Viking, 2014 (2014)
Reviewed by Bob Walch
f you are interested in trains or are an armchair traveler, Tom Zoellner's
will be much to your liking. Zoellner embarks on a series of train journeys that take him to India, Russia, England, China and South America. While he shares his impressions of each of these rail odysseys the author also fills the reader in on some of the history of railroading in each country.
he anecdotal narrative Zoellner employs is not only very entertaining but it also makes what could have been a dry subject that would only appeal to railroad historians and train buffs palatable for the general reader.
he narrative begins with a trip from Thurso on the northern coast of Scotland that took the author all the way to the southern tip of England and the village of Penzance on the English Channel. Of course, along the way the author reminiscences a bit about the early days of railroading in the British Isles.
he next chapter unfolds half a world away in India on a fascinating journey from New Delhi to Varanasi. With an estimated payroll of 1.5 million people, Indian Railways is estimated to be the eighth largest single employer of human beings in the world behind the U.S. and Chinese military establishments and Walmart.
lending in interesting tidbits like this with rail history and the colorful account of his actual trip makes for not only an enjoyable read but also an informative one.
he reader will also learn along the way that it is possible to cross the entire country for $10 if one doesn't mind sitting in the overly crowded, usually filthy, third class carriages.
rom India you next accompany Zoellner from New York to Los Angeles and, along the way, you'll get a dose of past rail history plus an updating on Amtrak and what's happened to the rail industry over the past thirty years.
he next trip was the most ambitious one and potentially the longest. But the Trans-Siberian railroad journey from Moscow to Vladivostok ended prematurely when the author was nipped by a dog during a visit to a railroad museum in Novosibirsk. Zoellner quickly flew back to the U.S. to undergo the series of rabies vaccinations which were deemed necessary.
he book concludes with less eventful trips from Beijing to Lhasa and another from Lima to Cerro de Pasco, high in the Peruvian Andes.
, the final chapter, is built around a Barcelona to Madrid ride on one of Spain's high-speed trains. Zoellner takes this opportunity to talk about high-speed rail service in other parts of the world, including the United States.
is a thoroughly pleasant and fast read; the only negative here is the lack of any maps or photos. It would have been nice to see the actual routes of these journeys, and a few photos would have been much appreciated as well.
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