Customer Reviews: Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America
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on February 18, 2013
This is a well researched, insightfully written paean to an iconic building -- one that in many ways transformed the city of New York as much as the experience of arrival and departure by rail. The writing is superb. My only criticism is that I would have liked the book to be more lavishly illustrated with better photographs of the contemporary state of the building. There are, however, many good historical pictures and you will certainly get a sense of the terminal through post-restoration photos, even if you have not been there in person. Highly recommended.
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on March 1, 2013
A wonderful review of the life of a place where I once actualy worked (for a summer) in an era different from now. We had passenger trains other than on commuter lines, and the aspects of glamor associated with them.

It's hard to believe that Amtrak exists, and that it does not use GCT, but the terminal itself is much smarter and more interesting than it was, even in the days of the 20th Century Limited, and Roberts careful description makes this work a real page-turner. I thank him for his effort.Excellent photographs are generously displayed.

I wish the book were larger, though.
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I was born and raised in New York, where I resided 45 years of my life. For most of those years, there are certain illuminating memories one can never forget. 'Grand Central Station' is one of them. I recall for several years as my dad commuted from Long Island to NYC five days a week to work in Con Edison for 33 years, and all the trips I made for many different reasons to use it for transportation. He always spoke about Grand Central Station as being a part of his life as a commuter, running from train-to-train with hundreds of busy people who were able to work good jobs, because the transportation was available. With over 10 million people who live in NYC, combined with tourists, Grand Central has become a valuable landmark in history. I knew conductors and several commuters, who were personal friends, and I remember that Grand Central was a popular topic for conversation. Sam Roberts of the New York Times and Pete Hamil highlight the history of the famous Grand Central Terminal, celebrating its 100th anniversary. The authors take the reader on a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour as they guide you through tunnels, passageways, the command center, and much more. Tourists and commuters have their own stories, but the most interesting are stories from commuters who traveled on it half their lives. The legend of its opening to modern day, and the influence upon suburban expansion and growth in the nation is incredible. Its history with stories and cultural effects is amazing, and certainly an unforgettable landmark in our memories. Millions of people share their own personal stories about this elite, historical railroad, including the homeless. Interesting, educational, and enjoyable read. Highly recommended!
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on July 19, 2013
I don't live in New York City.

I'm a huge fan of Cornelius Vanderbilt's, and America owes him an enormous debt of gratitude. I was interested in this book, and there were some great Vanderbilt quotes in the beginning of the book.

But once we got into all the celebrities turning out to "save" Grand Central... yawn. Telling me what socialites and dinner party savants think about Grand Central Station is meaningless.

