RAILROADS TRIUMPHANT by Albro Martin

RAILROADS TRIUMPHANT

The Growth, Rejection, and Rebirth of a Vital American Force
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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. (Forty-six b&w illustrations--seen.)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-19-503853-3
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1991




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