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4.5 out of 5 stars39
4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 30 December 2004
This book covers every aspect of steam locomotive design and construction in a clear and logical fashion, with ample illustrations and diagrams. The authors are clearly masters of their subject, and their style is lucid and eminently readable. I found it absolutely fascinating and, by its end, I really did understand how steam locomotives work, and why so many aspects of them have evolved in the way they have.
Other reviewers have criticised it for being overly technical but I disagree: "O" level / GCSE physics (that's 15 year old schooling for non-UK readers) more than covers it, and in fact I found myself wanting more technical detail. In particular I wished the sections on valve gear, boiler performance and superheating had contained more information.
This is very much a book for those who want to know the "how" and the "why", as opposed to simply the "what", of steam locomotive design. It has increased my enjoyment of other books on steam locomotive development immeasurably since I can now understand the descriptions of valve gear, blast pipes, rocking grates, compounding, sand guns, injectors, etc.
If you are prepared to make the effort to read it through you really WILL understand - in theory at least - exactly "how steam locomotives really work". It has to be by far the best book on this subject.
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on 8 March 2001
This book is perhaps the best book available about "how steam locomotives work". It is not simply keeping its promise for those seeking the answer to that question but is also a pleasure to read for those who actually do know how they work. You don't have to know much physics. All you have to know is explained in a substantial but easy to understand manner. It is not a dry collection of facts; instead - as said before - it is a book you can also read to enjoy. The authors know the matter and are not leaving any issue concerning the steam locomotive. Drawings, diagrams and photos provide facts and examples for better understanding. The basic concern, when not a basic part of the locomotive or commonplace all over the world, are the concepts used in Great Britain. But the principles of such things like feed-water-heating, which were not widely spread in Britain because of the loading-gauge, are at least mentioned if not (like most of the time) described in detail (though some things may be, well, let's say a little bit inaccurate, e.g. the description to the picture of the "Baureihe 42" - a "Kriegslokomotive" of the german railways - can easily be misunderstood in such a way, that these locomotives made up the major part of the vast buildup of german locomotives during World War II; in fact they played just a minor role as there were built "just" several hundred against the thousands built of the "Baureihe 52" (the rate is about 1:10)). Well, sometimes one would wish to get a more detailed description of some constructions, but, to be honest, this is actually not of concern. The book's issue is to explain the basic principles of the steam locomotive. And this is done fabulously.
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on 20 June 2002
I found this book much more detailed than |had expected, for which I was most grateful. I had no idea how haphazardly the engineering designs for these beautiful machines evolved. Whilst the fact that the authors are from the UK, there is a surprising amount of information about non UK locomotives, I was intrigued to learn that in the 1850s, it is alleged that mummies were used for power in Egypt!
I found that in a day I had read nearly half the book: however I have one caveat, which is that the authors take a knowledge of basic physics and chemistry for granted. For example words and phrases such as 'exothermy','phase transition','latent heat' and the 'angular structure of water molecules' could rapidly deter a 'steam buff' from reading much more than the first few pages without a scientific background.A box system, as used in most modern textbooks to explain scientific theories would help a lot.
Otherwise this is a great read, and I now understand why these beautiful but inefficient machines have been replaced by electric locomtives,in Europe at least.
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on 2 December 2009
A beautifully written book that manages to cover technical ground without being dry or text-book like. I am an engineer so have read a lot of boring books on Thermodynamics etc and I wish those books were written as fluidly and interestingly as this one. Some reviews have said that it is over technical, I would disagree, most of it is fairly basic stuff to the technical minded (which most steam enthusiasts are I suspect) and themodynamics does crop up but you can skim over that with out too much loss. The authors obviously have a deep knowledge of, and passion for their subject. I hope one day they might produce a nice big coffee table book with lots of fold out diagrams and pictures etc!
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on 12 June 2006
This is NOT a how-to-drive-a-steam-train, view-from-the-footplate sort of book. Instead it is a very learned work, talking about the co-efficient of friction, and telling you that the boiling-point of water rises as you apply pressure to the water. I have given this item 5 stars for there is no fault in the book : the fault lies in my expectations!
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on 26 August 2010
I was a little concerned that this book may get too technical and that I would loose interest in it. This hasn't been the case at all. The writer takes me on a satisfying journey as I learn about the technical side of things, practical application and snippets of live steam evolution along the way. I highly recommend this book to anyone that wishes to learn all about live steam locomotives.
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Semmens and Goldfinch give an excellent introduction to the marvels of the steam engine, describing in detail the inner workings of these fascinating machines, and the ingenious solutions locomotive engineers have invented through the years to build better and better engines. At the same time, the authors expose the steam locomotive as a prime showcase of thermodynamics and mechanics. In many ways, the book was a humbling read, as I learned in chapter after chapter, what enormous obstacles need to be overcome when simple physical principles are to be implemented in working machines. Indeed, I became more and more amazed at that steam engines did work at all! And that people these days believe in the possibilty of fail-safe technology such as nuclear power plants.
Finally, some critical remarks: Readers not trained as engineers or mechanics, especially those with a different mother tounge than English, would benefit greatly from a glossary of technical terms. I also should have liked a more detailed treatment of railroad technology on the continent and in the United States. The separate numbering of photos and drawings as Figures and Plates seems antiquated as photos are fully integrated in the text, and complicates reference. And the number of typographic errors was slightly to high for my taste, given that the book is published by OUP.
A final, nagging question: the authors talk extensively about "Pacifics", but never define what a Pacific actually is.
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on 15 May 2015
I am a now retired Railway Signalman of 43 years and i started in the late 50's in steam days, so steam means a lot to me, dirty noisy but living, and very exciting, so when this book came along notwithstanding 43 years i still wanted to learn the more technical issues associated with steam. The workings of the steam engine are much more complicated than you would think and it is ironical that as steam were being scrapped more technical innovations were taking place ie. double blastpipes; self cleaning smokeboxes; and many other things to make the steam thing work better and more efficient, this book covers these aspects and much more. I enjoyed it very much and at 71 it proves that you never stop learning. even given my background.
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on 27 February 2009
This is very easy to read and will fill in most gaps in anyones knowledge of how a steam locomotive works i have read it twice as it is nice to go over the subject again , all in all a good reference book .I highly reccomend it ,to anyone interested in steam traction .
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on 24 March 2014
I am currently reading this book and whilst the content is very good the accompanying illustrations are very poor. The "plates" are no more than a couple of inches square and they often contain numbered items which are very difficult to see. Mention is also made to coloured sections within the plates which is also hard to see as they are all in black and white. The drawings in the text are also very small which makes study difficult. There is no glossary of terms or a bibliography or even suggestions for further reading.
It is a good book but it could have been so much better.
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