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.
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'When the language starts functioning as a character in fiction, when it is there drawing attention to itself ... It’s not anything that anybody really takes seriously.'
Our interview with Anthony Burgess from 1983.
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