Train: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern World, from the Trans-Siberian to the Southwest Chief


“From the Trans-Siberian to the Southwest Chief” is part of this book’s subtitle, so readers can look forward to a little of everything, from the people and places observed on the author’s contemporary rail journeys to a history of the train’s invention and on to the distinctive history and culture of five nations. Tom Zoellner has a chatty, intelligent style that makes for a fast, enjoyable read. The nations whose trains he boards—from the 1890s relics of India, to the aging trains of the U.S., Great Britain, and Russia, to the hi-tech “bullets” of China and Japan—each has had unique patterns of development in which the political and financial ambitions of the builders meshed with social interests to fund great rail systems. The historical back story of each journey was often of more interest to me than the travelogue, although Zoellner is an entertaining and daring observer. The section on the near-demise of the once superb U.S. passenger rail system made particularly sad reading, but fortunately I have my own childhood adventures as a solo Pullman traveler to look back upon. Railway fans, 19th and 20th-century history buffs, and lovers of travelers’ tales will find much here to enjoy.

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