The information on Terminal employees and commuters was interesting.
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on October 24, 2015
Having frequently passed through both Penn and Grand Central terminals this book conjured up fond memories of the environments, if not the visits. The purpose of the building when viewed through the lens of its majesty creates unforgettable memories. Of the many thousands of buildings we visit in our lifetimes few are truly memorable for their construction. The Smithsonian, for example, is a wondrous place due to the contents but, the buildings are little more than a series of warehouses. Grand Central is memorable to both its visitors and anyone who has watched a movie or TV show with New York City as a backdrop. The information booth and clock are familiar to many of us. The story is occasionally overburdened with minutiae but, overall it provides a super look into the creation and results of a great American landmark.
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on March 5, 2013
I got this as a gift for my husband and he loved it. It is not quite a coffee table style book - there are others out there that have more and probably larger, better photos- but it is a great narrative and story. And that was what I was looking for. The photos included are also lovely.
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on May 11, 2013
I do not live in New York City but have been a frequent visitor since my college days (mid 1960s). I first visited it toward the end of the PennCentral railroad. I witnessed the terminal's decline when one could not venture into the lower gate level and one of my favorate bakeries (located on that lower level) closed. I have also been to the terminal many times since its renewal. At least two or three times a year my wife and I just visit the terminal to walk around, have a meal (the Grand Central Oyster Bar is my lunch favorite), go through the markets, etc. I have always been impressed with GCT as a building and as a functional organism. Mr. Robert's book haa added greatly to my appreciation of the terminal and makes me yearn for yet another couple of hours there. The book is an "easy read." The text font is easy on the eyes and large enough for even older eyes. The layout is good. There are lots of pictures, though I wish they were bigger. However, the images are clear and add to the text. I wish there was a little more on the technical aspects of moving trains in and out of the terminal and images taken during the building of the terminal. However, these criticisms are minor. I enjoyed the book and recommend it to anyone with an interest in this monument.
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on March 5, 2013
Sam Roberts, who has covered New York for the New York Daily News and New York Times for more than 40 years, does a wonderful job in telling the history of one of the most iconic travel “spots” on the planet.
Most people take it for granted; certainly those commuters who pass through it on a daily basis do, with their eyes cast downward or scanning a newspaper while balancing their coffee. But Grand Central Station is not just a railway terminal; for many years, it was the only way to travel across country (and, to my mind, still the most romantic). It was, in a sense, an extension of Ellis Island. Early travelers seeking life beyond the debarkation of their ocean voyage would board trains to, as Aldous Huxley implored, “Go West” (and north and south).
Grand Central was the site of many a happy reunion and tearful parting, its coming and going promising adventures, whether for vacationers or people who came to make their fortunes in the ultimate “big city.”
And in such style. The planning that went into the design and implementation is the true definition of “form meets function” and rivaled the construction of any museum. Roberts reveals the story of the station (and how amusing is it that the title was released by Grand Central Publishing?) from conception to execution, through various renovations. He captures daring schemes and innovations (and, of course, the usual dollop of corruption) in a manner that’s fresh and inviting. The foreword by long-time New York journalist Pete Hamill goes a long way in adding credibility to this “biography” of the New York (and American) institution.
The photos, illustrations, design, and even paper stock contribute to giving GRAND CENTRAL something of a mini coffee-table book flavor; the juxtaposition of light and shadow in the black-and-white shots are almost a metaphor for new opportunities. Even in their small size, the images seem larger than life.
If there’s one complaint, it’s that the book’s trim is too small; this would work much better in a traditional layout, with large photos paying proper homage to the majesty of its subject. Given the cover price for the small version, one can only imagine how much more that might have been.

Reviewed by Ron Kaplan
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on February 14, 2016
Being born and raised in Yorkville in the late 1930s, this wonderful book by Sam Roberts totally captivated my interest and attention. Pete Hamill's foreword provided the hook that kept me dangling (and put a tear in my eye, as well) eagerly to learn more and more about about Grand Central Terminal, a magical place that I passed thought for some twenty years on my way to work at 270 Park Avenue. The crisp writing style and fabulous photos made this book an easy read...and an informative one. It was sheer serendipity that I became aware of the book when a good neighbor lent me his copy, knowing my New York background. My dad worked at the nearby Central Post Office, so my mom and I often met him after work for dinner at Horn & Hardart and then to a Broadway movie. Thank God that this historic piece of New York survived and can still be enjoyed.
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Grand Central Station, New York. Star of a thousand movies, a hundred thousand books and novels, a million newsreel. And one of the most important milestones of railroading, engineering and architectural genius, mass transportation, suburban growth, the changing demographics of cities and much more.

All of this reduced to a parade of celebrities and chronicling the spending of a billion taxpayer dollars so far with far more to come.

This could have been an excellent history of an American icon and for the first half, it is. Few people today realize that Manhattan Island, growing to be the heart of United States business had no direct railroad connection with the mainland. Rail freight cars and passengers stopped in New Jersey and landed on Manhattan Island. This changed with tracks running first on the streets and then in deep cuts and finally, when Grand Central was built, in tunnels.

The history of railroads in the development of New York City and the nation is fascinating. Again, few realize that Manhattan was once a manufacturing town with thousands of factories and workshops of every sort.

As I said, for the first half, author Sam Roberts does a good job: not thorough, but good.

Then things go to pot and “Grand Central” becomes a worshipful tribute to a band of preservationists, their recruitment of the late Jacqueline Kennedy and their campaign to use taxpayer dollars to preserve the Grand Central building, costs be damned. They were successful: to date more than a billion taxpayer dollars have been spent on this with more being spent every day. Whether or not you agree with this goal is immaterial, for Roberts becomes consumed with celebrity worship.

My interest waned after about page 158. I finished the book. I thoroughly enjoyed the first half and struggled through the second. Would I recommend it? Yes. The history in the first half is excellent and there are nuggets here and there in the back half. But, overall, I was disappointed.

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