A Message from the Author - Ted Conover '80

Ted Conover '80

This book is about roads as a force that changes lives and landscape. Roads are the largest human construction there is, a two-dimensional artifact that spans the planet. We build them for good but they almost always do some bad, as well.

I like the book's title because, assuming you pronounce "routes" like "roots," it's a play on words, an echo of old titles of anthropology (The Ascent of Man, The Roots of Human______ [fill in the blank]). There are many ways to write about roads, of course; I think of mine as an anthropology of roads, a look at how this mundane thing changes us so profoundly.

I chose each road to illustrate a dilemma. In the first chapter, set in Peru, the dilemma is development vs. the environment. In the second chapter, set in the Himalayas, it's isolation vs. connection. In the third, which is excerpted here, it's about global trade vs. the spread of disease. You get the idea. Historical roads could tell the story of many of these themes, but I wanted to find stories of today, which I could take part in myself. The book is structured to move from simple to complex, from a path in the Amazon rain forest to the congested highways of Lagos, Nigeria, a burgeoning megacity.

Some topics to think about

Networks old and new. The fast-growing internet receives a lot of attention these days, "social networking" in particular. Yet roads are perhaps the original network, a non-virtual web we still depend on to move people, move food, and move freight (such as computers). Which network is more important? Which holds more peril, or promise, for human civilization?

Who's your neighbor? Roads reduce isolation and increase contact between peoples. Some of those people, suddenly close, are in need­–many of them immigrants. Our reaction is not always neighborly, asnews stories about growing xenophobia (against Muslims in Europe, against Mexicans in the United States) demonstrate. Have we all become too connected?