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A Very Good General History of the Railways of the World
on 28 October 2009
As one might expect from Christian Wolmar this is a very good book packed with fascinating detail. Wolmar charts the growth of railways in all parts of the world. The pioneering position of Britain and the dominant role that we played in terms of providing engineering expertise and, perhaps more surprisingly, private finance is well related. (Of course, this dominant position was subsequently lost to America and then France and Japan.) Chapters are dedicated to different aspects of railway growth; the building of European lines and the mighty projects of crossing America, Canada and the other continents. Further sections deal with the different motivations for railway investment; private and government sponsored, the effect of railway expansion upon society and trade, the use of railways in wartime, and finally, the decline of railways and subsequent recent resurgence with investment in high-speed lines. Wolmar is at his best when drawing together the general reasons for railway investment and the general effects upon people and their way of life. Some of the early chapters on the growth of the railway system can be rather overwhelming with a dazzling array of data, but perhaps this is the nature of the beast and a minor quibble. As with Wolmar's earlier, 'Fire and Steam' this is a good history book and is not an 'anorak' book or coffee-table picture book. This excellent read will undoubtedly be of interest to general readers and railway enthusiasts alike.