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Fire and Steam: A New History of the Railways in Britain
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Fire and Steam: A New History of the Railways in Britain

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  267 ratings  ·  32 reviews
Now in paperback, Fire and Steam tells the dramatic story of the people and events that shaped the world’s first railway network, one of the most impressive engineering achievements in history. The opening of the pioneering Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830 marked the beginning of the railways’ vital role in changing the face of Britain. Fire and Steam celebrates
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published March 1st 2009 by Atlantic Books (first published January 1st 2008)
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Apr 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Few inventions did more to change life in Britain than the railways. Since the establishment of the first steam-powered lines in the early 19th century, they demolished locality, lowered the cost of goods, and made cheap travel a reality for millions of Britons. Yet as Christian Wolmar shows, this transformation was hardly a smooth one, shaped first by numerous growing pains and then the vagaries of government policy. This history, and its role in shaping Britain’s railway system today, is the s ...more
Bevan Lewis
May 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Christian Wolmar has branched out from journalism with a transport specialisation into producing topical books about the British railway system. His excellent and well received Subterranean Railway about the history of London's underground opened up a new genre. It emerged that there was a steady market for good general histories of things rail. This book was the first in a series of follow-ups that have covered the United States, the role of rail at war and the latest on the trans-Siberian Rail ...more
Kenny Stoltz
Jan 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I wanted an account of the business, political, and social impact of railways in the UK. I knew the UK had a complex relationship with transport companies and the boom and bust cycle they went through. And of course I've been a customer of the UK railways. I'm not a trainspotter and I really don't care at all about the technical details of engines, tracks, etc as much as the impact they had.

This book delivers on that and it's not so long that you will gouge your eyes out. I haven't read any oth
Jul 22, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Generally interesting history which goes a bit into the weeds towards the last two chapters which deal with the last few decades (which is not to say that it isn't interesting, but it is very complex). In earlier chapters, Wolmar looks at the different railways, aspects and characters of which all are individually noteworthy, but sometimes get lost in the overall density. Chapter sub-headings or even page breaks wouldn't be a bad idea, as the chapters were quite long.

Sometimes a bit jingoistical
Sue Law
Oct 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A great book on the development of the British railway system and its impact on Britain. Wolmar looks at the drivers of development, the impact on the countryside with towns being made and broken by the choice of rail routes, and the social impact of affordable travel for a significant proportion of the population. He also details the love/hate relationship between governments and railways and the inability of politicians to decide whether the railways were infrastructure (like the roads) or not ...more
Jun 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: transport
A highly interesting history of the railway in Britain from it's origins on the Manchester and Liverpool line to the present day. I found this book fascinating, especially the chapter s about the early years of the railway. I also found the chapters about the impact of both World Wars on the railway infrastructure.

The book is slightly let down by the final chapter which personally strikes me as one long rant on the failings of the privisation of the railway. In my opinion this could have been mo
Jan Jackson
Jan 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting. A readable account of the growth and demise - and potential regrowth - of the UK rail system. Interestingly, the fact that it was written in 2007 means that that last chapter is already outdated in many respects. One thing that does stand out is how necessary the railways are to the integrated transport needs of this island, and how they’ve been hampered by ego, greed, and political ideology.
Apr 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant overview of the history of railways in Britain from start to finish (well if the finish is 2006ish) and a entertaining listen. Proved very good for picking up and listening to in bite size chunks.

The author who also narrates does a great job and you can really tell how passionate he is regarding the subject.

Would recommend for anyone interested in UK railways and wanting to learn about the complete history of the network.
Feb 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
Fantastic innovation history of the British railways and a trip down memory lane. Some great stories about railway openings and tragedies, rallying around the railways during the world wars, and explanation for why privatization doesn’t work for railways & actually costs more for taxpayers. We need a railway renaissance. Building roads is seen as an investment and railways are seen as subsidies. And we need to change that! The social good that trains provide far outstrips their costs.
Jul 29, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As Rail history books go this isn't bad and there are some things I learnt from this BUT there are better books out there (Simon Bradley - The Railways). Sadly the last chapter was less history but rather a diatribe against rail privitisation. Wolmer is left wing and that shows in his assesment of the last 15 years or so. ...more
A brief history of Railways in the United Kingdom. Not quite as insightful as Wolmar's other books but still a good read. ...more
Feb 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating account of railways in Britain that even someone not interested in the engineering would enjoy from the socio-economic aspects
David Carty
Mar 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It took me an age to finish this but it’s no reflection on the book. It’s a comprehensive and glorious history.
Mark Hebden
Sep 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: misc, travel
It is always quite refreshing to read an author whose enthusiasm for his subject knows no bounds. Christian Wolmar is one of the few writers about transport who can make the subject accessible and interesting while maintaining the attention too of the connoisseur in the field.

