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Fire & Steam: A New History of the Railways in Britain Hardcover – 13 Sep 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 101 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 364 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books; 1st edition (13 Sept. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843546299
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843546290
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 3.6 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 408,760 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'A lively new history of the world's oldest railway system... Fire and Steam tells a rollicking tale.'
-- Michael Binyon, The Times

'Marvellously informative... a book that has given me more pleasure than any I can remember in quite a while.' -- Rod Liddle, Sunday Times

`A wonderful account of how our railways came to be.'
-- Jon Snow

`Christian Wolmar brings the era of railway mania alive: both the imagination and the daring that made it possible.' -- David Dimbleby

About the Author

Christian Wolmar is a writer and broadcaster. He writes regularly for the Independent and Evening Standard, and appears frequently on TV and radio. His previous books include the widely acclaimed The Subterranean Railway, a history of the London underground and On the Wrong Line, an account of rail privatization.


Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This excellent book describes the complete history of the railways in Britain from the Stockton & Darlington, and the Liverpool & Manchester beginnings to the High Speed Rail Link into St Pancras for the Channel Tunnel. Wolmar writes with a clear and enthusiastic style which takes the reader on at a great pace and captures the excitement of the early pioneers. This is a 'mature' history book, and whilst it deals with virtually all the significant events in the history of the railways in Britain; the development of the lines, the companies and changing structure, the service during the two World Wars, and inevitably nationalization and privatization, it never becomes an 'anorak' book given to excessive technical detail or sentimentality. It is not an illustrated 'coffee-table' book. Wolmar's judgements on controversial aspects of railway history always appear clear and probably correct. An excellent and exciting read.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A really well written and interesting book full of little known, but compelling, facts. Ideal for anyone interested in the growth of the country's infrastructure. One does not have to be a railway buff to appreciate this book.
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Format: Hardcover
As other reviewers have described, this book rattles along at a good pace, never getting bogged down in too much detail. My only criticism would be that the subject actually merits a slightly longer book that explains more about some of the technical innovations in locomotive design and signalling and safety improvements. All in all though, highly recommended.
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By Peter Durward Harris #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on 30 Mar. 2009
Format: Paperback
In the preface, the author explains that this book attempts to combine a description of the history of the railways and their social impact in one easy-to-read volume. He concedes that this necessarily means omitting some developments that railway enthusiasts might normally expect to find in a conventional railway history book. For example, there is not a lot here about locomotive or other railway developments, though they have been well-documented in plenty of other books. The author wanted to illustrate the social impact that railways had, which has always been about much more than getting from A to B. Overall, I think it fair to say that the author has largely succeeded in his aims, although some aspects of the social impact are missing, just like a lot of the railway developments.

Much of the book focuses on the nineteenth century, which saw the birth of the railways and the development of the network. During this period, the politicians tried not to interfere in the running of railways once built, though they still had to sanction the building of each new line. Indeed, during the periods of most rapid development, parliamentary business was often dominated by legislation pertaining to railway construction. With the railways came a host of other problems involving safety of both staff and passengers, staff working conditions and a myriad of other issues. The twentieth century began with the railways in a dominant position, but the situation wasn't as bright even at the time as it is sometimes depicted. The first of two major wars (in which the railways played a vital role) began the long period of government involvement (some would say interference) in running the railways that has continued ever since.
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Format: Hardcover
Few inventions did more to change life in Britain than the railways. Since the establishment of the first steam-powered lines in the early 19th century, they demolished locality, lowered the cost of goods, and made cheap travel a reality for millions of Britons. Yet as Christian Wolmar shows, this transformation was hardly a smooth one, shaped first by numerous growing pains and then the vagaries of government policy. This history, and its role in shaping Britain's railway system today, is the subject of his book, which describes both how the railways changed Britain and how Britons, in turn changed the railways.

Wolmar's scope is a broad one, ranging back to the early gravity- and horse-drawn routes of the 17th century. Yet it is not until steam engines are introduced that the railways emerge as a prominent mode of transportation. While initially envisioned primarily as a means of moving freight, Wolmar notes that railways soon found transporting passengers to be their most lucrative source of revenue. Soon railways sprang up throughout Britain, and by the start of the twentieth century lines reached nearly every corner of the island. Yet dominance bred complacency, and the railways were slow to respond to the challenge posed by the emergence of road haulage in the early twentieth century. Hobbled by under-investment during the two world wars and handicapped by successive (and sometimes conflicting) government mandates, Britain's railway network was in decline by the second half of the twentieth century.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Christian Wolmar is pretty well ubiquitous (appearing on everything from Radio 4's Today programme to Portillos Great Railway Journeys) when a talking head is required to venture an opinion on railways. He's the master of the dry-eyed politically savvy polemic, and indeed the only people I could imagine not rating this book highly are the rivet counters or those who insist on a rose-tinted see no evil heritage view. Readable, the only teeny criticism I could muster is that each chapter could be extended to a 500 page study, and in maintaining his slick journalistic prose style, I felt he left stuff behind just as it got interesting. The most impressive part for me was lifting the lid on the worker exploitation, strike breaking, organisation of labour and us-and-them mentality, of the late Victorian period when the railways were at their zenith - but that's certainly not saying that any part of this book isn't perceptive, informative and presented in a highly readable story.
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