Christian Wolmar is a writer and broadcaster specializing in the social history of railways and transport. He has written for major British newspapers for many years and has contributed to many other publications, including the New York Times and Newsday. He frequently appears on TV and radio as an expert commentator. Would you like to tell us about a lower price? If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Learn more about Amazon Prime. The opening of the world's first railroad in Britain and America in marked the dawn of a new age. Within the course of a decade, tracks were being laid as far afield as Australia and Cuba, and by the outbreak of World War I, the United States alone boasted over a quarter of a million miles. With unrelenting determination, architectural innovation, and under gruesome labor conditions, a global railroad network was built that forever changed the way people lived. From Panama to Punjab, from Tasmania to Turin, Christian Wolmar shows how cultures were enriched, and destroyed, by one of the greatest global transport revolutions of our time, and celebrates the visionaries and laborers responsible for its creation.
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Please try again later. Nearly everyone today realizes the central importance of the Internet, and how it transformed every aspect of life. I was 34 before the Internet started growing into the ubiquitous central backbone of commerce, finance, business, and social life and I totally embraced it. I was there when it all started in '95, crude as it was. That gave me an insight in reading this book and how railways literally changed the world back then, long after the Industrial Revolution but before electricity was finally developed. Railroads affected everything then somewhat in the way the Internet does now.
The coming of the railroads was, I think, the greatest achievement of the Industrial Revolution, which led to electricity, Railroad cities across America and the world grew up overnight. Distant markets opened up, Diets changed due to improved transport of foodstuffs. Communications between people and markets were transformed.
Commerce grew exponentially; wheat grains and coal and then oil became essential parts of the national commerce. And not just here in America, but elsewhere. But America's railroad experience was vastly different from the rest of the world's. Here, the railroads were built, financed, and controlled by private business. Elsewhere, Europe especially, governments controlled the railways. This book is a fair and straightforward account, and has no axe to grind or philosophy to advance.
In that, this book stands up without prejudice and tells a very interesting story that most of don't know.
Myself included, until now. If you are looking for a good, non-fiction, history book that will engage you and give you all sorts of fascinating, interesting insights, Blood, Iron and Gold is just the ticket. I am not a railroad aficianado, yet I found this book hard to put down. It's extremely well written, an easy read, and thoroughly researched. The maps and the two sets of illustrations and photographs convey all the right visuals one needs. The first part of the book chapters discuss the first railroads with rails made of wood!
The way in which railroads have been instrumental in unifying diverse regions is fascinating. I finally understood why we, in the US, have gone from thinking of the various united states as a group of independent, allied political entities to an entire single nation e. Likewise, the same holds true for the very disjointed region - with lots of principalities and countries - that is Germany today. Wolmar very clearly explains how each of these disparate political units had to work closely together to see an ROI on railroad investment.
Part two of the book chapters begins with a continent by continent review of how railways penetrated various nations and the problems involved, from "simple" cross-border coordination activities to massive topographical challenges the Andes that even today are staggering in their complexities and tragedies.
The section on the attempt to drive a railway through the Amazon is particularly poignant. The last few chapters in part two highlight the many innovations - not only in trains and technology, but also architecture - that railroads led to. Blood, Iron And Gold: The opening of the world's first railroad in Britain and America in marked the dawn of a new age.
Within the course of a decade, tracks were being laid as far afield as Australia and Cuba, and by the outbreak of World War I, the United States alone boasted over a quarter of a million miles. With unrelenting determination, architectural innovation, and under gruesome l The opening of the world's first railroad in Britain and America in marked the dawn of a new age. With unrelenting determination, architectural innovation, and under gruesome labor conditions, a global railroad network was built that forever changed the way people lived.
From Panama to Punjab, from Tasmania to Turin, Christian Wolmar shows how cultures were enriched, and destroyed, by one of the greatest global transport revolutions of our time, and celebrates the visionaries and laborers responsible for its creation. Hardcover , pages. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Blood, Iron And Gold , please sign up. Lists with This Book. Nov 28, Lauren Albert rated it it was amazing Shelves: I would not have expected to be fascinated with the idea of rail gauges but I was.
