The attention-grabbing title of this book seems at odds with its more sober subtitle and, as soon becomes apparent, it is the subtitle that is a little misleading. The greater part of the work is taken up with the story of railway construction around the world, and only over half-way through is there very much discussion about what happened once the lines were completed. At least the story Christian Wolmar does tell justifies the main title. There was blood aplenty during the construction period, when the workers on some lines died in their tens of thousands. Iron was certainly used – millions of tons of it. Gold was there for the investors, especially those who were not too concerned with legal niceties. The story is a dramatic one and the author has left none of the five continents out of his narrative.
The story of actual construction is often dramatic and frequently touched with tragedy. When the British engineers came to build a railway up the Western Ghats in India, they faced the seemingly impossible task of driving a railway up the tall cliffs. They succeeded but at an immense