Ocean Railway: Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Samuel Cunard and the Great Atlantic Steamships

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780002571852
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/28/2003
  • Pages: 352

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2005

    Delightful book about Atlantic steamship industry

    Stephen Fox, the author, has done a masterful job in writing this well-researched book. His writing is lucid, engaging, and informative. Equally deft in vividly portraying personalities, describing technical challenges, and relating real-world business problems, Fox's history of the Atlantic steamship industry is guaranteed to please. The book is as much an economic history as it is a social history. Fox starts the book by describing a typical sailing ship journey across the Atlantic in the early 1800's. A typical voyage is fraught with seasickness, stench, wetness, cold, monotony, and grave danger. But as the burgeoning populations of Europe seek a safety valve to America, the era of steamships and great steamship captains arrives. The book follows pioneering visionaries and their steamship lines; such as Samuel Cunard, Edward Collins, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (Great Western), William Inman, Thomas Ismay (White Star), Clement Griscom (American Steamship), Albert Ballin (Hamburg-American), and Hermann Meier (North German Lloyd). Fox gives us a short personal history for each captain and his role in shaping his line. Fox also goes on to describe the most important technical innovations the Atlantic steamship industry took up (paddle wheels, reciprocating steam engines, condensers, steam turbines, and screw propellers being the most significant) and the renowned contractors that produced these masterpieces of Victorian engineering. But success was never guaranteed. Shipwrecks could, and did happen, with consequent loss of life, money, and prestige. Further, poor -and economically unrestrained - engineering could produce titanic boondoggles such as the 'Great Eastern' steamship. Finally, the book has a great social element in describing life at sea for both passengers and crew. Passengers in the first half of this great era often freely rubbed shoulders amongst people of all classes - something unusual in highly stratified Victorian society. Fox compares the steamship as both a town (with all its diverse citizenry and occupations) as well as a functional building (with toilets, dining rooms, bedrooms, libraries, etc.). He finishes by closely detailing two of the last great steamships - Lusitania and Mauretania. This is a really fascinating history with colorful characters and difficult engineering challenges. It has some great photos of these now vanished maritime colossae. I highly recommend this book.

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