whisking passengers to the top.

Why am I thinking about elevators? As Casey Ross reported in the Globe Wednesday, Boston is poised to get its newest skyscraper, and that will mean some slick, fast new elevators, no doubt.

From Ross: Developer Richard L. Friedman will formally kick off construction of the tallest skyscraper to be built in Boston in 40 years — a 700-foot tower at 1 Dalton St. that will include the city’s second Four Seasons Hotel and some of its most expensive condominiums. “This will be the highest quality ever built in the city,” said Friedman, chief executive of Cambridge-based Carpenter & Co.

A new skyscraper is a good opportunity to revisit why we have skyscrapers today at all, and the reason, largely, is because of Elisha Graves Otis. I wrote about Otis in the first 10 pages of “The Race Underground,” in my favorite chapter called “The Secret Subway.” Before he came along, in the mid-to-late 1800s, the tallest buildings were typically eight to 10 stories, not much more, as climbing any more stairs than that was not practical.

The chapter tells the story of Alfred Ely Beach and William “Boss” Tweed and their epic feud over a subway project in Manhattan. The American Institute Fair was a huge annual event in the mid 19th century, and that’s where Beach unveiled his subway proposal, and it’s also where that clever mechanic named Elisha Otis unveiled his.

It was at the fair in 1854, where I write about this moment: “Otis showed how climbing hundreds of stairs no longer had to be an obstacle for cities to grow up.  His elevator, a new invention that was pulled up by ropes, could not only be safe, but it would herald in the age of buildings much taller than eight, ten or twelve stories.  With a crowd standing around his elevator, Otis rode it to its highest level, and, for the riveted audience below, reached out and cut the elevator’s only rope.  Instead of plummeting down, he fell only a few inches and then stopped, showing everybody how the safety catch he had installed worked.”

Today, Otis United Technologies is a worldwide leader in elevators, 150 years old with more than 60,000 employees worldwide. And it all started back at the American Institute Fair. After Otis finished his daring demonstration, sales of his elevator shot, ahem, up. He sold seven devices in 1854 and 15 in 1855, and kept climbing from there.

So the next time you step in to an elevator, push your floor button and watch as those doors whoosh close, then maybe say a little thanks to Elisha Graves Otis for saving you from trekking up a whole lotta stairs.

Kirkus Reviews names ‘Race Underground’ a Best Non-Fiction Book of 2014

Posted by on 6:23 pm in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Thanks Kirkus Reviews, which earlier this year gave “The Race Underground” a beautiful starred review, for now naming it a Best Non-Fiction Book of 2014. Some amazing company I’m in, so it’s really special. Some of the fellow authors in the category include Jill Lepore, Walter Isaacson, Hampton Sides for “The Kingdom of Ice” (my personal favorite), Scott Stossell, Matt Taibbi, and Lawrence Wright. Wow. 9780385352031 9781250040497 9780385535373 9780312591328