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Roads to Power: Britain Invents the Infrastructure State [Abridged, Audiobook, Box set, Illustrated, Large Print] [Hardcover]

Jo Guldi

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Book Description

6 Jan 2012
In early eighteenth-century Britain, nothing but stretches of dirt track ran between most towns. Rain-soaked ruts and eroding banks rendered them impassible much of the year. By 1848 Britain's primitive roads were transformed into a network of forty-foot-wide highways connecting every village and island in the nation--and also dividing them in unforeseen ways. In Roads to Power, Jo Guldi refutes the traditional tale of how better roads made better neighbors and how the transport revolution unified the English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish into a common and commercial people. In fact, few issues divided Britain as much as transport and trade. The highway network led to contests for control over problems ranging from road management to market access. Peripheries like the Highlands demanded that centralized government pay for roads they could not afford, while English counties argued for a localism that would spare them from underwriting roads to Scotland. The new infrastructure also transformed social relationships. When tradesmen, Methodist preachers, soldiers, and entertainers took to the highway, travelers and townspeople alike felt vulnerable, and mistrust grew. Coaches, inns, and guidebooks isolated better-off travelers from encounters with strangers, furthering class division. Bureaucratic expansion led to social as well as civil engineering, in the form of state-designed sewers and slum clearance projects. In debates between centralist and localist approaches, Britons posited two visions of community: one centralized, expert-driven, and technological, and the other local, informal, and libertarian. These two visions lie at the heart of today's debates over infrastructure, development, and communication.

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In modern society, roads are often taken for granted. Guldi examines the history of Britain's road-building enterprises in the 18th and 19th centuries...Guldi points out many ways that this uniting technology greatly divided Britain. This period also provides an interesting case study in the history of technology as civil engineering emerges as its own discipline. Guldi also shows that, from its infancy, engineering has been about more than just developing new technologies and applying them to solve problems--it has required a certain level of salesmanship...Recommended for all interested in city planning and the history of civil engineering. -- William Baer Library Journal 20111201 The story of British roads is more interesting than you might expect, and Jo Guldi tells it well in Roads to Power: Britain Invents the Infrastructure State. -- Daniel Hannan Wall Street Journal 20120119

About the Author

Jo Guldi is Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital History, University of Chicago, and a Junior Fellow at the Society of Fellows, Harvard University. She also runs the Landscape Studies Podcast.

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