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The Railway Journey:
Because it made possible rapid movement and shipping across large distances, joining far-off towns to economic and cultural capitals, many people who lived in the early 19th century regarded the railroad as an instrument of progress. Because anyone with the price of a ticket could board a train, regardless of social class, the railroad was also seen as a democratizing technology.
But, Wolfgang Schivelbusch notes in this vivid history of early rail travel, the promise of progress and democracy was swiftly compromised. The railroads became an agency for the concentration of wealth in a few hands, and they created a class of passive consumers who simply got aboard and waited to arrive at their destinations. The railroads, Schivelbusch writes, changed the 19th-century world for good and ill. They helped rewrite the industrializing world's sense of time, for now precise schedules had to be kept; they reinforced a sense of forward-plunging movement into the future; they even introduced the reality of mass disaster, for railroads were always crashing, sometimes taking hundreds of riders to their deaths.
Delving into urban planning, psychology, architecture, and economics, as well as the history of technology, Schivelbusch paints a revealing portrait of the role of the railroad in shaping the 19th-century mind. --Gregory McNamee [via]