The Great Railway Revolution: The Epic Story of the American Railroad Paperback – 1 Apr 2013
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A passionate and masterly history -- James McConnachie * Sunday Times * Christian Wolmar is in love with railways. He writes constantly and passionately about them. He is their wisest, most detailed historian... Wolmar doesn't have to invent the romance of the railways. That romance is clear on page after page of wonderful storytelling... If you love the hum of wheels and of history, Christian Wolmar is your man -- Peter Preston * Observer *
The first new and comprehensive narrative history of the American railroads in a generation.
'Shrewd, articulate and incredibly well-informed' - Miranda Seymour, Daily Telegraph
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Top customer reviews
What makes his books so good, is that they clearly demonstrate great knowledge, deep research, and detailed understanding of the subject, alongside a writing style that is eminently suited to the general reader. I have no special interest in railways, apart from their general place in history, and yet I look forward to reading one of the author's works, as I know it will be good history.
This book covers the development of the railways in America; it is not really a technical work, but more a social history, and explains very well how America was virtually built by the railways. It looks at the railways in the civil war, the boom and bust periods (mostly bust), and the decline of the last 50 years or so.
Interesting from start to finish, this is a good book for you if you are interested in railways, but also if you are interested in American history, because railways form a major part of that history.
So we have local cheaply built lines changing into something approaching transcontinental systems. A railway normally links existing population centres but there were no such centres in the West. This was no problem for the railways: they sold the generous grants of land they were given to immigrants prepared to make the train journey - and depots (and potential townships) were established as they went.
Massive corruption lead to the unpopularity of the railway companies with the general public, who were in any case suspicious of monoliths. The coming of the automobile and aircraft finally put paid to the limited profitability of passenger services. Trucks ate into freight, but heavy freight remains the main use of today's USA railways. Here the cost per ton moved is much lower than is possible by road. However, commuter trains and tramways flourish.
Christian Wolmar's writing is clear, but there are no illustrations or maps.
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.
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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