From National Book Critics Circle Award winner Conover (Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, 2000, etc.), a long view of global trade, empire building, cultural collapse, disease vectors and all the other things that come with the installation of a road.
Even as the country fills with ever-wider highways—by some estimates, an area the size of Ohio is now given over to road asphalt—and the level of climate-changing particulates rises, other countries are rushing to add to their inventory of highways, especially aspiring China (which is “on course to equal us in cars” by about 2025) and India. “We’ve reached the point where it seems nowadays as though we’re paving the world,” writes the author, and “it is hard to build without destroying” Conover hops behind the windshield to have a look, traveling vertiginous roller-coaster routes in the Andes that would make a condor flinch, but that also act to bind distant communities and bring much-needed goods to far-flung corners of what used to be the Inca Empire—communities served, in many cases, by roads the Incas built more than half a millennium ago, and that are doing better than their macadam descendants. Such roads bring desired goods out of the remote vastness as well—Conover traces the course of a load of mahogany from rainforest to Park Avenue. Elsewhere the author gazes through road-weary eyes at the adaptations people in the Himalayas have made to an absence of good roads—glacial ones will do, until the glaciers melt—and at the role of trucks and truckers in spreading AIDS throughout Africa. He even braves road journeys through China, where the traffic mortality rate is among the highest in the world.
A readable, fact-filled, well-written exploration of how roads work, for good and ill, and what their future likely holds.