I certainly never knew how central they were to both the history of the railways and the history of the modern world. Only one example is necessary--The Tsar decided to use a non-standard gauge for the Russian railway, fearing the ability of enemies to use the rails to invade. Trains are made to fit the track and vice versa I would not have expected to be fascinated with the idea of rail gauges but I was.
Trains are made to fit the track and vice versa. So, if a country is not consistent in its choice of gauges, easy travel over the country's territory is made difficult--passengers having to change trains when they reach a different line. The same is true as Russia proved of international travel. I think his discussion of nationalization is very important. He believes, as did historian Tony Judt see his essays on the railroad , that government support is absolutely necessary since rails are generally unprofitable--especially when they are forced to service less populated or poorer areas.
Some might find it dry but I found it very interesting.
I don't have my quotes here with me but I will post some later. View all 3 comments.
Nov 18, Mikko Karvonen rated it really liked it Shelves: Christian Wolmar's Blood, Iron and Gold examines the history of the railways or railroads, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are from the perspective of their social and economical impact. It reviews the spread of the railways, the challenges of building them, the way they were accepted and incorporated to different societies, and how they inevitably transformed them.
There is no need to fear running into anything technical or engineering-like here: Wolmar's writing is generally enjoyable - even if it at times feels slightly rushed. He speaks with an authoritative and enthusiastic voice, his sentences flow smoothly, and he spices up the text with a generous amount of colourful anecdotes. The result is an interesting and informative story of the engineering feat that has formed and affected our society more than anything, except perhaps movable type and electricity. If one would want to point out one weakness in the book, it would most likely be that it in a way misses its mark slightly.
In the effort of making the book as readable and approachable as possible, Wolmar in many cases stays on a rather general and undetailed level when speaking about the effects of railways on the society.
Learn more about Amazon Giveaway. However, at times the accounting of various aspects of construction bogged the narrative down, but I enjoyed the ride of how railways spread across the earth and impacted life. Alexa Actionable Analytics for the Web. But Wolmar surely knows his audience, and most will savor every oyster and admire each walnut panel. One gets the impression that the author's intent is to tell the reader everything he knows, everything he finds interesting, about railroading.
He speaks of the subject often, but the approach is mostly anecdotal, and lacking in concrete evidence and examples. This short-coming means that Blood, Iron and Gold is not suited to be a scholarly textbook on the subject. However, it offers an extensive list of books for further reading, effectively pointing anyone interested to the sources of more information. For anyone looking for a well-written and easily digested overview of the subject, Wolmar's offering is a good choice.
Dec 18, Martin Empson rated it it was ok. While Wolmar mentions on a number of occasions far more than many other writers might the role of workers in building the railways and keeping them running, he occasionally mentions their strikes too. But I think he underplays the significant role that the railways have played in working class struggle precisely because they are a central feature of industrial capitalism and bring together large numbers of organised workers.
The railways helped keep all sides fighting in World War One. But the While Wolmar mentions on a number of occasions far more than many other writers might the role of workers in building the railways and keeping them running, he occasionally mentions their strikes too. But they also spread the Russian and German revolutions around those countries.
The strikes of railway workers from South America to Asia have often provided a catalyst to wider social struggles - consider the novel Gods Bits of Wood for inspiration here. Wolmar's books are always interesting, and he is on the right side of the struggle for better, more environmentally friendly public transport.
But sadly this book bites off far more than it can chew and feels inadequate. Oct 04, Tamara added it Shelves: Not too in depth and often really clunkily written, but it makes up for it by being, well, not too in depth and rabidly enthusiastic about the subject. Much use of the delighted exclamation mark. It's unusual and much appreciated. Mar 06, Erwin rated it really liked it Shelves: Canals changed the world Railroads changed the world Automobiles changed the world Radio changed the world Television changed the world I spent over a decade occasionally wondering "exactly how did railroads change the world?
Blood, Iron and Gold nicely summarized the available information, though the title Blood, Iron and Gauge might have been more accurate Railroads created and unified nations e.
