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Engines of War: How Wars Were Won and Lost on the Railways by [Wolmar, Christian]
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Engines of War: How Wars Were Won and Lost on the Railways Kindle Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Length: 336 pages Word Wise: Enabled
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Review

Publishers Weekly
“Wolmar writes with an authoritative tone and solid research on how railroads, with their ability to move vast numbers of troops, made "industrial-scale carnage possible." 

Library Journal
“Very accessible and likely to be popular with readers of general military history.”

Book Description

A Christmas paperback with tremendous sales potential. Engines of War tells the dramatic story of how the birth of the railways shaped how wars were fought and won, facilitating conflict on a previously unimaginable scale.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 17956 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books; Main edition (1 Oct. 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0045JLPF6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #275,178 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a bit of a mixed bag. I have read a number of the author's books, and his knowledge of railway history, and their social and cultural impact - as well as his ability to make that relevant to a non-railway buff like me - is second to none. However, here he has perhaps taken on a bit too much. There is definitely a real story to tell about the impact of railways on warfare, and, as he points out, it is a somewhat neglected area. The book is laid out in a straightforward way, with an opening chapter describing military logistics prior to the railways, and then goes through a number of conflicts in chronological order, outlining how the use of the railways affected their course and outcome.
The problem comes from the fact that the author knows very little about military history - a fact he readily admits - but which seriously hampers his analysis, and in some cases, leads to fairly basic factual errors. Whilst his explanations relating directly to the railway side of things is meticulous, some of the generalisations and sweeping statements on the military side are disconcerting, to say the least. The sources he has used are narrow - and somewhat out of date - and poor AJP Taylor comes in for a lot of stick!
Overall, it is still an interesting read, and could lead on to further reading, but I suspect it would have been much better had the author found an interested military historian as a co-author.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Well worth the money
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Format: Hardcover
Among the plethora of books about wars it's good to read a new one that deals with a subject that I have not seen covered in detail before. I have read the odd chapter dealing with subjects like the use of trains in transporting holocaust victims or troop movements in the UK leading up to the Normandy landings but this book adds a level of insight and detail that I found unexpected and useful.

Christian Wolmar outlines clearly at the start of the book which areas he will deal with in detail and which areas he is not expert enough to cover.

From my point of view he covers most of key elements of the conflicts in adequate detail without getting overly technical. The book is very readable and my only quibbles are that the maps should probably have been at the beginning of each chapter and yes, there should be a map dealing with the Middle East conflicts of 1918. I would like to know some more about the cover image and where it was taken as it relates to a section on railway mounted artillery.

Those points aside, I would recommend the book as a companion to the many other books that dealt with the same conflicts and wars yet hardly ever mentioned the railways!

A book I read about the war in Russia in 1941 mentioned how the trains ran from Berlin to Moscow for three weeks after war was declared by both sides but Wolmar's book provides a much more solid context for understanding why many of the wars were started where railways were a relevant factor or how they served the progress of those conflicts. Subsequently, I think the history of the railways now has a very sinister overtone.
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Format: Hardcover
Both military history and the railways regularly generate large numbers of publications, with even the small details of minor events often covered in copious detail by numerous different authors. Strange then that the overlap of the two, the role of railways in military history, has generated little attention and no over-arching standard history. Christian Wolmar's Engines of War looks to put that right, and makes an extremely good attempt.

Wolmar's expertise lies in the railways rather than military history and he is refreshingly frank about the limitations of his knowledge of the latter. He has acquired sufficient such knowledge to make the book work well in most parts, though he places too much reliance on AJP Taylor and Winston Churchill at times. Both are very readable, extremely persuasive but also highly controversial historians and to have either as your basic source of information on events is a risky approach. That is the approach that Wolmar takes and as a result, his narrative sometimes suffers. His partial debunking of Taylor's views on the origins of the First World War, for example, make for a slightly quaint distraction given how much the debate over its origins has moved on anyway since his time.

The other blemish in the book is the paucity and limited detail of the maps, a real shame in a book that relies so much on accounts in which the relative location of places and the geography of the intervening landscape is crucial.

Neither blemish however seriously damages the book's attempts to entertain or educate, both of which it does admirably. His main thesis is that it was only the development of the railways which made the increasingly large, and so logistically cumbersome, armies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries possible.
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Format: Hardcover
Christian Wolmar's book was a series of revelations to me. I have read quite a lot about 19th and 20th Century Wars, but the key role of railways is largely ignored. For example, they enabled the North to beat the South in the American Civil War, Kitchener to beat the Mad Mahdi, the Allies to beat the Central Powers in WWI and the Axis in WWII. But what I found of most interest was Wolmar's views on the role played by railways in WWI. He refutes AJP Taylor's view that it was the rigidity of the military's railway timetables that led to war. Again, because an advancing army has to move over damaged infrastructure a defending army always had a better rail supply network behind it. This led to the stalemate of the trench war, with neither side able to sustain a breakthrough. Not mentioned in standard histories is the fact that light railways were the only effective form of transport over muddy cratered ground, and that hundreds of miles of tracks were laid by both sides. In WWII, Hitler failed to grasp the importance of rail, being a car fanatic, and mistakenly gave priority to building autobahnen, then did not build enough lorries.As well as dealing authoritatively with strategic and tactical issues involving the railways, Wolmar includes fascinating anecdotes. For instance, when trains were blacked out in WWII bulbs were stolen from the LMS line at a rate of 50,000 a year!
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