Railway Maps of the World: The Book

Railway Maps of the World, Viking Penguin © 2011

I’ll admit it—I’m a train nerd. I won’t even try to deny it. I always look forward to traveling by rail whenever possible. I will sometimes take a train even if it’s not the most direct way to get from Point A to Point B. I’ll also admit that I’m a nerd when it comes to maps. I can entertain myself for hours leafing through an atlas or spinning a globe, looking for exotic places to venture to someday. So imagine my glee when I discovered the new coffee table book by Mark Ovenden, Railway Maps of the World.

In the first part of this sumptuously illustrated hardcover, Ovenden traces the evolution of rail cartography from the steam engines of the nineteenth century to today’s futuristic high-speed networks of Europe and Asia. Along with historical text, statistics and anecdotes, this comprehensive book contains hundreds of full-color images, covering two centuries of advertising, propaganda, surveyors’ maps, route guides, travel posters, photos, and satellite images.

The second half of the book provides current maps for every country with a rail system. Organized by continent, more than 100 countries—from Algeria to Zimbabwe—are chronicled. I can only imagine the research needed to track down all of these maps!

One section of the book I particularly enjoyed is dedicated to the great rail routes of the world. Among these are the Trans-Siberian Railway, The Indian-Pacific (which spans the continent of Australia from Perth to Sydney) and probably the most glamorous and infamous route of all, The Orient-Express.  I didn’t realize that the latter was not one single rail line, but was actually a handful of routes traversing Europe from Paris to Constantinople (present-day Istanbul.)

Railway Maps of the World is great not only for the ardent rail buff who will read it from cover to cover, but also for the casual reader, who will enjoy simply perusing through the gorgeous maps and images.

Mark Ovenden is a British writer whose previous books include Transit Maps of the World and Paris Underground: The Maps, Stations, and Designs of the Metro. Railway Maps of the World is published by Viking Penguin; 144 pages; $35.00.  You can find Railway Maps of the World at your local bookstore or click here to buy it at Amazon.com
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