Book info

The Subterranean Railway (2015)

The Subterranean Railway (2015)
Rating
3.91 of 5 Votes: 3
ISBN
1843540231 (ISBN13: 9781843540236)
languge
English
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publisher
atlantic books
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The Subterranean Railway (2015)
The Subterranean Railway (2015)

About book: I wish I could give this more stars. However, a third of the way through it dawned on me that however passionate the writer, any history of London Underground is never going to be that fascinating. He's passionate, there's no doubt about that. Indeed, I chose him as my first preference for Labour's Mayoral candidate.A plus point for the book is that it is rich in passing references to peripheral matters, prompting me to look up those matters and learn about those, whilst acknowledging they had no place in a book about LU.It started well, with an explanation of how the mainline rail services terminate(d) some distance from the City of London, and given the congestion on the roads, it was deemed necessary to take passengers into the City. Although the opening section was interesting, it did descend into a rather tedious but essential narrative of the tussles over routes and property rights, Parliamentary enquiries and financing, and comparison of different rolling stock and construction methods. I found that quite difficult to get through.It really perked up in the section about Metroland and LU's famous posters of the interwar years. A part of LU history that is blanketed in rosy nostalgia, with the inimitable Betjeman looming over. A part of me wanted more about how various suburbs grew up round the new Underground lines, but I soon realised that the hyperlocal history of areas I'd never visited would not be that interesting; the interesting hyperlocal history of my own area was driven by the other sort of trains - now operated by Southern on tracks run by Network Rail, which, correctly, get only a passing mention here.The section on WW2 is poignant and fascinating, and the description of post-War decline progresses at an appropriate rate.He revised an earlier edition on the aftermath of 7/7, and points to the massive changes in that time - the Overground, and plans for Crossrail, improved Thameslink and possibly Crossrail 2, as well as the impressive (if annoying, as a passenger) upgrades to track and signalling, and station improvements. Actually quite a shock to realise how much better my journey to work has been in recent years compared to the 90s and 00s, and, ironically, how much of this was due to the disastrous (expensive, anyway) PPP deal that was eviscerated in The Blunders of Our Governments.It is also due to sensible improvements in buses - back in the 90s when I lived in tube-less Streatham there were no bus lanes on Brixton Hill, making the above mentioned National Rail lines the only way into town and, frankly, a nightmare.If tubes and buses can improve so much from when I was a young trainee, anything's possible for pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. Sadly, I don't think that Christian Wolmar will get the chance, but part of the reason for voting him '1' is to exert pressure onto (hopefully) Sadiq Khan to make this happen.

A well written and fascinating insight into how the London Underground came to be. This was an Amazon recommendation (presumably based on the fact I recently read "Brighton to London derailed) and I downloaded the sample chapter. It has an easy to read, fact-full but not too text book style of writing that interested me. The story progresses in great detail, highlighting some early speculation but including some wonderful tangents (the Empire exhibition in 1924 featured a life-sized model of the Prince of Wales made out of butter - thanks Canada) until shortly after the Second World War, when, like the network Itself, it runs out of steam leaving the final chapter being a bit of a chore. The Underground system is a wonderful piece of Victorian and Edwardian engineering, and it's stewards of Ashfield and Pick left a legacy behind them. Overall a well-written tale about the Underground system, and it's many amazing characters, that will prove interesting to those that have spent time travelling on the tube
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Reviews
Jakey Gee
Well paced and readable, with enough nuggets to keep the half hearted tube geek engaged. NB as a republican I will henceforth refer to the Victoria line as 'Route C' and the Jubilee as the Fleet Line (sic). The most touching moments are - of course - those around dear old Metroland.It's a massive microcosm, the Tube's history is. Of how the UK works (or - as is more often the case - how it doesn't work). Instigated by a few visionaries. Unplanned and improvised. Thought best left to the market - only to be tamed and nurtured later by the state.And throughout, with social benefits that are massively undervalued and wilfully overlooked. And a debt burden that is nationalised - while the profit arising from it is - as ever in the UK - privatised (witness the way those cunts at Canary Wharf paid a mere 5% of the cost of bringing the Jubilee to their door. We paid the rest, according to this. Fuck them. Witness the millionnaire thirties land agent, cashing in thanks to a publicly-funded line that turned field into plot). Plus ca change at Camden Town.
Nick
Wolmar is perhaps Britain's best transport journalist and his passion for detail shows through in the research - it's well footnoted and indexed, and thorough in its detail. Yes, it's a bit nerdy, but this book's strength is in its socio-economic contextualisation. You get a real sense of how the world's first subway came about initially through individualistic desire and latterly through principled leadership, and almost always in spite of the actions of local and central government. It really brings home the rapid rate of growth of London as a city and the astonishing extent to which this was driven by the Tube - and not just in 'Metroland'.The final chapter of this edition was a re-working of an earlier book, Down the Tube: The Battle for London's Underground. Oddly, it felt like that chapter was less cohesive - more of an afterthought to the rest than vice versa. From what I read, the book has been revised since. I hope it was better integrated in the process.
Jessica
I actually wanted to read Underground Overground, but the copy at the local library has been checked out for some time, and this was the only other book on the history of the Tube available. I'm not sure how it compares, though Subterranean Railway is slightly out of date, having been published in 2004, with updates made to the current edition for the 7/7 bombings. However, this really only affects the introduction and final chapter.I found the tone of this book to be quite dry, and as such did drag in places, particularly when covering nationalisation of the Underground, but still contained enough interesting bits to hold my attention. I particularly liked the sections on the early Tube and WWII. I think it is actually a fascinating subject matter, since modern London has been so profoundly shaped by the Tube, something this book did its best to explain. Overall, a good read, but not a great one.
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