Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Book review: an A-Z of Railways

I don't really like railway books. Most of them are just pictures of trains thundering by in some fairly random bit of countryside. If it's a static train then normally the photographer has gone for the classic three-quarters viewpoint. Just occasionally the rest of the scene gets a look-in. And everything stops at the end of steam.

Of course there are those specialist publications that go into immense detail on their subject and these definitely have a place on my bookshelf if I ever plan to build a model. I can't have too many books on Garratts for example, or Hellingly Hospital. Or the Isle of Man. Most though seem to be page after page of nice pictures of chuff chuffs.

Personally I like stuff not aimed at enthusiasts. Stuff written by humans. Now there is a fair quantity of "nice chuff chuff" in this category too, in fact it's probably worse when you look at books intended to be bought for enthusiasts. However this book is written by the nice man from the Antiques Roadshow and yet he seems to have brought together lots of really interesting content that doesn't normally get an airing.

The basics: 176 pages, Hardback, odd size. Colour and black & white photos.

As you might guess from the title, the books runs through different subjects in alphabetical order and for each you get 4 pages of pictures and a bit of text. It's unashamedly "coffee table" and I'm sure the true enthusiast will whinge that there isn't nearly enough detail - but then you could do a book on each subject, for example I have 2 volumes on camping coaches but then I'm weird.

Subjects covered include:
Ambulance trains
Art shows
Boat trains
Bomb damage
Camping coaches
Car trains
Day trips

The subjects are eclectic and pedants will complain about eXcursions landing between Young Railwaymen and Zoo on rails but they can get back to the "10 items of less" counter in their nearest supermarket until they come up with a better selection.

Quality of reproduction of the images which comprise photos, postcards, posters and leaflets, is good enough for the book to be a useful source of reference. One thing that immediately strikes this reader is just how different 1970's and 80' leaflets look to modern ones.

Best of all there is something very rare, even in those scholarly books for railway fans - an index. A proper one. Why these aren't more common is a mystery to me.

So - I enjoyed this book. It can stay on the shelf and be fun to flick through from time to time. The random subjects might inspire some modelling and will certainly inspire some days out. If like me, you are interesting in the big picture rather than the minutiae of railways, then for the price of a couple of toy train magazines, it's a good buy.

More on this book at The Hobby Warehouse

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