Canada, Australia, Germany, Russia, Italy Railroads opened vast areas to settlement Argentina, USA Railroads made huge metropolitan areas possible via transportation of people, food, materials; Railroads changed the diet, increasing the availability of fresh food, making fruits and vegetables and milk available in urban areas, and moved urban cow heards out of New York basements; Railroads decreased the incidents of famine and supported vast increases in population; Railroads were among the first large modern enterprise, these lessons of financing and management were adapted by other organizations; Railroads were among the first large scale customers for steel and coal, fueling the growth of these industries; Railroads were a tool for the military and the state, enabling the rapid transport of troops and as a tool to quickly put down riots.
Railroads even pioneered time America had hundreds of timezones in the 's, but finalized on 4 continental timezones to make nation wide railway timetables possible. The first railway in the world was between Liverpool and Manchester and opened with a lot of fanfare, many people were at the opening with the intention of learning how to do the same in their countries.
Sometimes other slightly different gauges were selected for strategic regions, such as the Russian desire to ensure continental trains couldn't be used in an invasion on Russian track. This was attempted and the Russian calculation turned out prescient. Ireland chose a slightly wider than standard gauge that made for more comfortable train interiors. The United Kingdom's position as a pioneer allowed it to wield an incredible amount of influence over the development of rails across the world, exporting engines, cars, drivers, planners, and even gauge standards for many regions.
The British and the Americans opted for private financed railway systems. These systems didn't upset constituents since land would rarely be claimed for imminent domain. Unfortunately, the British and American systems created much duplication, did not provide for easy connection one town may have two stations operated by different companies, and you needed to arrange for your own transportation miles across town and most importantly, the British and American systems have not stood the test of time. The European Continental and East Asian train systems are state operated and excellent to travel on, while the US and UK systems have been decaying for decades.
The first transcontinental railroad in the world was the tiny Panama Railway adjacent to what later site of the Panama Canal. The railway was started just before gold was discovered in California and carried passengers for a portion of the journey even before the railroad was complete. In spite of it's high construction costs, this ended up being on of the most profitable railroad investments in the world. Canada constructed 3 separate transcontinental railways, the 1st was the Canada Pacific Railway from Montreal to Vancouver across southern Canada, establishing Canadian claim to the remaining parts of British North America not yet constituted as provinces and territories of Canada, acting as a bulwark against potential incursions by the United States.
Subsequently, two other transcontinental lines were built in Canada: The BAM Baikal—Amur Mainline is a wide gauge railway that runs about to km to miles north of and parallel to the Trans-Siberian railway. The BAM was built as a strategic alternative route to the Trans-Siberian Railway, especially along the vulnerable sections close to the border with China. Due to the severe terrain, weather, length and cost Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev described BAM as "the construction project of the century, it was completed in September There was an attempted transcontinental railway envisioned in Africa called the Cape to Cairo but in spite of many stops and starts, this railway was never completed.
In wealthier countries, really just Europe at that time, extensive tunnels were dug since railways needed to connect existing population centers via the most direct route possible.
By contrast, poorer regions tended to build long sets of switchback tracks up steep mountain inclines, especially in India and South America. Perhaps like China today, America of the 's was somewhere in between the poverty of India and South America, but not nearly the wealth of Europe. Americas own system ended up as more of a hybrid of the two.
Since American trains covered vast distances, American locomotives were bigger and more powerful, eventually achieving some renown around the world. Some related books I saw other reviewers mention but that I have not read yet include: Christian Wolmar's Blood, Iron and Gold is an accessible history of what might be termed the unsung technological hero in human development since the early decades of the 19th Century. To be interested in or enthusiastic about railways is often derided as a bit odd or sad.
Even the book's jacket makes mention of 'anoraks' and trainspotters.
What Wolmar demonstrates very effectively is just how narrowly-focused this view is. Without railways human society as we understand and experience it today w Christian Wolmar's Blood, Iron and Gold is an accessible history of what might be termed the unsung technological hero in human development since the early decades of the 19th Century. Without railways human society as we understand and experience it today would simply not be possible. The history of the railways is actually a history of the way technology has changed human behaviour in the past two centuries. It is the history of counties coming together, settlement spreading outwards across the American and Canadian praries, the African veldt, the Australian outback.
