Book Review: North American Railroads The Illustrated Encyclopedia

by Steve Eshom on June 22, 2012

I was recently contacted by Voyageur Press to review 3 Brian Soloman authored books.  This review is for a brand new volume just published this month.  My previous review of  Modern Diesel Power can be found here.  Look for these reviews sprinkled in with regular dogcaught.com content. 

The Illustrated Encyclopedia

I was very excited earlier this week when Brian Soloman’s new book, North American Railroads arrived in my mailbox.  His latest work describes and illustrates 100 of North America’s railroads.  Each railroad profile includes a very brief history describing the origins of the line, significant events in its history, and finally its disposition.  A sidebar accompanies the railroad’s description and includes facts about the railroad including route miles, locomotive statistics, and significant physical characteristics.  All of the profiles are either 2, 4, or 6 pages, depending on the size and significance of the railroad.  Each contains representative photographs of the railroad’s equipment, timetables, advertising, and people.

The book begins with a concise history of railroads around the world and how the rail road technology spread to and then around North America.  While many railfans will know much of this history it is a good review which leads nicely into the individual profiles.  For those not deeply ensconced in railroads this history is an easy read which will orient anyone to railroading and the basis for the growth of the industry in North America.  I found this history lesson very valuable as it set stage for the profiles which follow.

Is my favorite railroad covered in the book Steve?  That depends.  The book doesn’t cover railroads like the Waynesburg & Washington or the Seattle, Lakeshore and Eastern.  Based on Brian’s selection criteria those example railroads just didn’t have the influence or duration to make it in.  Their owners and parent companies do appear though.  Considering the breadth of North American railroading I think Brian’s choices are right on.

In the spirit of the encyclopedia volumes I grew up with this book thick and heavy.  At almost 1.25″ thick it feels to me like an encyclopedia should.  Opening the book to a random page reveals all sorts of information about a railroad along with wonderful illustrations of the railroad in action.  The page dimensions are 9.5″ X 11″ allowing the 1/2 page images to appear very large and dramatic.  The large images, captions, and text draw you in just like those the volumes from my youth. The images vary from all modern images for BNSF to a mix of modern and historical photos for a railroad like Santa Fe spanned many decades.  The book of course contains many Brian Solomon original images but most are assembled from other sources.

The book’s graphic design is very modern and in my opinion a refreshing change for railfan publications.  The railroad profile pages include a background border  which is colored differently for each profile.  The sidebars are set off from the other page content by a light background image which appears to be a riveted window frame.  The sidebars are colored the same as the background border producing what I think is a very attractive page layout.  For you purists, don’t worry the images are unaffected by the graphic design of the pages.

I found North American Railroads an enjoyable read, educational, and an attractive book that I’m happy to have in my collection.

Recommendation:  Buy North American Railroads if you want a concise reference to North American railroads.  It is the perfect book to have around to look up long forgotten facts about your favorite railroad.

North American Railroads is available for purchase on the Voyageur Press websiteAmazon, and Barnes and Noble.  It is also available as an e-book!

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