This book tracks this long history of the railways in Britain, from the first attempts at a coal powered track between Stockton and Darlington and the more robust Liverpool-Manchester line to the high speed Channel Tunnel
Dec 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I was given this book for Christmas, and could not put it down. Not that it is a thriller, but the history of railways in the United Kingdom is a reflection on the social and industrial development and continues to be so. There are parallels to the offshore wind industry of today and one can see history repeating itself.

From Stephenson's first passenger-carrying railway, the Liverpool and Manchester, opened in 1830, we see the establishment of a national network and then the railway mania which
Stephen Dawson
Dec 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2009
A very readable account of the history of British railways, from the earliest lines to the Railtrack era. Wolmar is clearly very sensitive to criticism about the inevitably difficult choices he has made about what to talk in detail about, but to an interested and only slightly knowledgeable layman, it seems that he has made reasonable choices. There is very little about the technology of the locomotives, and relatively little about the civil engineering, focussing more on the non-technical histo ...more
Marc Maitland
Aug 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A most readable and enjoyable book, telling the often exhilarating story of the pre-Victorian railway pioneers, the Stephensons, Brunels and Hackworths, right through the trials and tribulations of magnates such as Hudson and Huish, the glorious (but sometimes inglorious) inter-war rivalries and Grouping, right up to the moronic Beeching and privatisation disasters - all is there, even the quote from that idiot Transport Minister, Roger Freeman, referring to the "cheap and cheerful" railway his ...more
Colin Mitchell
I eventually reached the end and it is difficult to decide what to record. The first third of the book showing the built up of the railways was hard going. The story picked up some pace as it reached the First World War and the amalgamation and then depression of the inter-war years. World War 2 left us in desperate circumstances and the railways were nationalised on for a Tory Government to reduce it to multiple ownership and which has left a chaotic and heavily subsidised service. The author i ...more
Aug 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Coming from the railway town of Darlington and growing up with the original Darlington and Stockton railway line passing back of our house on its way to Timothy Hackworth's engine sheds at Shildon then on to Witton Park Colliery this book is necessary reading for me. And I dont think you will ever get the story better told in a single readable volume. Bringing things up to date with the disastrous privatisation that was pushed through by the Conservative Party, headless after having sacked Maggi ...more
Gareth Evans
Feb 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A relatively short book to cover the history of Britain's railways so there are obviously some elisions and I was left wanting more. A good sign methinks. The last couple of chapters seem quite opionated, but then I have no grounds to dispute the views given and, of course, the closer history is to one's own time the more one is likely to take issue with a historian stating his or her opinions. Eye opening, interesting and clearly and concisely written. ...more
Aug 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Interesting, focused on the wider impact of railways rather than geeky details. The revolutionary impact in the early 19th century, the insane proliferation in the late 19th century. And then their impact in the 20th century until brutalised by Beeching, although it wasn't wholly his fault. A good read for anyone interested in understanding the development of Britain, particularly England, in the 19th and 20th centuries ...more
Sep 25, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A comprehensive introduction for someone with little knowledge on the topic. I drifted off a bit in some chapters (amalgamation and some of the branch line stuff) but loved reading the War chapters and the late 20th century history, for which my frame of reference was better. Would be interested to read more detail on some of these topics - and would definitely like to see an updated version to cover the last 10 years.
Michael Carnell
Mar 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: railway buffs
A pretty good book though, as the author himself says, it has to skim some areas. The only problem with listening to the audiobook version of it is that I would have loved to have a good map nearby. Also, the paper book has some great photos that are obviously not in the audiobook. Still a fun and fascinating introduction to railways in Britain.
Sep 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
An easy-reading whizz through the history of the British railway. Some nice nuggets but nothing groundbreaking; it's pre-British Rail history is better researched and written about than the latter half of the 20C. ...more
Aug 23, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, transport
Not a book just for the train-spotter, but one that brings the railways into a modern context - placing the railways in Britain into its contemporary socio-economic position. Recommended.
Gillian Ferret
Oct 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A nice condensed history of the Railways - up to nearly now!
Michael Moseley
Nov 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
An interesting history of the UK Steam railways
Jiri Kram
May 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I love this book! Christian Wolmar is an amazing story teller that is able to put history of railways in such a vivid form you will love it.
Michael Cayley
Jan 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
A history of British railways which focuses as much on their social and economic effects as on the railways themselves.
There's an interesting story here about railroad expansion and consolidation in 19-20th Century Britain, but not even a full-fledged "trainspotter" could remain awake for these 600+ pages. ...more
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Christian Wolmar is a journalist, focusing on the history and politics of railways.

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