This is a no-nonsense, non-controversial narrative, replete with street names and routing details, that probably will be of greatest interest to New York straphangers and transit historians. Transportation Department official Brian Cudahy (author of Change at Park St. and Rails Under the Mighty Hudson) describes the ceremonious 1904 launching of August Belmont's IRT, the arrival of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit (later, BMT) to compete for routes, the end of street railways and el's, the 1932 birth of the IND, the eventual unification of all lines under municipal administration. He traces administrative changes (Transportation Board to Commission to Authority to MTA) and mechanical advances (electric power over steam, steel cars instead of wood); but the real ""breakthrough,"" he says, was the 1897 invention of multiple-unit control, allowing motors on all cars to be controlled from one point. We learn of luxurious old stations; the 5â€º fare, maintained until 1947; the Malbone Street (now Empire Boulevard) derailment killing 97; and subway construction--juxtaposing express tracks beside local, etc. Like the subway, this survey has problems: extraneous historical references (Stanford White's murder, yet again); outdated statistics; no mention of the Subway Museum. Still, a readable account that doesn't pretend to tackle the system's problems--and far more useful than Stan Fischler's Uptown, Downtown (1976).