Douglas (English/Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; The Smart Magazines, p. 706; Women of the 20s, 1986) returns to the fascinating lore of the American railroad, a subject he first explored in microcosm with Rail City: Chicago USA (not reviewed). This social history, however, details its vision on a larger canvas. Douglas touches more lightly on the seismic socioeconomic effects of railroads on modern life than does either Nicholas Faith in The World the Railways Made (p. 1132) or Albro Martin in Railroads Triumphant (p. 1327). The first half of his narrative covers much the same ground as other conventional histories of this great 19th-century invention, including its development of previously unsettled areas, the problem-plagued building of the transcontinental railroad, the shenanigans of robber barons such as ""Commodore"" Vanderbilt, Daniel Drew, and Jay Gould, and the swelling anger of farmers and reformers over the railroad titans' arrogance. But it's the second half here that really shows ""why the railroad became so deeply buried in our national consciousness."" There are intriguing discussions of the amenities enjoyed by middle-class and wealthy passengers; the way in which the uniformity of railroad schedules bred corresponding uniformity in riders; the reason why railroad stations like Grand Central Station were precursors of today's malls; the continuing preoccupation of country-music singers with the rail, begun with Jimmy Rodgers (himself a former railroad employee); and the rise, decline, and resurrection of model railroads and toy trains (at their ebb point, products of the beloved Lionel Co. were being made in Tijuana). Without losing sight of its subject's often troubled past, this lively social history vividly reminds us why the railroad continues to inspire nostalgia in Americans even as they bypass it for newer forms of transportation.