Monday, 12 May 2014

Book Report #90 - Train by Tom Zoellner

Book 14 of 52
Page count - 310-ish

I really enjoyed this book.  It's hard to classify; it's part travel & adventure, part history and part social science. Through it all is a passion for trains, all of them, and why not?  Trains are quite a fantastic invention, something that has blended into the background that we don't notice unless we are at a crossing waiting for it to pass.

Zoellner focuses much of the book on the passenger train, something that is nearly unknown in North America but in each segment he points out that it was, and still is, the freight train that is the driving force that brings these machines into existence.  The first train was built to haul coal and, for most regions in the world, that is exactly what they are still doing today.

Passenger service is an interesting part of the railroad business and through Zoellner's travels we see just how the character of each country is infused into each length of track.  We go from the frumpy old British system to the chaos of India; I found myself gasping at how insanely the Indian system operates.  We also get to experience Amtrak, the Trans-Siberian, the Peruvian freight over the Andes and the Chinese high-speed train into Tibet.

Although Zoeller begins each trip as a travelogue he quickly blends the history of the railway with the history and politics of the region and brings the present day into the story.  Not only does he tell us how the thing was built but also how it impacts the people around it.

His last segment is spent on the Spanish AVE high-speed passenger train.  It is here that he also talks about the future of passenger travel and how it is struggling to take hold in the USA.

I highly recommend this book.  It has a nice way of appealing to travel enthusiasts, history buffs and has a nice way of describing life in other parts of the world.

 His website is HERE.

Tom Zoellner

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