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American Railroads (The Chicago History of American Civilization) 2nd Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226776583
ISBN-10: 0226776581
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Product Details

  • Series: The Chicago History of American Civilization
  • Paperback: 324 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 2 edition (December 22, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226776581
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226776583
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #440,486 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kenneth E. Wright on May 14, 2004
Format: Paperback
Stover certainly gives us a lot of facts about the American railroad from its early beginnings to its present-day situation and in a very readable style. But the order that he chooses to present them in seems backwards. Examples: He frequently informs us of the changing track mileage of Class I railroads. Great, only what IS a Class I railroad? He finally explains that in the last chapter! He rightly devotes much of the midsection of the book to the Golden Age from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of World War I. But in Chapter 4 he explains the construction of the lines during that period as if people were jolting through it all on Civil War era rolling stock. What about airbrakes? That innovation he explains in Chapter 6. In Chapter 4 he mentions a railroad having 400 miles of electrified track just after the turn of the century. But he doesnft bother explaining ELECTRIFICATION of railroads until Chapter 8. And at the beginning of that chapter that deals with the decline of railroads after World War II, he suddenly jumps us from 1945 to 1965 when 707s were jetting people coast to coast in a few hours and sinking long-distance rail passenger service in their wakes. Hey, what about the immediate postwar years when flimsy props were crashing more people than they were getting to their destinationsG and such modern luxury limiteds sprouting vista-domes as the El Capitan were smoothly and safely whizzing passengers across the continent? Ah, that he explains towards the END of the chapter. These and so many other sidetrackings made me feel Stover was trying to derail me!

Still, if you manage to avoid being derailed by him on the way, by the end of the book Stoverfs explanations do give you a very good overview of the American railroad. But he ONLY explains.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Railroads have had a truly massive effect on the United States, and this in turn makes it very difficult to write an introduction which is simultaneously concise enough and detailed enough. All things considered, John Stover has done a fairly good job. At barely 260 pages (not including end notes), one gets the impression he could have spent another forty or fifty pages on various other matters, such as technical innovations in the different types of locomotives; the effects that railroads had on micro-regional economies (the Atlanta area, St. Louis area, and so on) rather than merely on New England, the South, and the West; and perhaps a greater amount of time dedicated to the rebirth of railroads post-1980. He spends several chapters charting their decline, and only one (one of the shortest in the book, at that) describing their remarkable resurrection. Still, as an introduction it is quite a capable work, and will succeed in illuminating to readers which aspects of railroads they would like to study in greater detail.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As a lifelong railroad buff, I had been looking for a good overall history of the railroads in the United States. This book definitely does not disappoint. The author includes several maps, charts and tables to back up and illustrate several of the facts he presents in the book. As he weaves the stories of the rails inching their way across America you'll be thrown all kinds of economic trivia such as operating ratios, profit, wages, cargo rates and such. For the real railfans, this will be welcome but the average reader might not appreciate all the nitty-gritty details.

My one big gripe with the book is the author does tend to slant toward the pro-government side. Several times in the book he implies that it was "necessary" for the government to step in or take it for granted that it needed to step in, specially in his section on the government takeover of the railroads during World War I. For his credit, he does document how inefficient the Feds were at operating the rail network during the war years. He actually does a decent job of documenting the deregulation effort when his beloved government had nearly killed off the railroads and needed to back off.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Extremely condensed text with fine print. One long story divided into 10 chapters but no subdivisions or footnotes. No explanations or diagrams for terms such as "watered stock", air brakes, steam injection, rail design, etc., (couplers were discussed). Never mentioned "Chinese walls" which were vital to getting over the Sierra Nevada. Ignored UP route from Los Angeles harbor to Salt Lake City built in 1900 which is so valuable for distribution of Asian containers. Asian shipments to west coast largely ignored. Labor and ICC always to blame for RR losses. Does not understand that after protecting shippers, the ICC protected RRs from each other, Author indulges in never ending routine of name dropping of RR presidents. Most glaring omission is the economic model for RRs. They are public utilities with a very high fixed investment and costs and a concomitance of production and consumption. They can't go out of business and have a short term incentive to limit revenue only to covering variable costs. RRs must bear the burden of mistreated shippers and passengers over a 150 years. List of "recommended reading" is helpful. An appendix would have been helpful also.
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