It is the story of millions of soldiers being taken to and from the front in conflicts across the globe. It is also the story of indigenous ways of life disappearing and millions of Jews being taken to concentration camps to be the victims of cold and calculating industrial slaughter. What these diverse examples illustrate is how the technological revolution precipitated by the relatively straightforward innovation of putting an engine on metal tracks changed the way society behaved forever.
The railways made it possible to transport more goods, greater distances, at higher speeds than ever before. Peoples' geographical and social horizons broadened as the phenomenon achieved some measure of democratisation in travel. Railways helped establish the concept of 'time' as we understand it today - by requiring standardised time to exist in discrete time zones where previously everywhere kept to its own time.
Economic habits were shaped and reinforced by the development of railways - to give just one example stock farming became more economical as animals no longer had to be driven to market - a process in which they lost weight and value. Similarly, the railways changed how people ate - allowing fresh fruit, vegetables and fish to be transported from the countryside into cities - increasing the diversity and availability of food to urban-dwellers. That Wolmar manages to capture the sheer scale of these changes in what is a relatively short book is quite remarkable.
Indeed, a much more voluminous volume would probably still not be able to truly do the topic justice. What he also does, and this is important, is consciously take a different tack from many historians by writing a social history of railways. In doing so he avoids being overly technical and is able to instead help the reader understand the hidden benefits and profits that railways often provided.
Naturally, Wolmar is biased towards the railways. As he charts the decline of rail services in favour of cars and aeroplanes in the mid-late twentieth century, and then makes note of the 'Railway Renaissance' which has taken place in several countries - notably Japan with its super-fast bullet trains, France with its TGVs, and China with its truly monumental railway-building ambitions - his dislike of automobiles becomes clearer as he dares to imagine a world where the train outlives the car.
This is probably wishful thinking. Wolmar himself explains why cars are popular and useful - because they provide any-time, door-to-door, transport - but he makes a good case for the railways' continued relevance nonetheless. Another major theme Wolmar takes up during the book, particularly during the early chapters, is the difference between state subsidised railway networks and privately operated concerns. He notes how the mercenary robber barons who founded some of the early railways in the UK and US in particular created uneconomic and nonsensical lines as the state played a relatively hands-off role.
Meanwhile in continental Europe governments, for a range of reasons, saw the advantages of controlling railway development which, Wolmar argues, generally - but not always - created better networks. This is because, he claims, private concerns which ran railways were often unwilling to make large initial investments in infrastructure which would have helped to make railways more competitive against the car and plane.
He notes how the introduction of dedicated high-speed networks has done this in France and Japan. This hesitancy plagued the British and American railways in particular - as companies were unwilling to spend on innovations such as electrification of lines which initially costs a lot of money but can reduce operating costs not least in terms of fuel. It was quite remarkable to see how Britain and America essentially threw away the early-ish leads they had. By odd coincidence as I was reading these later chapters yesterday the Boston Consulting Group released a report labelling British railways as 'Second Tier' within Europe due to high fares, repeatedly late trains, and lack of high-speed services Britain has only one high speed line at present - High Speed One aka the Eurostar Route through Kent to the Channel Tunnel.
In conclusion though it is slightly dated HS2 was clearly not on the cards when the edition I had came out and I would be interested to hear what Wolmar has to say about it Blood, Iron and Gold is a fascinating insight into how technology has changed the way humanity behaves using the distinctively un-sexy lens of the railway.
Despite being relatively short it has a truly global breadth, though its focus is primarily on America and Europe in his defence Wolmar does offer a bibliography and, pleasingly, also a challenge to historians and railway writers to expand the canon. It shows very succinctly how railways have been, and can remain, important to societies today and is jargon-free and informative enough to be a interesting read for railway enthusiasts, historians, or even the casual reader wanting to know more.
Feb 18, Niko Aslak rated it really liked it. Mar 31, Stephen rated it it was amazing Shelves: Outside of the wheel, the railways may be the single most influential form of transportation ever invented by human beings. This is a bold claim, but one encouraged by this excellent and engaging survey of rail transport's effect on human history.
