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4.3 out of 5 stars60
4.3 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 24 May 2012
It's alway going to be difficult to beat in-depth nerdism such as one might find from capo-di-capo Christian Wolmar and The Subterranean Railway: How the London Underground Was Built and How it Changed the City Forever but what I liked about this book is the anecdote and affection, together with a little more about the personalities and the politics.

I didn't appreciate (but on reflection wasn't surprised) that Harry Beck, the pioneering tube map designer had a face that didn't fit and his contribution was only recognised years later. I also thought the discussion of the lost property office interesting (yes, I've been there...). And his description of Northern Line islands together with the speculation as to why people don't fall off the edge during the rush hour (I've been there and there too) are just some of the charming stories that keep this well written personal reflection moving forward. A tiny criticism, knowing Temple very well, and the map to which he refers, which is so faded and insignificantly positioned, I would think one could stand there a long time before observing anyone having noticing it let alone becoming confused by it.

I enjoyed reading that just as documented in The Bus We Loved: London's Affair with the Routemaster that there was no such thing as a standard Routemaster because of continual tinkering with the design, there was no such thing as the standard tube train.

Other reviewers have criticised the lack of a tube map, I wasn't sure I understood this. It's not as if one can't whip up a tube map fairly quickly and luckily with other nerd-fests out there you can choose from a range of historical versions.

It's part of the quirky canon of books about London and its transport including Do Not Alight Here: Walking London's Lost Underground and Railway Stations and Last Stop!.
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on 4 March 2014
The attractive cover drew me to this book, and the reviewers quoted inside who described it as sparky (Sunday Telegraph), engaging (Observer), jaunty (Sunday Times), fascinating (Time Out) and very funny (Country Life) persuaded me to buy it. Just the thing to see me through a long train journey, I thought, and very appropriate for one which started with a tube trip across London.
I wasn't expecting thrills and romance, but I don't think I was being unreasonable in hoping to be entertained. It was billed as a personal memoir of one man's lifelong obsession with and love for the tube, after all: at the very least I expected a lively social history peppered with some engaging anecdotes. But I'm afraid I found it deadly dull - and, having nothing else to read, I was stuck with it for the next four hours!
It fails because it falls between two stools: it's far too meandering and stodgy to entertain, yet it's not authoritative enough to satisfy historians or train nerds (and other reviewers have pointed out a lot of inaccuracies).
The icing on the cake is the lack of good illustrations - and whoever thought that there was any point to publishing a book like this without a series of maps to illustrate the subject should be sacked. Or was it a question of reproduction rights? Because the author talks at length about the unique design of the underground roundel and that doesn't appear, either.
But it is nicely written, and it's probably one of those books that it's better to dip into rather than just read through. So you might want to give it a try - but use a tube map as a bookmark, as I did, otherwise you'll find it a very frustrating read.
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on 4 September 2012
Without historical and current maps this is a very difficult history to follow. I'm baffled by their exclusion. Could have been so much better.
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on 12 May 2012
I loved this book but was a bit disappointed by the lack of explanatory maps, as new lines were discussed and brought into the book.

Andrew Martin has an easy writing style but I found I had to keep stopping to look at a map of London to try and work out some of the points he was trying to bring across.

A few more pictures would also have helped but a worthwhile read nevertheless.
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on 13 August 2012
You have to be fair to this book - it doesn't really set out to be a comprehensive history of the system. that said, it does pretty well, looking chronologically at how it was all put together, and giving a few hints as to how it might develop in the future.

The compelling things about this book are the quality of writing, which is both entertaining and excellent, and the engagement with the subject. It's simply a really good, interesting read, sometimes a little colloquial but also scholarly.

There's just one this wrong with it - no maps. I think that Andrew Martin just knows the system so well that he doesn't need a map himself, but it would have been useful to be able to look at one while reading. that said, it's easy these days to download one, so I would suggest that if you buy this book then you do just that!
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on 5 June 2015
I really enjoyed this book. It was not too technical, whichI is often something that defeats me when reading about railways in general. It was scattered with anecdotes, and useless pieces of information that I am sure will come up in quiz sometime. It was short enough-280 pages- not to get bogged down in the history of each and every line. For the enthusiast this is probably not the book, but for the interested amateur such as myself it achieved its aim. It was enjoyable and there was a little bit of humour to keep the whole story going. It certainly gave me some aspects to look out for the next time I travel on the underground. I just hope I can remember all the different angles and places that I need to look out for, and it will make travelling on the underground for enjoyable and educational. Good read.
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on 3 June 2013
Well this is a fascinating read, full of facts and personalities. Perhaps a little hard work for the layman, this book reveals the story of the construction of each of the lines that have become known collectively as the London UndergrounD

I didn’t realise how many different colourful individuals were involved a hundred years or so ago in the construction of London’s subterranean transport. This book gives an interesting insight into their characters and feuds which had such a strong effect on the system we have today. Thie story continues well into the 20th century as other visionaries weld the various lines into a railway that we all accept works ( most of the time ) despite all the difficulties experienced along the way

Don’t expect to get through this in a couple of hours………..
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on 21 March 2013
This is a most entertaining and personal account of the Underground which celebrated its 150th anniversary this year. Andrew Martin states that the Tube should strictly be used as the name for the lines that are on average 40 feet below the surface and that the lines just below the surface are 'cut and cover' lines. Another key fact is that 55 per cent of the Underground is on the surface.
The oddities and eccentricities of the oldest metropolitan transport system in the world are covered and as it transports over a billiion passengers every year, it fully deserves such an engaging book.
The book is written chronologically and its only obvious failing is its lack of maps. It covers everything from Opening to Oyster Cards and is a witty and compelling social history of a transport phenomenon.
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on 15 September 2014
A very informative book if you use the tube. Can I suggest that the reader has a mini-map of the underground for a bookmark, as it helps you to see where the lines and stations are that the author is describing.
I have read every book that Andrew has written so far, and I have enjoyed every one.
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I feel that this book will be of more interest to the serious railway devotee, which is why I'm not giving it more stars.

There is plenty of history, from the first tunnelling efforts on. Now it seems amazing that each line was independently financed and dug, in competition and privately run. The main point of the Tube was to let poor people move a few miles out of the slums and still get to work cheaply. This encouraged city sprawl. As the city got busier, horse and carriage or cart traffic-blocks as they were called increased; so did the cry for more trains.

There are lots of little details which only inhabitants of the city would notice, like garden gnomes placed in a station or a tiling scheme. The London Transport staff appear to have been very civil about answering questions.

I'd previously read 'London Under London' which also looks at the other sub-city networks such as rivers, sewers, pipes and electricals, bunkers and the like. This book is more focused and claims to correct a rumour, which exists in the other book, that a baby girl born on a Tube train was named so as to have initials TUBE; the author says her initials are MAE. Both books mention the façade of fake houses over a rail line tunnel; in this one the author went there and asked the neighbours what they thought, a comical scene.

I was reading this book for research purposes and it did not mention the stations in which I was most interested. The author was paid as a journalist to write about the Tube in a column for several years. He includes a photo of Francis Bacon which he took on the Tube train one day. While he brought the tale up to date with the Olympics, the Greenwich and Canary Wharf stations, by its nature there are already updates to the system.
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