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The Great Railroad Revolution: The History of Trains in Americaby Christian Wolmar
Synopses & Reviews
Since its birth in the mid-1800s, the railroad has been essential to the economic, political and cultural development of the United States. Since 1840, the United States has lead the world in railway mileage. The American railroads were bigger in every sense than those in Europe: they covered longer distances, used larger locomotives and hauled longer trains. The trains facilitated everything on a larger scale, from wealth and prosperity to bloody conflict. During the Civil War, the industrial efficiency of the railroad made possible an industrial level of carnage: 400 battles were fought — one every four days — and 600,000 died. Its length and geographical spread owed much to the railroads.
After the war, there was no brake on the growth of the railroads. The completion of the Transcontinental line in 1869 turned America into a united, industrial powerhouse and from 1865 to 1900, the total extent of the US railroads increased from 35,000 miles to 200,000 miles of track. To be connected to a railroad became the aspiration of every town — great or small — in America. By the turn of the century, almost every American lived within access of a railroad station.
But in the 1950s, the US railroads golden age came to an end. The automobile and the airplane became the dominant mode of long-distance travel, and wrote historical importance of the railroads out of the nations consciousness. In one hundred and eighty years, the American railroad went from being feted to forgotten. Despite this, Americas railroad network remains the worlds largest, and is still a vital artery for the transportation of domestic freight. The railroad built America. From the bloody battlefields of the civil war, to the frontiers of the American West, to small-town America where families would wait on platforms for their loved ones to return home from war, the railroad occupies an emblematic space in American folklore.
The birth and growth of the US railroad network reflects the ascent of modern America — economically, politically and culturally — and the strengths and complexities of the American psyche. In this book, Christian Wolmar tells the extraordinary one-hundred-and-eighty-year story of the US railroad.
"In a volume that will delight train buffs — and hopefully others — English historian and railway expert Wolmar (On the Wrong Line) 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. He spares no punches as he looks at both the positive and negative aspects of the industry, from its chaotic, privatized, and state-run beginnings in the 1830s through its unprecedented spread to its near extinction in the mid-20th century. Wolmar follows the evolution of the technology required to facilitate such an enterprise, delves into the massive corruption underlying the system during its heyday, and explores its impact on the Civil War — 'the first true railroad war.' Time and again, he concludes that America could not have grown or prospered without the spread of the railroad, from Chicago's rise as a transportation hub to consolidation of the myriad smaller lines into several major firms. Finally, he explores the creation of Amtrak. The end result is a fascinating, even indispensable look at one of America's essential historical components. 16 pages of b&w photos; maps. Agent: Inkwell Management. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"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." Daily Telegraph (UK)
"(A) passionate and masterly history." Sunday Times (UK)
"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." The Guardian
"In his new book, his ninth, a comprehensive, compulsive and compelling epic story of the American railroad, Christian Wolmar reveals how that revolution actually fueled 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." Camden New Journal (London, UK)
"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." Publishers Weekly
The epic tale of America’s railroads—the largest rail network in the world—and how they built a modern nation
The epic tale of America's railroads — the largest rail network in the world — and how they built a modern nation.
America was made by the railroads. The opening of the first American railroad line in the 1830s sparked a revolution in mode, speed, and convenience that united far-flung parts of the country and enabled America’s rise to world power status. By the end of the nineteenth century, the U.S. was enmeshed in a latticework of railroad lines, smalltown stations, and magisterial termini. The expansion of trade, industry, and freedom of communication that the railroads engendered came to be an integral part of the American dream. But by the middle of the twentieth century, the automobile and the airplane became the dominant mode of long-distance travel and wrote the historical importance of the railroads out of the nation's consciousness.
In The Great Railroad Revolution, renowned railroad expert Christian Wolmar tells the extraordinary one-hundred-and-eighty-year story of the rise and fall of the greatest of all American endeavors.
America was made by the railroads. The opening of the Baltimore & Ohio line––the first American railroad––in the 1830s sparked a national revolution in the way that people lived thanks to the speed and convenience of train travel. Promoted by visionaries and built through heroic effort, the American railroad network was bigger in every sense than Europe’s, and facilitated everything from long-distance travel to commuting and transporting goods to waging war. It united far-flung parts of the country, boosted economic development, and was the catalyst for America’s rise to world-power status.
Every American town, great or small, aspired to be connected to a railroad and by the turn of the century, almost every American lived within easy access of a station. By the early 1900s, the United States was covered in a latticework of more than 200,000 miles of railroad track and a series of magisterial termini, all built and controlled by the biggest corporations in the land. The railroads dominated the American landscape for more than a hundred years but by the middle of the twentieth century, the automobile, the truck, and the airplane had eclipsed the railroads and the nation started to forget them.
In The Great Railroad Revolution, renowned railroad expert Christian Wolmar tells the extraordinary story of the rise and the fall of the greatest of all American endeavors, and argues that the time has come for America to reclaim and celebrate its often-overlooked rail heritage.
About the Author
Christian Wolmar is a writer and broadcaster, specializing in transportation matters. He has written for major British newspapers for many years and has contributed to many other publications, including the New York Times and Newsday. His most recent books are Blood, Iron, and Gold and Engines of War.
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