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Blood, Iron, and Gold: How the Railways Transformed the World Hardcover – March 2, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This spirited, dramatic history of the most important invention of the second millennium celebrates railroads as the central innovation of the industrial revolution, releasing economic and social energies on a stupendous scale. Historian Wolmar (The Great Railway Disaster) chronicles the heroic age of railroad construction in the 19th century, with its mix of epic engineering and horrible exploitation. (The death toll on the trans-Panamanian railroad project included a mass suicide by Chinese workers.) Riding the early railroads, he notes, was almost as harrowing as building them, as passengers braved engine cinders that set their clothes on fire—and sometimes had to get out and push underpowered locomotives up steep grades. The railroads' social impact was equally breathtaking, in Wolmar's telling: it brought city folk fresh milk, out-of-season produce, and commutes to the suburbs; spawned monopolies and spectacular corruption scandals; and played a crucial role in enabling the world wars and the Holocaust. Wolmar explores this fertile subject with a blend of lucid exposition and engaging historical narrative. The result is a fascinating study not just of a transportation system, but of the Promethean spirit of the modern age. 16 pages of color illus.; maps. (Mar. 2)
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Review

Richard F. Harnish, Executive Director, Midwest High Speed Rail Association
Blood, Iron, and Gold reminds us that the railroads did more than just speed up travel or build up national economies. They literally changed the way human beings experienced, thought about and lived their lives. Christian Wolmar’s book should put all high-speed-rail advocates on notice. Trains can return to the American landscape, traveling twice as fast, reprising the social revolution they set off almost two centuries ago."

Library Journal STARRED Review
“[Wolmar’s] work is both a serious history and an adventure story. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the growth and global historical impact of railroads.”

Publishers Weekly
“Wolmar explores this fertile subject with a blend of lucid exposition and engaging historical narrative. The result is a fascinating study not just of a transportation system, but of the Promethean spirit of the modern age.”

Wall Street Journal
“[Wolmar] covers a great deal of territory in "Blood, Iron and Gold," but he keeps the reader engaged by highlighting extraordinary projects like the building of the Trans-Siberian Railway from 1891 to 1904. It connected St. Petersburg to Vladivostok, a distance of almost 6,200 miles. Equally stirring is the saga of Cecil Rhodes and his never-completed Cape-to-Cairo line; and that of Peru's vertiginous Central Railway, which ascends the Andes and passes through the Galera Tunnel, 15,694 feet above sea level. The book also features cameo appearances by such colorful figures as Benito Mussolini, who may or may not have made Italy's trains run on time but who definitely made them run faster and more frequently. Nor does Mr. Wolmar neglect the pop-culture angle: Agatha Christie fans will be sorry to learn that history records no instance of a real-life murder on the Orient Express.”

Dallas Morning News
“It's not clear who first thought of putting carts and carriages on flanged wheels and hauling them over iron rails behind steam engines. But the railroad, writes transportation historian Christian Wolmar, changed everything. And he means everything….It's a vast geopolitical story, but Wolmar manages to tell it without losing sight of the romance and adventure, the triumphs and frequent tragedies that accompanied the advancing rails.”

Trains Magazine
“Most attempts at a generalist approach toward railroad history err on the side of history and slight the rail side. (Blood, Iron, and Gold) keeps the two elements in graceful balance. And, thanks to Wolmar’s crisp style, it’s a pleasure to read.”
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1 edition (March 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586488341
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586488345
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,080,245 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By James R. Holland VINE VOICE on February 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Like most people, I had no idea how important railroads were to the history of the world. This over-all story of the contributions made by the Iron Horse to civilization and the industrial revolution is fascinating even to somebody like myself who really doesn't know much about trains, but who has always loved traveling on them. I prefer them to travel by automobile or airliners. From this book, it appears that I'm not alone in that love of train travel and it's wonderful to know that railroads are making a big comeback all over the planet. Railroads are still the least expensive way to move freight and raw materials and it appears that they in the process of greatly expanding their role in the economy. This is a very good read and not just for train enthusiasts. The text is accompanied by lots of helpful maps and 16 pages of really interesting photographs both in color and black and white.
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For my 100th review, I chose Wolmar's Blood, Iron and Gold. If you are looking for a good, non-fiction, history book that will engage you and give you all sorts of fascinating, interesting insights, Blood, Iron and Gold is just the ticket. I am not a railroad aficianado, yet I found this book hard to put down. It's extremely well written, an easy read, and thoroughly researched. The maps and the two sets of illustrations and photographs convey all the right visuals one needs.

The first part of the book (chapters 1-4) discuss the first railroads (with rails made of wood!), the first steam engines, and their impacts on society, culture, and the political landscape. The way in which railroads have been instrumental in unifying diverse regions is fascinating. I finally understood why we, in the US, have gone from thinking of the various united states as a group of independent, allied political entities to an entire single nation (e.g., it used to be when one said "the Unites States," one used a plural verb as in "the United States are going to..."). Likewise, the same holds true for the very disjointed region - with lots of principalities and countries - that is Germany today. Wolmar very clearly explains how each of these disparate political units had to work closely together to see an ROI on railroad investment.

Part two of the book (chapters 5-10) begins with a continent by continent review of how railways penetrated various nations and the problems involved, from "simple" cross-border coordination activities to massive topographical challenges (the Andes) that even today are staggering in their complexities and tragedies. The section on the attempt to drive a railway through the Amazon is particularly poignant.
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As a life long rail fan I was particularly interested in this book to begin with because of what it is not....it is not a technical history, or a book about railroad technology, or a straight forward narrative of railroads -- I have plenty of those. What sets this book apart is that it is ultimately about the impact railroads had on peoples and nations around the world.

Of course Wolmar begins with the creation of the first railroads in England, and then follows their construction around the world to include the rest of Europe, Latin American, the United States, Russia, and Africa. Besides discussing the challenges (economic, technical, and political) in their building, he looks at how they were financed, their relationship to their governments, and the impact both had one how and why the railroads were constructed. He also addresses the political, economic, and technical impact the railroads had on their respective countries, and, in Europe's case, how they ultimately linked Europe together. He finishes off the book by addressing the "renaissance" of railroads today, and how they continue to be important in the everyday life of regions and nations.

All-in-all this is an interesting, well written, and easy-to-read social history of railroads. If you like railroads, I recommend this as a change of pace from the usual techo-approach to the subject. If you're a social historian you'll be interested in the impact of railroads across a broad spectrum of economics, politics, and technology.
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Nearly everyone today realizes the central importance of the Internet, and how it transformed every aspect of life. I was 34 before the Internet started growing into the ubiquitous central backbone of commerce, finance, business, and social life and I totally embraced it. I was there when it all started in '95, crude as it was.

That gave me an insight in reading this book and how railways literally changed the world back then, long after the Industrial Revolution but before electricity was finally developed. Railroads affected everything then somewhat in the way the Internet does now. The coming of the railroads was, I think, the greatest achievement of the Industrial Revolution, which led to electricity,

Railroad cities across America and the world grew up overnight. Distant markets opened up, Diets changed due to improved transport of foodstuffs. Communications between people and markets were transformed. Commerce grew exponentially; wheat grains and coal and then oil became essential parts of the national commerce.

And not just here in America, but elsewhere. But America's railroad experience was vastly different from the rest of the world's. Here, the railroads were built, financed, and controlled by private business. Elsewhere, Europe especially, governments controlled the railways.

This book is a fair and straightforward account, and has no axe to grind or philosophy to advance. In that, this book stands up without prejudice and tells a very interesting story that most of don't know. Myself included, until now.
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