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The Great Railway Revolution: The Epic Story of the American Railroad Kindle Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
We meet people such as Charles Dickens and Abraham Lincoln and learn about the great importance of railways in the Civil War: "the world's first railway war". I was not fully aware of the disruption caused by the railroads to the Native American way of life, and certainly not aware of the remarkable degree of corruption and the resultant inefficiencies and expense involved in building the railways to and from the Pacific. The celebrations surrounding the completion of the link seem to have been quite something but it took some time for it to be greatly utilised.
The background to the development of the of the Pacific railways is interesting in various respects. They would not succeed unless the routes were populated and so major efforts were made to attract immigrants, including inaccurate weather forecasting (still with us today!). The phrases "Wild West", "How the West was won" and "Go West, young man" are placed in context (as is "Cowboys and Indians"). The book also highlights the many safety hazards involved in nineteenth century rail travel. The train robbers seem to have acquired Ned Kelly status. There is also an industrial relations backdrop, as in so many fields of employment: exploitation by the employers leading ultimately to powerful unions and uneconomic working practices.
Later we come across railway barons, some with names still famous today, and the advent of luxury travel and long distance journeys with almost cruise-type facilities. But before too long the saga of the sad decline sets in.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This was part of my research into Jay Gould whom he mentions. I think he could have emphasised the drive of the railway/robber barons - America wouldn't have been built without... Read morePublished 19 months ago by Lindsey Clare Gee-Turner
Another excellent book from Christian - really enjoyed this onePublished 22 months ago by Jonathan P.
Anyone with an interest in American history ought to read this as the railways largely created the "United" in the United States of AmericaPublished 23 months ago by Mr. G. P. Emsden
Perfect book for my current research - didn't want to own a hard copy so bought on Kindle. Great price.Published on 19 May 2014 by S M DEACON
Wolmar is one of those historians who can take a big complex subject and summarize it well and make an entertaining read. Read morePublished on 30 Dec. 2013 by Bownham