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Engines of War: How Wars Were Won & Lost on the Railways Hardcover – November 2, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


Publishers Weekly
“Wolmar writes with an authoritative tone and solid research on how railroads, with their ability to move vast numbers of troops, made "industrial-scale carnage possible." 

Library Journal
“Very accessible and likely to be popular with readers of general military history.”

About the Author

Christian Wolmar is a writer and broadcaster specializing in the social history of railroads and transportation. He has written for major British newspapers for many years and has contributed to many other publications, including the New York Times and Newsday. He frequently appears on TV and radio as an expert commentator. His most recent books are Blood, Iron, and Gold, about how the railroads transformed the world; The Subterranean Railway, a history of the London Underground, the world's oldest system, and Fire & Steam, the story of Britain's railroads.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1 edition (November 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586489712
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586489717
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,425,387 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

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By David W. Nicholas on January 31, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a somewhat misleading book. The cover shows "Dora," one of the larger German rail-mounted artillery pieces of World War II, and the subtitle ("How Wars Were Won and Lost on the Railways") makes it sound as if the book is going to recount battles and fighting on trains and so forth. However, a brief perusal of the table of contents shows that almost none of these things are discussed by the book, certainly not at any length. Instead, the book is mostlly a study of logistics, and how railroads changed the nature of warfare. While it's generally overlooked in books about military history, logistics is a very very important part of warfare, and this book makes clear that railroads greatly changed the way wars were fought, and the way armies campaigned. The ability of railroads to transport mass quantities of supplies (food, fodder, fuel, ammunition, etc.) allowed generals to mass immense quantities of troops together in one place, in numbers that would have been unthinkable prior to the advent of the iron road. Once the troops were gathered, however, the railroad became the army's lifeline; cut it and the troops would starve. This changed warfare, and made it so that soldiers had to campaign around the tracks, either protecting them or trying to rip them up.

I had a few quibbles with the author's understanding of *military* history, but his understanding of railroads and trains, as far as I could tell, is quite good. The result is a history of the logistics of warfare from the mid-19th to the mid-20th Century, an overview for the most part but a quite good one. I semi-agree with the one negative reviewer who complained about the cover art, but I have to say I was able to figure out what the book was about by picking it up and thumbing through it rather cursorily. Beyond that one semi-important complaint, the book provides a pretty good overview of the subject, and I enjoyed it considerably.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By E. Jaksetic on December 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book provides a survey and overview of the role of railroads in warfare around the world, from the Crimean War (1853-1856) to the French Indochina War (1946-1954). The author, who has written previously on railroads and transportation, provides some interesting insights into how the military in various countries and different wars has had mixed results in using railroads to prepare for war, and to conduct and support military operations during war. The author offers some perceptive observations about the significance of railroad logistics for the conduct of wartime operations.

The author's strong point is discussing railroads, not military matters. The author graciously concedes as much in his Preface to the book (at page xv). Because the author's background and expertise are with railroads, not military history, anyone wanting to take an in-depth look at a particular military conflict in which railroads were involved should not rely solely on this book. However, if read together with pertinent military histories, this book could provide the reader with a useful and interesting perspective on various military conflicts.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By JGA357 VINE VOICE on February 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am an unabashed armored train and railway artillery geek (thus betraying my bias), so I was excited that this book would help fill the void of published works on those topics. Well, I have finished the book and I am the proverbial kid moping on Christmas day because I didn't get what I was expecting...or what the product description seemed to be offering.

First of all, the main thrust of this book is railways as they apply to military logistics. Weaponization of the rails runs a distant second in most cases and is a sad afterthought in others. As far as logistics go, the book does a satisfactory job of laying out key military campaigns and the role railways helped in winning or losing the battle through their ability move troops and equipment. There is some good information a section on the narrow-gauge railway that was part of the Voie Sacree at Verdun and the French use of armored trains in Vietnam..but the treatment overall is very broad-brush. I could've lived with that and probably would have given it three stars, but at the very end of the book the author makes the rather startling claim--out of nowhere and without any real supporting evidence--that railways are no longer of military utility and that their role has been taken over by road transport and aircraft! Really? At the risk of sounding catty, the author should have run that assertion by the Russians, Indians, and the US Army before committing it to print. A simple check of readily available articles and studies on the logisitcs effort of recent large-scale deployments (particularly of heavy mechanized forces) would show that railroads remain crucial in moving heavy forces long distance.

Air travel? For light infantry, perhaps, but far too costly for moving tanks...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By James D. Crabtree VINE VOICE on August 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Beginning in the 19th Century railroads provided an unprecedented means of tranporting goods over great distances at relative low cost. The rails would also dominate the conduct of wars for one hundred years as railroads provided the means to transport large armies and keep them supplied in the field.

Christian Wolmar does a good job overall of discussing logistics and the role of railroads in military operations. He credits Union General Haupt with learning the important lessons of military railroading during the Civil War. He discusses many of the concepts (and misconceptions) revolving around military railroads. Well-written and well-conceived this book should be a must for military scholars, although there are a few typos and one or two mistatements. Also, while railroads no longer play a CRITICAL role in military operations they still perform important logistics when when large-scale, high-density moves are necessary... such as during Desert Shield. Most of the equipment arrived via ship (while personnel flew) but in the case of many units they were sent by rail to the ports of embarkation. In the case of my unit (2nd Bn, 1st ADA) we loaded up the "Peace Train" full of surface-to-air missiles, radars and support equipment from Fort Bliss to Beaumont, Texas so it could arrive in Saudi Arabia via a RORO. In the event of large-scale mobilization in the future this will no doubt be the case again.

Illustrated with photos and maps.
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