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Train: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern World-from the Trans-Siberian to the Southwest Chief Hardcover – January 30, 2014
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Despite ebbing enthusiasm for passenger rail travel in the U.S. these days, train companies remain major players in transporting consumer goods from coast to coast. Also, as veteran journalist and unabashed train fanatic Zoellner emphasizes in this exuberant celebration of these mammoth wheeled machines, both commuters and businesses overseas are still heavily dependent on trains, especially in countries like China, where rail service continues to expand almost exponentially. As a convenient excuse for research, Zoellner toured several of the world’s most notable rail lines, including a north-to-south trek in Britain, a journey up corkscrewing tracks in the Peruvian Andes, and a jaunt on Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway. In between colorful anecdotes from his travels that include snapshots of contemporary commuters in countries from Scotland to India, Zoellner provides a wealth of fascinating historical details, such as the mood of astonishment that greeted the first trains in nineteenth-century England and the grim duty the railroads undertook during both world wars. An absorbing and lively reflection on an enduring marvel of modern industrial technology. --Carl Hays
Praise for Train:
“Tom Zoellner's writing is never less than engaging; in Train he has made himself a veritable Walt Whitman of rail travel. It's a great read.”—Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb “Train is such a pleasure to read, elegant, deeply informed and smart, full of knowledge-bearing sentences, and prose so companionable and rich in insight that it is as if its author were at your shoulder, taking you along with him. What an enjoyable journey. I will never hear the far off moan of a train in the night without thinking of it, and I know of no higher praise one can give a book. Tom Zoellner is quickly making himself a reputation as a man of wide and eclectic interests, and oh, my! Can he write!”—Richard Bausch, author of Peace
“Spirited and bighearted...Zoellner enlightens us about an industry that’s hiding in plain sight.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Highly entertaining, lucid and perceptive....It’s a train lover’s celebration of the great epic story of rail travel itself.”—Los Angeles Times
“This is one of those all-too-rare books that have so much to them”—The Washington Times
“[Train] is a gracefully written, densely detailed meditation of trains—past, present and future....[P]art travelogue, as he rides seven train that shaped the modern world; part personal memoir, as he describes the people he met along the way; and part history of trains, from their origin to their impact on societies around the world and their vital role in the fast-forward 21st century.”—LA Weekly
"An absorbing and lively reflection on an enduring marvel of modern industrial technology."—Booklist
“Train makes for fascinating reading….The author’s easy, breezy style will keep readers chugging along.”—The St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Zoellner illustrates how the modern era was ushered in and strapped in place by railroads, and how trains—the reality and the idea—continue to shape the world as we understand it….Train is by turns lyrical, powerful, romantic, transporting, and rich.”—Phoenix New Times
"[Train], rich with history and local color, is a mesmerizing read for anyone interested in the impact of trains on the environment, politics, economics, and daily life around the world today."—Library Journal
“Enchanting and informative.”—New York Post
“[Train] is an absorbing round-the-world journey.”—BookPage
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distance train trips, in each case providing the historical context of
the railroad's role in that country, the cultural/economic/political
significance of that railroad or of that particular route, and so on.
The result is part travelogue and part history, neither part
comprehensive, but certainly entertaining, especially for fans of rail
Supporting Theroux's assertion that railroads are microcosms of their
countries, part of the interest is that the journeys could not be more
different because of their history and cultural embedding: the
trans-Siberian railway, the new Chinese high-speed line to Tibet, the
Indian Railways, the journey crossing the US from Chicago to LA, etc.
Zoellner pays particular attention to the economic and cultural
significance of these runs.
Without railroads, the extractive industries that drove colonialization
and expansion in the USA, South America, and India would not have been
possible, nor would the efficient movement of millions of prisoners to
concentration camps in Nazi Germany; and the author concludes the
Chinese have similar aspirations to "colonize" Tibet and thereby
permanently end any discussions of its independence. At the same time,
the very trains that were the ultimate symbol of British colonialism in
India now represent unprecedented mobility for its masses, and the
trains that served as symbols of white oppression in the antebellum
American South soon became the vehicles that transported free blacks to
Chicago in search of a new middle-class life.
The author is at his best when he doesn't try to affect Paul Theroux -
it's not clear he's found his own voice, since the historical parts of
the narrative are written in a quite different voice than the travelogue
parts. He should stick to his natural voice; he's a good writer.
Overall enjoyable, but if you're looking specifically for travel writing
(as opposed to a historico-travel collage), Paul Theroux focuses more
on the "human interactions" side of travel (and this author admits as
But what was a pleasant surprise was the wonderfully written history of the rails. The back stories of the movers and shakers as well as the working grunts was highly entertaining. The author also addresses the social changes brought about by the railroad in ways you would never imagine (in one country the tracks have literally become a dumping ground). Your enthusiasm for bullet trains in the U. S. might be tempered after you read about the how costly it is to build high speed rail, the ugliness that train trestles would present in city environs and the story of how the Northeast Corridor Acela Amtrak line never lived up to its full potential.
Those who have traveled the lines Zoellner journeys will find familiar markers in modest, evocative detail, but moreover we are invited to political, philosophical, and spiritual dimensions out of which the railways' rights-of-way were crafted. In a time when most people in the United States think of rail travel with nostalgia, the reminders of its essence in most other countries as a mode of human transport, national identity, and commerce necessity rings true.
Tom Zoellner takes the reader into the culture of railways literally around the world. In so doing, Zoellner helps us understand the what's and the whys of trains: who built them, who used (and uses) them, and why. In short, there is a lot of insight imparted to the reader. But, to me, the book is a an absolute delight to read. Zoellner has a deft command of the idiom and a wonderful turn of phrase that from time to time puts me in mind of (dare I say it!) Charles Dickens!
If you love trains and travel or the just occasional glimpse into the life of the thoughtful old person in the seat accross from your own, then Train is the book for you.