Railroads and the American People

H. Roger Grant. Indiana Univ, $40 (328p) ISBN 978-0-253-00633-2
In this delightful and informative study, Clemson University historian Grant (Iowa’s Railroads) explores America’s “love affair with the iron horse,” approaching the subject from a primarily social viewpoint. Drawing from memoirs and anecdotes supplemented with hundreds of photos and reproductions, Grant covers the golden age of railroading (1830–1930) plus the last heyday of the ’40s and ’50s. He shows just how the railroads influenced and shaped the country, even as they evolved over time. In the first section, the author covers the development, design, and culture of the actual rolling stock. The “Stations” chapter is all about the depots and buildings that serviced and expanded the industry. In “Communities,” Grant delves into the love/hate relationship Americans have had with trains. Finally, “Legacy” explores the many ways in which the railroads left indelible marks on American society, from place names to common idioms. With plenty of detail, Grant brings a bygone era back to life, addressing everything from social and commercial appeal, racial and gender issues, safety concerns, and leaps in technology. But Grant never loses sight of the big picture and the essential role the railroads played in American life. He writes with authority and clarity in a work that can appeal to both casual and hardcore enthusiasts. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/06/2012
Release date: 10/01/2012
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