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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an excelent history
Christian Wolmar is an expert on the railways but is also, first and foremost, a very good writer, who is able to bend what might be dry and technical material into an entertaining narrative, in which the technicalities are subservient to the story, and history is enlivened with many vignettes and anecdotes.

This is the case with his previous railway history...
Published on 14 May 2012 by monimbo

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite what I envisaged
I had expected this book to have more to do with the nuts and bolts of building the railways but found instead that it had more to do with the finances.
Published 14 months ago by John Andrews


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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an excelent history, 14 May 2012
Christian Wolmar is an expert on the railways but is also, first and foremost, a very good writer, who is able to bend what might be dry and technical material into an entertaining narrative, in which the technicalities are subservient to the story, and history is enlivened with many vignettes and anecdotes.

This is the case with his previous railway history books, but in his latest he has excelled himself. The book is a compelling read, offering as it does a whole series of insights into two hundred years or so of United States' history, both economic and social. The close links between America and Britain were no closer than in the development of the railways in both countries, and he shows what these links meant but also contrasts the differences in how two major transport systems developed. He shows how in many respects the railways made the two countries into what they were, at least until the time of the railway heyday on both sides of the Atlantic. He also entertainingly shows how differences between the two systems (especially in the treatment of passengers) were emblematic of the two diverging cultures.

In contrast to Europe, the US railroads developed in an almost totally haphazard way, reflecting in part the reluctance of government to intervene but showing how judicious intervention might have benefitted everyone. To some extent this happened in the civil war, and Wolmar shows what a crucial role the railways played in it. His chapter on the scandals and achievements of the first transcontinental railway is also particularly entertaining.

To enjoy this book you don't need to be a railway buff although they, of course, will enjoy it too.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The American Railway Dream, 15 Nov 2012
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Mr. B. S. Gambrill "drill fan" (London, England) - See all my reviews
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Christian Wolmar's latest railway book is the best yet. The complex story of the creation, development and decline of the American national railway network is a vital but sad story. Wolmar's ability to cut through the chaff to find the seminal moments, quotations and documents that defined the magnitude and social impacts of the almost wholly-private railway system is engaging. The narrative has benefited from his journalistic style and incisiveness. Earlier books on the subject are, by comparison, just too detailed to provide the political and social trends that Wolmar has successfully perceived.
Who can imagine that the American railway network could have been un-ready for both world wars of the last century due to lack of government understanding of the system's legislative and financial needs and inter-state commercial restrictions? Who can imagine the present need to create another railway network for high-speed passenger trains where so many rights of way had existed between the larger cities, albeit unfenced?
Wolmar has provided useful comparisons between American and UK/European railway networks so that the sheer scale of the American system can be appreciated.
He provides a series of interesting digressions like his description of the demise of the inter-urban street-car lines exemplifying, as it did, the struggle between the growth of motor traffic and the use of railways and a cameo appearance of Robert Louis Stevenson travelling on the Transcontinental.
I hope that Wolmar will, in the future, provide an analysis of the Chinese Railway network.
This has been a great read and should be part of any serious railway library.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, well-written book, 11 April 2013
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This is a VERY readable history of railways in the USA. The author also devotes a substantial amount of space to the social and historical background. Of particular interest to this reviewer was the detailed description of the damage inflicted on the railways by government regulators on one hand, and by the trade unions on the other.

The book is clearly aimed at the British reader, with numerous comparisons between the ways things were done in the UK and the USA. References to developments in other European countries are also provided. To the reviewer's regret technical details of steam engines, signalling &c are not covered in this book.

All in all, it's a thoroughly enjoyable, well-written and educational book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars all aboard!, 9 April 2013
A couple of years ago I enjoyed the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad museum: lots to see including a monstrous `Allegheny' 2-6-6-6. Knowing nothing about US railroad history I tried a big bookstore hoping to find a Christian Wolmar-type volume on the subject. That means coverage of the politics, economics, business, civil engineering and historical context - and not much O S Nock-ish minutiae about superheater tubes and suchlike. Nothing doing but soon afterwards exactly what I needed appeared as `The Great Railway Revolution'. The subject must be vast, but Wolmar selects and paces the story to give an enjoyable and right-length read. Endnotes and a bibliography make the book feel rigorous without being too scholarly. Recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How America (almost) fell in love with the railways, 29 Dec 2012
As a renowned international railway historian, Wolmar chronicles how the American railway system followed - and diverged from - its European counterparts. He illustrates how events such as the Civil War, the exploitation of the west and the depressions and reconstruction programmes influenced, and were influenced by, the expanding rail network, and how the phenomenal growth of air and road traffic since the mid twentieth century nearly killed it. Wolmar concludes that the USA can never sustain an European style national rail network, and that the future of the American rail system will concentrate on freight and on suburban and shorter inter-city passenger journeys.

The text is well written, although it could have been better illustrated with more and better maps.

This is a worthwhile read, not only for railway enthusiasts, but anyone interested in the social and political history of the USA.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Big subject well covered..., 8 Jun 2012
By 
Nicholas Ratcliffe (Worcester UK) - See all my reviews
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Wolmar is a well established authority on railway matters and his survey of the railways of the USA doesn't disappoint. It distills much of the available literature into manageable form and was a 'good read'! My only cavil? There must be a huge range of illustration available and the items chosen seemed a bit perfunctory. Buy it tho...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Facinating, 13 Dec 2013
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Chris Rust (Sheffield, England) - See all my reviews
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Great history and made sense of all that stuff about robber barons. As well as debunking a lot of things you vaguely believed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent title from the master, 30 Nov 2013
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Absorbing, warmly written and highly informative as we can always expect from the master of railway books. Covers entire history of America's railroads and their key players. I recommend all rail enthusiasts read this and all Mr Wolmar's titles.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Decently-written, decent account of one of the great American epics, 13 Oct 2013
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This is a comprehensive, long but not languid history of the railways in America: the triumphs of nineteenth-century capital and the nervous system that spread along the first phase of the population of America.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A clear and concise story, 7 Oct 2013
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Like his story of the British love to hate relationship with the railroads, Christian Wolmar paints a clear picture of the importance of the railroads in the development of the United States. It is only a shame that more Americans do not know their history, especially politicians. From unbridled capitalism to a begrudging acceptance of public infrastructure, Wolmar describes the schizophrenic view of railroads in the American consciousness. For lovers of the American way of life and American history, this book is a real treat. Tasty but not so heavy as to cause brain indigestion. It has enough technical detail to satisfy train set amateurs, but is not an engineers handbook (in either the US or UK sense of the word). I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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The Great Railway Revolution: The Epic Story of the American Railroad
The Great Railway Revolution: The Epic Story of the American Railroad by Christian Wolmar (Paperback - 1 April 2013)
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