John Stover's book on American Railroads is certainly a comprehensive history of the subject, and it goes into great detail. It is a great reference bJohn Stover's book on American Railroads is certainly a comprehensive history of the subject, and it goes into great detail. It is a great reference book for those who want to learn about how the railroads got started, how they merged and split up over the years, and how they ended up in the current state (a few large freight companies, and Amtrak with a virtual monopoly over passenger traffic). As a source of information this book is quite good.
However, Stover's writing style can only be described as laborious. He obsesses over how many miles of rail are added by states, cities, companies, and the entire country, and also over the total value of the railroads. Although these are important, when whole pages are devoted to listing the total number of mainline miles of one state after another, or one class I railroad after another, the eyes begin to glaze over. In too many places, Stover favors digging into minutiae over covering the broader, sweeping themes of the American Railroad story. The end result is a book that reads more like a transliteration of tabular data, than an actual biography of the railroads.
Finally, I read the e-Book version, and although the text is fine, the captions on the photographs and the tabular information was basically illegible. In this regard, it's almost a good thing that Stover writes out all the tabular data in paragraph form, because I couldn't read the tables. But as a book, it would have been better if he had just referred to the tables to present the numerical data, and had written his paragraphs about ideas, instead of about numbers....more