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

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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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


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
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,542,913 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Christian Wolmar is a writer and broadcaster specialising in transport. He has spent nearly all of his working life as a journalist, and was at The Independent from 1989 to 1997, mostly as transport correspondent. Although he mainly concentrates on transport matters, he covers other social policy issues and has written on a wide range of subjects ranging from cricket to the Private Finance Initiative.
After graduating from Warwick university in 1971, Christian worked on various publications including the Retail Newsagent, Marketing and the Hampstead and Highgate Express. He later moved to the New Statesman and the London Daily News and spent a year working for Camden council editing its magazine. He is currently a freelance, working regularly for a wide variety of publications including the Evening Standard, The Independent, the Yorkshire Post, and Public Finance. He has a regular column in both Transport Times and Rail and all his recent material, since 2000, is available on the website.
Christian has become one of the UK's leading commentators on transport matters and has won several awards for his work. He broadcasts frequently on radio and TV and is a regular pundit on the national news bulletins of terrestrial channels and Sky, as well as having appeared on virtually every radio news programme from World at One and the World Tonight to Radio One's NewsBeat and LBC.
Christian undertakes consultancy and advisory work for organisations seeking to understand the workings of the rail industry. Christian is also a regular speaker at conferences and is often asked to chair sessions at them. He is also available for after dinner speaking on his favourite topics, the London Underground and the railways. He speaks regularly at conferences in Europe and has twice travelled to Australia to deliver speeches.
His books include Stagecoach (1999), an account of the firm which rose from nothing to the FTSE 100 in 20 years, The Great British Railway Disaster (1997), a humorous series of anecdotes about rail privatisation, and On the Wrong Line, which is the definitive story of rail privatisation first published as Broken Rails in October 2001 and updated in 2005.
He has written two books on the London Underground, Down the Tube, an account of the Public Private Partnership, published in 2002, and The Subterranean Railway, published in 2004 but now available in paperback, which has been widely acclaimed by the critics (see the reviews on his website). His next book, Fire and Steam, a new history of the railways in Britain was published by Atlantic Books in 2006 and has been widely praised. It was the first history of the railways to be published for many years. Subsequently, he has written Blood, Iron and Gold an examination of the way that railways affected economic development and Engines of War, looking at the impact of railways on warfare. He has also produced DVDs on both The Subterranean Railway and Fire and Steam of the same title.
He is a member of the board of Cycling England, which sadly is due to be soon abolished, with a special interest in intermodal transport and uses his bicycle as his principal means of transport around London. He is also on the board of trustees of the Railway Children, a charity which helps homeless and destitute children at stations home and abroad.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 63 people found the following review helpful 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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Alan on June 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book is hard to summarize as its one of those good news/bad news books.

The Good News: It is full of information on the development of railroads throughout the world. Starting with George Stephenson and the early railroads to the split between the private industry vs. public development and how these differences had a major impact on how railroads developed to how railroads impacted society in general and daily life in particular. The author covers everything from the financial scandals to the issues of numerous gauge widths often in the same country and how these things evolved. It is hard to summarize what he has covered as it is so wide ranging.

The Bad News: As some others have noted there are a number of factual errors and odd even bazaar references. For example, he notes that the early plan for the development of the transcontinental railroad was Thomas Judah. However the man's name was Theodore Judah. He makes reference to James Hill and his Northern Pacific Railroad. However, Hill built the rival Great Northern. Strangely he has this correct elsewhere in the same chapter. He compares the RR building in South Africa to that in Panama, 2 countries that have totally different climates and vegetation. And most bazaar, in his explanation of the how private cars could be hired on the British system, he lists one of the users as Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps someone can tell the author that this is a fictional character.

There is more good news/bad news. On one hand, the book deals with most of the subjects in a very superficial way and is all over the map in more ways than one but covers a mind boggling amount of information. Covering 200 years of railroad history worldwide could easily have generated a book 3 times the size of this one. While this is hardly a definitive book on the subject, could use some better organization and suffers from numerous errors such as those noted above, this is a very readable and interesting book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By James A. Vedda on May 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This engaging book is a valuable find for history buffs who have an interest in railroads but don't have time to explore the extensive literature on this topic. Wolmar takes the reader from the early 19th century to the present and explores the emergence and development of rail all across the world, and manages to do all this in just under 340 pages. (Notes, bibliography, and index add another 40 pages, and there are two sections of photo pages.)
The narrative focuses on the economic, political, and societal aspects of rail development in a wide variety of environments. Much less is said about the nuts and bolts of the trains, although there is substantial discussion of competing track gauges, efforts to overcome challenging geography, and the evolution of passenger accommodations as sophistication and competition increased. Along the way we meet innovative technical and business people, learn of the changes wrought by the railroads everywhere they went, and marvel at the amount of death and suffering experienced in the early construction and operation of rail systems.
Readers may find a couple of passages to be a bit slow as they describe numerous new lines coming into service from Point A to Point B, but a good knowledge of world geography makes these more interesting as they set the stage for the rest of the story. That story includes a sober look at decline in the 20th century as automobiles, trucks, and airlines came to dominate the transportation market. But the book ends on a positive note, projecting a railway renaissance of high-speed passenger trains and a strong freight business.
Highly recommended, especially for those who are new to railroad history or plan to read only a small amount on the subject.
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