Monday, June 5, 2017

TRAIN - Tom Zoellner

Tom Zoellner travels the globe to tell the story of the innovation and sociological impact of the railway technology that transformed the world- anbd could well change it again.  From the frigid trans-Siberian railroad to the antiquated Indian railways to the Japanese- style bullet trains.

This is more a series of essays that have then been bound into a book.  It starts strongly with a rail journey from the north of Scotland to Lands End with interesting history on development of the steam engine and observations of the passing Scottish and English countrysides.

The second is essay is about the Indian rail system, a system with truly staggering numbers- passengers carried, freight carried, number of schedules trains, staff employed and on and on.  A fact I found that most fascinating is - the steel rails in India, particularly those nearest to urban stations, must be frequently replaced because poor people have the habit of defecating on them..... The uric acid in human feces gradually eats through the steel fasteners... that hold the rails onto their ties.

The third chapter is New York to Los Angels and runs nearly a third of the book.  The Russian section is disappointing, the author gets bitten by a rabid dog and has to abandon the trip half way through it.

There are chapters that follow on China into Tibet, South America and the final chapter supposedly about the AVE rapid trains in Spain but it segues off into Americas plan for rapid rail.

Potentially this could have been much better than its turned out.  There is a standalone book on the Indian rail system, instead we get these essays that have a rushed feeling about them.  There is nothing wrong with the writing or facts but it feels like a series of New Yorker pieces.

As mentioned, I was disappointed the Russian journey was shortened, I was looking forward to comparing it to Eric Newby's The Big Red Train Ride - but I'm assuming the author didn't get bitten deliberately just to annoy me.

This makes the perfect bathroom book, you can dip into into without having to retain any thread.

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