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The Great Railroad Revolution: The History of Trains in America Paperback – October 8, 2013


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; First Trade Paper Edition edition (October 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1610393473
  • ISBN-13: 978-1610393478
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #212,458 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Wolmar, a noted historian specializing in the British railway industry, here turns his attention to American railroads (which, at their peak in 1916, covered 254,037 miles of track). He focuses mostly on the nineteenth century; the twentieth century, he notes, saw mostly “decline and waning influence,” but it was in the 1800s that railroads were born, grew to maturity, and became the country’s dominant form of transportation. Wolmar is clearly in love with his subject—it’s easy to imagine him as a sort of walking encyclopedia of railroad lore—and his enthusiasm for his material shines through on every page. He finds the decline and increasing irrelevance of the railroad—especially the passenger rails—a deeply saddening aspect of contemporary life, and he makes a convincing case that, in losing rail travel as a fundamental human experience, we’ve lost a hugely important part of ourselves and our history. --David Pitt --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Daily Telegraph (UK)
“This is the ninth book that Wolmar has written about trains of various kinds.  It is certainly among the best, incorporating, alongside some gripping and downright bizarre reports upon a century-long stretch of vastly improved transport and soaring economic growth… an account of the ‘sheer, almost unbelievable scale of corruption and graft’ from which brutal opportunists like Huntington, Stanford and Gould minted their undeserved millions... Enjoyably anecdotal.”

Sunday Times (UK)
"(A) passionate and masterly history."
 
The Guardian
“Christian Wolmar is in love with railways. He writes constantly and passionately about them. He is their wisest, most detailed historian and a constant prophet of their rebirth. So America, from 1830 on, from a few, tentative miles of track to a quarter of a million miles only 80 years later, is a story that grips his imagination… the tangle of failure, frailty and faint-heartedness he unpicks here goes far beyond mere romance: it resonates and crosses borders of national experience; it tells us something vital about the nature of railways we still struggle to learn to this day… If you love the hum of the wheels and of history, then Christian Wolmar is your man.”

Camden  New Journal (London, UK)
“In his new book, his ninth, a comprehensive, compulsive and compelling epic story of the American railroad, Christian Wolmar reveals how that revolution actually fuelled the nation’s rise to a world-status power with its new found ability to glue itself together into a cohesive economic force…. Wolmar’s magnificent saga tells graphically how it all happened, then collapsed as man’s love affair with trains transferred first to cars, then to airplanes and possibly next lock on to rockets into space….What is outstanding in his fascinating research is the detail, an encyclopedia of railway lore, myth and anecdote that could – and has – sustained many a film, TV series and novel.”

Publishers Weekly
“In a volume that will delight train buffs—and hopefully others—English historian and railway expert Wolmar… examines the rise and fall of railroads in America, with a detailed look at how they influenced and directed the growth of the country for more than a century. …The end result is a fascinating, even indispensable look at one of America’s essential historical components."

Kirkus Reviews
“Wolmar, it seems, has no purpose other than crafting a critical but admiring study of a triumph of engineering, and in this he has succeeded. A solid and, yes, concise look at the railroad’s past, with a rousing call at the end for a new and improved rail system to carry the nation forward.”

BOOKLIST
“Wolmar is clearly in love with his subject—it’s easy to imagine him as a sort of walking encyclopedia of railroad lore—and his enthusiasm for his material shines through on every page. He finds the decline and increasing irrelevance of the railroad—especially the passenger rails—a deeply saddening aspect of contemporary life, and he makes a convincing case that, in losing rail travel as a fundamental human experience, we’ve lost a hugely important part of ourselves and our history.”

Australian Financial Review
“Without the railroads, Wolmar contends, there would have been no United States. … The really interesting suggestion is that robber barons are a necessary evil, the drivers stoking the engine of American capitalism.”

Wall Street Journal
“’The Great Railroad Revolution’ succeeds in showing how, ‘without the railroads, the United States would not have become the United States.’”

Christian Science Monitor
“Readers… get to take a broad voyage through railroad vs. railroad battles (even including espionage), the Civil War (in which trains were crucial), and the ultimate decline of trains.”

Library Journal (starred review)
“As he did for global railroad history in his Blood, Iron, and Gold, Wolmar masterfully condenses the history of American rail into a lively and lucid work that is highly recommended to all.”

Washington Independent Review of Books
”Wolmar clearly wishes the railroads had remained more of a social, economic and transportation force in the United States. His fine book will likely make many feel the same way.”

The New Yorker
“Wolmar’s sweeping history of railroads in America is rich in drama…He makes a good case that the rail system helped create not only America’s economy but its character.”

Oxford Times
“Above it all is the pioneering vision that grips the reader. Wolmar is so passionate about his subject that one cannot help but be swept along. Certainly there was romance and great adventure, but this is also a story of danger as each section was laid across trestled bridge and wilderness.”

Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“A highly readable history of an industry that helped make America great.”

Providence Journal by Edward Achorn
“Nevertheless, the book -- which captures the grand sweep of the railroads' story from the beginning -- is hardly a screed against government intervention in railroads. To the contrary.”

Fredericksburg, VA Freelance-Star
“As a concise history of American railroads…it’s an interesting trip.”
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Made a great gift.
Ima Riter
I would recommend this book for anyone interested in U. S. history, the history of the railroads and railroads and trains in general.
J. C. Chambers
Here is a well written, as in easy to read, capsulized accounting of American Railroad history.
Chuck Klein

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 44 people found the following review helpful By C. P. Anderson on November 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover
As a serious history buff but a very amateur rail fan, I've always been a bit disappointed. There always seemed to be no shortage of books out there that discussed all sorts of minutiae about obscure lines or particular engines or famous passenger trains. I could never really find anything, however, that got out of the trees and showed me the forest.

Well, I think I finally found it. This book covers it all, from the technical innovations behind the Friend of Charleston to the political dimensions of the Acela. At the same time, it's a very easy read, as it's extremely well-written. It flows particularly well, and there are definite, well-argued themes that run through the whole thing.

Here are some of the interesting things I learned:

- The beginning of the railroad age as an interesting combination of technology and venture capital much like our present Internet age
- The incredible degree of corruption behind the transcontinental railroad, the Central Pacific (Stanford, Huntington, Crocker, and Mark Hopkins), and almost all railroad development in the Gilded Age
- How strapped the railroads were by the ICC
- The experiment with nationalization that occured during WWI
- How much the government helped the auto industry and how little it helped the railroads
- How healthy the existing railroads are with their concentration on freight
- What a poor strategy Amtrak's long distance routes are (as compared to short routes between major cities like Houston-Dallas or Seattle-Portland)
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By C. Turner on January 25, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Wolmar sets out to describe the history of railroads in the U.S. and succeeds admirably. In particular, he presents and analyzes their impact of land development, the economy, and the radical change in our culture. Few people today are aware of how profoundly railroads changed our way of life, and Wolmar makes it clear. Well-written with an English accent.

Of particular interest to me, a retired transportation policy professional, was the story of poor old Amtrak, which continues to limp along as a caricature of a rail system. The decline of passenger rail in the U.S. is a sad story, and Wolmar captures it.

There are a few factual errors, but none of any real significance. I'll leave them for you to find.

This is not a book for those railroad buffs who want technical information. It's for the reader who wants to understand railroads, not locomotives and cabooses.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Chuck Klein on November 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Here is a well written, as in easy to read, capsulized accounting of American Railroad history. One reason for the reading compatibility is he uses the full name of the railroads throughout the book - not the initials. However, it would have been better if he followed that line with the characters. Too many of the RR books tend to be so over-indulged in detail that following/getting the "big picture" is lost. Though the author delves into some details, he keeps the story flowing. The only reason I'm giving it a 4 star instead of a 5 is he glosses over the favorable impact the legislation had on the trucking industry to the detriment of the rails and no mention of feather-bedding. Finally, in some of the sections he doesn't cite the dates forcing the reader to go back a few pages to sort out the time line.

Anyone interested in this subject might try obtaining a copy of Throttling the Railroad by Clarence B. Carson (1971).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By dwood78 on March 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Although now frowned upon in the age of cars, railroads play an important role in the devolvement of America. Before cars & planes come into being, trains provided transportation for long distances as before which most people wouldn't venture far from their birth place as well as carrying cargo.

This is a good albeit flawed book on the history of American railways. You'll find out that Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O for these who played Monopoly) wasn't the 1st railroad company in America- The South Carolina Canal & Railroad Company aka the Charleston & Hamburg Railroad came before it. But since its cease to exist after 1843 whereas B&O existed well into the 20 century- it's now largely forgotten & is talked about as well as number of railroad firms that have became forgotten as they would help play an important role in American rail.

The book also examples how the railroads were built-as the North & South's attitude towards the rails were very different & this would had a high impact on the outcome of the Civil War. The book also explains the technologic advances that helped the railways over the decades as well & the various types that existed over the years. Near the end, it talks about how the rail companies in the wake of the creation of the Interstate highway system were able to exist as freight trains aka transporting cargo as opposed to human passengers. It also talks about the ill-fated idea of Amtrak & explains the issues surrounding it.

All in all a good introduction into the history of American trains although the book fails to talk about the Gadsden Purchase since the reason for it was the South wanted to built a transcontinental railroad in the pro-South New Mexico Territory (which of course never happened. It was further north in Union country). That said despite what some might think of them today, trains still play an important role in our country, as one will find as they read this.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews


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.

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