This book is definitely an academic text rather than a general history of the subway, and as such I’m not really the intended audience—and the fact that I read this while home sick with covid probably doesn’t help with my retention of the subject matter. But I nevertheless enjoyed this study of “how the daily transit experience” (in New York, after the subway opened in 1904) “was involved in shaping modern urban life and subjectivity.”

I probably liked the straight-up historical aspects of this book the most, like the descriptions of the subway’s opening in 1904, including a passage about the cheering spectators who watched as “the train approached the viaduct over Manhattan Valley between 122nd and 133rd St. and then emerged from the depths.” I liked learning about/thinking about aspects of the subway I hadn’t previously considered, like the fact that when it opened, to get in a passenger bought a paper ticket from one person, then gave it to another person to tear, like a ticket for a play, or the fact that, as Höhne puts it, “There was a conscious decision to leave elements like steel girders, rails, and control units exposed in order to demonstrate the structure’s sturdiness and technical perfection.” It was also interesting to read about the “abundance of visual signals” passengers had to deal with in an era of different subway operators and non-standardized maps and signage. And the chapter about complaint letters (on topics ranging from sanitation issues to violence on trains or in stations to slow/unreliable service) and how the complaints were dealt with provided an interesting way of looking at the subway and its issues in the 1960s.

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