Jack Simmons book is nothing less than an encyclopedia of Victorian railroad history presented in a narrative format. Using a thematic rather than chronological format, he addresses practically every aspect of the topic, from the machinery and use of railways to their representation in literature and their management of public relations. Within them he provides a clear overview of the people, places, and technologies that created and directed the development of Britain’s railroad network.
The author of over a half-dozen more specialized books on railroad history, Simmons brings an impressive breadth of knowledge to his topic. Much of this is clear from his writing, which with his confident and comfortable tone conveys an easy familiarity with his subject. Yet like an encyclopedia entry his coverage is often brief as he passes from subject to subject, leaving the reader wanting to learn more. This is especially true in terms of his illustrations, which while numerous are nowhere near sufficiently so for his text, leaving readers to track down pictures of the images and places he mentions for themselves.
None of this, however, detracts from the overall utility of this book. Well written and deeply researched, Simmons’s book is an excellent guide to understanding Victorian railroads and the role they played in the history of their time. Readers will find it an enlightening resource, one that they can enjoy from cover to cover or by selecting the chapters that sate specific needs. Either way, it is one that people interested in the subject will want to keep on their shelves for many years to come.