Originating in Britain, railways took the world by storm, crossing continents and knitting the world together with roads of irons. The rails became the backbones of economies, the skeletons on which new nations like Germany and Italy grew; economies we Outside of the wheel, the railways may be the single most influential form of transportation ever invented by human beings. The rails became the backbones of economies, the skeletons on which new nations like Germany and Italy grew; economies were transformed and empires created to the sound of a steam whistle. The modern world is unthinkable without them, and even though the rise of automobiles and aiprlanes may have dimmed our appreciation for them, author Christian Wolmar believes trains are posed to make a well-deserved comeback.
Blood, Iron, and Gold is an ambitious and exciting work, spanning nearly two centuries and covering the birth and evolution of a worldwide transport system, one which leaves virtually no part of human society untouched: Despite the sheer breadth of this narrative, it's never overwhelming; he succeeds in maintaining a cohesive, fairly tight narrative throughout. While it bounds in fascinating trivia Spain's first railways were built not in Spain, but in Cuba: The railways' integral role in the unification of Germany and Italy has been mentioned, but rails were also part of the fabric of British imperialism.
The United Kingdom's position as a pioneer allowed it to wield an incredible amount of influence over the development of rails across the world, exporting engines, cars, drivers, planners, and even gauge standards; the metric of 4 feet, 8. In Russia, the Trans-Siberian railroad provided an exercise in state planning on a massive scale, one which Wolmar believes influenced succeeding Soviet governments. Wolmar doesn't shy away from the negative legacy of railroads -- the exploitation of labor to build them, the political corruption surrounding them in the United States, their use as a tool of the state to quickly put down riots -- but remains an enthusiastic supporter of the technology, both because of what they've done for us, and what they will continue to do.
Railroads are our past, he writes, but also our future. Our past; our future; but not quite our present. At the present moment, cars and planes reign supreme. Wolmar's history follows rail lines into the 20th century, as they begin losing traffic to their competitors, and examines why they failed to compete more effectively. The long attachment to steam technology is part of the reason, Wolmar believes: Diesel and electric engines were new and unproven, and without a guarantee of success, few companies were willing to take the leap of faith that was required of them.
Throughout the history and his analyses, Wolmar is delightfully moderate. He scorns neither the free market nor centralization and central planning: Despite the fact that railway transportation has been in decline -- especially tragic in the United States -- Wolmar believes that is on the mend. Not only are steadily rising oil prices making cars and airplanes look like an abysmal bargain compared to efficient rail lines, but decades of increasing car ownership have resulted in unmatched congestion and sprawl; automobiles are increasingly unpopular.
These views are not Wolmar's alone: As oil becomes increasingly dear, the human race is rediscovering the value of one of its best inventions. I live in hope that I will see a rail renaissance in my own lifetime. For now, I shall read this book again and again to experience the triumphs of the past and imagine what future glories await. Nothing Like it in the World: Mar 11, GrabAsia rated it really liked it. I love trains, history and anecdotes that this book is replete with. However writing a global history is difficult to do without being generic, sections I skimmed through.
Having enjoyed the specifics, I have bought Mr Wolmar's Railways collection https: And signed up for his books on the British railways and the London underground in my goodreads "want to read" list. May 18, Yasmin rated it really liked it. A very good read and well documented information. If you like trains and even if you like history of many countries this is also a very good read. I really like trains as they are efficent, they create less of an environmental impact on the earth. They are more comfortable and stress free from vehicles and airplanes. Without being scholarly or information overload the book put across a very interesting and exciting history of trains and train travel as well as the impact on people, economy and t A very good read and well documented information.
Without being scholarly or information overload the book put across a very interesting and exciting history of trains and train travel as well as the impact on people, economy and the environment. But while the author says that steam trains were uncomfortable and dirty, I can't agree, I think that modern life has made a sort of "ultra cleanliness" to our everyday lives.
That unless the steam trains in question were really dity interiors, no one cleaned up and everyone had large parties in every area that no steam train was really dirty. After all while many streets in England are dirty and were in the past they did and do have a certain level of decorum in places that are indoors.