Christian Wolmar expertly tells the story of the Trans-Siberian railway from its conception and construction under Tsar Alexander III, to the northern extension ordered by Brezhnev and its current success as a vital artery. He also explores the crucial role the line played in both the Russian Civil War -Trotsky famously used an armoured carriage as his command post - and the Second World War, during which the railway saved the country from certain defeat. Like the author's previous railway histories, it focuses on the personalities, as well as the political and economic events, that lay behind one of the most extraordinary engineering triumphs of the nineteenth century.
Icy, bleak, but unusually dramatic is this portrait of earth's longest railroad and its prominent role in Russia's development. The building of the 5,750-mile steel ribbon between Moscow and Vladivostok was the usual railroad epic on the vastest scale, with brilliant engineering, creative financing, and an army of laborers and convicts toiling away at perilous tasks in extreme terrain. But unusually for a railroad, the Trans-Siberian followed its prodigious beginnings with second and third acts instead of just settling down to convey boxcars and sleepers. As the vital transport corridor for Russia's expanding quasi-colony in Manchuria, it was a primary cause of the Russo-Japanese war in the early 20th century, Wolmar (The Great Railroad Revolution) argues; it erupted again during the Russian civil war as a major, if oddly one-dimensional, military theater, fought over by Czech freebooters, bloodthirsty Cossack chieftains, and Trotsky himself chugging back and forth in his armored train. Wolmar tells this story with aplomb, sprinkling his lucid prose with piquant sketches of personalities, vivid travelogue, and interesting socioeconomic background on the railroad's success in bringing settlers and industry to the Siberian expanse. There are gripping narratives to be told about transport infrastructure, and surely this is one. Photos.