TRAIN: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern World

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train-zom-zoellnerTRAIN: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern World-from the Trans-Siberian to the Southwest Chief (Viking, 2014) takes a global inventory of railroads while weaving a light history of this important mode of transportation and telling an entertaining story of an around-the-world rail journey by author Tom Zoellner.

From the birth of the locomotive in Cornwall, England, to traveling along the frozen trans-Siberian railroad with a past as dark as the arctic sky, and crisscrossing the antiquated yet magnificent Indian Railways, the world’s eighth largest employer, TRAIN examines the mechanics of these grandiose machines, and the impact on the societies through which they run.

Zeollner ties much of what constitutes America, to trains: the imported food, the beat of our music, our huge corporations and their methods of stock financing, our strong labor unions, the shapes of national borders, the pleasant leafy suburbs that surround our major cities, our abstract notion of time, and our sense of everyday connection with people who may live far out of sight but are made neighbors through mechanical means. All of these are products of the sweeping heritage of railroads.

Serious historians will find this book an enjoyable read about the railroads, but they shouldn’t expect more. New York State is all but left out, and so much of the most important history of railroads in America (for example, the New York Central appears only twice in the index). The book is handsomely bound, footnoted and indexed, but it’s more suitable as a summer read than a serious assessment of the impact of the railroads.

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