Ways Of The World: A History Of The World’s Roads And Of The Vehicles That Used Them, by M.G. Lay
I must admit that this is quite a remarkable and excellent book, not least because it provides a solid engineering history of roads and transportation with an eye towards both logistics as well as personal transportation. Without being beholden to oil companies, the author shows himself throughout the book to keep his eye on what it is that people look for from transportation and what it is that allows bridges and roads and other transportation networks to serve the best interests of the general public. This may appear to be somewhat obvious, but if you have read many books on transportation and logistics, then you will have seen a great many efforts at promoting agendas about certain kinds of transportation rather than straightforward history of them or an appreciation of what people actually want. This author seems somewhat ambivalent about vehicles and about the demands they make on roads, but he is very clear to note that we have the sort of transportation system that our people want, and whether or not they want the right things, we cannot pretend that it is the fault of some evil capitalists who have apparently hijacked our political system either.
This book of more than 350 pages is divided into 9 chapters along with various additional materials. After a foreword and introduction the author discusses the first ways that were animal paths with initial human intervention (1). After that the author discusses the demands of transport without the wheel and with it, including the width and loads that wheels could carry (2). This leads to a discussion of Roman roads and their decline after late antiquity before their revival thanks to McAdam and even pavement in the Americas (3). The author then looks at the motives and management of roads, especially for military motives and the problem of financing, including through tolls (4). There is a discussion of the surge of steel power, tires, and internal combustion (5). After that there is a discussion of cars and trucks and the way that travel is managed and regulated (6). The author spends an entire chapter going in detail about the humble subject of pavements (7) before ending the book’s main contents with chapters on bridges (8) and a look at some future trends like road and town planning, managing the car, and traffic control efforts (9). There is some terminology and chronology that closes the book with notes, references and an index.
Admittedly this book might be a bit dry for many readers. If you have a strong interest in transportation engineering and also history, though, there is a great deal of interest here for you. I do not know how large of a market there is for people who want to read about the history of transportation routes, which is admittedly a bit skewed to contemporary times because throughout much of history there has been such a limitation in terms of what sort of speed that people could have with their own power or using animals, but once steam and the internal combustion engine freed mankind from those limitations, we have had to deal with a great many consequences of the sort of logistics that we want and that people will support and be willing to pay for. These political concerns, though, have always been a part of concerns about transportation from the very beginning, as the author makes plain, noting even what countries and cultures have decided when it comes to who should have preferential use of roads and where on roads and paths people were permitted to travel.