by John R. Stilgoe ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 12, 1983
Riding the express meant riding a long, sinuous, racing city, a city of luxury racing into the future."" Ah yes--but there's more to come: ""So disconcerted were many small-town and rural Americans at the thought of entering such rarefied urban space that they either traveled in all-coach trains or consulted etiquette books."" Harvard professor Stilgoe (landscape architecture, visual and environmental studies), taking fresh stock of ""the railroad visual environment,"" has written a honey of a book: scholarly, joyous, absorbing in its detail, often arresting in its insights. . .and packed with vintage photos and drawings. It's a worthy companion/complement to Leo Marx's classic The Machine in the Garden--which Stilgoe first gently amends: after 1880, romantic-era distrust of the railroad apparently ""did not endure."" The counter-evidence, apart from the seductiveness of the luxury express, ranges from big-city terminals (and how they systematically solved the congestion problem) to the aesthetics of industrial zones, the fine points of depots, the design of station grounds and gardens, ""the cinematic view from the train,"" railroad ""suburbanization,"" and the ""trolley mania."" Literary examples, popular and more lofty, dot Stilgoe's landscape: ""By 1920, the railroad right-of-way away from station areas had acquired mysterious, slightly sinister qualities. In Main Street, Lewis marks the edge of Gopher Prairie, and the edge of marital fidelity, at the railroad where Mrs. Kennicott encounters Erik Valborg."" The Lionel Company, its set-ups and appurtenances, repeatedly figure as models. Technological, economic, and social factors merge. And because of Stilgoe's brio as a writer, the experience is vividly present. The book concludes gravely, even achingly, with ""the life-sapping power of the metropolitan corridor""--the abandoned farm, the ""wildered"" landscape, ""the creeping spiritual paralysis"" of Ethan Frome. For railroad buffs and American-culture-mongers, students and dreamers.
Pub Date: Oct. 12, 1983
Page Count: -
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1983
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