I will send the locomotive as the great missionary over the world,"" boasted George Stephenson, father of the steam locomotive. In this sweeping social history, British journalist Faith (Sold: The Revolution in the Art Market, 1985; Safety in Numbers, 1982, etc.) vividly conveys the allure of this invention for Stephenson and millions like him during its heyday. Faith examines the changes wrought by railroads in every facet of people's lives, emphasizing the period from 1825, when the first railway line was built, to WW I, just before the railway began to lose pride of technological place to the automobile. As a prose writer, Faith gets by more on serviceable efficiency than on style, and sometimes, despite his stated intent, he exaggerates the importance of his subject (""The modern world began with the coming of the railways""). Nevertheless, he impressively marshals a host of examples to demonstrate that railways ""provided...the human spirit...with the first and most shattering mechanically-induced shock they had ever experienced or are ever likely to experience."" Canvassing the world, he shows how railroads bound far-flung lands into nations, spawned new industries and species of capitalists, spread imperialism and political corruption, speeded vast armies to battlefields, and even improved dietary standards. Interspersed with his analysis are anecdotes, ""individual pen portraits,"" and events involving railroads, including ones of William Wordsworth, the first major critic of the invention; Fred Harvey, whose chain restaurants throughout the Santa Fe railroad system made him rich and famous; and the real-life Civil War incident that inspired Buster Keaton's The General. A bounty of railroad lore for anyone who fondly remembers Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, Thomas Wolfe's lyrical description of rail journeys into the American heartland, or even their own rides on the locomotive.