Thursday, September 18, 2003
I've been working on a project to re-teach myself American History over the past few years, in a process more in-depth than I learned in high school (the last time I studied such things). I started with the Revolutionary War era a few years back, and I've been working my way forward. I got sort of stuck after the Civil War. There's a lot written about that conflict, but not much about the late 19th century. I had mostly been reading political and military histories (well, specifically, biographies), but I got a little stuck.
I eventually realized that political and military personalities did not loom large in the post-Reconstruction era. Instead, the most interesting stories I read were those about technologies -- the railroad, the telegraph, and in this book, the steamship.
I started to read Transatlantic: Samuel Cunard, Isambard Brunel, and the Great Atlantic Steamships, appropriately enough, on my recently trip to the UK. It's a pretty good history of the development of the transatlantic steamships from the mid-19th century to around 1910.
Let me get my rating out of the way: 4 out of 5 stars. Good, now I can nitpick. What happened after 1910? Why end the story there? When did airplane supplant steamships as the best way to cross the Atlantic? What were the social and political impacts of the reduced time for transatlantic crossing? (Fox does have one chapter on that topic, but I find that more intriguing than all the details about ship construction or (heaven help us) ship financing.)