"RAILROADS TRIUMPHANT: The Growth, Rejection, and Rebirth of a Vital American Force" by Albro Martin

"RAILROADS TRIUMPHANT: The Growth, Rejection, and Rebirth of a Vital American Force"

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Like Nicholas Faith's The World the Railways Made (p. 1132), which takes a more international perspective, this nostalgic history examines the far-reaching effects of the locomotive on modern society. But here, unfortunately, the study becomes tiresome because of incessant preaching of the railroad gospel. Martin (History/Bradley Univ.) begins promisingly by detailing in depth the sea change introduced into US life following the 1828 groundbreaking of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the first American ""iron horse."" He is especially persuasive in explaining how railroads represented a quantum leap in convenience over turnpikes, canals, and steamboats; how they worked in tandem with another invention, the telegraph, to revolutionize communication and transportation; how locomotives spawned major cities like Chicago and opened up vast reaches of wilderness; and how they transformed such industries as coal, steel, and commercial farming. The evidence bears out his contention that the railroad served as a ""practical system of cheap, long-distance transportation for goods of low value in relation to their weight and/or bulk."" After a while, though, Martin's chronicle degenerates from analysis and narrative into something like a medieval morality play, with far-seeing, rational railroad titans on the side of God and country, and with Satan aided by farmers, populists, truckers, historians, ""the laboristic society,"" and, worst of all, the ""so-called Progressive movement"" that introduced regulation of the industry. Glossed over are such railroad practices as crushing work rules, scabbing, price fixing, rebates, and bribery. A potentially useful history finally derailed by its author's myopia.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1992
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press